The Wakened Dream

I wake up I wake up I wake up I wake up
I wake up I wake up I wake up I wake up…
     In that fractured moment when you are awakened from ECT, you see the same as you’ve always seen. You hear the same as you’ve always heard. There are no unusual colors or noises or foreign objects floating in the periphery of your vision. But you are acutely aware that things are not the same. There is nothing in the landscape that is causing the wrinkling of that brow, the tilt of that head, the squint of those eyes. You realize that the distortion is coming from you, that your internal control panel–your settings–have changed. This is sudden. You do not learn this gradually like you would a lesson, after practicing scales or throwing baskets. This does not sink into your consciousness over time as you lie there trying to figure out where and who you are. This is just a blanket awareness that you are now a different person upon opening your eyes that you were ten minutes ago when they put the mask over your face and you drifted off weightless into another realm of atmosphere.
     For a split second I am not aware that I do not know who I am. I am lying on the recovery bed and TD is sitting beside me not saying anything and nurses are walking around checking temps and vital signs and making small talk and I am lying there without one clue as to who I am, or even if I am a person at all. Whatever connection I have to the world is not implied, is not suggested, is not spelled out or explained or even alluded to in a general way. I am a body taking up space on a stretcher in a room with other people taking up space on stretchers and none of us knows who the other ones are, how we got there, where we came from or even that we were roommates on a locked psych ward just a short wheelchair ride away.
     The IV has been pulled from my hand and a small mound of gauze is taped there. The oxygen is no longer on my face and the tubing has been completely removed from my sight, as if it were a danger for me to see it there curled up like a transparent snake with no hiss. The nurses stop by the bed every once in a while and ask me innocuous questions. “What state is this?” to which I answered this past time, “Oklahoma.” One time they asked me where I was from and I said, “Utopia.” I remember that answer because if I get the nurse who asked me that she always brings it up. “How are things in Utopia?” and I will say, “Just peachy.”
     (My shock doc looks like George Clooney. I thought maybe I was the only one seeing the resemblance here, in a sort of glorifying way, but it turns out, everyone thinks he looks like George Clooney.) He came to see me on the unit and asked if I would submit to an interview with 25 med students before my first treatment. He escorted me to the interview room without saying a word until we got to the door where they were all waiting for me. He winked at me and said under his breath, “Don’t hold back,” and then swept the door wide open to a room full of twenty-year-old, still-excited-about-medicine students, fresh-faced and smiling with their little tablets and laptops and reference books and iPhones.) I couldn’t remember ever being that young or that inspired about my career. They sat on the edge of their chairs and hung on my every word. There was a twenty-something woman in charge of the interview and she turned all the way in her seat to face me. She took no time getting to the grit of things.
     “Are you suicidal?”
“Yes.”
“Tell me about that.”
“I am going to die.”
“Do you have any specific plans…”
“No.” I’m not so sure you can be an artist or a writer and not occasionally be suicidal. This has been a common thread woven through my life throughout the years and the circumstances and particular situations determine the severity (or lack thereof). I have beaten this beast in the head with a baseball bat a thousand times. I suspect I will do so a thousand more.
“Can you contract for safety?”
“Yes.”
“Have you had any homicidal thoughts?”
“Yes.”
“Against a particular person?”
“Yes.”
“Can you tell me who?”
“Donald Trump.”
Everyone shifted and there was a collective move, an anatomic-group sigh, if you will. “How long have you felt this way?”
“Since November 8th.”
“Do you have any plans…”
I thought about playing with her for a bit, but I was too tired. “No, I have no plans to assassinate the President of the United States. I’m hoping someone out there will have the gumption to do it for me, but no, if I wasn’t being served food and given a spoon, I wouldn’t be organized enough to eat.”
     It was a fun interview and killed sixty minutes out of a day on a psych ward that can only be adequately described as excruciatingly boring and painfully dull.
     I’ve only had two treatments and I do feel better. Every once in a while I will be doing something like washing the dishes or folding a towel and suddenly a steel trap will shut over my head and block out all signs of life. I will become suddenly overwhelmed with a singular, emotionless thought of death. The pain is gone, at least. Before going into the hospital a few weeks ago, each time this happened the tears just poured down my face and I was so sad about having to plan my suicide, get things in order, say goodbye to people, write the letter, clean the house, floss. It was exhausting. Now there is the thought, but there is no feeling. After a few more treatments, I will be left wondering why I thought about killing myself in the first place. That’s the hope, anyway.
     In the meantime, I get through these days with busy-work. Grad school has been scheduled to begin March 9th. My long-term disability has finally kicked in. I am studying for my Case Management certification. I am waiting on a call from the Vocational Rehab department with my insurance company to see about getting a telecommuting job so I can work from home. I am hopeful that one day I will get another car and have it adapted for steering-wheel hand controls. I am writing. Yes, it’s pure shit, but there are words nevertheless.  So while my brain is being zapped and I am doing all the things I’m suppose to be doing, I wait for that clearing. This clearing is a mental reprieve that can best be described with the analogy of congested sinuses. Yeah, I know. Weird. But think about this: have you ever been so stuffed up that you have to breathe through your mouth? There is nothing going in through your nose and even trying to get to force air up in there is uncomfortable and awkward and distressing. You’ve taken all the medicine. You’ve used the Afrin. You’re walking up and down your driveway to keep upright and alert because even sitting on the couch makes everything worse. You haven’t been able to lie down all night and you are so tired that if you could prop yourself comfortably enough against a tree, you might get some sleep. Just when you can stand it no longer, a tiny hole–the most infestestimal space you can imagine–opens in the center of your obstruction and you feel a slight stream of air exert itself through your membranes. You stop walking. You stop talking. You stop bitching because this is the most glorious feeling your body has ever experienced. And you do nothing but slowly breathe it in and out through that pin-hole. You know you’re going to survive. You know more airways are going to start snapping open like little pop rocks. And the only thing your life is for, the only meaning your life has at that moment, if just breathing air in through that tiny hole…and all is well with the world and its people and its government.
     Right now, I need only that tiny stream of air. Everything else is on autopilot. I am lucky. I have family and friends who are watching out for me. Even at this ungodly hour (5:49 a.m.) on a treatment day, awakened by low blood sugar and the anxious anticipation of the IV start that will take place at 9:00, I know I can find a soul to help me through the next few hours. I could wake TD or Sophie and have them sit with me to make sure I don’t eat or drink anything before the procedure. I could find someone online to keep my mind busy and focused on something else. Right now, again, it is enough for me to just breathe. In this stillness, in this silence, (in this hunger and thirst), I am breathing in an out. It’s enough for now. It has to be enough for now.

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