Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Problem Solving Dream

A man in his late fifties, happily married, presented the following dream, which he had dreamt the night before the therapy session:

In the dream, my wife and I were in some kind of workplace together. We both worked at the same place and for the same manager. I suddenly found I was working on a phone modem. The modem was in the form of a metallic bag, kind of like potato chip bag made out of the foil, wrinkled and a silver/black color. As I sat at a desk trying to flatten this bag out, the person I understood to be our manager said, "I can't get through on this phone line." To which I commented "That's because I am working on the modem for that line. I'm just about done and you can use it in a moment. It will be faster because I've adjusted the settings."

The desks of my wife and I were close to one another in the first row of the office. Suddenly, the outside wall of the office where our desks sat and the ceiling were gone. An open, grassy field appeared next to our desks. Walking into the field right next to our desks was a musical band of about 10 Caucasian men and women.  They formed the shape of 'L' and started playing instruments which was loud. Some of he women in the band started dancing by lifting their legs to their right side but I noticed they were not in sync with each other. I thought at the time that it would be almost impossible to work with that much noise (from the band) in our office. My wife was on the phone at the time looking at the band and laughing about the circumstances.

The patient had written out the dream but when asked to narrate it anyway, made one addition. His wife and he were facing the East.

Associations to the elements of the dream were not readily available. As to why he was facing the East he could just say that he is generally aware of the directions as to which way is North or South while dreaming. This peculiar feature of his dreams had been subjected to analysis previously and it had to do with his great need to be moored to reality even while indulging in dreaming (fantasy life). His parents had got divorced when he was 10 and this had had a cataclysmic influence upon his psyche and for a while he had felt as he had no direction to his life.  He did not know which parent he should live with, whether to live or not live at all, and whether he will be able to face the future without the joint protection of his parents. He had emerged out of this great turmoil quite well but with a scar. He had a tendency to go into states of mild depersonalization. He would suddenly go in to brief periods in which he would feel as if he was there and yet not there. To counter these attacks of derealization in all his other affairs he had become hypercathected to reality and even in his dreams he could not abandon the necessity to know as to which way was North, South, East etc.

When asked where did the dancing band came from he said that next week he is going to Key West where there is a bar called Sloppy Joe, where Hemingway use to hang out. Every year they have a Hemingway-look-alike contest around this time. His wife and he are going to it. The patient does have quite a resemblance to Papa Hemingway - flowing white beard, generous body girth and a benevolent facial expression, and he is hoping to score big in the contest.

He expressed some misgivings about being there and not just because it is crazy to go to Key West in July - he hates the heat and humidity of Florida in summer - but because he and his wife are very religious and conservative and the bar represents for them dancing, singing, partying and other kinds of "debauchery".

When asked if the singing and dancing band in the dream were representing the fear of giving in to the   temptation the patient said, "I'll be damned if that is not what it means. For those people in Key West area are a lascivious lot while I and my wife are just the opposite, and I have mixed feelings about getting into that revelry."

Once established that the singing band had come into the dream to represent the much anticipated visit to  Key West which was to take place the next week, we had to find from where was the actual visual imagery  taken from. And here the patient told me that the night before he ordered on pay-per-view a movie called "After Shock" where a bunch of young Americans go to Chile and while living a licentious life are struck by an earthquake of the magnitude of 9.5  which causes a cataclysmic upheaval; disasters of every kind are unleashed with criminals escaping out of prison, looting and raping women.

So the singing band was imagery of crime and punishment. Indulging in sin and suffering its consequences.

On being asked if anything else happened on the day before the dream he recalled that all evening his wife was complaining about her problems at work. She is a nurse who works as a case manager in a hospital where she has to make a judgment call whether the patients admitted to the ICU meet the insurance company's criteria for inpatient care or not. It is a difficult and thankless job where there is constant confrontation with irate doctors and insurance company representatives. That particular day her immediate supervisor was not present in the hospital and she had to go to the manager of the entire department to resolve an impasse with a doctor. She had been unable to reach the manager on phone. 

The patient who is retired is the sounding board for his wife. All her frustrations at work she relates to him when she comes home, and he sits with her, and tries to find solutions for her and sometimes feels as if he works along with her. It was from here that the visual picture of their sitting together at the workplace was composed. We could not decipher as to why they were on the first row. It was perhaps related to the fact that before retirement he was head of security in a Multinational Corporation where he always felt cut above the rest and he was bringing that same attitude and skill in helping his wife.

