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Using sleep as time travel in quarantine

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“Sleep is time travel for the depressed.” 

The words rolled out of his mouth. So care-free, uncensored. And although it was a complete mood-wrecker for an already long and bleak day, it was easier for me to accept his statement at the time without much thought. I was walking around in Sacramento with two other friends, and we were caught up in our busy schedules during our senior year of high school at a youth and government conference, hurrying from one never-ending meeting to another. So we were exhausted to say the least. 

Now, I’ll admit I’ve never been one for the self-deprecating comments or dark humor. I just can’t keep up. Most of the time I catch myself laughing along with the crowd before realizing almost a full minute later — or tragically having the “a-ha!” moment while thinking about it much later in the shower — what the darker reality of the joke entailed. But I’ve caught myself on more than one night now, turning over the words that he had said in Sacramento again and again moments before drifting off to sleep. Sleep. Time Travel. Depressed. His words had not resonated with me then, but for some reason, they mean something to me now.

I’ve been isolating at home since my high school closed on March 13. I have only gone out for morning walks, grocery runs or meal pick-ups. Heck, I didn’t even get to see my friends for graduation, let alone see most of them before they left for college. And I think I’ve also forgotten how to drive. It’s been more than half a year now, trapped, stuck, tucked away from the outside world. Am I depressed? No. But on recent reflection, it’s got me thinking. Am I using sleep as a form of “time travel” because of perpetual boredom and isolation? I mean I pretty much do the same thing every day. Wake up, eat, do work, exercise, do work, sleep, repeat. 

Sure, things have grown quite monotonous. But I’ve also gained a lot from my new life in constant quarantine. 

So to all the people who ARE social distancing and feeling the painful side effects of isolation, I’ve got your back. Here’s a brief rundown of why you shouldn’t view sleep as time travel while you’re stuck in quarantine. 

Time is precious.

You can do so much. Pick up a new hobby. Find your secret talent. Fewer distractions also mean you also can get your work done more efficiently. Truthfully, I’m still working on this myself; binging “Criminal Minds” whilst balancing my first quarter at Stanford has occupied most of my time during the past few months. Catch me, however, the moment fall quarter ends, committing to creating a fully elaborate dream journal, taking virtual dance classes from Jake Kodish on YouTube, actually learning a new Romantic-era piece by Debussy or Chopin and perhaps maybe — this is a very strong maybe — finally trying to cook something up in the kitchen. Well, either all of that or I’ll still be working on this tip for the entirety of winter break yet again, binging my seemingly never-ending supply of “Criminal Minds” (seriously, there are almost 300 episodes). I’ll have to get back to you on this one.

Dreams are pretty neat.

Both literal dreams and life aspirations. As a lucid dreamer, I savor all the time I have while asleep, messing around in my self-constructed playground where I determine what is reality, where I have control over my destiny. And in the real world? We all now have more time set aside in quarantine to figure out our life aspirations. So take the time to discover who you are and what those dreams of yours may be. Reach out to your family and friends. A conversation about what may seem like nothing could go a long way (literally how this article came to be). Take Octavia Butler, for example. A negative reaction to a poorly done sci-fi movie from the ’50s spurred the passion of a critically-acclaimed Afro-futuristic novelist of the century! I can do it better. And she did. (Some exciting news: Amazon Studios picked up Butler’s sci-fi trilogy series “Dawn” and it’s currently in development!) So take it slow. Your time streaming TV shows and movies might not go to waste! Imagination, creativity and eagerness with a mix of dabbling in film, literature, news articles and so on can help you connect with a newfound passion. Or hit the floor running. Attend those extra Zooms. Alumni career panels, special speakers series featuring the most influential leaders of our society, frosh Friday game nights, all of it. If you even think it, do it. And when better than now? When you’re forced to discover and connect with the person you’re definitely stuck with for the rest of your life: you. 

The pandemic will end.

Eventually.

Someday, things will be normal. Although it may be hard to envision a future in which we have the opportunity to hug our friends and loved ones or don’t have to anxiously clutch our face masks when a stranger walks by, we have to believe that the time will come. The Spanish flu pandemic lasted just over two years. And that was with much less knowledge, resources and technology than we have today. So I’m hoping as much as you all that the time comes sooner than later. My fingers are crossed I’ll finally be able to set foot on campus for the winter quarter! But in the meantime, stay safe. Stay patient. Stay motivated. 

But why use sleep as time travel anyway? The very purpose of time travel is to go back and change our past in order to modify our present circumstances. But isn’t that what we’re doing every moment of every single day? Are we not constantly shaping our future by making decisions? From things as menial as choosing what pencil to pick up and write with to as life-changing as taking an internship or declaring a major or applying for that new research position, the range of decisions we college students must make can sometimes get overwhelming. We may feel as though we are trapped in a suffocating labyrinth of academic, social and emotional pressures and complexities. And even worse, we’re the ones spinning the never-ending thread like the one Ariadne gave to Theseus, only we’re never truly escaping and instead funneling deeper into our confusion and stress. To put it simply, college is hard. So many decisions. So many consequences from those decisions. In essence, we’re already sophisticated pros at doing the “job” of time travelers. Using sleep as time travel then becomes superfluous since we’re already doing the heart of it unconsciously. All. The. Time. I mean, who’s to say we’re not actually from the future?

Jokes aside, I personally value my sleep a lot. So, if you’re like me in a seemingly perpetual quarantine and have started using sleep as a means of time travel, maybe think of those points I listed for you. Of course, don’t forget about all the wonderful imagined realities your brain will conjure up while you’re dreaming! But more importantly, don’t forget that this phase in your life is incredibly small within the grand scheme of things. This too shall pass.

Contact Emma Y Wang at emmaywang ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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