Visions of swarms of bugs, being trapped in solitary confinement, and other traumatic imagery has seeped into our collective unconscious as we try to process the way our world has changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Dream researcher Deirdre Barrett's new book "Pandemic Dreams" documents the strange vignettes people have created with their dreams as they grapple with COVID-19's effect on our society.
She told Boston Public Radio on Thursday the vivid dreams people are sharing with her now aren't unlike what she tracked after other traumatic experiences, like the terrorist attack on 9/11.
"In most ways, the pandemic dreams are very similar to other crises, for example after 9/11, the average person was having anxiety dreams. But they weren't really traumatized in the formal sense we mean in psychology, whereas the first responders — the firemen and police and people who barely got out alive from the ground floors — those people were having really classic re-enactment post-traumatic dreams," she said. "I'm seeing the same thing in the pandemic dreams. The average person has a lot more anxiety than usual in their dreams, but the average dream is not a full-on nightmare, and there are a few positive dreams. Whereas health care providers are having horrific nightmares."
Barrett gathered thousands of dreams through an online survey. A common thread throughout dozens and dozens of people who shared their dream memories with Barrett was the vision of being swarmed by bugs. Barrett said metaphorically, it makes sense.
"I think that's partly (because of) the term we say, 'coming down with a bug,' but also lots of little things that could cumulatively harm or kill you is a good metaphor for the virus particles," she said.
Deirdre Leigh Barrett is a dream researcher at Harvard and the author of the new book, "Pandemic Dreams."