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How 'Stranger Things' Can Help Explain Anxiety

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My boyfriend and I were exchanging dreams Sunday morning.

Mine was embarrassing, and thankfully irrelevant, so I won’t share — but he has always had vivid dreams, and I thought this one gave some insight into the anxiety both he and I experience.

He said he had a dream that like in “Stranger Things” — a show we’re in the middle of watching — he was stuck in a parallel dimension, just like Will. It looked liked our world, but it was scary. Everything was a little off. And it reminded him of how he feels when he’s “stuck” in anxiety.

This deeply resonated with me. On a regular basis, I feel myself getting sucked into this world by anxious and distorted thoughts that are sometimes hard to escape.

It starts with one doubt, one lingering question. And although I sometimes can pull myself out of it before the gate closes, other times I’m not fast enough, and I’m stuck there for a while.

What’s important to know about the “Upside Down,” the other dimension, is that it could pass for the “real world.” It looks real, it feels real, although subtle clues tell you otherwise. The lighting is different. There seems to be falling snow. Negative thoughts trump what you know to be true.

When I asked my boyfriend to expand on his dream, he said, “Everything was the way it was in reality, except I could find my way on autopilot, and although I was moving the same, life still seemed unrecognizable. It was like trying to find the portal to get out on the other side, but the more I panicked the harder it was to go through the ‘portal.’”

Heart racing. Quick breath. You panic because unlike our safe world, a monster lives in this one. The monster with no face. The very real danger that makes you want to hide within this parallel dimension. And the farther your worry drags you into the dimension, the harder it is to keep your eyes off the monster.

It’s hard to communicate with others when you’re stuck in the “Upside Down.” You blink your lights, sending codes to loved ones with letters written on the wall, but no matter how hard you try, they can’t understand you. It’s not their fault; they don’t know what it’s like there. And only the bravest and most patient, like Will’s mom, never give up.

There are some casualties. Not everyone has a chance to get out. Some are not afforded a rescue team and a hiding place.

That’s why it’s important to have an Eleven. Someone who knows where you are and can visit you there. Even if they can’t rescue you themselves, they can listen. They can let you know you are heard, and that you’ll be all right.

What’s important to know about the “Upside Down” place is that no one lives there. Eventually someone rescues you, or with the proper coping skills, you learn to rescue yourself. And the more you practice, the easier it is to leave. Your visits become less frequent. The monster seems less menacing.

I’m still working to make my trips there shorter. I’m trying to catch myself before I fall into the web of negative thoughts and doubts that make up this other world. In the mean time, I’m lucky to have an Eleven, who knows what it’s like there. And when he senses the electromagnetic field is strengthening, he sees where I’m going, and lets me know everything will be all right.

Originally published: October 5, 2016
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