Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dreams, Depression, and Alzheimer's

First, a disclaimer: This post feels incredibly rambly and all-over-the-place to me right now (you know, as opposed to all my succinct posts to date), but the idea has been rolling around in my brain for a while now, and it was time to get it out of my head and onto paper, as it were. As it turns out, this is quite fitting, given the post itself. I will try to revise this and make it more succinct, but for right now, it is what it is. So, without further ado:

Dreams, Depression, and Alzheimer's
What do all these things have in common? That's what I'm hoping to piece together here. I've been reading various things lately that make me think (way too optimistically, I'm sure) that in dreaming could lie the cure for Alzheimer's disease. Well, maybe not the cure, but at least something that might lessen its effects. Okay, hear me out.

My theory: This article discusses a recent study which suggests that Alzheimer's is more likely to develop in people who have suffered from depression than in people who have not. According to

this book people who suffer from depression show improvement when they start recalling dreams. Ergo, dream recall may help ease patients' suffering from Alzheimer's. (BTW, I don't know how this widget got here or how to get rid of it. I realize its placement is extremely tacky, but I don't know what to do to remove it, so apologies.)

I'm currently reading a book called The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence, and Imagination by Robert Moss (see link above). On page 49, the author states that "clinical studies strongly suggest that people suffering from symptoms of depression start to recover when dream function increases-as monitored by brain waves and/or the length of the phases of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep-and that they experience a decisive shift for the better when they increase their dream recall and their sharing of dreams." He does not reference any of these clinical studies, but his theory seems, at least in part, to be based on his discussions with a Dr. Robert Weissberg, who sometimes works with depressive patients, and "has noticed that the patients who are most successful in remembering dreams are often the ones who experience the most rapid improvement in their condition."

We've been hearing for years about how dreaming is restorative, but Mr. Moss adds this additional twist about dream recollection that I hadn't heard before. This lead me to think that people suffering from depression are somehow missing out on dreaming, (which makes sense because depression and insomnia are often linked), and, therefore, are also missing the therapeutic effects of dream recollection as well. So it follows that restoration of proper REM function (whatever THAT might be) should be an easy fix for depression. A quick search on the Internet lead me to believe that that pretty much seems to be a load of crap. Well, not entirely, but it's certainly not as cut and dry as I would have liked. From my intensely scientific selection of the two articles that I read (they were in the top 3 results of my Google search and the site names looked somewhat respectable) and objective reading (is there anything here that supports MY theory?) of said articles, I learned that depressed people actually dream a lot more than non-depressed people. Huh. Perhaps Mr. Moss did not have Google handy when he was writing his book.

Not to be deterred, I have amended my theory. Actually, scratch that. I just reread my theory, and it still stands up. I just have to rearrange the reasoning behind my theory a little bit. Isn't that how the best theories work? Hey, do you think Newton had gravity all figured out in one sit- down blog session? The initial theory was good (SOMETHING just made that apple fall out of that tree and down to earth.) The supporting arguments just needed to be worked out.

Depressed people dream a lot, and according to this web site since we often use dreams to work out issues while we sleep, dreaming tends to result in a lot of stress hormones being present in our bodies, so over dreaming leaves us exhausted. If depressed people are awakened every time they show signs of dreaming, the signs of depression will lift, but they are left feeling anxious and stressed out during the day, presumably from the lack of issue-resolving at night. I'm simplifying a bit here, but the article also indicates that the reason that depressed people dream more is because they tend to worry a lot, so they have a lot of stuff to work out at night. So, it seems to be a bit of a vicious cycle. Lots of worry=lots of dreaming=lots of stress hormones=waking exhausted=generally feeling like crap=worry about chronic exhaustion=additional worry on top of previous day's unresolved worries=more dreaming, etc.

I think this actually strengthens my theory. If a person is experiencing a lot of stress or worry, and he is dreaming about it all the time, writing down those dreams is a good way to start a) addressing the things that are on your mind, consciously and subconsciously and b) working out the solution. Not only does writing it down give you the chance to let go of it-it's written down, you don't have to remember to think about it-but it also allows for some deeper introspection than what you normally do when you just remember a dream or tell someone else about it. I have done this, and there are a lot of times when I write down something that seems perfectly innocuous and irrelevant, but once I start writing out the details and explanations surrounding it, I realize that it totally relates to something that is going on in my life.

