Last night, I had a dream that I was dying.
It was pretty vivid, this dream. It felt pretty real. And it may sound like it was a nightmare, but it wasn't. Not even remotely.
Oh, don't get me wrong, it wasn't a wish-fulfillment dream, either. Even though there have been times in the last couple of years when a terminal diagnosis would have seemed like a blessing compared to the actual chronic diagnosis I received. I am past that now. I have found new reasons to move on with my life, new things to look forward to, and work toward. Although it would be fair to say that some of those reasons and things feel like consolation prizes sometimes. As I've said before, I'm not a saint, and as such, I'm not the type of person who would feel satisfied devoting my entire life to meeting other people's needs while completely sacrificing my own desires. Sometimes that feels like what I'm being led to do. That said, I wouldn't be happy living a completely hedonistic life devoted only to my own desires, either. But my point is, I have reasons to get out of bed every morning now. This is something that I could not necessarily have said, even a year ago.
Which may be exactly why this dream felt so real to me. Because, given my past history, it seems like exactly the kind of thing that would happen as the pieces of my life are finally falling back into place. Hence the title of this post - it's my favorite line from a favorite movie of mine, about a man who finds out he's probably going to die, just as he's really started to embrace his life (albeit, under much stranger conditions than those in my dream).
I don't know what I was dying from in the dream. I just had a vague sense of increasing weakness and dizziness and fatigue, which really could be just about anything.
What was really striking was my reaction to the knowledge that I was running out of time.
There was no denial, or bargaining, or even depression. My acceptance of my fate was immediate and absolute.
There was, however, anger. Lots and lots of anger. And with that anger came determination and a sense of purpose.
Recently, in the context of a discussion about how being angry is easier than being sad, I made the point that anger can serve a useful purpose, because it can keep you fighting when otherwise you'd just give up. I know this, because I've lived it. Anger can go too far, obviously, and become unhealthy, but it can also be fuel to survive from one moment to the next.
And this was the case in my dream. I remember that I was angry about the fact that I wouldn't finish school, after having devoted this much time and energy to it, and to the goals that I wanted to accomplish once I had my degree. But this anger didn't lead me to drop out. It kept me going to school, trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could about the subjects that have always interested me, in what little time I had left.
In another part of the dream, I was touring a mansion that (in the dream, anyway) I'd always wanted to see. I was weak and exhausted after walking around the first floor, and as the people with me went to go up the stairs to see the second floor, one of them told me sympathetically that they wouldn't mind if I sat down and rested downstairs instead of going upstairs with them.
This just pissed me off, and I pushed myself to follow them up the stairs, even though I felt like I was going to collapse with each step. Because, I remember thinking, this may be my only chance to see what was upstairs.
Not too long ago, I was talking to my mother about those first few months of illness, when I was struggling to find treatments that worked. During that time, I usually worked myself to exhaustion just trying to keep from falling further behind. It often felt like all I did was work and sleep. My house was a disaster because I did not have the energy to deal with it. On rare good days, when the pain was minimal, I tried to fit as much work and play as I possibly could into them, and I usually paid for it, as it left me completely drained and exhausted and took me several days to recover from. It was rough, and I wondered at the time if I would ever be able to balance work and pleasure in my life again.
When I said all of this to my mom, she said, "You get that from your grandfather. He's the exact same way."
It was an insight that surprised me. Not the observation about my grandfather, because it's common knowledge in my family that he always wants to be doing something - fixing, building, cleaning, something - and it's been hard on him the past few years that he hasn't been up to it. It was the observation that I shared this quality with him. It had never occurred to me before that I might be like him in that way.
I think it didn't occur to me partly because it was never physical with me the way it always was for him. You wouldn't find me willingly climbing ladders to paint over chipping woodwork, or doing loads of other people's laundry and carrying them from the basement to the second story, or asking my dad if I could borrow his tractor to mow someone else's lawn. When I do anything along these lines, it's in my own house, and only because it needs to be done (and in the case of yardwork, I pay a neighbor to do it for me). I'm not looking for opportunities to do any of it elsewhere.
It's also because I guard my leisure time pretty jealously. I always have. I never lived to work; it was always the other way around. I kind of resent the idea that 110% is the minimum standard anymore - that if you're not putting in a certain amount of overtime or signing up for extra shifts, or if you leave immediately at the end of the day, you're somehow not a good enough worker. I'm with Office Space on this one - if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, then make 37 the minimum. And honestly, in the social services field, I don't think my view is a bad one. Self-care is extremely important when you work in a stressful field (especially one that doesn't pay well), and it's not always encouraged by employers and supervisors in the field. At least, not in practice. They talk a good game, but when it's between the numbers and self-care, you are implicitly expected to have your problems on your own time, even if you don't have any of your own time left. But, as usual, I digress. And to be fair, when I work, I do work hard.
I think the biggest difference between my grandfather and me is that he suffered because he was no longer able to work, and I suffered because I was no longer able to do anything else, when I was able to do anything at all. But ultimately, my mom was right. It was two sides of the same personality trait.
And it's the same personality trait that has allowed me to maintain a 3.95 GPA over the last two semesters, despite the personal struggles I was going through. That, along with anger.
The same anger that was fueling me to keep moving forward in the dream, even knowing the end was in sight, even knowing that I wouldn't accomplish my goals in the long run, even knowing that I was driving myself to collapse.
So, no, it wasn't a nightmare. It was simply a reminder that even when things are at their most dire, I can still keep putting one foot in front of the other.