Delirium, pit ponies and the potential of wild, unfettered minds.
I’ve been ill.
Nothing glamorous or dangerous. Just a funny virus that has had me laid out most of the week. I have called it ‘flu but that conjures images of a nasty, oozy sort of cold and as I haven’t coughed or sneezed (or even oozed) it seems that’s the wrong word. Bone aches, sickness, muscle pains and cramps, fever, exhaustion, total lack of appetite. I even stopped drinking coffee; the very thought made me nauseous. I struggled to keep water down the first day. Tea came straight back up.
So I’ve laid down, dosed with pain killers and slept. I could have slept for England, were it an Olympic sport. Given my problems with insomnia, you can tell how poorly I’ve been by the hours that slipped by with me being mostly insensible of them. We have a chiming clock that chimes not only the hour but the quarters too and I remember being puzzled about how it had chimed half past two and then it chimed five o’clock five minutes later.
I’ve also not been quite in my right mind. I’ve been a little delirious which these days is quite entertaining. First time I was delirious it was when I was thirteen and had a bad case of chicken pox and it scared me. This time it didn’t. I watched the room shrink and grow and thought only of Alice and her Eat Me and Drink Me treats. I saw my plain white walls become transformed with swathes of pink roses rather like the ones in my childhood bedroom, but which moved as if blown by a summer breeze. I saw tiny crystalline fairies dance on the pillow next to me. When I slept I dreamed horrific vivid dreams, full-on with all the senses and woke shaking and drenched with sweat. If dreams are prophetic then one of these has me as the next Patriarch of Jerusalem, going by what I was wearing. I make light of the nightmares because it’s easier that way, and taking them seriously as more than perhaps fodder for novels is a bit beyond my strength right now.
But what I noticed between bouts of hallucinations and sleeping was how my mind was working while it idled. It didn’t feel like MY mind at all. It hopped and skipped around, jumping from thought to thought like a grasshopper. I didn’t recognise the patterns of thinking, the images, the ideas of my own. It was like going to sleep with the radio on and having the alien outside narrative intrude and take over your dreams. Odd, and rather disturbing, yet strangely exhilarating at the same time.
As a kid I recall seeing black and white footage of the last pit ponies being brought up from underground for their annual holidays. They’d stand for a moment, looking at the wide expanse of green grass, then they would go wild, hurtling into the field, kicking their heels up. They’d run and roll, gallop and gambol, flinging themselves around in sheer unfettered delight. That’s what my thoughts had been doing.
Normally I have a train of consciousness that is going on quite modestly, commenting on what I see, formulating ideas and images and I’m in control. I can stop the thoughts (usually) and change direction, but most of all I recognise them as my own. This time, I found it a struggle to see the ideas and images as having any connection to me at all. At times, along with the dreams, it felt as if another dimension, another reality, was pushing into my own and in many ways it felt quite welcome. It was like eavesdropping on another life.
Hemingway once said, “Write drunk; edit sober,” and I think I understand the concept a little better now. Due to my unusual condition my body resists things like anaesthesia and pain killers so my experience of things like morphine(and other medicines) has been disappointing compared to accounts of what others felt. Yet the loosening of mental control from illness seems to have been extraordinarily liberating. To have been cut free from certain constrictions of what I experience has been a bit of a holiday, as has a long spell where I’ve been unable to do much physically.
I don’t really do enough of the “standing and staring” and letting my mind idle that I think it desperately needs to be able to access the kind of creativity that many take for granted. I may be seeing a silver lining where there is none but this spell of illness has given me a glimpse of gold beyond the horizon.