Panic! in the supermarket aisle

Niki de Saint Phalle, Photo de la Hon repeinte, 1979

One of my first corona vivid dreams involved finding myself in a crowded supermarket where almost no one wore masks and none had regards for the practice of social distancing. In the dream, I realised I had been asking myself, “This felt like a dream. Or is it?” until I saw Lady Gaga, but who wasn’t exactly Lady Gaga (how do you explain dreams that felt like this?) so I said to myself, “So this is a dream.” Out of the corner of my eyes, someone tall — no, elongated was the word — reached for something next to me and he (it?) didn’t have a mask on, and he stood less than 6 feet away that I got anxious. I screamed at him to keep the distance, only to find myself wailing in real life, where I was lying in my bed and awoke with a drumming heartbeat. Without the exception of Lady Gaga, the dream felt real.

It was only two days ago that I was out grocery shopping that I saw people without masks on while they walked next to me nonchalantly, so close that their shirt sleeves almost grazing mine. I remember feeling so anxious, thinking if by any turn of fate I got infected, I was worried for my mother’s health back home. So I navigated the supermarket like a minefield, scuttering into the nook of the nearest aisle as some guy waddled through without any regard for a safe distance, talked too loud, and touched everything in sight. I came home, processed the groceries, and went about my daily life, thinking I was less, or no more anxious about the supermarket adventure. The dream proved I was wrong.

I also wasn’t alone in having these vivid dreams. There were a surge of articles offering explanations about why people dream within the many myriad of metaphor of the pandemic. The New York Times reported that the Gooogle query for “why am i having weird dreams lately” quadrupled by the middle of April. Dreams had always been an indicator of our mental state, and in this state of collective stress and anxiety, it was reported that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a 35 percent increase in dream recall among participants, with respondents reporting 15 percent more negative dreams than usual. This situation also happened when the same research team investigated the survivors of the L’Aquila earthquake, where they found that the closer the survivors were to the epicenter, the more they experienced sleep disorders and nightmares.

Like others I imagine, I had been having more vivid dreams — one time I found myself in the middle of a ritual where people lined up to cough on me, what the hell — and also had been waking up randomly in the middle of night. A friend of mine who constantly had vivid dreams even before the virus outbreak advised to keep a dream journal, which I think it’s not such a bad idea. But really the truth is, amidst floating in all these weird dreams and waves of anxiety and the monotony of quarantining — and I know it sounded selfish to ask for so — all I really wanted was a horizon where I, and everyone else, would no longer feel on the verge of having a nervous breakdown every time we walked down the supermarket aisles. Festina lente.

Reading in my tabs:


  • Reading: Angela Davis’ Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, and Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships. My reading progress has been slow lately.
  • Listening: Dr Kimberlée Crenshaw’s new podcast called Intersectionality Matters.
  • Viewing: Community series before bed.
  • Food & Drink: Made nasi lemak again!

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