I’ve been having some rather vivid nightmares lately. About ghosts.
Now, in the echelon of Things That Scare Me, ghosts rank pretty low. I’m always the one who will happily go into a graveyard at night. I work in a theater that’s allegedly full of ghosts, and the only thing I’m frightened of is the possibility of offending them by referring to the Scottish Play by its actual title.
And yet the last couple of nightmares I’ve had – the ones that lead me to actually cry out in my sleep (prompting Coombsie to rouse me) – have involved ghosts. Ghosts moving me against my will through the house. Ghosts pulling down my bedcovers. Ghosts controlling the elevator in which I’m riding. The other night Coombsie woke me up as I was yelling: “I can’t make it stop…I can’t make it stop.”
I’ve perused enough dream analysis books in the Occult section of Barnes & Noble to know that these dreams are not about ghosts so much as they are about CONTROL. Or, more to the point, my lack thereof.
Coombsie and I live, daily, in a situation where we cannot control a lot of what is happening. We cannot control my mother-in-law’s steady decline into full-blown dementia. We can’t stop it from happening. This is not something that my mother-in-law is going to “beat,” like other people beat cancer, or Lyme disease. It is slowly and insidiously going to rob her of nearly everything that makes her who she is, and we are powerless to stop it.
The funny thing is that I’m just having these nightmares now, when we finally have daily help in place. Coombsie’s brother takes her to his house when we need a weekend off. She has three different nurses/aides that are with her on weekdays. They fix her lunch, take her shopping, help her around the house, and one of them even reads In Cold Blood to her for about an hour or so a day (this might seem a tad inappropriate to most, but pre-Alzheimer’s, my mother-in-law was a HUGE Truman Capote fan…when Coombsie and I were first dating, she gave me a copy of Music For Chameleons). They are all so wonderful and I don’t really know how we managed without them.
With a little of the pressure off, it would seem that my subconscious has kicked into overdrive. Because I’ve felt like I’m not allowed to collapse into a weepy puddle for fear of upsetting people, I’ve pretty much maintained a party line of “everything’s OK” when asked, which of course is totally the WRONG thing to do. Now that we’re not feeling quite so alone in this, the stress is coming out in my dreams.
I’m a recovering addict. My whole illness feeds on a need for control, a need to know exactly how things are going to unfurl. And that’s just not possible. It’s even more impossible when living with someone with Alzheimer’s. If she’s having a series of fairly lucid, “good” days, we cannot assume that this is going to remain the case. Now that the days are getting shorter, her moods can turn on a dime. This is called “sundowning,” and it’s very common in people with dementia.
More than ever, I’ve had to practice the things I was taught at the very beginning of my recovery: first things first, easy does it, keep it simple, live and let live. I hate that shit. Platitudes are so irritating because they’re so often true. I have to do this one day at a time. I have to stop worrying about next weekend, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and a year from now, and focus on what I can do today.
But it’s scary, this having so little control. It’s scarier than ghosts.