Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Bit of Autobiographical Non-Fiction About Hallucinations

     Thought I'd try something different and share one of my old stories.  This one was published in   "Morbid Curiosity," a magazine that unfortunately isn't printed anymore.  Specifically the issue published in May, 2005.  Morbid Curiosity was a collection of weird personal experiences, all nonfiction.  They ended up publishing three of my accounts--one about my worker's comp injuries, one about exhuming graves (see October 23, 2013 post), and this one about fever nightmares.  Enjoy!

                                                      A Natural (But Sick) High

      I can recall being quite surprised when I first learned that many of the body’s discomforts are actually caused by it as defense mechanisms.  Pain, for example, designed to alert the body of injuries; an extreme reminder to cease certain activities or get something fixed immediately.  Or the many symptoms of illnesses—serving again as warnings, but also directly fighting invading bodies.  The extra phlegm which engulfs particles in its stickiness, and then expels them, either directly, itself, or in conjunction with two other symptoms, namely by coughing or sneezing.
     And then there’s the fever, the raising of the body’s temperature to bake the enemy germs.  This is one of the more extreme measures, since fevers can actually go too high and actually kill the person.  It’s kind of reminiscent of the infamous quote about Vietnam which holds, “In order to save the village we had to destroy it.”
     But sometimes another phenomenon accompanies a fever, and this is the point of my account; the fever hallucination.  I only had them a few times, and not past the age of ten or so, and my memory of them is rather spotty and incomplete.  (For example, it is possible that one or more of my fever highs was augmented by an adrenaline injection done to stop a bad asthma attack; unfortunately no one in my family can remember for sure.)  But the vestiges that have remained are still oddly intense and clear, over twenty years later.
     For the best remembered fever high, I need to explain a little background first.  Since I or someone else in the house was allergic to all furry animals, we couldn’t have the typical dog or cat as a pet.  Therefore, we had to make do with fish, hermit crabs, salamanders, newts, and even insects and bugs.  The latter were mainly represented by wood lice, the common critters also called, “armadillos,” or, “pillbugs,”; they’re the tiny, segmented, many legged bugs which curl up into a ball when they feel threatened.  They were easy to keep, as they required no exotic foods, didn’t bite, and weren’t extremely disgusting or disease-spreading like flies or cockroaches.  Anyway, I kept them in empty margarine containers packed with dirt, leaves, and pieces of wood, and occasionally would run them through mazes that I made with Legos.
     Then the sickness hit, accompanied by the fever.  I awakened a few hours after going to sleep.  I was hysterical with fear; terrified that some nameless persons or entities were going to come into our house and murder my pillbugs.  I went downstairs and talked with my mom and dad about my acute worries, and somehow they were able to convince me that everything would be okay, and eventually I was able to go back upstairs and get back to sleep.  As I write this I’m aware of how silly and absurd my fears sound; I’m confident that the day after it must have sounded incredibly stupid and paranoid even to a seven or eight-year-old.  But, at the time, it made perfect sense.  It’s weird, too, because while I liked the wood lice, I wasn’t that attached to them.  When they died I just picked up a rock and got some more—it didn’t have the same impact that the death of a fish or reptile did.  I don't recall even naming them.  So the wood lices’ part in my delusion is bizarre.  Why I wasn’t concerned about the safety of myself or my family is beyond me.  My heat-addled brain sure thought their tiny lives were vitally important and valuable that night.
     The second fever incident was not as specific, but just as (if not more) terrifying.  Once again, it happened at night, while I was either trying to go to sleep or perhaps awakened from sleep.  It felt as if some tremendous force was pressing against me, causing my hands to be pushed open.  I perceived some nameless and malevolent power exhibiting its strength before me.  For this one I didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed.  I just lay there, feeling utterly insignificant.  This fear of being overwhelmed was like nothing I’d experienced, before or since.  It was simply raw and hopelessly intense.  I felt so worthless and weak as to be beyond thoughts of a suicidal nature.  Years later, when I first read some of H. P. Lovecraft’s horror stories, I found that they struck a chord.  His accounts of people struck dumb with terror at witnessing huge, powerful, and impossibly ancient god-like beings seemed similar to how I felt at that time.  After a while the feeling must have passed enough to allow me to fall asleep again.
     I talked to other people about these experiences, and some of them mentioned having fever highs, but they usually consisted of them feeling weird but not necessarily afraid.  The Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb,” apparently describes such an event, with hands described as feeling like balloons, and other strange feelings which were neutral or even positive.  I myself place value on the fever highs because the intensity of emotion was an experience, but I can’t say that I’d like to repeat them.  If the fever hallucinations had been just trippy yet happy, or even simply interesting and amusing, maybe I’d feel differently.  But, this argument is probably moot, since this phenomenon seems to affect mostly children.

     I’ve never taken chemical hallucinogens like LSD or magic mushrooms.  Partly this is because of concerns about suffering negative health or legal issues.  But I think part of it also stems from the negative fever experiences.  What if the powerful, impossibly evil (yet absurd) entities that my brain concocted took the opportunity that the drugs provided to haunt me once again?  I think an experience like that would be somehow worse as an adult. 

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