So...let's see if I can tie this all together. People who are depressed tend to have a lot of worries. They also tend to dream a lot, which would indicate that they are working out those worries, but they're dreaming about them so much that they are exhausting themselves. Physical exhaustion also leads to mental exhaustion. When you are mentally exhausted you just can't problem-solve well, so all those worries that you are carrying around are just building up. Also, dreams tend to be fleeting and unless you make a concerted effort to recollect and record them, you often have no benefit, no ability to utilize any of the solutions that are being presented to you in your sleep. This leaves you dealing with the same issue again and again. So, written recollection and analysis of dreams could prove beneficial both in allowing a person to "let go" of a current concern and move on to something new since the concern has already been dealt with and the "solution" written down as well as in allowing later follow-up and introspection of the "solution" with a fresher, more rested brain. Even if a solution doesn't present itself, I think dreams often allow a way for a person to voice a concern or issue that perhaps she didn't even realize she was carrying around or didn't feel was a valid concern, something that she feared couldn't be vocalized in the "real" world without seeming petty or ridiculous. That in itself can be very stressful. Theoretically, once these daytime stressors are reduced, night-time dreaming should scale itself back, leading to less exhausting sleep. This leaves one more physically and mentally refreshed and better able to problem-solve during the day, reducing the amount of issue-resolving that needs to go on at night, which leads to less dreaming, etc.

If this "dream therapy" can indeed help ease depression and Alzheimer's is often preceded by depression, then perhaps incidents of Alzheimer's can be reduced as well. I realize that I have taken a highly simplified view on a lot of fronts here. Clinical depression is a complex issue as is Alzheimer's, and there are causal elements that need to be taken into account, but all theories have to start somewhere. Why not here?

Friday, April 25, 2008

The spirit of aloha

Part of the inspiration for this blog was the desire to share good news, you know stuff to balance out the regular news, all the crap that we hear on a daily basis that makes us cynical and embarrassed to be a part of the human race.

Even if you have never been to Hawaii, you have probably heard somebody somewhere talk about the "spirit of aloha." This is the spirit of generosity and welcoming that the Hawaiian people are known for around the world. This is also something that it is easy to be cynical about. There are a lot of stories out there about people who have had bad experiences in Hawaii, or perhaps your own experiences (in Hawaii or elsewhere) have led you to believe that this just doesn't exist, that it's an urban legend like that guy in Nigeria who just needs someone to help him transfer all that money! Won't someone help this poor guy out?? Okay, I guess that's not technically an urban legend, but you know what I mean.

Anyway... in that vein I wanted to share with you some of the things that I have experienced since moving to Hawaii 6 1/2 years ago that help me keep faith in humanity.

1) (A little background): My husband and I bought a house that is just about as far away from any other place on the island as you can be. You want to go to Honolulu? 45 minutes, minimum. You want to go to Haleiwa, on Oahu's beautiful north shore? 45 minutes. You want to go to Pearl Harbor? 1 hour. This makes for a long, albeit beautiful, drive to and from work. We lived here for about 2 months before we bought our house and were able to move in. Until then, we were relying on the kindness of relatives with a new baby (seriously new, like he was born while were living with them). So, while they were as accommodating as they could be, after a while, we had to GET OUT! After that, we bounced around between military facilities and a "B&B" which hadn't been cleaned in who knows how long, was full of roaches, and was next door to a dog pen. We weren't really located anywhere where the air could move at all, but when it did, all it did was waft in dog poo. We were miserable. All of our free time had been spent house hunting, and when you call home and people ask, "How's Hawaii??" nobody wants to hear you whine about how hard it is living in paradise! So, not only are you unable to vent, but you can't garner any sympathy if you do!

When we finally found a permanent residence, it was about 3 months before we were able to receive our household goods. We lived on an air mattress and 2 borrowed camp chairs for 3 months. The previous owners were kind enough to lend us a little TV, but since we didn't have cable, I can tell you a lot more about how ants go about attacking and dismembering termites, injured cockroaches, or dead centipedes than I can about anything that was in the fall lineup in 2001.

(The good part of the story!) One night on his way home from work, my husband stopped at a local restaurant to see what they had. It was late, he hadn't eaten all day, the cupboards were pretty bare at home, and all he had was his checkbook. He stopped in, looked at the menu, asked if they accepted checks, and when the lady behind the counter said no, he said, "Ok, thanks!" (my husband is nothing if not bafflingly friendly) and turned around and walked out. (Now, at this point, we were living uncomfortably in the middle of nowhere, getting on each other's last nerves, and I was afraid that the one thing in Hawaii that I might not be able to deal with was The Bug Situation, so...things were tense.) As he was almost to his car, a little girl ran out of the restaurant and said, "Wait! My grandma says you need to eat. Come back inside!" This woman loaded my husband up with about 5 pounds of food and sent him on his way. That sort of kindness has been extended to us over and over again, and it never ceases to amaze me...(and it always makes me cry).

