Interpreting last week’s dream.

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Last week I had a bad dream which I described in this post.   I typed it out when I was still half asleep because I knew it was important and didn’t want any of it to fade away.  I emailed it to my therapist and asked him to print out a copy for our session tonight because I don’t have a printer.

I didn’t hear back from him and wondered if he had got the email, but  tonight I saw a copy sitting on my chair in his office, and he had printed out a second copy for himself too.  We spent the next hour talking about it.  It’s funny the way a dream can seem to make almost no sense, but therapy can bring so much clarity to it.   How did I not recognize what was so obvious?

I’ll go through it here, one paragraph at a time, and explain what we found out.

I am waiting to see my therapist. But my therapist isn’t my therapist. He is my old therapist (the one I had when I was 22, the one who I fell madly in love with and had to leave because my emotions were too painful). But he is still my current therapist. (I know, but it made sense in the dream.)

This part I already knew. At age 22, I had another therapist I experienced a strong transference with, and spent 2 years with him. I quit out of frustration because I couldn’t handle my powerful romantic feelings and at the time, I had almost zero insight. But his manner, in many ways, reminds me of my current therapist. They are both attractive men of approximately the same age (at the time of my seeing them). In my dream, they both represent a Hero/Parental archetype.

Someone is talking to me and I’m crying. It’s not a bad cry or a painful cry. I think I’m crying in empathy. I don’t know what I’ve been told or what emotion I’m feeling, but my head is thrown back and tears are streaming from the sides of my eyes and down into my hair. My lashes stick together. I’m wearing non waterproof mascara; I’m vaguely aware the black tear tracks will be visible to my therapist even after they’ve dried. I leave them there, almost proudly, intending for him to see. We’ve been working on getting me to cry in session. I need for him to see the evidence of my tears.

He was touched by this and told me so. He kept wanting to go back and talk about it, but this is the part that was most awkward/uncomfortable for me to talk about because it’s me at my most vulnerable/open/unguarded (which means it’s very important NOT to avoid!). He pointed out that the woman who wept with someone else in the dream was the “real me” and therefore I do have the capacity to empathize with and connect with others. He wanted me to remember some times in my real life I actually felt this way. I tried to remember; it was hard because there have been so few times. Most of the time when someone opens up to me I find myself pulling away. The last time I felt really open and emotional with another adult was in 1986.  But that was with my ex, who betrayed my trust and wasn’t at all who he seemed to be. Still, I want to feel that way again because I want to be able to connect on a deep and meaningful level. In the dream, I was open and vulnerable, but not in emotional pain at this point.

His office is in some kind of art complex. Outside, patrons are walking around looking at and purchasing art. My handsome therapist comes out, as he always does in real life, to ask me kindly to give him another five minutes. But this time, his face worries me. He looks worried or concerned. He tells me there is something he needs to tell me. I feel the blood drain from my face and my heart curls up into a tight ball as if to protect itself from whatever’s coming.

The art complex represents creativity and vision. But this is destroyed by what my therapist says which triggers familiar feelings of “the other shoe is about to drop because the world is dangerous and people are untrustworthy.” I have opened up to my Hero and made myself vulnerable and tapped into my creativity but my Hero is about to drop a bomb that will destroy all of that and destroy me.

“It might disturb you, but don’t worry,” he says. And then he walks away.

Mind games. Playing with my emotions. Tormenting, goading, sadistic teasing. This is exactly the sort of thing my narcissists did to me all the time. In the dream, my Hero becomes someone else out to destroy me. No one can be trusted.

Of course I worry. In fact, I panic. I go back out into the art complex and walk around, pretending to look at the art. There seems to be a party going on. People are dressing in costumes. I think about what my therapist has to tell me. Is he sick? Going to dump me? Leaving town? Is he going to die? Dread and my old friend, Fear of Abandonment, holds me fast. I can’t escape. My breathing quickens and becomes shallow. My tears have dried and I can’t make anymore even as I will them to come

The costume party represents the fakeness I see in everyone around me. No one is who they appear to be. I’m not a part of it; I’m left out. I can’t cry because to protect myself, I’ve shut off my emotions again. The wall is back up.

