Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of Anxiety Over Social Distancing)

Award-winning playwright and novelist Marsha Norman once said: “Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.” If that’s true, then my book is destined for an inconspicuous bargain stand in WHSmith, clumsily stacked next to some shop-soiled Toffee Crisp and a collection of incongruous 10p advent calendars.

A book illustrated with my dreams? OK, then. I once dreamt that I asked three burly workmen if they wanted a cuppa. Two said yes, and the other handed me a contraption for extracting juice from Soreen. Another time, I dreamt that my boss compiled a list of nonconformists in the office, where I made the list for “looking too much like a pirate”. I also once dreamt that a hacker circulated a doctored video of me killing a goldfish with a hammer, which led to scandal and a good friend unfollowing me on Twitter. I also once dreamt that I had to tell a disgruntled Simon Pegg that, due to the prohibitive cost of stopping a print run, posters for his new Hollywood film still featured Toadie from Neighbours (the studio’s original choice for his role).

My soul would have to commission Jim’ll Paint It to illustrate my book.

I’ve always had dreams, but since lockdown, I’ve been dreaming much more vividly than usual. Apparently, though, millions of people around the world are also reporting intense ‘pandemic dreams’, so it seems I’m not alone. Commonly reported dreams tend to involve “flying insects attacking the dreamer, cockroaches swarming, [and] masses of squirming worms”. The bugs symbolically represent the virus and our fear and anxiety in relation to it. I’ve not dreamt about insects at all. Anxiety over social distancing seems to be my recurring theme.

In one dream, I found myself queuing at a food stall with my five-year-old son (a place specialising in culinary creations involving boerewors), and everyone was just so uncomfortably close to me. When the woman in front of me finally reached the counter, she said: “Finally, it feels like things are getting back to normal.” But I just kept thinking that we were all in mortal danger. I was also panicked that I was with my son. Why did I bring him when it wasn’t safe? I’ve endangered him. I just continued silently fretting and queuing, desperate to tell everyone to move away but too polite to make a scene.

In another dream, I walked to a familiar park from my childhood. The surrounding roads were noticeably quiet, and I remember a feeling that the country was still in lockdown. When I reached the park, I was astonished to find that it was packed with hundreds of people playing football. It was like a ‘jumpers for goalposts’ version of Hackney Marshes.

The gorgeous sunny day then quickly became overcast with a dark, foreboding canopy of storm clouds which instantly produced several cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that caused the park-goers to scatter in all directions. The scene was reminiscent of the ‘fuck these six fish in particular meme, which made my irreligious mind lurch to the unlikely conclusion that God was smiting people for ignoring the lockdown order.

The idea of being in close proximity to people has very quickly become a most unnatural and anxiety-inducing thing for me. My daily half-hour walk around my village, though pleasant, occasionally feels like I’m slaloming through a busy station concourse, with my brain making thousands of calculations per second to ensure I can successfully evade a slew of other walkers, people with dogs, horse riders, and runners. When did everywhere get so busy? To use insect terminology: everywhere’s crawling at the moment.

The pandemic has also introduced awful terms like “viral shedding” into our lexicon, which has turned everyone I encounter into zombie-like threats. When a runner went past me the other night, sweating, panting and gasping, I couldn’t help but visualise a jet stream of infectious aerosols left in his wake that would gently drift into my lungs. I’d prefer it if “shedding” was literally the act of incarcerating said runner in my shed for the full duration of my walk and possibly even lockdown.

My social distancing dreams may also be anxiety over the clamour for lockdown restrictions to be eased. Because I fear the end of lockdown. I’m nervous about heading back into society, where face masks probably won’t be mandatory, and idiots aplenty will likely relax their observance of social distancing rules from the start. A part of me wants lockdown to go on for longer so that my family can stay at home, where it’s safe.

Because I’ve seen the outside in my dreams – and it’s fucking terrifying.

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