Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dreams Hold Key to Life's Puzzles

Pic: La Citta Vita
This morning I woke with the gradual wash of a dream pulling back its hold on my brain so slowly that I was able to catch the salt granules of its content before they dispersed.

It was a healing dream, creating a synthesis of past and present in an elegant, compact way. Everyone’s unconscious is a skilled novelist in its ability to find patterns among all the disparate memories and sense impressions that people our minds.

The dream took me to a disco nightclub that was incredibly fashionable, and there I swanned around with two people from my past – yet it was set in the present. My age didn’t stop me from being relevant and accepted in this ubercool place. The two people I was with were among those I shared a house with for a short time in the then edgy suburb of Fitzroy in 1983. I have fetishised the inner city ever since this time. It represents my personal Eden, my lost paradise, my Shangri-La.

I suspect most of us have more than one of these lost worlds. My dream brought two of them together and in doing so it allowed a psychic healing.

For this dream nightclub was located in the daggy suburb of Glen Iris. In real life this was where my maternal grandparents lived when I was growing up. Their tiny orange brick veneer not only housed the remains of their own family (my mum was the oldest of eight kids) but hosted a growing horde of grandkids. The suburb was boring and middle class in that unpretentious seventies way that is gone forever – hardly the place for a nightclub!

But Glen Iris was more significant than that, because my grandfather ran a tennis clinic every Saturday morning at the tennis courts of the parish primary school. The famous ‘Mister Mac’ taught kids from all over the area, and from all social classes. Some of them came from the posh private schools, some from the humble Catholic schools and some from the ‘state schools’ as the public schools were called.

This was a cushion for a shy child. Not only did my older sister attend the clinic but some of my cousins. I had a secure base from which to socialise.

This earlier childhood experience, I now realise, is why I have obsessed about Fitzroy and its gentrification for so long. Fitzroy represents a  part of my past that I will never get back – a communal household that only lasted six months but was a cushioning influence on a harsh and lonely life in my final year of a university arts degree, where I struggled with lack of motivation, immaturity, social terror, loneliness, undiagnosed eating issues. The decrepid terrace house, before it too became frightening, was a social refuge.

The dream was bringing these two, seemingly disparate periods of my life, together. It was telling me not to worry about my own personal loss of the inner city any more, as well as the larger cultural loss caused by gentrification. For that seminal experience in Fitzroy – that unique sense of community – had already been experienced, much earlier, in a much daggier suburb. And I could therefore experience it again.

I don’t have to live in the inner city to experience community. Thanks to my peer support program, my growing up is happening right now, right here, in Gardenvale and Elsternwick.

The unconscious is incredible in its ability to show us what is happening on a psychic level. Once we start paying heed to its puzzles it rewards us with greater detail, more overt symbolism and sharper recall.

But the dream also gave me another gift. I have started writing about the social causes of mental illness. Not that there aren’t biological and genetic elements – of course there are – but a return to biology, which some psychiatrists are keen on to the exclusion of other factors, would be  a hugely backward step.

Lack of community is one of those factors, perhaps the most vital.

The dream – not just its content but its healing and synthesising qualities – seemed to be telling me I am right to pursue this line of thinking.

Because in those two different stages of my life, I experienced the strength and ballast of true community, and it gave me some protection.

And now peer support is performing this function once more as I slowly, gingerly, reluctantly, take my hesitant steps into the wider community, even as I witness that fragile community being fractured, thinned, diminished by the log cutters of neoliberalism.

Community on the macro (government policy and spending) and the micro (peer support and self-help) levels is worth not just safeguarding but enhancing. It’s not just a tool in mental health, it’s the very basis of it.

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