With Covid changing our lives in so many ways, perhaps it’s not surprising that it enters our dreams. I’ve certainly had some interesting dreams over the last two years: There have been public gatherings, coughing and sneezing, masks, injections - and even scarlet fever.
The most memorable dream
The one I remember most was in April 2020, a few weeks after our first lockdown began, and shortly after reading an article on weird dreams during Covid.
That’s more than two years ago, and yet I still remember the dream vividly. I can see the street where it was, and some of the people I met during the dream. I knew I was in Sorrento, even though it looked nothing like any street I’ve seen there.
There was a group of us talking, and they were mostly older Christadelphians. Things were fairly normal - until the sirens came, and then the flashing lights, as we suddenly realised we weren’t supposed to be there. I walked down the street briskly in one direction, and others went other directions. Then suddenly I was running through an alley, though I don’t think anyone was following me. And I don’t know about any of the others, but I don’t think I was caught.
Curiously, even though I vividly remember these details, they aren’t necessarily correct. I remembered the dream being during the second lockdown, probably multiple times, but the only one I have a record of was during the first lockdown.
And what made me uncomfortable was quite different: There were no police cars, and no hot pursuit. There was hugging and kissing, which I didn’t exactly welcome, but felt kinda normal. It was only when a person who had just hugged me drew back in concern that I suddenly remembered “Oh yeah, we’re meant to be social distancing”. Then the group broke up, and we each went our own way.
Did multiple dreams months apart merge in my mind? Or did I embellish the memories to make them more interesting? I don’t know - but clearly the situation was affecting me.
Consulting the dream diary
I understand it’s normal to dream every night, so I assume I do. However, most nights I don’t remember any dreams at all, and even those that I do remember on waking often slip away completely as I try to pin down details.
After I left religion, I began to keep a dream diary, because I noticed most of the dreams that I did remember were in some way related to processing leaving religion. I’m not very consistent with it, so I’m sure I don’t capture every dream, but looking through it I found more dreams to do with Covid than I expected. I guess it’s not really a surprise: Like leaving religion, Covid with its associated restrictions was a major life upheaval, so I needed to be able to process it. And it turns out that some of those dreams also feature religion.
Over 18 months we had six lockdowns (three long, three short), with what felt like constantly changing rules and expectations throughout. What that meant was that looking through the dreams gave me more of a picture of the different ways Victoria’s response had changed than I realised. And also some idea of which things I was anxious about, and which I wasn’t.
Lockdowns involved keeping away from people. This was one of the biggest things making lockdown feel unreal (and lonely). We weren’t permitted to visit the homes of others, and in the outdoors could only meet up with one other person - and that had to be for exercise. Picnics, parties, and religious gatherings were all out.
In addition to the outdoor dreams I’ve mentioned, at least one was an indoor family gathering at a relative’s house. I knew it was wrong and that we might get caught, and I was uncomfortable. But there was far more pressure to remain because that’s what a good family member would do. I don’t think in the dream I was able to just walk out, even though I thought of it.
Even more odd was a religious dream: I was in the family home, and others were going to visit a church out in the country. For some reason I didn’t go along with them, and was thinking instead of visiting one more locally. Then I suddenly remembered we were in lockdown and I shouldn’t be going to religious services in person (instead of, say, remembering that it had been five years since I’d last been to a Christadelphian memorial meeting, and I had no intention of changing that).
Authorities repeatedly said things like “You should get tested for even the smallest of symptoms”, but I felt like if I looked hard enough I could probably find things I’d call “symptoms” at least every other day. However, Covid did have some very visible symptoms, and I think coughing and sneezing in public were the ones that were most frowned upon.
