My young adult life started out just the way I had planned it. I graduated from college with a teaching degree, found a teaching job in the ideal school district, and married the man of my dreams. In the first six years of adulthood, everything looked like smooth sailing. But underneath the surface, I was cracking under the pressures of a career I couldn’t handle.
As a highly sensitive empath and introvert, I lived under intense, self-imposed pressure to be a good, nice and perfect teacher. I wanted to be perfect in the eyes of all of the parents, the teachers, the principle, the staff and the students. It didn’t leave much room for me to actually teach or enjoy my chosen work.
I was living with anxiety and stress, day in and day out. I thought I was a good teacher; I thought I was doing a good job; but now looking back on it I can see that I was not serving anyone by letting fear and anxiety drive my choices.
Though I wasn’t aware of it, I was desperately looking for an out. I needed someone to rescue me. Leaving teaching without a “good reason” would mean admitting failure. And at that time in my life I prided myself on being perfect and good for everyone around me. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting others down for no reason other than, “I don’t want to teach.”
Somewhere deep down, I decided that if I could just get pregnant, I’d have the reason I needed to leave teaching. I would be rescued, or so I thought. I could stay at home and raise my family. Yes getting pregnant, I realized would be the answer to my prayers.
So, we tried to get pregnant. But it didn’t work.
For five years, we tried to conceive a child with no success. Infertility is a whole other story in itself. I ultimately conceived our son through Intrauterine insemination (IUI). And that birth was followed by three more years of infertility. But that’s not this story. I want to tell you what happened to me while I waited for our son. When pregnancy didn’t turn out to be my escape, I was devastated.
In the meantime, while we were failing to get pregnant, I had to do something to get myself out of the situation I was in with teaching. I had to decide what I wanted to do with my time.
That turned out to be surprisingly difficult. “What do you want to do?” was a question I had been avoiding all my life. I had no idea what I, Pam, wanted at all.
I only ever knew that I wanted people around me to get along. I had spent my entire life avoiding discomfort, helping others avoid discomfort (emotional or otherwise), and people-pleasing to try and preemptively soothe any discomfort around me.
It was, I see now, pretty drastic behavior to try and keep my own internal emotional boat from rocking.
I was born in 1975, but it wasn’t until thirty years later (2005) that I started to try and put myself first. In an effort to come up with what I should do instead of teach, I spent time journaling, reading books like What Color is Your Parachute?, and taking online quizzes about personalities and careers.
And as I began spending more free time getting to know myself, I started noticing the dreams I was having. I would have a weird dream and then wake up and journal about it. It was fun to look up dream symbolism and pretend that I could find meaning in the strange world of dreams. To think that my dreams might be trying to tell me something hidden and mysterious put me in a state of wonder and playfulness. It was a huge relief to feel lighthearted joy like that.
I thought looking up the meaning of my dreams was a simple and silly pass time. It was an escape from all of the pressures of my real life. I pretended that my dream life made sense because I couldn’t bear to admit that my real life didn’t make sense. Eventually I realized that the dream work I was playing with was actually real, healing work. But that came later.
I left teaching in the summer of 2005 and got hired as an education department manager at a nearby aquarium. When I left teaching, I left behind what I thought of as my old identity. But, I hadn’t yet taken on what I thought was my actual identity, the role of pregnant wife and mother.
So, I was in-between identities when I went to work at the aquarium. I felt like I was just biding time until that positive pregnancy test, which I constantly assumed was just a few weeks away. It would be four years until that positive result would come.
I changed jobs four times between leaving teaching and giving birth to my son. I refused to sink too deeply into any job or title. I was always just holding out for the pregnant wife and mother identity that I was so desperate for. Interestingly, as I moved around avoiding attachment and waiting for my life to start, this new identity emerged and followed me wherever I went- dream interpreter.
Dreams turned out to be the one constant in my life during that time. I became known in my circles as the girl who likes to hear people’s dreams and can tell you what they mean. I enjoyed working out the metaphors in my own dreams and I developed a sixth sense for the ways of the dreaming mind.
It was also the one subject that I could use to deflect attention away from probing questions like, “When are you and Brett going to have a baby?” and “Can I tell you what my sister did to get pregnant when she needed help?” and “Why don’t you just stop trying for a little while? That’s how my cousin finally got pregnant.”
So in the meantime, between identities, I discovered a new creative outlet for my energy- dream interpretation. I found out that I was a natural. And I loved doing it, for myself and for others. By sharing a dream, people would invite me into their inner world.
And, then they would let me help.
And I saw that it was helpful every single time. So, for five years I studied dreams. I read books, researched articles, shared what I knew, listened to dream after dream after dream, and practiced interpreting. I interpreted my dreams and those of the countless others who dropped by and asked if I had a minute.
In all of the jobs I held, I became a trusted confidant for people’s deepest, most raw experiences. And they would always follow up with me after we had worked a dream, a day or so later, with some random wild thing that had happened which verified in their mind the meaning of the dream we had unpacked.
I got to see myself using my natural abilities, my highly sensitive emotional intuition, for the benefit of others wherever I went. I got to feel needed and useful and I got to see that even if I wasn’t a mother and I wasn’t a teacher, I could still mother and I could still teach.
While I was waiting to become a pregnant wife and mother, I became myself.
I grew into this vibrant, colorful, complex, intelligent, emotional person who had always been in me, but who had been concealed beneath the layers of stone I had put on her with anxiety and fear.
I learned that I could trust myself. I learned that I can be a haven for people’s raw emotional content, and that I can listen to and understand the complex language of dreams.
I learned that I know some things worth knowing. And I learned that when I put myself first, others benefit. I learned how to admit imperfection and how to weather unexpected life storms. I learned that I am stronger than I thought and that I can be more stubborn and hard-headed than I expected. I learned that it’s important for me to notice what I’m not admitting.
I became myself and understood that labels and jobs don’t define me, nor do wishes and desires. I learned that I can be whatever I want and that I can change what I want whenever I choose. I learned to trust my own creativity and that my highly sensitive empathic abilities are for harnessing and sharing, not for hiding.
In the meantime, in the five years while I was waiting to get pregnant, I turned inward and met myself there.
I fell in love with who I met, so that by the time my child came into the world, I was ready to introduce myself to him.