(Continued from yesterday’s “PPP, DDD and Me”)
Whoa, dude, I said to the recovering psychiatrist. I’m not waking up because I have nightmares. I’m waking up because I have to go to the bathroom. The anger, pain and self-hatred are there when I go back to bed. That’s why I can’t go back to sleep. The problem isn’t nightmares; the problem is kidney damage.
In the real Peter Pan, i.e., James Barrie’s book not Walt Disney’s movie, there’s an early scene where the kids are sleeping and their mother is on her knees beside a trunk. She is sorting through the children’s memories of the day. Good memories she cleans and folds tidily and stores in the trunk; bad memories she throws in the trash. This is kind of what the unconscious is doing while you sleep: it’s sorting, organizing and tidying up your mind. In the words of the recovering psychiatrist, the frontal lobes pretty much shut down, leaving the emotional and creative regions of the brain free to whomp through your life and sort things out.
The good news is that the unconscious mind at work can come up with very creative new solutions to problems. I know this. I began to move into advocacy work a decade ago. Simply, I fight the system to get the legally required level of services for people who are poor, sick, elderly or otherwise marginalized. The System—at least here in OnondagaCounty—has absolutely no intention of providing services at the level required by state and federal law. They tell me no and shut me down—or so they think, but I always find ways to work around the blockades. They create problems; I create solutions. My 85-year-old mother would listen to my exploits and say, “How do you think of these things?” I would reply, “I dunno. I just wake up in the morning and there it is.” The recovering psychiatrist nods in affirmation and agreement: that’s exactly how the mind works during sleep. It figures things out.
The bad news is that the unconscious mind is also at work fighting with long-standing problems. The day’s events tag into old, unresolved situations over which you continue to seek control and find closure. You know this; you keep having dreams about events from the past. The biggest hurts lay buried, and every day new events key into them, reawaken them, and force you to dream about them—again and again and again, seeking a solution. Take my relationship with my sisters, for example.
So, I tell the recovering psychiatrist, the way I figure it is that my unconscious mind is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing during sleep, and exactly what everybody else’s unconscious mind is doing. The problem is that you’re supposed to sleep through all this sorting stuff the mind is doing. Everybody else does sleep through it but, because of the kidney damage, I wake up in the middle of it.
“You don’t wake up because you’re having nightmares?” he asks.
“Nope,” I reply. “The only reason I ever wake up is because I’ve got to pee.”
The recovering psychiatrist gives a long, thoughtful look out the window, then says, “I’ll look into it.” This is what we call holistic health care—taking the whole person into consideration when trying to be helpful. The alternative—fractionalized health care—considers only one itsy-bitsy part of the person. I had a neighbor who had two orthopedic specialists because one only did wrists and the other only did elbows. That is the exact opposite of holistic care. If the recovering psychiatrist had said, “I only do sleep problems; you’ll have to see a nephrologist for your kidney problems,” then that would have been fractionalized care. “I’ll look into it” is holistic.
And you have to practice holistic medicine, particularly when you’re dealing with drug side effects. I took a mood stabilizer (Neurontin) that caused chronic pain in my left shoulder. I took a diuretic for my kidney damage that caused excessive menstrual bleeding. I took an antidepressant (Prozac) that caused me to dehydrate. When you’re messing with drugs then you’re messing with the whole body. Everything’s connected. I haven’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in twenty years. Not because of anxiety or stress or depression, but because of kidney damage. I am a whole person; all the parts are interrelated.
So then the recovering psychiatrist and I move into hypnotherapy, which is where it gets really interesting. I’ve done hypnotherapy before. Dr. Paul M. Cohen, the psychologist whom I’d seen for many years had become a practitioner of hypnotherapy. Simply, the mind is running on two tracks, conscious and unconscious. Hypnotherapy builds a bridge between the conscious and unconscious then, with suggestion, you can bypass the conscious and all its blockades and go directly to the unconscious for healing.
Physicians—however directly or indirectly—often tell people that what’s in their mind is what’s making them sick. “It’s all in your head.” In other words, physicians are well aware of the power of the mind. Unfortunately, where they really miss the boat is that they only see the power of the mind to make you sick. They do not acknowledge the power the mind has to make you well. The likelihood that you will find a physician who will view hypnotherapy as a viable treatment is somewhere between zilch and zero. Why should they try to reach and teach your mind for wellness when prescribing drugs is so quick, so easy, and so well-rewarded by the drug companies? So mostly where you’ll find hypnotherapy being used is by psychologists. They don’t prescribe pills and do get paid to take time with you.
My psychologist and I effectively used hypnotherapy for many things. When I stopped taking drugs, my adrenal glands were off the wall producing excessive amounts of stress hormones. Paul and I used calming and stress-reducing talk under hypnosis, and my adrenal glands settled down and let me rest. (To be continued)