When I was a kid, one of my teachers punished me for being weird; well, probably because my weirdness was distracting others, even though I never meant for it to. In one of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood, I was told by my teacher to stop talking to myself because it was freaking everyone else out. Yep, I was thatkid!
Usually, while he was teaching, and the other students were learning, I’d quietly enter my own world, reminding myself to be as stealth as possible. But, from time to time, my world (comprised of superheroes, professional wrestlers, and magical beings) would find its way out, and I would inadvertently mutter something that someone else would here. Often, it was only mildly audible, so a friend sitting near would warn me that I was getting too loud. But, on the above-mentioned day, and I’m not sure why, my friend had decided to desert me, or maybe he just thought it would funny if I were finally caught. The shocked look on their faces, the disappointment plastered all over my teacher’s: they all merged together to create an instant I’ll never forget. It was then that I, and everyone in classroom, realized how strange I was.
That moment occurred while I was in third grade, and not much has changed since then, although I have discontinued talking to myself in public spaces, figuring it was time to. My imagination has always been important to me, because it’s allowed me to create a unique and self-directed world in difficult, and even boring, periods of my life. In school, I often spaced out and thought about things that interested me at the time, dreaming of lives that would never be. And, whenever something good happens to me, I automatically begin to envision how its trajectory is going to unfold. These patterns emerge and my brain can’t seem to turn them off. They help me escape in difficult times, but often lead to disappointment in the good ones.
The tragedy of my life, if I can even call it that, is not so much what happens to me as it the disappointment that accompanies my expectations of what should. My tendency is to assign meaning to likely meaningless situations. I look for it everywhere, and my brain has a way of convincing me that it’s all around me, imploring me to recognize it. For instance, today, I stepped into an elevator with a girl who waited for me to walk out first. So I looked at her and said thank you. She smiled and said, you’re welcome. Obviously, nothing special, right? Not to my brain, which proceeded to create an entire image of who this person was despite knowing nothing of her, while hoping to run into her again.
And this is something that I do recurrently. I go on dates, meet girls, spend evenings with them, and then romanticize what life with them would be like, believing that our initial encounters were infused with meaning. And a part of me believes, or maybe just hopes, that they were.
Some would say that idealism is a fatal flaw in all who possess it. It drove the notorious political utopians mad, some of whom began with benign intentions. It caused romantics from the world over to take measures so extreme that one wouldn’t be wrong to classify them as psychotic. And for some, reality becomes so unbearable that their escape becomes permanent, and their psychosis complete.
So, why I do I, and I hope some of you, do this to myself? Why do I constantly find meaning only to have it shattered? Is it innate, or some learned mechanism from which I can’t unshackle myself? And will the world ever find a place for dreamers or will our dreams continue to cause us to be ridiculed as naive and simplistic?
I tell my clients that the key to sustained happiness is moderation of expectations: if you continue to expect the impossible, disappointment, or even devastation, will always follow. And yet, I find it challenging to take my own advice. Maybe, those of us who live in our minds (and expectations) find a joy which can’t be replicated in the real world; and maybe, our job isn’t only to moderate our expectations but to find a better way to disconnect our fantasies from reality: to keep our worlds alive. But outside of the immediate joy I experience in reverie, I can’t any find significant reasons to hold on. Because, in an apparently relentless series, my life has been a pattern of meeting, connecting, expecting, and feeling let-down.
They say the dreamers are the ones who achieve because they don’t allow despair to envelop them; but, how many of them are really out there? And are any of them the ones whom I dream about?
In this stream of consciousness, I have few answers and likely far too many questions. But I hope that some of you ask them, too. Perhaps if we unite, we’ll be able to create some semblance of our dream-lands, in an uncompromising world seemingly set in its disheartening ways. Or maybe, I’ve yet again fallen into another trap set forth by my overactive mind.