Soon I see my therapist laughing with a woman, a beautiful woman. I wonder if that’s his wife.
My therapist turns, approaches me. I freeze in place, almost drop the raku vase I’m holding.
I start to cry when our eyes meet.
But pride takes over.
“You’re an asshole,” I say, rubbing my eyes with my fists like a spoiled child. I no longer want him to see me cry. I don’t want him to have the satisfaction.

The raku vase is probably a minor detail, but could represents the creative urge I’m trying to hold onto (I almost drop/lose it). I call him an asshole because he has played with my emotions and seems to be doing it deliberately by refusing to fully explain what he meant but making me wonder and worry. The crying is angry, hurt crying, in contrast with the tears of openness and empathy early in the dream. I attempt to hide this because I no longer feel safe being vulnerable.

He looks angry.
“I’m not going to see you when you talk to me that way,” he says. I look at him dumbly, stunned into silence.
“But what about–?”
“I’ll see you next time,” he says, and turns on his heel and walks away.

My Hero has become a disapproving, narcissistic, uncaring parent who is only concerned with his own feelings and is punishing me because I criticized him, and finally abandons me. This is what my parents did to me and is at the center of my mental illness.

He might as well have just stabbed me in the stomach. I feel as if I could collapse onto the floor. I want to disappear. The shame and anger is overwhelming. And I have to wait to find out whatever horrible news he has to tell me. I think he’s trying to torture me.

Shame of who “I” am and for expressing my feelings. Being abandoned makes me feel like I don’t exist.

I’m still in the art complex and people are walking around as if the world didn’t just end. All the therapists in the office are milling around too, drinking out of cocktail glasses with ridiculous little plastic umbrellas and other doodads sticking out of them. Someone has set up a cash bar at the far end. My therapist is over there, laughing with the other therapists. I feel like I don’t exist.

Everything is a sham, fake and cheap. My Hero, who I trusted, doesn’t care. He’s abandoned me and has joined with all the other fake and cheap people. He betrayed me, just like everyone else. Abandonment and betrayal makes me feel dead.

One of the therapists gets up on a podium and says we are having an animal costume contest. We will be dancing to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” in our animal suits. I don’t want to be there, but I feel obligated to participate. A huge box is pulled out from somewhere and everyone rushes over and starts pulling out costumes. All I can find is a chicken head and a silly cowprint suit. Somehow it seems familiar to me, as if someone in my past had worn this same costume before. I put it on and feel like I can be invisible in it. I just want to die.

Self protection; defense mechanisms come into play. To protect myself from feelings of nonexistence, shame, and abandonment, I become fake too, to fit in with the fake world and all its fake people. The ridiculous costume would be my “false self,” ridiculous because it’s not me at all. It’s familiar because I’ve seen it before, on the people who raised me. I still want to die because inside I still feel as empty and abandoned.

None of this was really new to me, but I feel liked everything’s been spelled out for me now through this dream and I have a better idea of the issues I need to work on the most. It would be natural for me to trust no one since the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally were untrustworthy. I also feel like I’m no longer alone in figuring all this out.

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The case of the missing purse: a dream.

February 1946, Ohio, USA --- Woman in Straitjacket at a Psychiatric Hospital --- Image by © Jerry Cooke/Corbis

February 1946, Ohio, USA — Woman in Straitjacket at a Psychiatric Hospital — Image by © Jerry Cooke/Corbis


Sometimes I feel this crazy.

I just had an especially vivid and detailed dream and posted it over at Psychforums immediately on waking so I didn’t lose the details and “feel” of the dream. I asked people to try to interpret it for me so I’m going to include those responses too.

