ess sea aitch eye zed oh pea aitch are eee en eye eh

... runs in the family, some say. It runs in mine: my late sister, my later uncle. And, dimly, my maternal grandfather's nameless mother, who had 'second sight'. Because there wasn't a term for this condition much before 1900, it was called other things if it was called at all. I mean, if all the manifestations of what we call it now were even grouped under the same rubric. It's something I do think about when I look at the next generation, my sisters' children, mine ...

I've had one episode, of what objective severity I can't say. It was when I was in my early twenties and lasted, I don't know, several months? Say from about September of one year until January or February of the next, with a climax around Christmas, after which I slowly got better. Characterised most of all by disorientation and fear. I lost the ability to understand what it was people meant when they spoke to me, what their body language meant, what their intent was.

The disorientation was itself productive of fear, but the fear preceded disorientation. Loss of a sense of self perhaps breeds fear, you feel about to be invaded, you feel you are disintegrating. But some of my fears were extremely specific and they were the worst. I knew this guy, call him L, he was a friend. A cartoonist who cultivated a deliberately engimatic persona. He hardly ever spoke but had a great line in significant looks. Not speaking was part of his identity as a visual person, as it were.

Well, I became convinced that L was going to kill me. This was a delusion, and in some sense I must have known this because the certainty of it overcame me while I was hitch-hiking to another city from the one L lived in. He was a good five hundred miles away the night I 'saw' him enter the room where I was lying awake, carrying a knife, and tower shadowly over the bed like something out of Dostoevsky or maybe Doktor Caligari, with his arm upraised. I did not cry out and the phantom blade left no real wounds. It was after that episode I started getting better.

This was some kind of visual hallucination. I still don't really understand it. And, this is perhaps important, it was not accompanied by voices. I did not hallucinate voices, or not much more than a lot of people seem to do. I think if there had also been some jabber inside my mind, of a malign entity perceived as external, I might not have come out of it as easy as I did.

What I most remember about the episode now, is how replete with meanings other than the obvious, were the words that people spoke. The most ordinary of statements peeled back to reveal depths of paradoxical intent. Hitch-hiking in this state was an exquisite torture but I was lucky to be with a more robust friend and he sat in the front and handled the social side. But even talking to my family, where I went for that Christmas, could uncover these dreadful abysses.

What I don't know now is how much those other intents were really there and how much they were conjured by my fear. It's too simple to say it was either one or the other, it was clearly both and part of my distress was probably to do with my inability to walk the line between real intent and delusory fear.

In a way it's never left me, that question, and in a way it was a gift, even if it came out of torment: I mean the knowledge of how much of what we say to one another comes out of a shared place between us where nothing is ever quite certain, where there's always a crackle of potential meanings that might or might not manifest.


~River~ said...

Martin, I read this with a lot of care.

In fact, I've been reading it almost everyday ever since you posted it through my feeds.

Your ironic objectivity scares me, but it also makes me aware of what a fine writer you are.

Martin Edmond said...

~river~ ... thank you. this was years ago now & I've thought about it almost to exhaustion - but never written it ... hence perhaps the objectivity; but if there's irony there, it's most likely defensive.