Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lamictal Day 43: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

It's not on the list of side effects the pharmacist gives you, but brain meds are known for giving you weird or unusually vivid dreams.  It took me by a bit of a surprise back in the day, when I was first dx'd with depression and put on Zoloft, but then I decided it made a certain amount of sense.  I mentioned it to my therapist to make sure it didn't portend some latent psychosis (ha!) and she assured me that a change in dreaming was pretty normal.

Any sleep researched can tell you that everybody dreams.  People who think they don't dream simply don't remember them.  I found that during my years of Jungian analysis, I usually remembered one or two dreams per week.

Modern Jungian therapists -- at least the competent ones that I had -- don't simply rely on orthodox psychoanalysis to treat their patients.  They also draw on family systems theory, behavioral and cognitive behavioral approaches, and psychoeducation (educating the patient about their illness) in order to treat their patients.  Dreams, nonetheless, are still considered to be very important.  They relate to the patient's inner life, to the symbols the patient finds meaningful, and provide clues for how the patient might act more authentically in waking life.
I was expecting a change in my dreaming when I started Lamictal several weeks ago, but I didn't start noticing the change until a few nights ago.  Since Thursday night, I've had vivid dreams that I remember upon waking, but it's Friday night's dream that I want to set down, because it feels "important":

A close friend of mine, who happened to be a venomous snake, is a notoriously bad driver.  Sadly, his ineptitude caused the death of a ten-year-old boy.  The snake is wracked with guilt.

His lover (also a snake) decides that the only thing to do is to kill him.  For a long time, she had been impatient with his blindness to his own poor driving skills.  By killing him, she would make the point that he really shouldn't drive, she would enable him to atone for the death of the child, and finally, would help him live with the guilt for what he had done.  There was a sense that the snake's death was not permanent, and perhaps that it would restore the dead child to life.

I was helping the snakes hang curtains in their new apartment.  The old curtains were seriously ugly.  The snakes started spewing venom all over, so I said, "Guys, you need to take this outside!  I'm a human and this could kill me.  I'll get the curtains hung by the time you're back."  So they left.  In the course of hanging the curtains, I discovered that the old, hideous curtains had obscured a previously unknown window.  The view from this window was the blank wall of the neighboring building, but it let in a lot of light.

One of the things I love about dreams is that however weird they are, they seem completely normal while you're in them.  One of my best friends is a venomous snake?  Of course.  He can drive a car?  Sure, but he sucks at it; he really should let his girlfriend drive.

OK, so it's kind of funny.  So why do I consider it to be "important"?  Well, for three reasons.  The first is the presence of snakes, which are highly potent symbols both personally and culturally.  The second is the death-and-regeneration theme.  The third is the presence of ritual in the dream -- the ritual that will enable the death, regeneration, healing, and atonement to take place.  When my dreams include deep rituals, I have learned to take notice.

Jungians believe that dreams communicate potentials that have previously been unconscious.  In this case, the potential is clearly something to do with healing.  This is suggested by the presence of snakes, which are associated with many pre-Christian deities concerned with healing, and remain on the caduceus (the symbol of medicine, in which two snakes entwine about a winged staff).  It's also confirmed by the ritual the snakes are performing, which is explicitly about healing the results of a grave mistake -- a driving accident that has caused a death.

I am damn well at a place where I could use some deep healing.  In the past year, I have endured a lot of psychic injuries and insults, from the mundane to the bizarre.  I endured an ego-bruising job search that finally got me a job -- only for that job to vanish two weeks later when the company I worked for lost a major contract.  In those two weeks, I sustained a serious repetitive stress injury to my neck and shoulder.  There were the usual worries about money.

All the while, I thought I was coping -- until, that is, the psychotic episode occurred out of the blue.  That brought a flurry of new stresses, new diagnoses, new medications.  One of the new medications, Lexapro, put me in a waking coma that stole a month of my life.  It took another two months to fully recover from the effects of the Lexapro -- two more months of my life, not quite stolen, but not lived fully either.  Then came lamotrigine.  I had four good weeks, and then another week was stolen by the NorthStar formulation of the med.  Then another week back on Teva, and another week of improvement ... but always the question, will it last?  Will it keep me through the winter?  Will I lose still more of my life?

So, yeah, after going through all that, I'm delighted to have a dream that tells me I can heal.  Is is scientific?  Hell no.  In fact, it's not even rational.  But that's OK; life is not a double-blind experiment.  Life is about experience, feeling, and intuition.  My experience and intuition tell me that this dream is real, and contains within it valuable knowledge that can lead to my own return from the underworld.

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