Sunday, August 16, 2009
Things close in. I need to get out. Mental illness is simple, really. We get overwhelmed, overloaded. Too much of one thing, too much of everything. Too much thought, too much emotion, too much sensory input. Too much of nothing, even. Think of a fire in your brain or of being trapped deep underground, unable to breathe. There is no way the brain can respond rationally.
The brain copes, instead, by flipping out or shutting down.
Nearly 20 years ago, in a hot tub, I relived one of these experiences with a New Age practitioner. I felt myself in some dark cavern of hell, struggling, desperate to get out. Oddly, I found myself humming a tune from Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld." Thankfully, my practitioner stayed with me and helped me effect my escape. Light, fresh air, deliverance. I flopped onto the deck of the tub, spent, exhausted.
Slowly, I collected my wits and speculated out loud that this is what it must have been like when I was born. Not that my mom was about to corroborate my account, of course. Funny thing, though, next time I saw her, with no prompting, she started talking about my birth.
It was a very quick delivery, she informed me. I was out instantly, practically born in the elevator. This did not square with my hot tub experience. Then, as an afterthought, my mom happened to say: "The doctor told me to hold my legs together."
Let me attempt a reconstruction, from the baby's point of view: Here I was, venturing out from the security of the womb, in some biological equivalent of an extremely confining crawl space. There was no going back, but I could take some comfort in my forward progress. Things were closing in, it was a scary situation, but I was ready. I made my big push, and ...
I couldn't get out!
Talk about a fetus with attitude, I literally forced my way to the surface, where I entered the world kicking and screaming in unsanitary conditions. Instantly, I was whisked away into an isolated ward, where my mother jokes I bonded with a nun. I have no reason to doubt her.
Please don't tell anyone about this ...