Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bad dreams

For years now I have had a recurring dream. I am back at high school. There is an exam tomorrow and I haven’t studied at all. Sometimes I haven’t been to a single class in that subject. Sometimes I hadn’t even realized I was enrolled in the subject.

I am enraged at my own subconscious when I wake up from this dream.

What are you trying to tell me? That I’m not trying hard enough?

When will I have convinced myself that I’ve put in a solid effort in life?  Just thinking about it makes me tired and sad.

I have spent most of my adult life living in countries where I didn’t grow up, trying to make it all work while being perpetually just outside my comfort zone. I am a parent to two little girls. This year I went back to work as a lawyer. I can read and write Japanese.  Last month I rang a car mechanic and in Finnish asked for an appointment to have the tyres on my car changed.

Why have I convinced myself that this, my life, is a poor effort?

I admit, sometimes I do aim for an “adequate” performance rather than a job well done. I am sloppy with my foreign languages. I don’t try as hard as I possibly could at all times with my kids or my husband. There is plenty of room for improvement in my work-related skill-set. I snack too much and don’t exercise enough. I should call my parents more often. I never put my dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher and my ironing pile continues to rage out of control.

The list is endless.

Yet, even if I were a serial perfectionist, it wouldn’t help. I’ve had this dream even at times in my life where I was trying my absolute best; aiming for excellence across the board.

At this point, I’m tired. I’m just so tired.


  1. Oh Katriina. My heart was sore when I read this. And whilst I am also certain that you are a bit down just now - and therefore maybe more sensitive to the negative voice - that negative inner voice is a curse. Please take a sledge hammer to it! Shooo that baddy away - every time it even just hints that it's about to speak... I'm writing from experience because I've had (and sometimes still have) battles with my own inner baddy.
    In fact, I wonder if your dream isn't your fear speaking? I wonder if that dream isn't telling you that you've forgotten to be happy or content with your own Self? That you've forgotten to recognise and to reward your self for every hard won achievement. Because you have achieved so very much. And though you may feel unworthy of admiration - for the vast majority of folks what you have achieved is big and impressive.
    It took me years to recognise that I was running a race with myself - that having met the early targets I'd set, I'd forgotten to stop for a while and savour what I had originally set out to achieve. I've realised, almost too late - as I think I missed so much simple pleasure and enjoyment because I was fixated on my race - that life isn't actually a race and that I'm allowed to pause and look around.
    Sag a little Katriina. Cut yourself some slack. Look in that mirror and see what we others see: a very talented, insightful; highly intelligent; sensitive; beautiful,loving and giving woman.

  2. WOAHHHHH!!!! Reading this post makes me tired, too. My goodness!!! Honey, just take it easy and enjoy your life.

    I went online and look for dream meanings and dunno if it's accurate or not, but just in case it can help you:

    "These dreams usually have to do with your self-esteem and confidence or the lack of. You tend to believe in the worst about yourself and are often overly worried that you are not making the grade and measuring up to other people's expectations of you. You may also experience the fear of not being accepted, not being prepared, or not being good enough.

    Test dreams are also an indication that you are being judged. These dreams serve as a signal for you to examine an aspect of yourself that you may have been neglecting and need to pay more attention to.

    Most of the time, though, people who have such dreams are unlikely to fail a test in real life. This dream is rooted in the fear and anxiety that you may not meet other's standards. You are afraid to let others down."

    I agree completely with y.s.s. that it's really crucial to be able to savour the moments. IF (not sure about this) you are afraid of letting others down, maybe you should shift the focus instead? I mean...I know I have let others down 'coz it's impossible not to do that (some people may have expectations that we don't even know, or higher expectations about us that we can't give), but just remember that you're loved even despite yourself. :-) And you're ENOUGH.

  3. See, I don't know if this is because I'm also someone who tends to feel perpetually inadequate, but I think those kinds of dreams are quite normal. I don't think they mean much at all. My version is that I'm supposed to sing a concert and I don't know the music, or I lost my music folder, or I'm in a play for which I haven't rehearsed or studied lines. I haven't done any serious performing in years! Everyone has anxiety dreams.

    They're terribly unpleasant, I know. This might be easier said than done, but my advice would be to forget about them. Don't place undue emphasis on a story your brain told you during REM sleep. :)

    All that said, I'll echo what Amel and y.s.s. said: you're doing well. You're doing a stellar job at being a human being. Your efforts haven't gone unnoticed by your blog readers, and I'm certain that they haven't gone unnoticed by your family or social circle, either. You are good enough, and you are trying (more than) hard enough.

    Now stop giving those dreams more power than they deserve. :)

  4. "I snack too much and don’t exercise enough."

    More of you to love.

  5. So when will you have convinced yourself that you've put in a solid effort in life? That is an excellent question to start with. What is a "solid effort"? What does that mean for you? You know that you have excelled in life and achieved so many things. Have you really convinced yourself it is a poor effort? Again I ask you , what does a "poor effort" mean for you? Katriina, you are capable of great things and you are capable of being happy. You are capable of finding the right degree of "effort", but do you know what that is? You say that sometimes you aim for "adequate" rather than best job - well some would call that eminently's all a question of what really matters to you. We all have moments where we are tired, just so tired, and some of us more than others beat ourselves up far too often....the moment will pass, but I encourage you to consider what you will do to keep that feeling at bay for longer. Right something that you know will rejuvenate and refresh you.

