Sunday, November 8, 2020

Finding My Way out of Dreamland

I have a coffee cup that says, “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing.”  It’s one of those mantras we see everywhere, from wall hangings to planners to….well, coffee cups.

Are you dreaming, or are you doing?

One day last week, I intentionally chose that cup because lately, it’s felt like I’ve spent more time dreaming and less time doing. 

Then my toilet clogged, triggering my contamination OCD and just making me too anxious to do anything beyond the bare minimum.  I went to bed, frustrated at what little “doing” I was able to accomplish.  However, I did a great job dreaming my day away, fantasizing about a life where everything was just…easier.

Dreaming has been my coping mechanism ever since I learned to read.  Falling into books, creating characters, being the person I wish I was instead of the person I saw in the mirror.  As a child, I would hide in my room, acting out the scenes I created to alleviate the stresses from school and home and a Mensa-level IQ and an undiagnosed mental illness.  (OCD is something you’re born with, and I knew it was the right diagnosis when my childhood memories and motivations suddenly made sense.)  No wonder at times of stress, I would lose myself in a fantasy of my own creation.

This time, however, the message on the mug stayed with me.  I’d fallen into my fantasy so deep that it was running as a continual stream in the back of my head, impeding my ability to function on a daily basis.  My escape from stress and anxiety was now creating so much noise that I couldn’t focus on anything.  I would read emails and not remember a word of content.  I would complete a task and then redo it, having completely forgotten that I had just done it.  I would ignore the people in my real world, preferring the interactions of the scenes in my head.

Looking backwards, it makes sense.  Before there was a global pandemic, I had run out of savings.  Before I ran out of savings, I had a horrible ending of a four-year relationship.  Before my ex and I broke up, I had a complete mental breakdown.  Before the breakdown, I quit my job to save my mental health.  The need for escapism was real, but it had gone too far and too deep.  I was now lost in my dreamworld, avoiding reality at all costs.

I looked back even further and saw the hours I spent over the years dreaming about what could be, rather than doing the hard work to make these dreams happen.  Pursuing your dreams… hard.  It’s the grind of plinking forward, failing, picking yourself up, and plinking forward again.  It’s fighting the boredom and the burnout and the monotony of spending so much time on something with so little progress.  It’s dealing with challenges and roadblocks and people who think you aren’t worthy. 

Just like….running a marathon.  Or nine.  Why was I able to do that and not this?

In my real life, I’ve always felt powerless and silent, not worthy of attention.  As a child, my mom would tell me that it was best if I didn’t speak my mind because she feared me being rejected by society.  I bit my tongue, became invisible, and created an alternate world in my mind where my ideas were valued and appreciated.

Fast forward to January 1, 2020.  I decided it was time to start writing down my ideas, my scripts, my scenes, my stories.  Then the world turned upside down with the coronavirus, and I lost my way, reality being so grim that my dreamworld was my only safe place.  We all have been finding some form of escapism this year, whether it is getting lost in video games, social media, Netflix binges, or scenes being played out in my own house.  We all need an escape right now. 

But for there to be any possibility for my dreams to come true, I need to leave my dreamland behind and re-engage with reality.

Instead of dreaming, I need to be writing down my dreams.  Instead of watching YouTube videos, I need to be watching Khan Academy videos.  Instead of disconnecting into fantasies, I need to be connecting with people. 

Just like the mug said, instead of dreaming, I need to be doing.


Sadieforsythe said...

I find that writing is a great way to do both. You're dreaming, but then you have pages in hand at the end, so you've obviously done something too.

Erin Westphal said...

Yes! I find by writing the fantasy in my brain...literally removes it so I can focus on the task at hand.

Venus said...

Okay...I need to get my hands on a mug like that! LOL! Nice reminder post. I can use this once in a while especially these days when I almost always feel stuck.

Erin Westphal said...

Thank you! I found it at Dollar Tree about a year or two ago, but I bet they’re everywhere. I hope you can find a way to unstick yourself soon! Much compassion and kindness your way.

Unwanted Life said...

I thought the jury was out on OCD being only genetic, as people can develop it based on trauma and life events cause the development of OCD in some people?

I can understand the desire for escapism, my anxiety disorders cause psychosis so reducing the variables to that trigger that is always tempting, although it makes life worse in the long run. Graded exposure, which I wrote a post about and created a workbook for, did wonders in tackling my anxiety induced psychosis

Erin Westphal said...

Some of my earliest memories and childhood stories involve behaviors that are clearly OCD; it’s why I knew it was the right diagnosis. Looking back on my life, it has always just been the way I’m wired. Having said that, I definitely believe that stress and trauma can trigger symptoms, and someone who might be so mild it’s unnoticeable might get diagnosed due to stress. So I think it’s a combination of nature and nurture.