2) Right about the time we moved out here, laser hair removal was becoming the big thing. I am a pretty furry gal, and I thought this would be the best thing ever. (It was ok. Perhaps more on that another day.) Sometime between my initial consultation and either my first or second treatment, we had to put one of our two Basset hounds to sleep. This was incredibly difficult, and to this day I have doubts about what we did and didn't do. (Perhaps more about this another day as well.) I think I had said something at the consultation about having to take my dog to the vet, and on a follow-up phone call or on one of my visits, someone had asked me if she was ok, and, of course, she wasn't. After my next treatment, I was at the front desk, making my payment and I commented on the beautiful flower arrangement that had been delivered. As I headed out to my car, the receptionist said, "Oh, wait, I'll walk you out." It's all of about 4 steps from the front desk to the door, and I thought that was a little weird, but ok, whatever. She grabbed the flowers off the front desk and headed toward the door. "These are for you." It was a sympathy arrangement from the staff. It was totally unexpected and, of course, it made me cry.

3) My first job out here was as a receptionist. In addition to the basic phone/mail duties, I would occasionally help out 2 of the other girls in the office whenever they were overwhelmed. Their work was very seasonal, and when they were busy, they were SWAMPED. During the absolute peak of the season, one of them went on vacation for 2 weeks, and the other one quit. On the same day. Guess who had a new job title? I knew a little bit but not nearly enough to be proficient about what these girls did, and I was FREAKING OUT. Our work was not only seasonal but very minute-to-minute, lots of putting out fires and dealing with government officials, which is always fun. They did have the decency to send emails out to all of our vendors letting them know that they were out of the office or had quit, so at least I didn't have to do that. One of our vendors called as soon as he saw the email and asked if there was anything he could do to help-send somebody over to answer phones? Bring me food? Anything?? This was not some vendor trying to earn points and ensure future service opportunities; he was in, he was our guy, he didn't have to worry about job security. This was a guy who, as a result of the service he provided, was pretty well entrenched in our chaos and genuinely felt my pain. I thought this was one of the sweetest things anybody could have done. I knew that he was frazzled and doing all he could to keep his business running smoothly, and yet he sounded so worried about me that I felt bad for making him worry! (And, I'm sure, at some point, this has made me cry.)

Another vendor called up and asked me if I knew what I needed to do regarding his services, and I didn't really have a clue. There was a lot of government clearances and other nonsense that had to be done on our end before he could step in to do his part. He had the utmost patience and walked me through everything that had to be done and gave me the time line on which it needed to be done. I realize that this probably had more to do with self-preservation than altruism; if I didn't get my stuff right, his stuff definitely wouldn't be right, and then there would have been BIG problems, but he could have just said, "Hey, she's got a boss. He can help her figure out what to do," and, really, it would have all been on me when everything went to hell in a hand basket. So for his help and patience I am also incredibly grateful.

This all happened within the first 9 months of our moving to Hawaii. These are all little things, but the spirit behind them is what makes them amazing. Who has restored your faith in humanity lately?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Green Ooze

4/19-The dream: I am at my aunt's house with my mom, and we are getting ready for bed. Morph to my old house, my parents' bedroom. In the bathroom, my ruffle-y white skirt & blouse outfit is on the floor where I discarded it earlier, and this cough-syrup green liquid is starting to ooze from the white subway tiles on the wall. I see it coming, I know it's going to get all over the floor and onto my clothes (which I just picked up from the dry cleaner!) but I don't act fast enough to keep it from happening. I wait until just a 1/2 second too late, then move my clothes, knowing that there is going to be a (possibly irremovable) stain. Dammit. Why can't I just act on stuff instead of waiting until it's too late? We are trying to leave the house. My mom is going to turn off the water under the sink because now there is water (green ooze? I can't remember now) everywhere. I'm glad she has the presence of mind to do this now. I was ready to bolt, knowing full well that it would be a huge mess by the time we were able to get someone here to help. My mom is dating one of my husband's ex-employees, whom I will call Rail Road. They are breaking up and he is going...back to wherever he came from, I guess. I am bummed by this. He gives me a huge, pick-me-up-off-the-floor, I'm-really-going-to-miss-you, you-know-I'll-always-love-you hug and we engage in an intimate tete-a-tete for a few minutes before he goes. I am sitting outside in a square on some big white steps, like outside the Washington Monument or in front of the Taj Mahal, something like that. It's a beautiful sunny day with a blue sky and light wind.

