Slightly out of my head

I’m fascinated by the way in which illness affects my brain, especially anything that leaves me feverish. Having had a round of this over the last few days, it’s been one of the few things reliably on my mind. Brains are of course a heady mix of biology and chemistry (plus inexplicable consciousness) and the limits of what it’s possible to do with them has all kinds of implications.

Monday night there was a scary thing. The kind of thing that in normal circumstances, would have given me a panic attack. I felt fear as a more intellectual thing, and then my body just didn’t. There was no spare energy with which to panic, no means of working up a rush of adrenaline, it just wasn’t happening. The ill state of my body neatly cancelled out the ill state of my brain, leaving me with nothing more dramatic than an ‘isn’t that interesting’ and a desire to try and sleep it all off.

Various fevers have convinced me (temporarily)that I know the secrets of the universe, am dying, that reality is just lots of little boxes blending together, that the bed is a boat, that the bed in a boat is not in a boat after all, and all manner of random things. Recognising feverishness, it is important to check these things with kind, non-feverish people who can confirm or deny as appropriate. It’s useful, when hallucinating for example, to know that that the faces in the curtain are not, really speaking, there. Knowing I’m ill and being able to ask and get a check on where consensus reality is saves me from getting on facebook and announcing that I’ve seen how it really is… when really it’s the flu speaking.

Various bouts of depression and anxiety have convinced me (also temporarily)  that I am doomed, ought to die, that the universe is innately hostile, that nothing I do can ever work, and a whole bunch of other profoundly unhelpful things. However, depression and anxiety do not show up with overt physical symptoms that alert other people to the problem. It’s still brain chemistry miss-firing though. A check-in with consensus reality is just as valuable in this context as it is when there’s fever conjuring little green men into your sock drawer.

I have a lot of questions about how real reality really is. Not helped by recently listening to Brian Cox on radio 6, talking about the infinite possibilities of the multiverse. I was feverish at the time, but am reliably informed he did say things that suggest Douglas Adams was right, and therefore somewhere there really are sentient mattresses… but I digress, which is easy when the mind is a bit wobbly. What enables us to get by passably from one day to the next is having some agreements about what reality is, what is real and how to think about it. Illness can distort and change it – whether we get more or less real when out of our heads is really secondary to the certainty that we do get less functional. Checking that gravity works, and that the conviction you can fly may be flawed, is, for example, a good investment. I regularly dream I can fly, and fever can break down the clear lines between awake and asleep.

If you don’t test your impressions, then you keep your own private take on reality locked safe inside. No one can see it, comment, ridicule, or deny it for you. This may be fine right up until you jump out of the window. The person who can be trusted to recognise when you’re ill and out of tune with the consensus, is a very good friend to have, especially if you are prone to an unwellness of the head. Not the person who calls you stupid and deluded – thus actually confirming your fears whilst making it impossible to talk about them. The person who can say “it probably looks that way because you’ve fallen down a hole, other realities are available” is a great help. Keep silent and it is much easier to believe that the hole is real, and all the people acting as though they are not in a hole, are insane. If you mention, and it turns out everyone else is stood in the same hole after all, you know it’s not you, and you’ve got a team seeking an escape route, and that’s better. It gives you unions, pressure groups, revolutions…A bit of consensus reality can go a long way sometimes.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Slightly out of my head

  • Catherine Crayton

    A great piece written from within that “altered” reality of a fever. Great insights. I’ve had very few fevers in my life but always kind of enjoyed them for the magical things my mind would perceive. Having other people who know me well and can see me drifting off into another place are my sanity savers be it illness, depression or anxiety. I love your honest sharing!

  • syrbal-labrys

    I come from a family famed for spiking high fevers, so oddly enough it is when desperately feverish that I am most certain of what is and is not real. When I see figures marching round the border of a wall-hung Oriental carpet — I bury my face in my hot pillow, telling myself “Pay no mind, you are delirious.”

    But when I am PTSD triggered? Ah…THEN I have to ask myself if I am seeing and hearing what I seem to be perceiving! I, too, have been reading about multiverses — and wonder, dreamily, if I can emigrate to one that does not have PTSD or fevers! 😉

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I have often wondered that if there was a objective reality have any of us ever seen it, considering that we are very subjective critters at best. I have experienced a variety of reality between being bipolar, drunk, drugged, and extremely sick & nearly dying at various times, I have come to doubt all reality a bit, though I still go along with it so as not to strain myself too much by questioning everything that I see, touch, taste, smell of whatever.

    I certainly would explain some of our human communication problems to believe that everyone lived in their own reality. Those in similar reality could communicate fairly well, while those in quite different reality might constantly talk past each other and never tell communicate at all.

    But then when we talk about objective, or real, reality, is it factual or just multiply agreed upon subjective reality, and how would we ever find out? Not only do we deal with our various individual five senses, but our different level of intelligence, different levels of education, different cultural backgrounds, as well as what we individually can believe and what we individually cannot believe. Or is it actually possible that all of our individual realities are each quite real. For instance if you believe in science, than science works, or if you believe in magic, than magic works.

    As you see, I come up with far more questions than answers, but at my age mysteries are rather enjoyable, not having to understand everything as I thought that I needed to do when I was young man.

  • Tracie Wow

    I am still trying to understand some of what I have seen. Lets leave it at name badges of people I know being slightly different. Please write about simular off you notice. I find the idea of Multiverse amazing. Example You are throwing same shape and size pebbles into a pond. You skip 50 pebbles into the pond. 2 things can happen. They; 2 pebbles can skip in about the same place or land in the water and bump into an earlier thrown pebble. Simular patterns or same pattern = Multiverse.

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