I just woke up very upset and angry from a very intense and vivid dream. I’ve been trying to figure out what it means because I feel like it’s important but there are parts that just make no sense if the central theme is correct.

It started out wonderfully. I was in some psychiatric hospital program and had a received a great deal of help in it. Later in the dream it seemed I was an inpatient but at the time the dream started I was an outpatient because my son had to drive me there (for some reason I wasn’t driving my own car or maybe he just wanted to drive) to attend some awards dinner where I was going to receive an award. I was incredibly popular among the other patients and I had a bearded psychiatrist (aren’t they all bearded?) that I loved. I felt like he had saved my life.

So my son and I made several trips, first to a cheap chain restaurant (I don’t know why I was eating dinner twice) and then to another store, then finally to the hospital awards dinner, where he dropped me off. I got a lot of hugs and congratulations and support from everyone. I had many friends in the program. I had no idea what sort of award I’d won and none were given out but I was having a great time. At one point two of my friends (both dx’d BPD) pulled me up on the stage to join them in an impromptu song and dance from a musical. I kept along as if I’d been rehearsing for weeks. At one point it became a medley and we broke into the theme from “Hair” (why?!?) and started throwing flowers everywhere and at each other. It was a great deal of fun and I wasn’t at all self-conscious even though I was dressed in a hospital gown (like an inpatient?). I’d never felt freer or happier. I felt love all around me from the audience and the other people on stage.

My son came to get me later but when I got in the car I realized I couldn’t find my purse. As in real life when this has happened, I panicked. My purse is like my life–and I had special medications in there that eased my psychiatric symptoms too (and that had been hard to obtain), as well as my house keys, car keys, credit cards, ID, money, and the zillion other important things women keep in their purses. I didn’t remember having it at all at the hospital function so we first went to the store and the first restaurant to ask if they’d seen it. They hadn’t so we went back to the hospital and asked the woman at the front desk if she had seen it. She said she had to go talk to someone and to wait a few minutes. After a little while, my psychiatrist came out and said they had found it, but couldn’t just give it to me. I would have to pass a “character test,” of the type they sometimes give candidates applying for jobs to make sure they’re honest or aren’t going to steal or lie or whatever.

Missing Purse

I looked at the test, which was about 40 pages long. None of the questions had anything to do with my purse or even with being “honest.” The questions made no sense and I couldn’t think. I was too upset by not having my purse and angry that I had to pass a stupid irrelevant test to get my own property back. I kept getting distracted by other things and couldn’t focus. After about an hour my psychiatrist asked me if I was done yet but I had only answered 4 questions. I was almost in tears by now and told him how upset and hurt I was that he didn’t trust me. He said he didn’t make the rules and could do nothing. He said don’t worry about passing, just answer the questions the best you can. One of the questions was a multiple choice “story problem” like an elementary school math test and the story was about someone with both my first and last name. I was impressed by that and showed everyone around that my name was used on the test letting them know I’m the only person in the country that has my name. I still couldn’t focus and the questions still didn’t make sense. I finally gave up and took the mangled sheets of paper with holes from too much erasing and rewriting to the person who was scoring, a cold woman in charge of testing. I was so angry and upset I ran down a long hallway into the psych unit and saw people there–really crazy people–dressed in straitjackets and lying around on gurneys and in wheelchairs. They were making strange sounds and babbling incoherently and didn’t seem like they knew what was going on. But then I saw one of my friends and told her what happened, then started crying hysterically. I knew the crying was mostly to get attention and sympathy. It was definitely manipulative, but I was extremely angry and upset so it was a way to vent my frustration too. My friend held me and the other people didn’t even seem to notice or care about my OTT behavior, because they were so out of touch with reality or what was going in.

I went off running to look for my psychiatrist to beg him to let me go and take my purse, after all he knew me and I was the recipient of an award. I finally found him and stood there in the doorway of his office in my hospital gown, sobbing but without tears. He looked at me coldly and said there was nothing he could do, it was hospital policy, and they were still working on the results.

