Friday, 4 November 2011

Living the dream

I had a bad dream the other day, the stabby, slashery kind. I woke up when in my dream I got so scared I couldn’t breathe. Bolt upright, heart pounding, trying the shake the feeling of imminent danger that was hanging over our lives, I attempted to rouse the man from his slumber. I told him I was scared because I had a bad dream, he just said “oh bless” and turned away, still snoring. So I had to get over my dream myself, sitting in the brightly lit bathroom, doing breathing exercises and reminding myself that I was safe. And feeling like a right tit.

The dream was so vivid and real that it got me thinking how does my brain manage to conjure up these images?

Like many people, my imagination (conscious or unconscious) can easily put me into most scenarios – good and bad. My mind makes connections with things I see and goes off in it’s own little world. I could see a National Lottery sign and imagine the feeling of getting the final number, then spend the next twenty minutes shopping in Kings Road and eating at The Bluebird (anyone else watch Chelsea?). On the other hand while waiting to cross the road, I might see a lorry, and imagine what it would feel like to be crushed beneath those huge wheels, bones shattering, brain exploding all over the road. It wasn’t my mind that thought that up. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people run over in films or TV programmes. What can I say? I’m from the Casualty generation, I can’t have a chip pan in my house because it means hideous burns covered in cling film, not yummy chips.

I admit to totally over indulging my imagination, enjoying the sensation of letting a thought fly, on the off chance that I stumble upon a really enjoyable daydream. I also have an expert ability to multi task, so I could be paying for coconut and mango shampoo in Poundland but in my head I’m on a dessert island building a coconut phone and feeding bananas to a pet monkey. I’ve seen Treasure Island (and a million and one films and programmes with similar scenarios), haven’t we all? That’s what makes it so easy to think these thoughts.

So it begs the question if a person had never seen such images, good or bad, on TV, the internet, wherever, would they avoid having these kind of dreams and thoughts? Or would our minds come up with some way of filling in the gaps?

It’s out of our hands really. I try to protect my kids from seeing bad things but in a trip down the Halloween aisle in Sainsburys last week there were plenty of disturbing masks and costumes to fuel a juicy nightmare or two. And even if you can avoid supermarkets (or just leaving the house) in the month leading up to Halloween, a fairy story or even a kids film will provide enough baddies and villains to scar a person for life. Poisoned apples (“I’m not eating that apple, I’m far safer with a McDonalds”), Sleeping Beauty (“what if I don’t wake up for a hundred years? I better stay up and watch another episode of Fireman Sam”) even Toy Story (“don’t send me to nursery what if there’s a mean bear that smells like strawberries, come to think of it I’m not eating strawberries either”). And even if you can protect them from all of that, there’s the news, far more terrifying because it’s all real.

So how are we to protect our children, indeed ourselves, from images and scenes which could fuel bad dreams and anxiety?

We don’t and we can't.

I like my finely tuned imagination, even if it does occasionally get me into trouble (bad dreams, dark thoughts, even secret crushes – don’t ask, I’ll never tell), I’ll take all those dodgy things just to enjoy the infinite opportunities for joyous dreams and imaginary scenarios, and the ability to entertain myself even when I’m bored out of my wits (long journeys, meetings with mortgage advisors/builders/architects/anything to do with building really, when I hope the man is listening because I’m too busy imagining what it would be like to stand on the moon and look back at the earth). I just need to learn to block out the bad and nurture the good.

And maybe that’s what we need to focus on with our kids. How to filter the bad stuff. Coping mechanisms for the horrid things they will inevitably come into contact with in our world today, not matter how fiercely we protect them. They will watch horror films aged 12 with their mates and a can of Top Deck (showing my age), whether we forbid them or not. But even if by some amazing coincidence they don’t, not matter how much we try to protect them, they will experience the dark side of life, we just need to help them focus on the good.

There’s nothing wrong with a little daydreaming, it can provide a welcome and useful holiday from real life. As long as you’re not so busy daydreaming or worrying about what might be that you forget to appreciate all the great stuff that is real and right in front of you.

Very few people have no imagination. Most of us, like me, can be living an incredibly vivid day dream while doing the most mundane of tasks. I used to worry that this made me a little crazy, but the more I talk to people, the more I realise I’m the same as everyone else. It’s just we don’t often like to admit it, in case people think we’re mad. Reading this blog post back to myself, I suppose they’ve got a point, but life is mad. Enjoy it and live the dream. The good ones anyway.

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