In some medical quarters today, thoughts, feelings, and spiritual experiences are considered nothing more than the result of chemical reactions in our nervous system. Spiritual traditions have a different point of view. They claim that there is Something, or Someone, beyond ourselves, and that it is possible to have a relationship with that Something, which is greater than our ego. In treating a young woman suffering from depression and chronic fatigue syndrome, I found that this kind of orientation can bring healing.
|While medical discoveries are important, we must not limit ourselves to looking for cures only from the physical world.
Mrs. Smith, a 28-year-old woman, came to see me because pain and depression were making her life unmanageable. Exhausted after only a four-hour work shift, and despite sleeping 12 to 18 hours per day, she still felt she had no energy.
She also had difficulty concentrating and constantly thought about death. When she tried to do something fun, she couldn't enjoy it. If the activity was physical, she would suffer intense pain and have to spend one or more days in bed. Not surprisingly, she was full of despair and hopelessness.
Mrs. Smith had tried various medical treatments, psychotherapy, antidepressants, and mind-body techniques such as relaxation and imagery--all to no effect. But she and her husband wanted to have a child, and she knew she could not have one in her condition. Motivated by this desire, she arrived in my office.
Since she was so depressed, I prescribed an antidepressant while using psychotherapy for her depression, and mind/body techniques for her fatigue. After three months, we had explored several options with little success. Her depression was marginally better, but her fatigue and pain were unchanged. As we were reviewing these results, I commented that I would like to try using guided imagery. She reminded me that she had tried that before.
As I paused to reflect on this, she suddenly mentioned that she often had vivid dreams. Suggesting that dreams could be healing, I asked her to record those that seemed important or that had emotional intensity.
Mrs. Smith returned two weeks later. She said she was feeling more positive and less tired, and she looked more energetic. She described several relevant dreams. In the first, she was sleeping in her room, and her mother came in to hang some things on the wall. Mrs. Smith woke up (in the dream) and insisted on putting her own things on the wall--even though it was quite painful to do so.
In the second dream, she was at a family gathering where an old aunt was dressed outlandishly. Many family members were upset and left the party. Mrs. Smith felt bad about this. In the third dream, Mrs. Smith was wearing a repulsive garment. People were avoiding her, but then an old wise woman befriended her.
Together we interpreted several messages. First, she had to develop independence from her mother even if it was painful. Second, she needed to reject stereotypes she had learned from her family and become less judgmental. Finally, she needed to realize that even if some people rejected her, others would befriend her.
When Mrs. Smith came in two weeks later, she looked like a different person. She was holding herself erect and walked with a new strength and vigor. She stated she had been feeling better for 12 days. She was working four shifts per week and exercising without pain. She was still sleeping more than 12 hours per day, but when she woke up she had more energy. She had dreamt several dreams and said two felt the most significant.
|Our spiritual orientation can have a powerful healing effect on us.
In the first dream, she and her family were in a public place surrounded by transvestites. Her mother was very upset and complained loudly about the blatant sexuality being exhibited. No one else seemed concerned. Mrs. Smith began apologizing for her mother's behavior. They left to go see a movie, but it was not the movie her mother wanted to see. Her mother was quite angry at this. Mrs. Smith then threw herself into a pit. Her mother was distraught, but Mrs. Smith felt much better.
In the second dream, Mrs. Smith was lying under a moonlit sky. She felt like she was being sent out into the ocean and heard a voice say, "You don't want to live, fine don't live." Mrs. Smith realized she wanted to live. She grabbed a long line and began pulling herself toward shore. She was almost there when she got discouraged and let go of the line. Again she began to drift. She realized that if she continued this way, she would die, so she grabbed the line again and pulled herself back to shore. As she climbed out on the sand, she felt exhausted. In front of her, there was a beautiful house. Inside, she saw her husband and herself; she looked pregnant and happy.
In our dialogue about these dreams, we rejected the interpretation that Mrs. Smith's conflict was with her mother. Instead, we felt that she needed to change her relationship with life. She needed to relate to life in a courageous, open, involved manner, or she would die.
Mrs. Smith was seen again two weeks later. She looked quite healthy and stated that she was feeling great. She was working longer hours and was more cheerful. She was sleeping only nine to 10 hours per night. She was enjoying activities with her husband and felt a joy to life she had not experienced for years.
Mrs. Smith continued to improve over the next eight months. When she came to see me before moving to another city with her husband, she brought in a dream: She was onstage but did not know her part. She fled the stage and received a failing grade. It turned out that her part was simply to act spontaneously. She got upset, and a wise person told her, "You watched, and now you need to participate."
Mrs. Smith said the interpretation was obvious and reported that she now had no symptoms of depression, and her chronic fatigue syndrome had resolved itself. A year later, I received a birth announcement.
There are two interesting points about Mrs. Smith's story. First, chronic fatigue syndrome is notoriously difficult to treat, and even when treatment is successful, improvement is slow and intermittent, so it is remarkable that Mrs. Smith dramatically improved within one month after working with a series of dreams.
Second, Mrs. Smith had unsuccessfully tried many different remedies for her symptoms. It was not until she embraced life with openness, acceptance, and courage that she found healing. While medical discoveries are important and benefit many, we must not limit ourselves to looking for cures only from the physical world. Our spiritual orientation, our relationship with that which transcends our ego--God, Goddess, Universal Consciousness, or in Mrs. Smith's terminology, life--can have a powerful healing effect on us.