Down the rabbit hole, around Wonderland and back through the looking glass… Part 1
Every writer – and nearly every artist – I have ever personally known has acknowledged an extraordinary relationship between their craft, and their unconscious mind, while many of those I’ve known that are not creative by design typically claim not to dream all that often or all that vividly. This has led me – over the years – to presume the link between dreaming and the arts is a vastly significant…
At any waking moment, I have about a thousand and one different thoughts ping-ponging around in my head. It is not a rarity to catch me drifting off in thought; I daydream frequently, and even – on occasion – ‘schedule’ time in the day to allow myself to do so. When I sleep the traffic in my mind tapers down some, but perhaps not as much as it should. That’s okay though; I’ve adapted to – and even come to love – the way my mind works.
Back when I suffered from insomnia, I really didn’t dream a lot – except for the occasional nightmare – for years. I made up for this by daydreaming more frequently I suppose, but I greatly missed that complete immersion into the (positive) lands of folly and fantasy.
During that stage of my life when I was only rowing with one paddle in the creek, my insomnia became an almost unbearable burden. Throughout that period I would put my head on the pillow but barely sleep at all; I would just think all night long and the thinking would cause the depression and anxiety to worsen. As a matter of fact, it was an attempt at sleep that drove me into the truly dark abyss of my mind in the first place.
As I’ve mentioned before, I suspect that I may have been having a lot of ‘issues’ long before I came to recognize my mental state as problematic, but there came a point when I could no longer even pretend to ignore that I was in crisis. That ‘point’ poked at me after several hours of sleeplessness while I lay in bed – tossing and turning – and thinking; over thinking to be more specific. During that night, the very essence of my thoughts mutated into something that – for a long time – I referred to (at least in my own mind) as the worms of despair. I pictured them in there, squirming about in my grey matter, gobbling up the good stuff and leaving me with nothing but darkness.
Though I’d lain down that evening with typical (for me) thoughts; the little things that stressed me out back then; by the time the sky beyond my window started to lighten in the east, I had lost utter and complete control of them. I’d begun to question my own existence; what was real – what was illusion?; and I felt so amped up that my body was literally strumming. My head ached as though the little worms of despair had taken sledgehammers to the inside of my skull, and my neck, back and shoulders felt tight – tense. My heart seemed to be hammering so hard in my chest that I was – no exaggeration – terrified that I was on the verge of a heart attack. Even my eyeballs seemed to ache. There is no other way for me to describe the sensations washing over me but to liken it to a bad acid trip. For those of you who’ve wisely avoided drugs, let me just assure you that it wasn’t a lot of fun.
I thought everything would be okay once the day started; my brain would correct itself and I’d be fine; but I was very wrong. That morning I met with some family for breakfast at the local IHOP; after about five minutes sitting at the table – still strumming from head to foot and completely unable to still the stampede of thoughts rushing through my head – I had to leave. I didn’t give much of an excuse; I just mumbled something barely coherent and ran from the place. Out in the parking lot, I doubled over and dry heaved for awhile with tears streaming down my face. I had no idea what was happening to me, but – naively – I kept telling myself that it was just because of the restless night before, and that sleep would make everything all better.
It was a very long time before things got even remotely better. That amped up, disassociated, anxious, paranoid, full-body-aching, terror-filled bad acid trip sensation went on and on, and – stubborn and ignorant as I was – I didn’t even see a doctor about it until nearly a month after it began. Instead, I did everything in my power to pretend – for the sake of others – that nothing was going on with me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I worked in a public place at the time (I was the night manager of a video store) and I was suffering so badly that I know there were visible signs. I could tell by the strange looks I kept getting from people and the way I seemed to make others quite nervous. I was acting – and looking like – an addict; constantly twitching, unable to make eye-contact, mumbling, mousy and skittish. On top of that, the sleep deprivation was getting worse with every passing day, and as a result, I had these horrible black smudges under my eyes that makeup would only do so much to hide.
It was a horrid feeling; I was going crazy and I was always exhausted. Every now and then my sleep deprivation would peek and I’d crash out for sixteen hours (or more) straight, and afterwards I’d usually have a day or two when I felt a little less fatigued; which was always a nice reprieve; but then the whole cycle would just start over again.
Now, I don’t know if the insomnia was a trigger for my stumbling down the rabbit hole, or if my freefall into madness only served to intensify the pre-existing insomnia, but I do know that I drew (still draw) connections between these two things. The person that I became after that first, horrible night was barely a person at all.
These days, if I suffer a few consecutive nights of poor sleep, I make adjustments in my habits for a week or two just to help get myself back on track. You see, after hanging out at the Mad Hatter’s tea party for a time – drinking tea that must have been laced with something – I eventually decided to eat the big girl cake and grow beyond the narrow space that I’d constructed for myself.
Initially, I’d had no choice but to seek medical treatment; I honestly thought I was dying. By that point, the depression had kicked in pretty bad, and so, while I was afraid that I might die at any given moment, I had also started to fantasize about killing myself just to get away from the horrible pain and fear. Remember, I didn’t believe in such mental illnesses at the time; I was completely convinced that I had some terrible, fatal disease. I was so convinced of this, that I refused to believe what the first doctor had to say about the state that I was in, and sought out two more opinions before even considering that they might be right.
Finally – and mostly out of desperation – I submitted to the diagnosis.
I was on a handful of different medications for a time, and I hated them all. I hated how the mood stabilizers made me feel like a zombie – like I could look at things and know I should care about them, but couldn’t actually connect with the feelings to do so – and I hated all the stupid little side effects. I hated that the sleeping pills would knock me out, but that I would still wake up feeling as though I hadn’t rested, and I hated how they didn’t serve to give me back my dreams. In the beginning however, I could recognize that I needed that pharmaceutical assistance; while it couldn’t really give me the balance I required, it helped to block out the most extreme symptoms at least well enough for me to begin taking stock of my life, and that led me to realize that I needed to find a different – better – way to deal.
To be continued…