A dream about a snake.

How an Instagram video made me re-evaluate a life-long fear.

I had a dream last night that everyone in my family was home at our house in Florida. And at some point there became an issue of a very large snake — orange and yellow and red — that was in the yard and seemed threatening. It was decided that we should catch the snake so that it might be contained and wouldn’t hurt the kids. For some reason, whichever member of the family caught the snake decided that the best thing to do was put it in an untied plastic bag in a bedroom closet upstairs. I believe it was the dream equivalent of my mom’s bedroom closet though houses are always a little different in dreams.

I seemed to be the only member of the family that didn’t think this seemed like a secure resolution to the problem. The reaction seemed to be, “We get it, Megan. You’re afraid of snakes. Calm down.” And my narrative was more, “I’m barricading the kids into my bedroom because it is only a matter of moments before that snake is out and about in this house.”

Now this is not to say that I think the plastic bag should have been tied shut, as that would have killed the snake. It is simply that I objected to the decision to keep the snake in the house at all. I guess I would have preferred it be taken a safe distance away from the house and released into the outdoors. But far away, outdoors.

Everyone in the family seemed busy in the dream and the idea that I might, personally, overreact to a snake is valid. In fact, my performance in this dream appeared calm to me. Subdued even. Logical. I stand by my opinions and actions in this dream.

Now, the funny thing happened when I woke up. My boyfriend, who is an early riser, had already been out of bed for three hours, but as it is a Saturday and I believe in sleeping in on weekends, I also stand by choice to stay in bed. Also, I support my choice to lay in bed for one more hour and look at Instagram. I don’t know why I’m being so defensive.

As I laid in bed for said hour and looked at Instagram, the universe via my explore page revealed a video of — wait for it — a snake. I am kind of a masochist when it comes to snakes. I often walk to the back of pet stores to look at them even though a big part of me doesn’t want to. I kind of just stare at them with a “You stand there and take it!” narrative repeating in my head. It has not proven to ease my fear of snakes (last night I had a nightmare starring one), nor did growing up on a salt marsh in the panhandle of Florida. Which all leads me to believe that exposure is not effective in eliminating anxieties and I plan to share this with my therapist if I decide to stop avoiding seeing her.

The snake in the video looked like some kind of Texas horned thing, though that might be a lizard. I should know this as my four-year-old nephew is currently going through a serious phase of reptile obsession and I have read more reptile books recently than most people I know. Besides my immediate family, who have been enduring the same reptile-centric existence.

(Side-note: maybe the significance of this dream is really only that all of the members in my family currently feel like our lives are ruled by reptiles? If you are a member of my family, you are nodding right now. Another side-note: I should send the snake video to my nephew. He will love it.)

So this horned snake with a kind of wide, flat head is on the sandy desert ground and the person who is filming the video is also pouring water for the snake from a water bottle. And the snake is living for it. He is drinking up all of it and he is so relieved that someone is giving him water and he is letting it splash all over him. I am a thirty-three-year-old pretty conscientious and caring person and I understand that snakes are living creatures like us. But seeing that video on the heels of that dream really made it click for the first time that snakes are also just out here trying to make it.

I texted my very spiritual friend, Yamuna, about the dream and the video and she said two things: I should look up what it means and I should write about it. I looked up the significance of a snake in a dream. It might be the manifestation of a difficult or unsettled emotional situation. Or on the other hand, it might represent some kind of healing or transformation in my waking life. I’m down with all of that, but I kind of think it’s also…I am just afraid of snakes. (I’m SORRY, Yam. At least I’m doing the second thing you said, right?)

What I do believe is that the real message came from the juxtaposition of the dream and the video snake. It was a real lesson in understanding the thing I feared a moment ago and have feared for most of my life. I have a long and sordid history with snakes. When I was a kid, I fearlessly picked up a pine cone with a baby orange snake wrapped around it and brought it into the kitchen to ask my mom whether it was a snake or a worm. It was a snake, and my mom screamed and jumped onto the counter. I joined her there while the baby snake wriggled around the kitchen floor and we waited for our neighbor, who we called Daddy Bill, to come over and smash it with a shovel.

Now, my whole life since then, I felt nothing about that story other than, “What a dumb kid! My poor mom!” And this morning, I’m like, “Oh my god, I murdered that poor snake.”

Twice in my life, I have been indoors while a snake repeatedly rammed its head into the window separating us as if it was trying to get in. That happened once at my parents’ house in Florida, and once in upstate New York at a lake house with my friends. The second time, I had just almost stepped on the same snake in the woods, then ran screaming into the house where it proceeded to torture me and my friends from outside the glass door.

About a month after the New York Snake Incident, I met my boyfriend, who has a snake tattooed around his neck. He suggested a while later that maybe the snake is my spirit animal. This was a very uncharacteristically hippie, airy thing for my cynical boyfriend to suggest, but I was like, “Oh shit, you’re probably right.”

And today, after my thinking was shifted by a social media snake, I feel like there is something to it, even if it’s only the idea that snakes are a presence in my life and in the world and maybe I don’t need to be only afraid of them. Maybe they have more angles than I’ve given them credit for and I owe them a little understanding. Maybe they’ve been trying to tell me that for years but I’ve been too scared to open the window and hear them out.