No, I don’t mean that I have bed bugs – even my personal hygiene and domestic skills haven’t got that bad. Oh, and sorry for the break in blogging, the reason for it should hopefully become apparent during the course of this post.
This is going to be a different sort of post to normal. I actually wrote it a few nights ago. It’s an attempt to describe something I find basically indescribable, so it’s probably not all that good. I’ve tried not to edit it too much, because I wanted it to be as much like the experience itself as possible. There were places when I had just typed a couple of words, and I’ve expanded those out a little. But most of it is left as it was, with all the bad punctuation and shifting tenses left in place. I hope it’s not too self-indulgent to post this, but it’s part of my attempt to be more honest that I talked about here.
For those of you kind enough to worry about such things, I’m not feeling this bad any more. The mood I describe has receded, although it hasn’t resolved. I’m still pretty jumpy, but I’m not as bad as I was.
I’d been out. Not doing a lot – reading a magazine in the reference library actually – it’s a good way to get out of the house, and I hoped it might make me feel better. Less jumpy and distracted. Anyway, things started to feel – – – odd. I know, that’s a really unhelpful way of putting it. I’ll try to put it more clearly.
‘I felt like my head was going to explode’ is such a stupid thing to say.
I felt as though I needed to be sick, but I didn’t feel sick. I felt as though I was choking, but I could breathe normally. I felt like my ears were stuffed, but sounds seemed too loud, not too quiet. I felt that fixing any of these things would help relieve the pressure I felt in my head, but I also felt the pressure was at the absolute centre of my skull, out of reach of anything.
I decided to go home. I got myself down the stairs, feeling like an old man, or like I was drunk. I felt like I was about to lose my balance, but I didn’t feel dizzy. People stared at me. I saw them out of the corners of my eyes. A guy came past me on the stairs. He was whistling. He got to where I was and stopped whistling. He pressed himself right against the opposite handrail of the wide staircase, then ran down the rest of the stairs without turning back. I guess I looked odd as well as felt odd.
It’s about 4 miles from the library to my flat, but I have to walk most of it, getting up after one stop. I couldn’t sit on the bus. Just couldn’t. Partly not being allowed to move, and all the people staring. But also something about sitting still but also moving is just – – – weird. Like the signals in my brain that say “you’re sitting still” get confused with the signals in my brain that say “you’re moving fast”. It’s like I should be running flat out – on some level it’s like I am – struggling for breath, sweat pouring down my face, but then my body tells me I’m sitting still, breathing normally.
I got home. TV on, like normal, but I couldn’t watch it. The picture was clear, and the volume was up, but nothing it says makes sense. There’s Adrian Chiles’ face. Get up for a piss but I don’t need a piss. Pacing up and down the hall. I should eat. I don’t feel hungry, but I should eat, so I go to the kitchen. Its hard to remember what comes next. I stand looking at the saucepan in the draining rack. I could get the saucepan and find something to put in it.
I reach out my hand for the handle, grab it, then suddenly think, “Did I wash my hands?” I think of every surface I’ve touched while I’ve been out of the flat, every one of them covered in germs, those germs on my hands. Every time I’ve touched my face, those germs on my face. Everything I’ve touched at home, covered in germs. All this comes in a sudden flash of thought. Like an instant revelation – suddenly I understand everything is infected, everything is poisonous. Suddenly I feel sick to my stomach. Without realising it I drop the pan, and the sound it makes is terrible, I put my hands to my ears, but then I remember my hands are poisonous, now my ears are poisonous, my ears are holes in my head, the poison will get inside, crawl through my ears, into my head.
I wash my hands, wash my face, wash my ears, but even as I wash them I know the poison is creeping back from every part of me that is unwashed, from every surface in my flat. I’ll never get it off, I’ll never be clean. I could have a shower but I can’t. it’s too much to do, and my hands are shaking too much to undo the buttons on my shirt, and the sound of the water, I couldn’t bear the sound of the water drumming on my head.
I think a glass of water would make me feel better. I wash my hands. Take a glass out of the cupboard. The glass has been in the cupboard so it can’t be poisonous. I fill it up with water, but even as I fill it up I know I won’t be able to drink it. The water is coming from outside the flat, and everything outside the flat is poisoned. If I drink the water the poison will be inside me.
I go to bed. There’s nothing else I can do. I kick off my shoes but keep the rest of my clothes on. As I wrap the duvet around me I realise that all the poison on the outside of my clothes is now in the bed with me, but I can’t do anything about that. I turn on my fan, not because I’m hot but because it’s white noise, and it might drown out the sound of the other things I can hear.
