I’m in a jungle, en route to a cenote I’ve never been to. The people I’m with are work peers, though I don’t know their names and none of them seem familiar to me. The terrain almost feels like a movie set, like how Gilligan’s Island didn’t ever seem like a legitimate jungle.
We reach the cenote and the water is deep but clear, allowing us to see all the way to the bottom. There is an island in the center, creating a donut shape for the pool, almost like a lazy river. I know it’s time to get in the water and I’m looking forward to it, only mildly aware that what I’m about to do is actually work and I need to be prepared. I get myself together and jump carelessly into the serene pool. Then I dip underwater.
I realize quickly that there is another world beneath the water’s surface and it’s wild; what I’m here to do is dangerous. A treacherous current rips around the center island carrying giant red snappers, snakes and spiders. They go around and around with no apparent reasoning. I learn that my goal is to grab the enormous fish by inserting my hand in their mouths and grabbing whatever I can – most likely their teeth – and then hoisting them out of the water and onto the jungle floor. It’s not that different from how I’ve seen people ‘noodle’ for catfish in Oklahoma, but it’s a scary sport and I feel compelled to keep up with the people I’m with.
Several times I reach tentatively into the mouth of a large, passing fish and with each attempt I either pull away prematurely, out of fear, or the sharp edges of the fish’s teeth causes a gash in my hand or forearm and I begin to bleed. There is an anxiety swelling and it’s rooted in my inability to land even one fish while my peers seem to be having an easier time. I know if I can be successful one time it will increase my confidence; I’ll be able to identify the best way to secure the fish and will have an easier time moving forward. The anxiety of failing is more troubling than the trickling blood from the dozens of lacerations that are now mapping my forearms.
That’s true until I see an increase in the number of snakes. The current seems to be stronger as well, and moving more swiftly. I am getting pulled closer to the snakes, losing my balance worrying that I’m about to lose control…and then be consumed.
This dream reads like a vignette from a Freudian psychoanalysis textbook. My interpretation directs me almost immediately to work, where I’ve been struggling to feel confident in managing and leading a collection of people whose general existence is, for the most part, unimportant to me.
There are regular times where I suffer through a very strong belief that things are harder for me than they are for others, that my peers are more naturally skilled and capable of doing the work that I’m expected to do, that I should be better at my work and am only nanoseconds from being revealed as a fraudulent con man orchestrating the life and actions of a national political operative.
There are no indications that work is anything but good for me. Self-esteem and a hungering anxiety that can’t be soothed or sated, that perhaps exists without legitimacy…these are my ghosts. And they live inside me and fly around.