  6. You lovely people. You are the best. Thank you so very much for your kind and supportive words. It was self-indulgent in the extreme for me to post a whiney piece like this, but I really needed to hear what you wrote in response. Big hugs to you all.

  7. I just read everybody else's comments and they all say it very eloquently (whereas I suspect I am about to say 'ecky thump'). I was just wondering who set your internal standard for 'good enough'? Is there something else you think you should have achieved that you are now over compensating for by imagining that your ironing pile should be empty or family life should always be like a Disney movie? I'm guessing that you have already 'achieved' so much more in life that many of us could even start to imagine - ecky thump, girl (thar she blows)- even some Japanese people won't be able to read and write Japanese. I wonder what you actually need to do to find the seal of self satisfaction, sometimes I forget to remember how well I have done, tie a knot in your hanky to remind you to look at each fabulous milestone. And each morning after you have that dream give your family the biggest hug ever, they will be your greatest achievement of life - no exams for being a great mum and wonderfully for us all, there is no set route to achieving it xxx

    1. K Ville, thank you so much.

      As you and others said, I think it's a question of figuring out what it is that really matters to me, and forcing myself to take notice when I'm able to achieve that; to engineer something that's truly important to me. And yes, you're right - my children are certainly my proudest achievement, and if they were my only achievement in life it would be more than enough. I will remember that at low moments.

      btw, I had to google "ecky thump" :) I had only the vaguest ideas about what it might mean. You will laugh to hear that I could think only of Bill Oddie and black puddings...!

  8. Actually I don't think it is a whiney post at all. In fact I think that anyone who writes like this is very brave. Confronting thing that aren't quite right in life is the first step to sorting them out. Far better that than to shove them under the carpet. Seeking out support or advice is also a very positive way of dealing with issues. In your case in particular, precisely because you have achieved so much, to feel that you haven't can seem is that confusion that I would encourage you to explore.

    1. Thanks, Sara. It really is confusing, because sometimes I feel as though I could push myself well past all sensible limits and still not feel that it was enough. The point is, I suppose, that I've never really sat down and considered what, for me, is "enough", and why.

    2. I don't think planning for "enough" is the key for suppressing the emotional turmoil. To me, it really just sounds yet another goal to fret about.
      "Enough" is an achievement. I don't think you should think "enough", you should think "happy", "content", "relaxed", "fulfilled", etc. since you seem to stress about your inner feelings and spiritual well-being. "Enough" is when you are those things, but it's not about quantity or measurement.

      It's not about achievements and goal-posts, it's about finding a way to let go, to release. A way to be centered and balanced - zen, if you will. Find something that not only makes you happy but allows you to de-stress. I'm sure there are many stressful things in your life that make you happy. Find something that isn't. It may be a place, an activity, a lack of activity, a person, etc. - anything.
      Of course, if you really are an achievement-oriented person, then maybe that something should also provide you some goal-posts, if you find your life is lacking them.

      Sorry, if I assumed too much or if I was intrusive or inane or something.

    3. Blind Sniper, I appreciated your response so much, and have done a lot of thinking about what you said. It is so true that "enough" is not about quantity or measurement, but rather about getting to a place where you feel happy and content. Sara (who commented above) recently wrote a great post about achievement and its pitfalls, in which she said:

      "A sense of achievement usually brings a feeling of short-term joy, excitement and pride, but very often the need to continue achieving reasserts itself quite quickly and a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction sets in. We see more clearly and more easily where we are failing than where we have already succeeded".

      I love achievement because of this short-term job and satisfaction, but it is so true that putting value in high achievement ultimately breeds dissatisfaction and disappointment (especially when a person lives an adult life with complex adult responsibilities and endless possibility for less-than-perfect results).

      I agree so much that I need to find something that makes me happy but in a less fleeting way - and which doesn't depend on the achievement of a measurable goal. I don't yet know what that is, but I feel hopeful that I will find it now that I have a better idea of what to look for. Thank you again, so much.

    4. I may be completely off-base here, but have you considered a team sport as a hobby?

      It would provide some me-time, camaraderie, a place to vent, presumably a steady stream of small successes, a socially acceptable context for pushing oneself to excel and might be a "package" easily justified at home with a regular time slot. It may not help with any physical fatigue, although a better physical condition might help if that's an issue.

      Of course, if you completely suck at it, it won't help with feelings of inadequacy unless it's just that much fun. It might provide enough a distraction while you get used to the idea of achievements being a nice thing but perhaps not even a necessary component of one's life.

      Ok, I really should stop now.

  9. Dreams: the ultimate headfuck. It may just mean that you feel unprepared - not that you actually are; you just feel it.

    1. Steve, this is so true, and "headfuck" is the perfect word here. I think it's all about fear of not living up to stupidly high self-imposed standards. Must. Lighten. Up!
      btw, am very glad you decided to continue with Bloggertropolis. I haven't commented lately but am still an avid reader.

  10. "I'm tar'd out," the girl whispered. "I'm tar'd a things happenin'. I wanta sleep. I wanta sleep."
    "Well, you sleep, then. This here's a nice place. You can sleep."

  11. I have the same range of that recurring dream. Last year it changed slightly and twice, in the dream, I went to teachers to ask what I needed to do in order not to fail and I thought, hurrah, I've turned a corner! Alas, I celebrated too soon, I'm back to failing, running late, losing books, not even knowing I was enrolled and the exam is tomorrow etc etc etc
    Thanks for sharing, I really related and its nice to know I'm not alone! If you figure out how to get past it, do let me know!!!

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