As I lie there I feel my skin start to crawl. Is it the poison in the bed with me, am I too hot, is it something else. I don’t know, I think to myself I’ll feel better if I’m up, so I get out of bed and pace up and down the hall. I’m pacing up and down, but I can feel the tension in my shoulders, the muscles so knotted up my neck hurts, my back hurts, my arms hurt. It seems to hurt right down inside the bones in my arms. I think I’ll feel better lying down so I go back to bed.
I can’t get in a comfortable position to stop the ache in my arms. I want to fidget and squirm but I force myself to lie still. As I lie there I feel my skin start to itch again, particularly the skin on my back. It’s like I can feel blisters bubbling up on the surface of my skin. As I lie there looking at the ceiling I can see the blisters boiling up on the skin on my back. Finally I can’t stand it anymore, I get out of bed, scratch my back, really clawing at the skin.
I’ve eased the itching a little, but I can’t face lying down again, so I start to pace up and down the hall again. Gradually the feeling of itching comes back, but now it’s not just on my back. The side of my nose itches, scratching that makes the inside of my nose itch and I start to sneeze. The sneezing makes me feel sick. I start to mutter to myself, ‘No, please, I can’t,’ and other things like that. Something about making a noise, about forming words and forcing them out, makes me feel better, even if the words don’t mean much.
I decide to lie back down again, and for a wonder, I start to feel a little better. The duvet cover feels cool on my skin, and I manage to find just the right angle for my head that stops the muscles in my neck aching. I lie still, listening to the whirring of the fan, the way it stays always the same, but always different. It reminds me of a waterfall, the way the shape of it stays the same, but it’s always different water. I start to feel tired. I start to wonder if maybe I can fall asleep.
But the image of the water stops being restful. It’s always in motion, always moving. I start to think of other things that are always moving. I imagine myself on a train, and its as though I’m there. I can still see the walls of my bedroom, and the streetlights casting faint shadows on the ceiling, but somehow I can also see the train. It’s passing through a station without stopping. The station seems to be moving backwards, I can see the people standing on the platform. They’re standing still, but they’re also moving backwards. And the train is moving forwards. And I can feel the seat under me moving. And I can see the people in the carriage moving up and down, and side to side as the train moves under them.
Nothing is still. Everything is moving. There’s no point of stillness. I feel like if I could be still even for a few seconds I would be alright. If there was a single point of stillness I could stand on it, and say, “This is me.” But because nothing is still I can never find myself. I lie still in my bed feeling myself moving through the station and everything is moving.
The thought of all that movement starts to make me feel more and more sick. I sit up to try and break the spell, I turn the light on to try and get rid of the image of the train. I remember a thing I read in a book once, “intense nausea is worse than physical pain.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I know I would give almost anything to feel better.
I’m feeling worse and worse. My forehead feels clammy. I’m hot enough to sweat, but the sweat drying in the air from the fan makes me feel cold. I start to feel faint. Something outside the flat was poisoned, and I touched it with my hand, then brushed my mouth with my hand, then licked my lips, and now the poison is in me. It’s in me.
I get up, and go to the bathroom, and crouch in front of the toilet, feeling every moment like I’m just about to be sick. My mouth is producing so much saliva. I can’t swallow it, I’m worried swallowing it will make me sick, so I spit it out into the bowl of the toilet.
Slowly I start to feel less sick, but now the skin of my scalp is itching, itching, itching. I scratch it with my hands, but it doesn’t help. I try to look at my scalp in the mirror to see if I can see anything wrong with it, but I can’t see anything. The itching spreads down my neck and onto my back. The inside of my thighs start to itch, my eyebrows, my eyes, the backs of my hands, between my toes, my chest, the inside of my arms. Every part of me is itching, it feels like my skin is on fire.
I go out to the hall, try to pace up and down, try to talk to myself, try to do anything that will just please, for the love of god, stop things itching so badly. I crouch down in the hall, and everything outside me is itching, and everything inside my head feels like it’s moving, and I start to cry. Not normal, ‘oh, dear, I feel a bit sad’ crying, but scary crying. I feel like I can stand outside myself and watch these things happening.
Eventually I think I should write this down, write down how this feels. I come into the living room, turn on the computer, sit down in front of it, go blank. Get up, pace up and down the hall. Think of a way to start – I’d gone out – come back to the computer, type it out. Get up, pace. Come back, type. Get up, pace, and so on.
It’s been hours to get this typed down. It’s morning. There’s light coming through the curtains, and I can hear car doors slamming and engines starting down below. I’m going to lie down now, see if I can sleep.