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#50 Family Matters Dream a Little Dream of Me

#50 Family Matters

In These Times by Dr. Jody Kussin, May 3, 2020

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you But in your dreams whatever they be Dream a little dream of me…

So sang Doris Day, and later, Mama Cass.


I’m not big on dreams, in that, I rarely have them, and if/when I do, I rarely remember them. In graduate school we had to keep a dream journal, and it was one of my more difficult assignments. I’ve never been a good sleeper, so perhaps that is a part of the problem. Or else my unconscious does not think I can handle the memories of the middle of the night soirees in the light of day. One thing for sure though, when I do remember a dream, it’s usually a doozy, and often recurrent.


Starting in college, while living in a small apartment in Palms, outside UCLA, I was visited by a pod of nocturnal killer whales. The head orca was “ED.” Ed and his buddies would appear stacked up like sardines, inside our hall closet. I have seen them in my dreams off and on now for 40 years. They are a friendly group, and Ed is their spokesperson. Only once did I ever dream about them swimming and frolicking in the ocean, and that was during a time of exhilaration and personal change right before I got married. Otherwise, they only came to me piled atop one another, with virtually no personal space, at random moments. I saw them off and on for about ten years, then a 20-year break until one night, they returned, still in that apartment closet. They are sort of like wise, shiny, muses and while I cannot typically recall much of the dialogue, my dream talks with Ed usually left me feeling comforted and supported. Go figure. I have not seen them now in years, but I’m thinking they may reappear sometime soon. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.


Last night I had the strangest dream I’ve ever had before….I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war….sung by many, including Johnny Cash and my fave, Pete Seeger, and written by a Canadian, over 50 years ago.


But it is apt because, last night I had the strangest dream…


My family (me, husband, three grown kids) were in our kitchen, and the five of us were caterpillars, spinning cocoons. It looked eerily like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, way after the ‘in the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf’ and post all the eating. We were pretty, fat, busy caterpillars, sitting atop the kitchen ‘island’, spinning and chatting. Then we were five quiet cocoons on the counter. Next thing I knew, the cocoons were opening up. However, unlike in Eric Carle’s story, no beautiful butterflies emerged. Instead, out of the cocoons came…. five skinny caterpillars.


And then I woke up.


Sometimes I think my unconscious thinks I’m fairly dense, with symbolism easy enough for anyone to interpret. We are all kind of trapped, some of us fairly securely, with family members, in safe spaces. However, we are not hibernating with short term plans or abilities to transform and fly away. Instead, we feel as though we are nesting, thinking perhaps we’ll soon be free, only to continue being stuck. In that regard, I saw a great meme noting that Bill Murray’s Ground Hog Day was not a comedy, but rather, a horror movie. Indeed.


I have seen the reports about post 9/11 dreaming and that vivid dreams are often associated with post traumatic stress disorder (or, in our case, acute chronic stress disorder.) There are hash tags you can explore (#pandemicdreams) and reports of intense dreams are all over the internet. We also know we experience more dream activity when pregnant, when in the midst of major life changes (positive and negative) and some (loose science, not always replicable) shows that when we eat certain things right before bed, we experience vibrant dreams.


Included below is a long excerpt from National Geographic:

According to reporting in National Geographic, at least five research teams at institutions across multiple countries are collecting examples of this phenomenon and one of their findings so far is that pandemic dreams are being colored by stress, isolation, and changes in sleep patterns—a swirl of negative emotions that set them apart from typical dreaming. “We normally use REM sleep and dreams to handle intense emotions, particularly negative emotions,” says Patrick McNamara, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine who is an expert in dreams. “Obviously, this pandemic is producing a lot of stress and anxiety.”


During our dream states, stress sends the brain on a trip. The neurobiological signals and reactions that produce dreams are similar to those triggered by psychedelic drugs, according to McNamara. Psychedelics activate nerve receptors called serotonin 5-HT2A, which then turn off a part of the brain called the dorsal prefrontal cortex. The result is known as “emotional disinhibition,” a state in which emotions flood the consciousness, especially during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, when we typically dream.


According to an ongoing study the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France initiated in March, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a 35 percent increase in dream recall among participants, with respondents reporting 15 percent more negative dreams than usual. A different study promoted by Associazione Italiana di Medicina del Sonno (the Italian Association of Sleep Medicine) is analyzing the dreams of Italians confined during the outbreak. Many of the subjects are experiencing nightmares and parasomnias in line with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Deirdre Barrett, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of The Committee of Sleep, has collected and analyzed dreams from the survivors of traumatic events, including the September 11 World Trade Center Attacks. Barrett has found that dreams in which people process traumas tend to follow two patterns: They either directly reference or re-enact a version of the traumatic event, or the dreams are fantastical, with symbolic elements standing in for the trauma. When Barrett works with patients on “scripting” their own dreams, she often asks how they want the nightmare to be different. After a patient figures out their dream’s new direction, they can write it down and rehearse it before bed. These scripts range from more mundane solutions, like fighting off attackers, to more “dreamlike” scenarios, such as shrinking the attacker down to the size of an ant.


I like following the science and research for sure. I’d prefer to rid myself of the image of five of us going from caterpillar to cocoon to caterpillar. It occurs to me, therefore, relative to both, that perhaps the key is to take a page from The Lovin Spoonful – and switch from night to day dreamin….Turns out I have plenty of time each day, so, in these times, why not?


What a day for a daydream What a day for a daydreamin' boy And I'm lost in a daydream Dreamin' 'bout my bundle of joy And even if time ain't really on my side It's one of those days for takin' a walk outside I'm blowin' the day to take a walk in the sun And fall on my face on somebody's new mowed lawn

I've been havin' a sweet dream I been dreamin' since I woke up today It's starrin' me and my sweet dream 'Cause she's the one that makes me feel this way

And even if time has passing me by a lot I couldn't care less about the dues you say I got Tomorrow I'll pay the dues for droppin' my load A pie in your face for bein' a sleepy bulltoad

And you can be sure that if you're feelin' right A daydream will last along into the night Tomorrow at breakfast you may pick up your ears Or you may be daydreamin' for a thousand years

What a day for a daydream Custom made for a daydreamin' boy And now I'm lost in a daydream Dreamin 'bout my bundle of joy

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