And so there were multiple dreams where I was out in public, then suddenly had a running nose or started coughing and didn’t know what to do about it. Should I get tested? If so, how do I even go about doing that? (at that point, I’m not sure I’d ever been tested)
In one curious dream, I was going into a maze or somewhere similar, and saw a sign up that there should be no coughing. Feeling contrary, I coughed loudly - then ended up with a sore throat and wasn’t able to stop coughing. Then spent ages trying to convince the gatekeeper they should let me in anyway, and even after I was let in had to keep coming back to the gate to report that yes, I hadn’t coughed for a while, and the coughs weren’t anything to do with sickness anyway…
I was of course far too embarrassed to actually say that yes, it had started with me coughing to prove a point. After all, Covid is serious. You don’t do such things in respectable society. Except perhaps in dreams.
In Australia, international travel was heavily restricted. Australians were banned from leaving Australia without hard-to-get government permission. For those wanting to come to Australia, there were arrival caps far below the demand, flights were difficult to get, and non-Australian citizens would need hard-to-get government permission. All arrivals also needed to go through two weeks of hotel quarantine, usually at their own expense.
Before Covid struck I’d been planning to travel extensively in 2020, and, while I knew the situation was serious, I don’t think I was ready to appreciate how long it would disrupt things. And so it was that in May I was dreaming that I’d unexpectedly been able to travel to the US. In fact, I was there. And then it turned out I didn’t have the right paperwork, and the rest of the dream was back in Australia trying to get that paperwork (if only switching between the two were as quick and easy in real life as in dreams…).
Another dream was even more odd: A friend from the US was here in Australia, and it was a big surprise. I wasn’t thinking something sensible like “Why didn’t I know they were coming?” but “How did they get in without two weeks quarantine? Did someone forget to tell me that Covid was over?”
Masks first became required part-way through our second lockdown, and after that they were typically required indoors and often outdoors as well.
However, shortly after mask requirements came in I dreamed I was in London and not wearing a mask. Then I was back in Melbourne and having to remind myself to actually carry and wear a mask (I think this shows a larger concern - having to try and keep up with all the many rule changes)
Another time I had a new mask and was trying to put it on, but it wasn’t properly attaching to my ears and wasn’t covering my mouth and nose, and my brother kept saying it was OK but I was worried I’d get in trouble.
Sometime in late 2020 the Victorian government began requiring businesses to collect contact information for customers and staff in case it was needed for contact tracing. Initially different places did it differently and it was rarely enforced, but later it was required to be done through the Services Victoria app.
In one dream I was getting an ice cream at a pub - already an odd choice - and had already checked in. For some reason I needed to find my driver’s license to check in again, and while I did so the ice cream disappeared (guess it must have been non-essential 😉).
Once an outbreak had been brought under control, the Victorian government tended to take a “slow and steady” approach to relaxing restrictions.
During longer lockdowns exercise and shopping had been limited to within 5km of home. As part of re-opening they were talking about expanding it to a 25km zone, and I was looking forward to it. Then I dreamed that, while the rest of Melbourne had got a 25km zone, we’d been left with a 5km zone due to a drafting error. Naturally we complained bitterly, and eventually got it changed.
More worrying was the dream when a lot of people I knew decided to come visit my house. Unlike the “public gathering” dreams above, in this case it was permitted - I just wasn’t ready for it. And it didn’t help that they’d decided to redecorate my house with Bible verses without my permission…
So the truth really is that I felt restricted and wanted more freedom - I just wasn’t so sure about the people! Things which had been completely normal before now came with a lot of anxiety, and I needed to process them.
In late 2020, we heard that multiple vaccines had passed clinical trials and in fact were more efficacious than we’d expected. This meant that in 2021, mass vaccination was viewed as the way out of the pandemic.
I fully intended to get vaccinated, but I knew the roll-out was going to take time, and given my age I wasn’t expecting to be at the front of the queue. I also didn’t (and don’t) like injections.
Other countries were - of necessity - rolling out vaccination faster than Australia. And so I first dreamed of getting vaccinated in April 2021 when friends in the US were getting it. Then in July. And mostly what I remember is a feeling of surprise: How come I hadn’t known in advance that I was getting vaccinated? How come my family knew nothing about it? How had I even got an appointment this early? And what was I supposed to do about organising an appointment for the second shot?
