This week, I’m down to four days of steroids (1 mg per day) and none the rest of the week. So far, so good. In this tapering process, I’ve started to recognize patterns and am beginning to conclude that all the weird dreams of the past months were steroid-induced, or at least steroid-enabled. Now that there are days without and days with, the nights after steroids have stranger dreams, by far, than the “off” days. I think this accounts for the strange sensory dreams that have been so novel, among other things.
I finally consulted Dr. Google. It turns out that tapering off steroids is not for sissies, that it has a series of well-known side effects (dreams and mood swings included) and that there’s a lot of guesswork and experimentation involved. Color me feeling stupid for a) not knowing this stuff and b) not looking it up sooner. Why don’t even the really good doctors provide information or hint that there is known stuff that could help explain some of these experiences? We’re pretty involved with my medical care and well-enough educated to understand complex information; is it just assumed that we’ll do all our own research and augment whatever goes on? Is this all just so complex that there’s never enough information at the right time? Is there some solution that’s just waiting to be devised by us clever folk, frustrated beyond words with the amorphous?
This last week, we were on the receiving end of a cascade of great acts of love and friendship, from those of my aunt and cousins who went out of their way to help get a family heirloom dresser to me, to the friends who drove out of their way to pick it up. The dresser is close to 150 years old and has some great stories associated with it. More of those later. When it arrived, my aunt had thoughtfully included in it some family history items and some letters and photos of my mother, including a few photos I’d never seen.
Every night since then, I’ve been dreaming about my mother. On the “off” days, the dreams are reruns of past moments and impressions, consistent with the the sorts of dreams I’ve had all my adult life. On the “on” days, though, the dreams are weird and at times frightening. One night, all night, the central feature of the dream was that she’d not actually died, but just gone off to a new life for selfish reasons (a better, more appealing life elsewhere). As background, let me just say that a recurring fantasy/dream throughout my life has been that my mother either isn’t dead (always for compelling reasons in which she had no choice like spy work, or the equivalent), or else has an opportunity to choose to die a week earlier so she could come back and spend a week with me as an adult. So the dosed dreams are an extension, though a dark and not very nice one, of concepts that have been in my head for a long, long time.
In the most recent dark dreams, she’s essentially chosen to abandon us because she got a shot at a better life without us. As an aside, let me just say that it was pretty clear that being our mother was central to her personhood and no matter what, the idea that she would abandon us is foreign to how she lived in every possible way. The dream, though, had iteration after iteration of conversations between us in which she broke the news to me, in more and less harsh ways, that her new life without us was better for her. It was pretty horrible. The “off” nights were better nights that were more typically filled with the experience of being completely and totally mother-loved.
Kearney asked me not long ago if I’d had the experience one of her college friends confided of feeling responsible for her mother’s premature death. Of course. I’m guessing it’s pretty common. If I’d been a better kid, or not so stressful to raise, or nicer to my mother, or not stepped on the cracks... It takes time--for me, lots of it--to reconcile those irrational feelings. I don’t, today, feel responsible for my mother’s death, but it sure colors my world in profound ways, from my mania about preparing for the worst case to my life values and priorities. And, how totally resolved can my feelings be if the on-steroid dreams are still so dark? As recently as Thanksgiving, the family indulged me while we videotaped family history of items in the house that I might not have remembered to write down. Recording family information and stories that could so easily be lost, as so much of my mother’s life and history has been, is only one of the permanent features left. Nearly all of those still around who knew my mother have at, one time or another, told me they loved her so much that it’s painful for them to talk about her or to share her with me. Oh well. One of the NYT blogs has a feature going right now on parentless parenting and the issues so many people face when their children don’t have grandparents or have lopsided family involvement. Fortunately for our girls, Michael’s parents were on the scene, in town, and were magnificently wonderful grandparents. No one could have had better. We never moved when opportunities arose while the girls were growing up in large part because Michael’s parents were here and what they provided the girls. In contrast to some of those who struggle with the pull of one family over another, I was always just grateful that the girls had that experience, while of course sad that they never got to know my mother, nor she they.
While thinking about all of that, it occurred to me yesterday that many of the most common features of today’s life were things my mother--who died in 1970--never had any acquaintance with. That’s strange to me, as she’s such a central part of who I am, yet she never experienced or saw anything from ubiquitous cell phones and computers to the house I’ve lived in for almost 30 years. It’s a strange concept.
With the end of this semester on top of me, next semester is looming. I have books ordered and websites underway for next semester’s classes, and all the copying done for one class. I’m redesigning another class in four or five fundamental ways and still finishing the lesson plans for the new class. The puzzle of organizing a whole semester is one that is always appealing to me, and neither the design nor the redesign are quite right yet. Maybe this weekend, in the calm before the storm of end-of-semester grading, will bring advances on that front.