• Kayleigh Shuler

Your Wild... Fantasy... Imaginary... Dream Life.

I pace back and forth across the sunlit, hardwood floors I once manifested and fought so hard for, asking myself, “Well... what do you want?!” Coming up with an answer feels impossible, so I keep pacing and think about a day two years ago instead.

“Oh my God,” I said when I first saw it, stroking the walls, dodging ladders and men working on the mess of a place. It had high ceilings and a big, arching doorway into the massive living room. Tall windows with sunlight pouring in. We were pretty sure the previous tenant had died there. The floor was covered in red shag carpeting reminiscent of the 70’s, which I addressed simply by pointing and asking, “... This?” The super assured me that it would be removed. There were two nods of approval, a signed lease, and two years of battling cockroaches and living with unruly neighbors. It was home.

And now, here I was, trying to decide how and when to leave this place (and an entire life) and answer one seemingly simple question:

Well, what do you want?

I didn’t know what I wanted. Or, at least, I thought I didn’t know. There was actually too much thinking entirely getting between me and what I wanted; that little voice inside. I was thinking about what was best for everyone else; what would make others happy. If I simply made a choice that benefited others, I wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of figuring out what I wanted and I could just leave this big decision behind me. My anxiety was eating me alive.

*TW - brief mention of disordered eating. Love you.

I stopped eating. I didn’t mean to, it wasn’t a conscious decision. But suddenly food was disgusting and I didn’t want anything to do with it. Eating a french fry or saltine here and there became everyday achievements. The stress robbed me of my appetite, and any sort of respite in my mind. If I could just make everyone else happy, I thought, I’ll be happy. I’m happy when my people are happy. I’ll just make them happy first and then my happy will follow.

But that’s not how our happy works. Our happy is in that little voice inside, the one that screams and hollers for our attention alone while we deem ourselves too busy or okay to notice. That voice doesn’t answer to anyone other than us. The screaming can’t be pacified by our generosity with others when we have none with ourselves. When ignored, it only remains and festers and grows until it is eating us alive. Until we feel so ignored by ourselves that things like feeding ourselves don’t seem so important.

The end of the lease soon approached and I had to make a decision. I wanted to hide under my weighted blanket while someone made the decision for me. I repeatedly asked myself in my mind, in my journal, or out loud:

Well, what do you want? Well, what do you want?? Well?! What do you want?!

For a while, my answers sounded something like this: Well, I would want __, but-

If __ would happen, then I would want-

I want __, but I can’t have that because __-

In a world where ___ was ___, I would want __-

Then I was stopped by the little voice inside who sent up a query:

“‘In a world where’? Does that mean it is utterly impossible in the world you live in right now?”

I sat, blinking.

Have you ever had one of these moments? Some people call it God. Some call it the divine spirit. Some call it intuition, their “deep knowing”, or Source. I like to call it “That little voice inside.” Have you ever heard a thought from inside your own mind that made you stop and go, “... Huh.”?

The name “little voice inside” came to me in a dream. Someone unexpected hurt me in an unexpected way and told me, “Listen to that little voice inside.” Out came a scream like I had never heard from myself. Guttural, raw and full. In so many of my nightmares, I can’t talk or even see. I am frozen in horror, watching or feeling terrifying things happen all around me. In this dream, though, I screamed. I woke up and thought, That was different. Ever since, I have started paying closer to the little voice inside.

With that query ringing in my ears, I ran to my desk by the window and grabbed a pen and post-it-note and wrote a question:

What is your wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life?

I stared at it for a minute, then let my eyes wander up to my tree.

My wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life. My jaw un-clenched, shoulders dropped and my mind began to settle, slow and open. For that moment, I no longer had to make a stressful, real-life decision. All I had to do was answer this hypothetical, just-for-fun question. There was no right or wrong choice, because I buried a simple question beneath all of these frivolous words and so it was just pretend.

Calling it my wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life gave the little voice inside permission to go nuts. No one, most especially not my inner critic, could tell me that it was too out of reach or silly, because it wasn’t for real-life-purposes. All of those words removed blockages between me and what I wanted. I was, finally, able to access a part of my mind that could create and dream again.

I took pen to paper and wrote the question again. What is your wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life?

My wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life involved several things. One large component was home, which means a lot to me. The look and feel of a place. I dreamed of an apartment in a house, with a lot less neighbors. Maybe even a porch or small yard where I could sit in sip coffee, in the sun or snow. I imagined many trees nearby and trading in the sound of constant traffic for birdsong. It might have been a modest dream, but it was worlds away from where I wrote that day.

Another dream was to have my own space, for a while. I had never had my own room. I had always been shacked up with either a sibling, roommate or partner. I’d never had a space that was entirely my own. After reading and hearing about people in relationships who maintained their own space, the thought became an obsession of mine. Could I, too, have it all? Could I have a space in which I could grow and become the wild, fantasy, imaginary dream version of myself I always hoped I might become?

One more important piece of this life was my being able to let go of everything I had worked for and essentially knew up to that point. I simply wanted to let it all go in the wind, like a handful of glitter. After all of this beautiful, hard work I had put in, I felt ready to shed it all and try something new. I wanted to cut ties that felt like they were holding me down. I wanted, for maybe the first time ever, to feel truly free.

I sat, Brandi Carlile crooning somewhere in the background, and looked at my wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life on paper.

... It’s not that crazy, I had the audacity to think in the privacy of my own mind and home.

That night I had therapy and, while fighting an embarrassed smile, asked,

“Do you want to hear the prompt?”

“Of course,” they answered, intrigued.

“What is your wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life?”

They asked me what mine was, and still fighting that embarrassed smile I spilled my wild fantasy dreams into the phone. Once I was finished, they paused, then said with a smile in their voice,

“... What’s so wild about that?”

Then I began crying and I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. Their question took center stage in my mind for days, though. “What’s so wild about that?” Now that it was out there and met with such... belief... it started to seem less and less like a wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream and more like something I just wanted and could, maybe, even have. Now.

The days between then and now have been filled with much pain, grief, confusion, therapy and Brandi Carlile. And now, as I write this, I’m listening to her again and I actually gasp when I look up and realize, as if I’ve just time traveled:

I did it.

I live in a house with a few other neighbors. We have two porches and a small yard. Trees surround the garage out back and line the street out front. Birdsong outweighs the sound of traffic and I generally feel lighter and more at ease in my body.

I have my own room. My own room. No one shares this room with me. I don’t ask anyone if I can hang this here or put this there. I call all of the shots in this sanctuary. I have a blanket fort with Christmas lights tucked inside suspended over my bed. My vision board has a permanent seat on my couch (yeah my room is huge it’s crazy). I sometimes (oftentimes) leave underwear and used tissues all over the floor. It’s awesome. I understand much better, now, how my mom felt when she got her first apartment, all to herself. She cupped her hands over face, shoulders rising and she looked like the little kid we all are inside; beautiful and giddy.

“It’s all mine!" she whispered. "I can do whatever I want with it!”

I wrapped her in a hug and we stood there, smiling and sharing the experience of what it feels like to be, finally, free.

Speaking of freedom: I did that too. I cut some ties and took the space to leave what I was and start the process of becoming something new. I let myself off the hook in big ways. I decided that my acting career, as it stood, was not in line with my values as an artist or human and that it was time for a change. My passion for writing and supporting others is becoming more and more clear to follow. It has felt so good to say, I am changing my mind, this year.

Not everyone has been on board with my wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life. Some people decided that this new version of me is not one that they’re interested in.

And that’s okay. Asking ourselves what our dream lives are can be really hard, especially depending on the resources that are made available to us. When we feel unsupported by family, friends or, for many, even an entire nation and government, it can make it harder to dream.

But I dare you to, anyway. Ask for favors and go out of your way for yourself, because you are worth it. For every person that wasn’t on board with my wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life, there was someone who was. I asked for favors and got the help I needed to leave what wasn’t working, and to step into this life I had been dreaming of.

So, my holiday gift to you is this question:

What is your wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream life?

The next time you have some quiet, find a cozy place to sit and write this question down, then answer it. Don’t limit yourself to the realm of possibility. You extend so far beyond that.

And the next time you find yourself dreaming about your wild, fantasy, imaginary, dream anything, I dare you to ask yourself,

“What’s so wild about that?”

If there’s any way I can support you in getting closer to that answer, let me know. Before I leave you, a little stocking stuffer:

Un-clench your jaw.

Drop your shoulders.

Ease the space between your eyebrows.

Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, let go for 4 seconds.

Happy Holidays and xoxo, your messy friend,


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