Monday, November 02, 2009

A cat, a tooth, a dream...anxiety!

This morning I had a nightmare. My cat Murphy had crawls into my bag (obviously, because he stows away and comes with me undetected all the time...duh). So there we both are, in a coffee shop. Nothing weird about that, right?

The coffee shop patrons start cooing over Murphy -- who wouldn't? One of them notices something is not right: Murphy's bottom front tooth (do cats even have a tooth there?) is about to fall out. And it is green and slimy and rotting and putrid.

[Backstory: This totally preventable catastrophe is my fault. When I took Murphy to the vet six weeks ago I found out that he needs $400 worth of dental work. Right, I don't have that kind of money. So I did what I do best: I put if off.]

Ok, returning to the dream... A frantic search for the vet's phone number ensues. I can't find it. When I do find it, they don't answer. Time is ticking. All of a sudden it is 10 a.m. (or is it 11 a.m.? In my dream I forgot daylight savings...just like in real life) and I am late for class. And Murphy is trying to escape. And his TEETH ARE FALLING OUT!

...and I wake up.

Phew. So normally analyzing dreams is a futile yet totally unavoidable process. It's the grand goal of us instinctively pattern-seeking humans -- tease some sense out of a mess of images.Valiant efforts have been made (Freud, Jung, and, as Wikipedia tells me, a slew of neurologists) to explain dreams but, like trying to train a chicken, it's mostly futile.

Until, of course, Jordan Wirfs-Brock hits the scene. Ok, not quite. My dream made me realize something, but that something wasn't about the nature of dreams. It was about the nature of pets. Pets and people. People and pets.

Anxiety dreams are crazy common, and teeth falling out is a frequent target. I've had that dream countless times (and damn, it's frightening), but this is the first time I projected that anxiety on an external actor: my cat.

In my dream, along with the teeth falling out thing, I was nervous about:
  • making it to class on time

  • money

  • fitting everything in to my schedule

  • the BURDEN of carrying things around with me

Hmmm, funny, these are all things that were tugging at the corners of intricately woven quilt of worries this morning. I had set my alarm early to go and search for my lost USB data drive which held, yes, "important assignments". Gah.

So here's the revelation. Maybe one of the reasons we have pets (besides the companionship and the fuzziness and the adorableness) is so we can push the anxiety of our people problems on to our pets.

There is generally little emotional wiggle-waggling involved in this process. Does Fido or Mittens need something? OK, it's need to worry about whether your dog emotionally and intellectually fulfills you, or whether you are living up to your full potential when you are helping your cat. It's a different, more manageable, less ambiguous kind of anxiety. This is, I maintain, distinct from another reason we have pets: the desire for unconditional acceptance.

If you, like me, most likely were a Baby 19 and have a form of anxiety disorder somewhere between mild and severe, having a pet lets you channel that anxiety in a way that at least feels productive. Is it exploitation of the animal kingdom? Probably. Is it merely a distraction from dealing with those real people problems I mentioned? Maybe. Am I ever going to stop having anxiety dreams about Murphy that are really about me? Definitely not!

P.S. Also, I just really love typing the word "anxiety." It is so strange.

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