Below the ribs

Last night I dreamed that I’d invited everyone in B’s class – plus parents and siblings – to drop by our house for tapas after school. The trouble was, I didn’t know how many people were in his class, or how many family members they had, or how many of them were actually going to show up, or what kind of food they liked. I had to make tapas anyway, because I’d committed to it, and so most of the dream was spent racking my brains for things that would be good to make and would serve lots of people (I calculated that we’d need about 5 gallons of tapenade. I was going to make it in one of those big orange Home Depot buckets, as if it were grout).

It was only after I woke up and was staggering downstairs in the dark that it occurred to me that this was an anxiety dream, and that I’d been having anxiety dreams pretty much every night for a week or more. Some had been more anxious than others. The one where my husband fought 18 zombies had hardly seemed to count, because he’d defeated them (I was pretty useless, though, and I can’t pretend the onset of zombie apocalypse is a cheerful, optimistic scenario). Others were worse. I don’t remember them all, only that after each one I thought to myself, “That was weird, having an anxiety dream when I’m not actually anxious!”

How many anxiety dreams do I need to have before I set myself down and ask my brain what’s going on? Many, apparently.

A friend recently told me the etymology of the word “hypochondria,” which didn’t always signify imagined illness. It originally meant something more akin to melancholy. The Greek roots mean “under the ribs,” right where the stomach and liver reside. And that, in my experience, is where anxiety (depression’s partner-in-crime) is felt. A knot at the solar plexus, or a stab, or a fizz if it’s very light.

That last feeling is easy to dismiss. I’ve been dismissing it. My brain, always smarter than I am, has had to yell at me in my dreams just to get me to notice. I’m mentioning it here so I can’t just bury it again (which is tempting).

I am anxious. Maybe it’s about revisions. Maybe it’s about the drought we’ve had this summer (I think this under-rib fizz may have started in July, when the city was choked with wildfire smoke; it was ominous and end-times-y). Maybe it’s about upcoming travel (I’m going to Singapore!) or upcoming public speaking (I’m teaching a workshop — in Singapore!). Maybe it’s all these things, plus a few more, together in just the right proportions.

There are ways out of the labyrinth, always, but you can’t start looking for them until you fully admit you’re there.

So here I am.


3 Comments on “Below the ribs”

  1. tmtrafford says:

    Your posts are always so thought-provoking, Rachel. Thank you.

  2. Singapore! Whoa! My roommate’s from Singapore.

  3. Rick Santman says:

    (Pats Rachel on shoulder, hands her a cookie and a nice glass of pinot noir)


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