By Andrew Fort
Imagine you are having a dream. Any dream; insert your random montage here. Trying to shop for Brussels sprouts, for example, but the plastic bags are turning into jellyfish which threaten to sting you. Or you desperately need to go to the bathroom, but Chevy Chase is blocking the entrance, and he’s being really mean. And anyway the bathroom is not a bathroom, but a Ferris wheel. Chevy still won’t let you by.
Now imagine this random montage of absurd imagery is also deeply emotional. It is, in fact, making you weep with a sudden depth more profound than anything else you have experienced. And it’s happening while you’re awake.
And then imagine it’s over in an instant.
They might have been visions sent from God, if God had Captain Beefheart for a playwright and Salvador Dali for a set designer. They might have been visitations from dead relatives, if my dead relatives were Jane Curtin and Bozo the Clown. Or they might have been acid flashbacks, if I’d ever done acid.
As I began to figure out what was happening, I became aware that I was being revisited–usually about ten times a day, not counting the ones that happened while I was asleep–by long-forgotten dreams. And they weren’t the meaningful ones. They were just any old dream which I might have had over the course of a lifetime which has probably been too stuffed with surrealist art, pop-culture references, and hand-wringing philosophical quandaries. But somehow they were always paired with a sudden spasm of free-floating grief.
What was clear to me from the start was that this was something which originated in the chemical or electrical processes of the brain. My thoughts and emotions had never followed this particular pathway before. With a little sleuthing from my wife, we came upon the culprit: TLE, or Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Everything written about it said that it emanated from a small–often microscopic–scar on the brain which caused localized seizures and didn’t affect motor function. As the Temporal Lobe controls memory and emotion, it seemed entirely plausible as the source of these profoundly gut-wrenching inanities.
My doctors were a little slower on the uptake. I first had to see a therapist who, despite being perfectly pleasant, was clearly concerned by the end of session two that I was wasting her time. About six months after the incidents began I made it to a neurologist, who instantly recognized what was going on. Still, it took a month or two to find the right medication to get this to stop. In the meantime, I began to experience a depression like I’d never had before.
I understand that others probably experience depression differently, and it can be debilitating for many. But that wasn’t the case with me. True, everything seemed meaningless. True, nothing held my interest. True, everything was colorless. But ironically, it was a very productive time. Nothing held any meaning any more, but since nothing held any meaning, there was no reason why I SHOULDN’T continue to work on my novel, or do the dishes, or open an IRA. Since none of it meant anything, everything was weighted equally—inaction as well as action. I got a lot done, and I lost thirty pounds to boot, because eating also didn’t interest me.
But where it really hurt, aside from the random finger-jabs of inconsolable weeping, was that I couldn’t listen to music. None of it. All of the music that has brought me comfort over the years and helped me become who I am, it all reminded me only of myself. It was no longer a communication from someone out in the world to me, but only a communication from my own poorly-wired brain to itself, and it seemed as meaningless as the sudden Sisyphean dream-memory of a cat trying to retrieve a bean from the top of a flagpole while I watched from below and a boom-box played “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
So what was I left with? Silence.
When the medication eventually kicked in, music began to creep its way back into my life. In fact, it was as if it had never left.
I have often heard people say that if it weren’t for modern pharmaceuticals, they wouldn’t be able to function. I’m sure, given the mildness of my condition, I would have continued to soldier on. But I have also heard it said that music is like medicine. For me, the two are now inextricably tied.