Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Arising Out Of The Coma

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 6, 2012

   Michael, forty-two, has seen me for two years. We talk about his internal world. Sometimes I remark that his thinking is concrete. Lately, he has shown deep insights into his behavior. “You are coming out of a coma,” I remark, suggesting that his unconscious mind is finally waking up to the underpinnings of his feelings and his behavior. “I feel that” he tells me. Now, when I look around at my wife and my kids, I feel like I have a better grasp of our dynamics. I feel like I understand the triggers to their outrage and their upset. I also feel like I can tell what makes them happy. Before, I felt clueless as to why people were feeling anything-good or bad.” Michael relates this to me with a certain wistfulness about his past closed-off experience to himself and to his family. Now he feels more “in touch” but it comes with deep regret for his past detachment. “It is hard to go forward, thinking about what you missed in the past. It is hard to mourn the loss of not being able to move backwards,” I say, trying to empathize with his pain about his previous defensiveness. “I just can’t take it,” he tells me with deep sorrow. “Sometimes I want to go back to my coma,” he says, making me understand why he would say that. “Comas do have their advantages,” I say, understanding that feeling one’s internal world can be wrenching. “You are funny,” he says, remarking about my daring to idealize a frozen mental state. “Maybe, not so funny, but in touch with your sadness,” I say, bringing our conversation back to his pain. “OK, you are funny and in touch,” he grants me.

6 Responses to “Arising Out Of The Coma”

  1. Wow! good post Shirah…..For those of us who are deeply and profoundly in touch and aware of our own “internal” worlds, the realization that so many humans are so alienated from their “souls…..their internal worlds”, can be gut wrenching at times. Our own personal knowledge, while empowering and positive, can also bring sadness.

  2. Jon said

    Two things, perhaps interrelated. First, what worked the magic to bring Michael out of his “coma.” It seems to be powerful. Are there lessons learned that can be shared about this soulful awakening? Second, can Michael gain the further awareness that going forward is more positive than the putative ostrich-like behavior of regressing back into the “coma.”

    • Shirah said

      Trauma was the impetus for Michael moving out of his coma. The means of moving out was psychotherapy. The “lessons” are that trauma, although internally upsetting, can inspire a new way of being in the world, which is only perceptible to the individual, in this case Michael. Michael’s journey is to and fro, like all journeys, there are ups and downs. The net-positive is the hope, but as with life, he will only be able to do the equation at the end. Therein lies the hope of psychotherapy.

  3. Shelly said

    What was the impetus for Michael’s coma-like behavior in the first place? There is a safety and security while being in a coma, is there not? One can hear but cannot feel. Time is suspended, in effect. Is that not the reason that people turn to drugs and alcohol, to escape from reality and run from the feelings that cause their problems? I can understand Michael’s almost nostaligic-like feelings for the safety of his coma: It is something most of us aspire to (to exist without the pain).

    • Family trauma. There was significant illness in Michael’s family. Yes, the coma is analogous to the numbing effect of drugs and alcohol. The coma works until it doesn’t. Trauma, unforeseen events, often cause us to feel things that we have been suppressing for years before. Trauma is an opportunity for re-configuring one’s internal life, but not without the pain of regret and loss. Thanks, as always.

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