Dreaming with MS

I’ve had many dreams I can still remember, some as far back as childhood. Although most have been bad dreams, a few have been quite pleasant. Some of the most disturbing, terrifying, haunting ones were also recurring, visiting my slumber on at least three separate occasions and spread out over months or years, while the pleasant dreams always made one-night-only appearances. The thing they all have in common is that I can analyze their meanings.

The last round of bad dreams

The last round of recurring bad dreams happened during 2012, the final year of my marriage. There were two different ones and they both happened in the afternoon while napping.

In the first dream, my husband and I are at some event in a large building with a stage. When the performance is over we head towards the exit along with everybody else. [Soon] the crowd swirls around me and my husband is no longer at my side. I search for him, spot the back of his head a few yards away and push through the crowd in that direction, but I lose him. I cannot see him anywhere. My vision begins to darken and my legs weaken. I hobble along corridors through room after room and decide to head for an exit, he’s sure to be outside waiting for me. By the time I reach the door, the building is empty and I am alone. I step outside into the waning light, hysterical with grief, and peer at the narrow distances, past a now empty parking lot and across a barren landscape, and drag myself in the direction of home. Just before I go completely blind, I awake.

(Excerpt from “It’s Complicated,” published December 4, 2012 on my blogsite.)

This bad dream repeated itself

This dream repeated itself, and though not identically in each detail, it was always in a public place where I lost track of my husband followed by worsening MS symptoms and a desperate attempt to find him before I lost all control of my body. In my waking life, it was only after my husband expressed his extreme unhappiness being married to someone that could not be his activities partner that I realized my worst fear. It wasn’t physical decline, it was abandonment.

Understanding the nightmare

The beginning of the nightmare depicted the setting as initially normal and enjoyable, attending some form of entertainment in a public building with my loved one whom I trusted, a scenario symbolizing the illusion of my waking life. But it soon morphed into an absurdist Gothic horror story where an arts center becomes a maze of dark dead-ends and distorting funhouse mirrors. Worst of all, it is easy to infer that my husband lost himself in the crowd intentionally in an attempt to escape—and possibly to drive me to madness.

Paralyzed in my dreams

The second example is not so much a bad dream as being caught in a near-waking state at the end of my slumber. I would wake, except I couldn’t move or speak. Then my husband would enter the room and sit on the adjacent couch, watching television or reading and totally ignoring me. I tried to get his attention, but I was paralyzed and only able to grunt, which he seemed not to notice. Then I woke to an empty room and tried to get up out of the recliner—except I was paralyzed and couldn’t move, a scene from which I again woke, still frozen in my chair, mute and terrified, a scene from which I woke once again, this time for real since I could both move and speak. My husband entered the room and I burst into tears, explaining what had just happened.  He gazed at me with what I thought was concern.

Dreams reflected how I felt about my waking life

The above dream experiences made me realize how much denial I’d engaged in about my spouse’s lack of interest in my disease, his insensitivity to my feelings, our general lack of communication, as well as other slights that only a dream state could reveal to me in scary but safer, less direct ways. In both cases, dreams reflected how I felt about the facts of my waking life that I couldn’t yet face. The elephant in the room as a benign waking metaphor can become a raging beast in our dreams.

Can multiple sclerosis affect dreams?

In future articles about dreaming, I’ll be discussing two related points: 1) pleasant dreams connected to having multiple sclerosis, and 2) the theory that a dream is a cognitive ability and can therefore become dysfunctional just like memory, spatial judgment, and mathematical reasoning. Just as multiple sclerosis can directly impair memory and reasoning, it might also impair the mechanism of dreaming.

Has MS invaded your dreams?

Has multiple sclerosis invaded your dreams? Please share them with us. Dreams are endlessly fascinating and can be revealing, terrifying, and cathartic, too.

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