So when his wife lamented to him about how difficult it was for her to reach her manager and how frustrated she felt about it, his mind at once began to work upon resolving the issue and the problem-solving continued into his sleep, emerging in the dream as trying to fix the modem.

As to why the modem was shaped like a potato chip bag with wrinkles the only association that came and which to some extent was suggested by me was that the women  with whom his wife works are all getting up in years and are kind of old bags with wrinkles. The manager who she tried to reach unsuccessfully is a younger woman who really does not know what she is doing and is not a nurse but a social worker, a political appointee, and who per his wife lacks proper training to have the correct feel for medical complexities of the ICU, even a correct understanding of medical terminologies. His wife therefore dislikes calling her. In the dream the patient was reversing the situation and displacing the frustration of his wife trying to reach the manager in to its opposite. It was now the manager trying to reach out on phone and unable to do so and the patient was in the position of power and only through his efforts could the manager use the phone line. So the dream though it had to do with his wife's frustrations at work was showing him as the central character. Dreams truly are totally egoistical.

As to why the modem was black and white the patient said that the case managers who are about 10 in number are distributed in two sections of the hospital. Some of them are in the new wing and have a better work venue while others are in cramped quarters and have to share desks and computers with doctors of the ICU and they are constantly being interrupted by the patients and their relatives. This was given a pictorial representation in the dream:  I thought at the time that it would be almost impossible to work with that much noise (from the band) in our office .

Per patient the silver/black of the modem was taken from the silver and black stethoscopes of the doctors which often lie around in the area which they share with the case managers.

He added that the case managers in the old section of the hospital dislike the lack of space and having to share the desks and computers with doctors with whom they are often at odds. I wondered to the patient if the lack of coordination between the case managers with the doctors was reflected in the out of sync dancing of the musical band.

The patient said that the whole situation there is out of sync. They have a difficult job with constant wrangling over who should stay, who should be discharged and who should be sent to the observation unit. She is often worked up over what happens in that hospital but sometimes we have a good laugh at what takes place there. In the dream this laughing at her co-workers was shown as laughing at the performing band.

"Why did the walls and the ceiling suddenly disappear and you were transported to the open grassy field?"

Patient claimed it was the wish to get out of her stifling work environment and be on vacation.

"Why were the dancing band 10 in number?"

 "It has to do with The Ten Commandments. Whenever I think of number 10 I think of the Ten Commandments. You know how religious I am. Whenever in doubt I think of how God would have handled the situation. We went to sleep talking about my wife's problems and then this worry was in back of my mind how to deal with those wild people in Florida. So I must have been thinking of God and The Ten Commandments as guidance to deal with the two situations."

I wondered if the L shape of the dancing band was not taken from the epithet 'lascivious' but I did not communicate this to the patient and it could not be confirmed. I asked him instead, "Why were you facing the East?"

"Whenever I think of the Holy Land I think of the East. So I am looking to the East as if God resides there,  like how the Muslims pray to Mecca."

"Why are all the band members Caucasian?"

"This has to do with Zimmerman case. Yesterday I was watching his trial. That must have activated the issue of black and white in my mind and and you know how I scapegoat Blacks when anything goes wrong politically. I blame Obama for everything that is wrong in the country. So when my wife was complaining about the manager and the work I must have been thinking that she is Black and therefore she was not to be found on the phone. But she is white and so are all other case managers and her supervisor. And that may  the reason why my dream is making my wife laugh at that unsynchronized dancing as if to say that you all may be Caucasian to the boot but still haven't got your act together."

The modern scientific research on sleep and dreams makes a big deal of how during sleep and especially during dreams we become smarter than we are normally. And this kind of praise of our abilities gets a lot of media coverage and we lionize the researchers who come up with some corny experiments to show those who sleep or dream show astonishing improvement in their memory and creativity. And they all quote the historical example of how the structure of benzene ring came to the mind of that great scientist in a dream. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research money goes into showing how wonderful our mind becomes when it is oblivious to the world and snoring. All this belief that in dreams we become super smart  is bunch of baloney. There is often intense problem solving activity shown in dreams and it is often  accompanied by strong emotions as if one is really trying to do some intensely important work. But careful examination shows that the problem solving was all a facade. Behind it was just some wish or another trying to get fulfillment. In this dream too, the dreamer was doing some intense problem solving - full of sound and fury - on a modem. But on closer examination that problem solving was being done on a potato chip bag with wrinkles. And it was all for enabling someone to make a phone call through repairing the blinking lights of a modem! Something which even a child will see through as problem solving worthy of three stooges. 

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