Finally he and the woman who did the scoring came out together and told me I’d failed. I screamed at them that they told me I didn’t have to “pass.” They just looked at me. “What am I supposed to do?” I screamed in frustration. They told me I’d have to keep taking the test (and paying $100 each time to take it) until I passed before they could give me back my purse. I told them I didn’t have the time or the money for doing that and they had my car keys too. Again, they just looked coldly at me. They showed no empathy for my situation whatsoever. I felt so betrayed by this psychiatrist who I’d thought cared so much about me.

In frustration and rage, I ran out of the building and found myself in a slum area of a large city. I was running the wrong way. I’d apparently forgot my son was supposed to wait for me but I’d been in there for hours and maybe he’d left. I wasn’t thinking straight. I ran the other way and suddenly was running through a dark garage but that had neon-sparkly floors and walls and there were young gang members in there just hanging out. They looked threatening but I was too enraged to be afraid. I ran right past them and kept running. I jumped into a hole in the ground and found myself in someone’s slum apartment in the projects, cockroaches running everywhere. I kept running through and climbed out the window on the other side and ascended the fire escape. More gang members were sitting around but I kept running. I don’t even know where I was running; I wasn’t thinking at all, but I just had to run.

I woke up feeling incredibly angry and sad at the same time and decided to write all this down before it dissolved away the way dreams tend to do. I have no idea what it all means but I’m getting a few ideas.

My “purse” could have been my false self I’d recently shed in therapy (in the dream) and have had moments without through blogging and even at random times in real life, but that doesn’t explain why my therapist turned out to be such an asshole and betrayed me. It doesn’t explain the ridiculous test I had to take to get it back. I can certainly understand why I would have wanted the purse/false self back though, because although in the hospital I felt happy and free without it, in the real world I felt naked and victimized and crazy.

My psychiatrist could have represented my family, my mother in particular, who I felt betrayed me a long time ago. The slums represented a bleak and impoverished future that I fear so much. I always feel like I’m running frantically–but never sure if it’s toward or away from something.

I’m going to be thinking a lot more about the dream today, but I wanted to write it down while I was still in the dream-feel that follows awakening from such a vivid dream. I feel like this was really important and I need to understand what was really going on.

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Here are the two responses I’ve received so far.

1. What I get from it is that you are wanting a healing and are proud of yourself for recognizing your problem and work toward the healing, but it isn’t coming. You sometimes say you wish you could go to a facility, and your purse can’t afford it(?) Or, like me, sometimes you feel more normal, your true identity which your purse contains (but you can’t quite hold reliably). The trouble or conflict you are having is reaching the emotions (or cognitive acceptance) which you still haven’t, which is the test with your name on it. It perplexes you. You recognize it but can’t understand what it is you’re still controlled by (what you haven’t accepted yet).

I think the running through the ghetto(?) is your fear of an impoverished future without even the healing (if you give up trying because you leave the hospital, throwing away the test, living without your identity)?

There was a new video [Spartanlifecoach] which you might relate to. It is about he lizard, monkey and human parts of the brain and how the human part can become constricted (his theory, I don’t believe this is science.). And, it is unable to process emotions/memories. The monkey part of the brain (amygdala) being more reactive controls us. (Which matches my self-perception.). He says the human part can be exercised and process more easily things that it couldn’t. Maybe like re-parenting. But, he gives examples. And, mentions how it doesn’t have to be an emotional breakdown, just an acceptance “yeah, that happened.” There could simply be things you couldn’t realize. They were out of your view, yet when you realize them they’re relatively simple?

(I think that’s what happened to me a few months ago when I realized I had been projecting my mother at my ex. I thought it was going to be the worst thing I had realized yet — and it immediately turned into “yeah, that is it.” It seemed anti-climactic compared to what I braced myself for.).

