Pagan Blog Project: Depression, Dreams, and Divination

I’ve been living with clinical depression and anxiety since I was a child, and I’ve tried over a dozen different medications throughout the years to alleviate it. The only reason I haven’t tried more is that mindfulness meditation has been relatively effective.

But it’s not quite enough, so last week I started Wellbutrin. Here’s the funny thing about me and Wellbutrin: I’ve been wanting to try it for years, but have never had the courage to ask for it. Year after year I’ve let doctors prescribe all sorts of medications, secretly wanting to try this one, but being afraid that I’d be seen as pushy or disrespectful.

But I finally worked up the courage to ask, and now I’m on it. The pharmacist warned me that it can interfere with sleep and told me to take it no later than mid-afternoon, but the other night I forgot and had to take it at bedtime. Mistake! Giant mistake! If anyone ever tells you it’s okay to take Wellbutrin at bedtime, point them to this post.

I fell asleep fine at first, but woke up agitated around 3 a.m. I started fretting about the stupid bullshit that signals an anxiety attack: a mean message someone sent my friend, the books I’ve loaned people that I want back. I’d just started wondering if I’d have to get up when I fell back asleep.

After that came an hour-long string of frenzied nightmares. In one, there was an intruder in my bedroom and I was afraid to see who it was. In another, my husband started yelling at me in a Judge Doom voice. In more than one, I tried to wake myself up by moving but was frozen by sleep paralysis. (Sleep paralysis just sucks, friends. It just bites. I get it all the time.) But the strangest nightmare was the one about the moon.

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be afraid of the moon. I haven’t had that fear for a long time, but in one of my final dreams, I went up to our rooftop patio to look at the stars and saw the moon in its current phase (about 80% full as I write this). I was instantly overcome with panic and bolted back inside. Then, later in the dream, I was driving up a tall hill, and as I crested it, a completely full moon appeared before me. I hadn’t escaped it! It was coming to get me after all! I started yelling “No, no, no!” and tried to turn around, but my car wheels were lifting off the ground.

If I hadn’t woken up right at that second, I would have drifted up into the moon.

I spent the next day puzzling over it. The way I saw it, there were three possible explanations:

1. The panic was caused by physiological anxiety symptoms, and found an outlet in an old phobia;

2. The dream was some divine message using Tarot imagery to tell me there was something in my subconscious that I was afraid of; or

3. Witchcraft was devil worship and I was flying straight to hell.

With no disrespect to Christians, I eliminated the third one pretty easily.

While 2 was tempting, it felt a little too pat, like an occult fortune cookie. I knew the likeliest explanation was 1…but I was still intrigued by the fact that my brain had dredged up my old moon phobia. The next night I went up to the roof and there she was, pretty as ever, and I didn’t feel a drop of fear. Then I went to bed and dreamed that I was showing my daughter a breathtaking starry sky.

I decided to do a Tarot reading to see if I could shed some light on the problem. I have four decks, two of which I use regularly, and I usually choose a deck on impulse right before the reading. This time I chose the Sun and Moon deck by Vanessa Decort. I did a five card elemental spread–Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Center–and got some nice insights, most of which wouldn’t be of much interest to you. The Center card was pretty noteworthy, though:

sixofcups

The 6 of Cups (reversed): two youths frolic like children under a giant full moon. The same full moon that I, as a child, hid from in fear.

With Tarot, I try to let my intuition guide me, but this time I turned to Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot. Bunning suggests that the 6 of Cups can sometimes mean feeling secure and taken care of, like a child. That, I felt, was it. I started fearing the moon right around the time my parents divorced and my mother sank into a deep depression. It was after I’d come to the knowledge that no one really loved or wanted me. It was the same fear that convinced me that I’d wake up and my bedroom would be in space, or that aliens would abduct me.

I thought I was afraid of the moon, but what I was really afraid of was becoming unmoored and drifting off. Of never finding a source of stability, a safe and solid place.

I think back to my childhood self and want to hug that little kid so much.

Of course, the reading still doesn’t explain why my moon phobia came back now, at this particular time in my life. It’s something that I’ll continue to work through. It’s a mystery that will unfold slowly, at its own pace.

May your dreams bring you clarity and wonder! May your depression melt like snow! May your divination give you hope and delight!

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2 thoughts on “Pagan Blog Project: Depression, Dreams, and Divination

  1. James Bulls says:

    I can identify with so much of what you’re saying. When I was in the military I was diagnosed chronic/major depressive. It didn’t happen often, but I experienced sleep paralysis on and off for a few years until my depression got sorted out. I had a few of them that were really scary – I’d wake up in sleep paralysis and be seeing phantoms. It was like a waking nightmare where I wanted to call out and tell the shadow shapes walking around the room to go away, but nothing came out of my mouth and I couldn’t escape. Very unsettling. I was never on wellbutrin, but the cocktail I was taking for a few years took the edge off. I was eventually able to come off all my medications, but I remember when I was on them I didn’t enjoy it very much. I wasn’t depressed when I was medicated, but I didn’t feel “natural,” either. I enjoyed your essay, it was good to hear another person saying the same things.

    • Asa West says:

      James, yes!! Sleep paralysis is just awful. I get it so often that nowadays I can tell that’s what’s happening as it occurs, but the fear and discomfort don’t get much better. That’s interesting that for you, it was connected with your depression–that connection hadn’t occurred to me.

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