The interpretation: I always dream about my old house, so I've sort of stopped analyzing that portion of most of my dreams. Now that I think about it though, I do tend to dream of my mom and bathrooms a lot, usually with overflowing issues of some kind. Huh. This could relate to my family's fabulous method of dealing with issues which is this: 1) Ignore it and hope that it goes away. 2) When it doesn't go away, deal with it, but don't tell anyone else about it in order to save them from worry. 3) When the situation gets so out of hand that you can no longer a) hide it or b) suppress your feelings about it any longer, overwhelm the rest of the family by flooding them (aha!) with the informational and/or emotional backlog. Also, my sister and I both have a lot of issues with our mother surrounding our parents' divorce. Even though it's been 18 years now, many of the wounds are still...well, not fresh, exactly, but not well-healed either. So, anyway, I think that's why my mom is often associated with issues of overflowing crap in my dreams.

The green ooze-I don't know what the hell that was about. I've never dreamed about green ooze before. It didn't really seem toxic or anything, just messy.

The fact that I couldn't get my nice, white clothes out of the way in time-I think that's pretty straight forward. I did actually just pick up that outfit from the dry cleaner, so I think that was just fresh in my mind. I am terribly guilty of having plenty of lead time on something and then waiting until the last minute to take action on it or knowing that I should do something, not doing it, and then smacking myself on the forehead later for it.

My mom saving the day with her plumber's skills-I don't know what the hell that's all about. My mom is generally the cause of the overflowing crap, not the fixer of it.

My willingness to bolt and leave a huge mess-I don't know what that's all about either. I am not a bolter. I am the person who will stick around way after everyone else has quit trying, even when it has become clear to everyone, myself included, that I am fighting a losing battle. Maybe this is me saying I'm finally done trying to clean up the wreckage. If my mom wants to fix it, she needs to jump in and do it.

My mom's boyfriend-This is the part that's kind of freaking me out. In real life, I can't stand my mom's husband. Nobody can. The dream boyfriend, however, is totally sexy and flirt-worthy in real life. Maybe just wishful thinking that Mom would have hooked up with someone likeable? Did I mention he is about my age? I could probably delve a lot deeper into this, but I think there are some Freudian implications here that I really don't want to explore. I don't know. This person has also been the topic of many recent conversations and did move away a while ago, so perhaps my dream is just another manifestation of top-of-mind stuff (I hope, I hope).

Outside on the sunny steps with the wind blowing-I have two theories, one straight forward and boring, the other much deeper and more introspective...or at least a little less boring than the first. Theory 1: I have been talking about traveling to DC lately, so this part of my dream is another top-of-mind thing. Theory 2: There are still bright days ahead. Even after all the crap, all the flooding, all the leaving of loved-ones, that stuff will all disappear, at least long enough to sit outside and enjoy a beautiful sunny day.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Live Like You Were Dying

For those of you not familiar with country music, Tim McGraw has a song entitled "Live Like You Were Dying." It makes me cry. (This isn't saying a whole lot in and of itself since almost everything has the ability to make me cry.) The narrator is talking to a guy who is telling him about the day he discovered he had cancer and the question posed to him is, "man, what'd you do?" His answer is:

I went sky diving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
and I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying
and he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying.

The final chorus substitutes "watched an eagle as it was flying" for "gave forgiveness I'd been denying."

The reason this particular song makes me cry is that I've actually DONE some of these things. I've been skydiving. I've been Rocky Mountain climbing. I've watched an eagle as it was flying. I've done things that other people only dream of. That realization is at once humbling and inspiring.

When I was in college, I spent a month in London studying drama. I've swum with dolphins, slept in hammocks in the Mexican jungle, taken trapeze lessons, and owned my own business (more of a nightmare than a dream, but that's another story! The point is we took the chance and did it.). I own a house in Hawaii, and later this year, my husband and I are going to take a tree climbing course inspired by the stories of the scientists who spend their time exploring the upper canopies of the redwood forests in The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring.
So, I have 2 questions for you:

1) What have you done that others only dream of?
2) What would you put on your list to do to live like you were dying?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

How did I get here?

Is there a term for someone who is the opposite of a techno-geek? Well, whatever it is, that's what I am. So, how did I end up with a blog? I mean, I realize that nowadays you don't have to actually be a techno-geek to be able to write a blog, but this just always seemed like something that was way out of my realm...maybe I should just see how this goes before I say much more on that.

I don't really have much of a plan. I just wanted to click on the "Create a Blog" button and see what would happen. Could it really be that easy? Can just anyone create a blog? Apparently. Should just anyone be able to create a blog? No, but that's just my opinion. Which side of that coin am I on? That remains to be seen. Wish me luck.