Last night, almost a week after my mother’s death, I had my standard, repetitive, university undergraduate bad dream. It usually goes like this: I have just returned for the next academic year, but am already missing lectures and falling behind with assignments. I have far too many conflicting things to do. I’m not coping, and feel acutely stressed and anxious.
However, last night’s dream had some new features. The first was that I bumped into an acquaintance whilst walking through the crowded campus. We talked briefly about the many people we knew who had dropped out of their courses. In fact, my acquaintance and I seemed to be the only ones who had returned from the previous year.
The second fresh detail was that I spontaneously joined in with a children’s game. The children belonged to the university crèche, and were playing out of doors with their carers. I began dancing around the outside of their circle to increase their pleasure and excitement. At the same time, I was keeping a close eye on how each one was coping, ready to tone down my approach if it seemed to be too stressful for some of them. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being with them, as this was something I had never experienced before.
Then came a third new ingredient. I was walking back towards my room with two women students I’d just met in a campus clothes shop. One went a little ahead on her own, whilst I linked arms with the other, chatting in a friendly way. The first woman had seemed cheerful to begin with, but now she was silent and tense. As we continued to walk, I found myself thinking that she might be feeling anxious, or even panicky.
Then, suddenly, I saw myself in her: my repeated attempts to get a degree, each ending in failure and severe depression, acute anxiety and panic attacks. All these issues were to become a chronic struggle with mental illness and agoraphobia that has dominated my life.
I turned to my new companion, explaining how I thought our friend might be feeling. Then, to my great surprise, I heard myself say that I wished I was working on the campus, perhaps in the clothes shop, or at the crèche, rather than studying. That way, I could still escape from my mother and have something of a university experience, but without the unmanageable demands of academic life on top of so much mental pain.
As I said this, I realised how significant it was, and that I didn’t have to put myself through the impossible stresses of trying to get a degree. For the first time ever during these repetitive university dreams, I saw that there was a way out. Other paths in life were still possible, and could perhaps even be enjoyable, although I was already part-way through my degree course. It wasn’t too late to change my mind. At this thought, my heart leapt with joy, and I was filled with new and unaccustomed hope. Then I woke up.
Darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18; NLT).
“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11; NLT).