I had a dream Wednesday night that I took my temperature and I had a fever, and the thermometer I used was connected to the internet and sent my information to the authorities, who showed up at my house and took me in for COVID-19 testing and monitoring. When I told my friend about this dream, he said, “That’s how you end up in the “E.T.” tent. That’s where all my quarantine dreams are.”
I posted my dream on Twitter and was immediately retweeted by a bot called Coronavirus Dreams Bot, which retweets, or shares, everything that includes the words COVID or coronavirus and dream. I didn’t even realize so many people were having COVID dreams, even though it makes sense that they would.
This was my first dream directly related to the pandemic. I had one in the summer where I went to a coffee shop, and that was the whole dream. Of course, at that time, you couldn’t go into a coffee shop and sit inside, so that’s why the dream stuck out to me — the very normalcy of the dream is what made it incredible.
I think a lot of our dreams are rooted in anxiety, which is why people often dream of being back in school or at work, places where there’s always an underlying anxiety about our performance. I often have dreams I’m back in high school because I’m a credit short for graduation. I’ll even be self-aware, I’ll say, “But I already graduated college, I have two graduate degrees and a job!” but it doesn’t matter. If I don’t finish this credit (usually a math or art credit), none of it will count. So there I am, in my late 20s, taking a math course with a class full of high schoolers.
A lot of the dreams shared by Coronavirus Dreams Bot are rooted in anxiety. Two of the most recent dreams it shared are about the person either forgetting to wear a mask in public, or being in a place where nobody is wearing a mask, and being afraid. Many of the dreams are about people testing positive for COVID and having to quarantine or losing their jobs; one person said they actually went to get tested after their dream.
Some of the dreams, like the one I had about the coffee shop, are just about living normal life again, but unlike mine, the pandemic has turned these totally mundane dreams into something frightening. One person wrote about a dream where they were at a restaurant with their family and that even though everything would have been considered normal prepandemic (nobody wearing masks, no social distancing), it terrified them.
I wonder if, like my dreams about high school, we’ll still be having these dreams in 10 years. Will the pandemic settle itself so deeply into our subconscious that it just becomes normal to dream about it, the way we dream about forgetting important assignments or our teeth falling out? We’ve been living with the stress of COVID for around nine months and, while there’s a vaccine on the horizon, there’s no definite end in sight.
It’s unfortunate that even in sleep we can’t get away from our anxieties. My specific dream about my thermometer having wireless internet and broadcasting my temperature to authorities, is probably a mixed anxiety about the pervasiveness of the internet of things (so many of our daily appliances and tools are now connected to the internet) and the information they may be sending out to who knows where, as well as the anxiety about COVID.
Hopefully the vaccine will help us rest easier and Coronavirus Dreams Bot has fewer dreams to share but for now I guess, there’s no escaping the pandemic.
Johanna Armstrong is the editor of the Lifestyle section.