A friend once told me she envied my ability to dream, and to remember these stories after waking. At the time I didn’t think this was much of a gift. I was dreaming in fearful fragments—odd parabolic universes that threatened to undo me during what should have been my respite from an equally upsetting life.

Recently I’ve been having what I consider processing dreams. You know, the variety that seem a direct and clear in-picturing of what is going on below the surface of life while we drive to work—say—or send a text. Pick errant wads of fluff off an old sweater.

I’ve been dreaming of a ceiling. My ceiling, more specifically. It is textured in a dated orange-peel-style mudding job, and painted an eggshell white. I remember the ceiling in intimate detail because I am pressed up against it, levitating. My body has left the floor and lifted me as high as I could go, smashing me against this final obstacle. I grope across the white, flat expanse of it as if searching for a latch to some trapdoor that would let me out. Up… up.

I’ve also been dreaming some vague, anxiety-laced version of a nightmare I used to dream quite often. In it I am at school, and I have forgotten to go to class. Horrified, I realize that I have been forgetting to go to class for weeks (maybe months). I have even forgotten where said class is. I stumble aimlessly around the bleak campus, useless books tucked under one rigid arm, and the certitude that I will surely flunk out like a champ tucked under the other. I have fucked up all right, and the damage is irreparable. I am not doing this whole school thing right at all.

It took a few days for these two dreams to find their connection.

I have long held on to the notion that somewhere below all my focus on overachievement and habitual productivity, I am not doing it right. I am not doing this thing called life correctly, and I have come up against the proof of it. I will fail the class. Flounder around for a career. Enter relationship after relationship, all spiraling toward their end. I will, in short (and paradoxically), prove myself right.

In the end I will get it wrong.

I suspect a lot of us feel this way. It’s the perfectionist’s tendency, perhaps, to cut themself off at the knees. Or maybe it’s just human. And it does just that, this destructive thought pattern. It cuts me off from my true aptitude and energy. I start to trail off into one of the above mentioned parabolic universes, one in which I have screwed it up yet again because I can’t seem to do anything right. And before I know it I have given up, surrendered. I give, my whole being screams out. I can’t! I can’t get it right.

This belief is my ceiling. And like any ceiling it has two functions. It serves to keep me protected from actual failure (if I self-destruct I bypass my fear, or so I think), and it also serves to keep me in. Bound.

We are facing this today as a society, I think. Women, particularly. Yesterday there was a march in my city, as in many cities nationwide, for women. For our rights. Our freedoms and our sovereignty. For our capacity to be seen as we are—as humans—and not as a separate category with a ceiling all our own.

Governments and corporations and expectations and all the many, small interactions of our day create ceilings, yes. But it is our ceilings that matter. The beliefs we agree to that define the parameters of our lives; the possibilities we open to that define our freedom.

I saw this—felt it viscerally—in my ceiling dream. This was my room. My ceiling. No one had put me here, and no one was prompting me to leave. It was my space grown too small. I was Alice without the ungainly limbs. Gulliver without the Lilliputians to serve as my foil. And it was my body rising, rising in the dream. My body and my self and my path upward. My choice to dream the ceiling into being, or not.

You see, it was a dream. I woke from it, made breakfast and fed the cat. I got into my car and I drove wherever I wanted. That day it happened to be to work, but that was also my choice. My choice to earn some money, or my choice to take the time and do something else. I have created my past limitations as I create my day, and I can recreate these limitations, these ceilings, if I choose. Or I can choose to create something new. I can hover against it, waiting, or I can look and see beyond.