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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. It’s Complicated, by Kim Dolce. From her personal blog titled Doc, It Hurts When I Do This: A Forum for Multiple Sclerosis Patients Who are Keeping Vaudeville Alive, December 4, 2012. https://multiplesclerosiswrite.blogspot.com/2012/12/its-complicated.html

Comments

  • Bkboo
    2 weeks ago

    My boyfriend is unable to engage emotionally with me regarding MS or anything for that matter! He just isn’t available emotionally. He takes me to the doctor, which I feel I have cab driver. I can relate..The last dream I can recall is men that I know in the dream are ignoring me.
    When I had horrible dreams when I was younger I would wake up scared to go to sleep again. I was told to go back in as someone that could kick…ya know. I went in as Rambo and fell fast asleep 🙂

  • m.Todd
    2 weeks ago

    An issue I have with my MS dreams is that I have difficulty in differentiating dreams vs reality. That can cause problems in my day to day life.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    m. Todd, I think I know what you mean. I had a strange night recently where I woke at 3 am convinced that a kitten was living in the back seat of my car, dying of exposure, starvation and dehydration. I walked out to my car and checked for a cat but there was none. What’s more, I was convinced that I remembered hearing a kitten mewing once or twice during the previous couple of weeks in my waking life. It was a false memory.

    I concluded that right before I walked out to the car at 3 am I must have had a nightmare about it all, though I don’t recall it.

    It hasn’t happened since and I was able to analyze what it all meant. At first it freaked me out that a hallucination could go that far in my mind and in my waking life. But it can happen to any one of us.

    I hope you have found ways to separate fact from fiction. I’m not sure what the connection is to MS, perhaps none at all. Thanks for sharing your experience, it will help us all feel not so alone.

  • Lisasnyc
    3 weeks ago

    Kim, I heard that dreams are manifestations of the conscious mind. I am sorry that yours were recurrent of a somewhat traumatic period in yours. I always read your posts and blogs and can attest you are a very strong woman. You have encouraged me on many of an occasion, which testified to your inherent strength. So all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you!! Lisa

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Hi Lisa, Thank you for the kind words, I’m so glad to know you’ve felt encouraged by some of mine. I feel validated and encouraged by your words, too.

    I’m not certain that my dreams are manifestations of my conscious mind, but I certainly do have a curious mind and will research that assertion.

    Lisa, I hope you’ll continue to put more great questions and stories out there for our community to think about and respond to. You help us all by doing so. Kindly, Kim, moderator

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