For someone who gets no sleep…


I sure do have a lot of dreams.

A few years ago, after I finished my MSW but before I started (and put on infinite hold) my PhD, I found myself without a classroom. I was broke, as usual, and the thought of going into debt for another degree was one not worth entertaining.

Which is when my friend Rebecca told me about the Harlem Family Institute.

HFI was a postgraduate program in psychoanalysis: child psychoanalysis, specifically. As its name suggests, it’s in Harlem… well, sort of. You go to classes in your professors’ varying degrees of posh-ish Upper West Side homes, most with libraries, and you do your analytic work in Harlem-area schools. The classes were free because the analysis students provide was unpaid.

Now I was ambivalent about analysis as a practice; it seemed outmoded, impractical (therapy three times a week?!), expensive, and elitist. I read up on HFI, talked to current and former students, and met with the director, and my concerns were alleviated, especially about elitism. At the very least, even if I never went on to practice analysis, I reasoned that the program would be a good investment of time because I’d learn valuable theories and techniques that inform most other clinical counseling work.

I was also ambivalent about children. I thought I didn’t like them. But when I visited the school where I’d be analyzing, I felt like these kids were different because their school was different. And I could see myself as a part of it all.

I applied, I was accepted, I started classes and was into the whole bit. I hadn’t yet begun my own analysis when my boss, who had approved a special schedule that would allow me one day off per week to work with the kids in exchange for working 4 longer days, decided that she wanted me around five days after all. When I protested, she invited me to quit. I should have taken her up on the offer, but instead I withdrew from the program, leaving one of those “What if I’d done that instead?” moments hanging in the ether.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I try to decode my own dreams. Though I sleep in bursts–the sprint runner of the sonambulist world–I’ve had vivid, strange, and dreams so terrifying that they shake me awake.

There’s the wacky dream fragment where I grew two additional breasts, located on my abdomen.

The dream where we’re driving on a winding road with Mariel in the backseat in a side-facing car seat when Francisco loses control of the car. As we’re hurtling through the air, I gently touch his arm and ask how we’re going to handle this. When I wake up, I don’t recall what he’s said, but I know that we landed safely, no harm done.

The dream that woke me up to write this– that I’m at my six-week postpartum appointment and Georgia, the midwife, knows I’ve had sex before the sanctioned healing period has been reached. She’s gently accusatory, as she massages my stomach in a bathtub, and yet strangely understanding. There are little babies floating in the tub, like the kind that get hidden then found in King’s cakes. This, not surprisingly, is what disturbs me the most. In the dream, I see myself clearly, as if the dream has occurred in third person narration.

I wonder what I would have learned about myself in analysis. Would I have been able to handle whatever anxieties and terrors, whatever drives and “wish fulfillments” I’d have found there? Would I have resisted the analyst’s interpretation, insistent upon my own?

Ah… who knows. Hardly worth asking now.

Last night, I was reading this article about the analyst Jung. Second only (and if that?) in renown to Freud, Jung had some pretty wacko dreams himself, dreams that tortured him, that made him wonder if he was coming unhinged. He coped with the fear of oncoming madness by writing about the dreams and his waking brushes with psychosis (I don’t have these, thank you very much) in a leather bound volume titled simply “The Red Book.” He found that even if writing about the dreams didn’t make sense of them, it helped pry loose the hold they had over his mind.

And so it is.


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