The oddest one had me in a doctor’s office lying on his desk. I expected to be injected in the shoulder, but instead it went into my foot. I couldn’t feel anything, but was certainly wondering “Will I be able to walk today?” Something else that was fun was realising that the injection had been in my left foot, presumably because I’d been expecting it in my left shoulder. Good to know that my mind generates unusual dreams in a way that makes some logical sense 😉.
Scarlet fever? Really, brain?
That then brings me to last week’s dream. It all started with this:
Then, when looking for more about smallpox quarantine, I found an article about the last smallpox outbreak. Which would have been one of the last things I read before bed.
I dreamed I was at a camp, and everything was just fine until we heard someone had discovered they had scarlet fever. And we were wondering “What should we do about this? What are the quarantine rules? And why exactly are the people in the same cabin still free to mingle with us?”
Over the last couple of years we’ve come to know a lot about Covid and what should be done in response to it (or perhaps just think we do 😉). And perhaps that’s why this dream combined the anxieties of Covid with the uncertainties of a less familiar disease. I guess my brain knew smallpox was long gone, and scarlet fever was the best it could come up with.
From reading older books, I knew scarlet fever as a dangerous sounding disease which required quarantine. And I guess I knew it wasn’t as much of a threat now. But I really didn’t know much about it.
According to Harvard Health Publishing:
Scarlet fever is an infection caused by Group A Streptococcus (“strep”) bacteria. It causes a finely textured rash that can appear like sandpaper along with other symptoms. It usually occurs after a strep infection of the throat (strep pharyngitis, or strep throat), but occasionally after a strep skin infection. The rash of scarlet fever is caused by a toxin that the strep bacteria produce.
Scarlet fever once was common among children ages 2 to 10, but now it is relatively rare. The reason for this remains a mystery, especially because there has been no decrease in the number of cases of strep throat or strep skin infections.
Here’s what the CDC recommends to prevent spread:
The best way to keep from getting or spreading group A strep is to wash your hands often. This is especially important after coughing or sneezing and before preparing foods or eating. To practice good hygiene, you should:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Put your used tissue in the waste basket
- Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available
You should also wash glasses, utensils, and plates after someone who is sick uses them. These items are safe for others to use once washed.
Sound at all familiar?
Before the discovery of antibiotics, scarlet fever was a leading cause of childhood death. Now, while there’s no vaccine, antibiotics both significantly reduce the risk of serious complications, and also reduce the risk of spread once they take effect. Though it’s worth noting there have also been some signs of antibiotic resistance.
The dreams I didn’t have
So those are some of the Covid dreams I had. I also find it interesting the dreams I didn’t have. In particular, I don’t have any record or memory of a dream where I got Covid, or where someone close to me got it. Here in Australia, it just wasn’t as much of a concern. I’d known people in the US and co-workers in the UK who had got it, but it wasn’t till late last year that I first heard of someone I knew in Australia who had got it.
I certainly knew that it was possible for me to get Covid. And also possible that I would then die from it. However, I never thought it particularly likely. The suburbs around me were less affected, and living by myself and working from home during lockdowns made it even less likely that I came into contact with it.
Even the dreams where I had “symptoms” I don’t think I feared having Covid - just worried about the judgement of those around me. Nor did I seem to have dreams where I was worried about coming into contact with people showing “symptoms”. My focus was less on “avoiding getting Covid” as it was on “doing the right thing, and being seen to do the right thing, and avoiding penalties for doing the wrong thing”. And I think this was true of me in the waking world too, not just in the dream world.
What’s up with the title?
The title quote comes from (my memory of) Terry Deary’s The Prince of Rags and Patches - which I must have read nearly twenty years ago. For whatever reason it left enough of an impression on me that it was one of the first things I thought of waking up from dreaming of scarlet fever.
The speaker is Richard III, on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth Field - presumably based on the dreams in Shakespeare’s Richard III. So even Tudor propaganda is useful for something.
How about you? Had any interesting Covid dreams?
I read that one article early in the pandemic, but since then I don’t know I’ve heard people talking about Covid-related dreams. I really am curious - please feel free to comment and share if you’ve had any interesting Covid dreams.