I haven’t been a student since 2007.
HOLY CRAP, I’m old!
And yet, I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t have a dream about going back to school.
I’ve been using the Dream Journal Ultimate app to log my dreams for the past two months, which by the way I highly recommend! The first thing I do when I wake up, the very first thing, is to grab my phone and type out whatever I could remember from my dream the night before. I even do this if I wake up in the middle of the night to pee. Any time I wake up from sleep, I immediately grab my phone and record my dreams. I strongly recommend this.
I know, you’re probably thinking, “What if I don’t dream?” I profess to you, once you start journalling your dreams, you will find you remember them EVERY TIME. I used to remember my dreams maybe 3, 4 times a month? And yet, since the first entry in my dream journal, I’ve logged a dream entry at least once every night every single night since I started. It’s a weird kind of magic!
And speaking of weird…
My “back to school” dream changes slightly every time, but every week or so, I have a dream that follows the same basic pattern:
For some reason, my high school diploma is invalid, and I’m required to go back to school to finish it properly. Sometimes, it’s just me. Recently, I had a dream that my WHOLE GRADUATING CLASS was forced to return to school. 300 or so 35-year-old adults opening lockers right beside adolescents, just trying to get their lives back on track. And in every dream, we all just go along with it. As fully formed adults, with lives and jobs and taxes and health insurance, we all just shrug and say “ok” and slide into those uncomfortable metal desks, resigned. Every. Single. Time.
The overall feeling of the “Back to School” dream is one of powerlessness, resignation, and shocking personal upheaval. While I am somewhat nostalgic for my youth, I can be realistic and say that school was not a happy time for me. I excelled, for sure: I got good grades, I graduated with honors, and despite my dreams, that diploma STILL HOLDS UP.
But aside from the friends I had in extracurriculars and occasionally shared classes with, school was miserable for me. I was profoundly anxious. At the time, I accepted this as “teenage angst” because all the media I consumed had characters I identified with: awkward, unpopular, shy — and they all turned out ok! It was just a phase.
Now as an adult, I’m pretty sure it was just depression. I was terrified to make social connections outside my established group of friends because I convinced myself that everybody hated me because I was ugly and awkward. OUCH! Only later in my senior year did I realize this was a self-fulfilling prophesy: being shy made me unapproachable, and that’s why I felt like people hated me. In an ironic twist, many of my classmates confessed that they liked me, but thought I didn’t like them, because I never reached out! Oh, the foibles of youth.
So is the “Back to School” dream a nightmare?
There’s another common theme in my Back To School dreams: the idea of getting a second chance. Arriving back at school with the confidence and worldliness of a 34-year-old, I actually feel capable of navigating the experience of high school the way I always felt that I should be able to, with the ease that my peers seemed to be able to. In previous Back to School dreams, I’ve been the star of the drama club, the gregarious outgoing person that I longed to be in my youth, the envy of my cohort of classmates — albeit two decades their senior.
So is the “Back to School” dream a fantasy?
Having logged about a dozen of these, I can honestly say, I’m just about done having the Back to School dream. I’m ready to move on. Maybe that’s what the Back to School dream is really about: being unable to move on. Much like you would be in real life if a significant portion of your personal history and identity was suddenly and shockingly invalidated. That’s the whole point of being dragged helplessly Back to School.