Maybe it *is* just a cognitive test that you need to take. Not the emotional breakdowns (which sound like what I call dysphoria, and have come to see as not healthy to my TS. They can be fake, I think, where I’m sucking emotions out of myself for an unproductive purpose. Which sounds like after you threw the test away, and went to another ward where you spoke to a friend and cried, but not genuinely.).

*****

2. First of all the dream is symbolized in splits, the hospital is the same as the slums, the “two friends” are the same as the psychiatrist and the nurse. it is unclear who the son is, it does seem important though that he drove the car. same goes for the hospital and store. The contents of the purse seems to be your identity, on a deeper level a purse seems to be quite an obvious womb symbol.

So the dream goes from narcissistic perception of a family home, being in the phase of being praised and happy about your good looks (Hair, god.) and awesome achievements to this break with the restaurants and the purse and then suddenly your identity is lost and your parents have (found) your identity, but only want to give it to you when you prove to them that you are “honest”.

You have to pay them for giving you (back) your identity, you feel instead of enriching, they impoverish you. so when you cant pass this mysterious honesty thing you give up and land in an inner world with neither the narcissistic sparkle, nor an identity. everything seems impoverished and youre just running aimlessly.

I feel like I’m a bad friend.

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Tonight on a whim I looked up an old Facebook friend I hadn’t talked to since 2012 (we had been close from 2009-2011) and was shocked and very upset to learn that she died this past September of Merkel cell carcinoma. She’d had to have part of her jaw and her lips removed and I even saw her post that first announced her terminal cancer diagnosis. She asked for prayers.

I never knew. I never bothered to check in on her until tonight and felt just awful about not having been there at all for her while she was in so much pain and dying. I left a post on her wall (which is still up) telling her to rest in peace and how sorry I was. What else can you say to a dead friend you abandoned? Sure, she was only a Facebook friend but I still feel like an insensitive heel.

About two years ago, another casual friend, someone I had actually known through work who ran a blog about living in poverty in the United States, and who was known to have suffered from major depression, committed suicide. I hadn’t talked to her in several months, and it was her husband who posted about her death on her wall. I learned this horrible news THE DAY AFTER she killed herself. All I could do was offer some kind words to her bereaved husband, who had loved her very much and was understandably devastated. I felt ashamed at not having talked to this woman during the months prior to her suicide and was almost too embarrassed to say anything to her husband.

I always seem to find out bad news about friends and people I used to know on Facebook, which is another reason I don’t like Facebook too much.

But neither of these things are as terrible as the way I treated a close friend of mine from back in the 1980s. Robert was gay and he was one of my best friends for several years. We used to have a blast together, and were even roommates for awhile. I remember planning his 21st birthday party and how much fun it turned out to be (and I hate parties!)

But Robert was also promiscuous and brought strange men home while we were roommates. He also developed schizophrenia around this time, and due to both his bringing men I didn’t know to the apartment and his declining mental condition, I had no other choice but to move out. We continued to remain in touch occasionally even after I married, but over time, as friendships do when lives go in different directions, we lost contact and stopped speaking.

betrayal

Just after my son was born in 1991, I received a phone call from Robert’s sister. She told me Robert was in the hospital and very close to death. He had AIDS and had lost his vision and his mind, and was no longer able to feed himself and had to be cared for like an infant. It occurred to me he probably already had AIDS during the time I knew him. I was shocked at the news and promised to come visit him in the hospital, but I never did. In all honesty, I was afraid to see him like that and chickened out, even though I had intended to go.

He died two weeks later. His sister called again and invited me to the funeral. Again, I didn’t attend because of the guilt I felt over having abandoned him and never visited him in the hospital.

I realized later how selfish this was of me, only caring about my own needs and feeling like seeing him like that would be too upsetting and just plain weird. My friend needed me when he was dying and I let him down. I never forgave myself for that and still pray for God to forgive me for my selfishness. I’m sure He has, but I never really forgave myself.

That’s why I feel like I’m a terrible friend and maybe don’t deserve to have any.