My worst anxiety dream typically involves college. I’m preparing for final exams when I realize there’s a class I enrolled in at the beginning of the semester. Unfortunately, I haven’t attended a lecture in months. Somewhere along the way, I’ve apparently forgotten that this class even exists. So I’m filled with a combination of horror and panic as it dawns on me that I have roughly a week to try to get an entire semester’s worth of material into my brain.
More often than not, this dream includes the realization that I intended to drop the class after I missed several sessions right off the bat. As I try to reconstruct what happened. This is based on reality. When I attended college, we in fact had the opportunity to pull the plug on a class within a defined grace period at the beginning of every semester. I found this concept fascinating, perhaps because there were several classes for which I should’ve exercised this option but didn’t.
Unfortunately, since I forgot that this course was part of my schedule, I blew the grace period months ago. Even worse, it occurs to me now that not only am I screwed on the final exam, I apparently also failed to show up for the midterm. So, to recap: I have no notes for the course; I’ve missed every in-class quiz; I’ve missed the midterm; I’ve missed the cut-off period to drop the class; and I’ve got a final exam next week.
Having determined that there’s no way to extricate myself from this mess, I try to focus on those subjects for which I do have notes. I fail miserably to achieve this modest goal. I find it difficult to focus on the courses I attended with the specter of a “mystery final” looming. While I tell myself to focus on the things I can control, I spend all of my time obsessing about the one thing I can’t: a final exam that I have no shot of passing. I’m paralyzed because there’s this entire body of knowledge I’m responsible for that’s beyond my grasp.
The cherry on top of this horror show is my certainty that when I walk into the classroom to take the final, the professor will look blankly at me. She’ll have no idea who I am – I never saw her lecture after the first two weeks of the semester. This will lead to some kind of awkward exchange that will end in her handing me a blue exam book that I know I’ll be unable to fill with anything remotely cogent.
In the dream, I never know exactly what the subject matter of the course is. One would think that given my disinterest in math and science, it would be something like applied physics, string theory, or economics. But it’s never clear. And it doesn’t matter. I can’t pass the test.
This is not my favorite dream.
Happily, my subconscious has more recently decided to expand its repertoire while I sleep. While my new anxiety dream leaves me no less panicked than the “final I can’t pass” scenario, at least it gives me some new material to chew upon.
I’m at the airport. I check my suitcase. (This should be the first tip-off to my sleeping self that this is only a dream – I haven’t checked luggage in years. It’s a matter of personal pride as a frequent flyer that I can cram whatever I need into a carry-on bag and nothing more.) Free of my suitcase, I make my way to security. The line is long, but not abnormally so. While one might think that this evolves into some sort of TSA-related nightmare, that’s not the case. Because I never get to TSA. Because the line never moves. I keep checking my watch, knowing that I’ve never missed a flight while being stuck in a security line (even though I thought I would several times over the past few years).
I’m stuck. I realize with increasing certainty that I’m not going to make it to the gate in time. Curiously, I’m not particularly troubled about missing the flight – I don’t actually want to go on this trip. I’d rather be at home with my family. But then the moment of realization hits me: my checked luggage contains the charger and second battery for my prosthetic knee. (This should be tip-off number two that this is only a dream – I never put important prosthetic-related equipment anywhere that won’t be under my direct control the entire flight. However, Sleeping Dave can’t figure this out.)
How will I walk when my knee runs out of power? I have no secondary battery. I have no charger. I’m destined to wander the earth with a prosthetic knee that won’t function. (The third and final tip-off that this is only a dream: I work for a prosthetic manufacturer in real life. If I desperately need equipment, I can make a call and get temporary replacements sent to me overnight. Again, this never occurs to Sleeping Dave.) I get increasingly frantic, trying to estimate how much power remains in the battery still in my knee. How will I reclaim my suitcase? Surely this will take days – perhaps a whole week? My charger and second battery may get to visit Long Beach Airport but I sure as hell won’t.
And then I wake up, shaken to my core by the dream-based possibility of a life with a non-functional prosthetic leg.
I doubt there’s any real significance to the transition from college-based anxiety to amputee-based anxiety. It seemed a lot more momentous when, years after losing my leg, my dream-self started using a prosthesis. The fact that 16-plus years into life as an amputee, my anxiety now manifests in an amputee-specific manner suggests, I suppose, that my subconscious increasingly sees itself using a prosthesis. Aside from the resulting consistency between my conscious self and my subconscious, I have no idea if that’s in any way relevant to anything.