It was my turn to put the kids to bed, and I was lying near the feet of my six-year-old son, who was, I hoped, on the verge of sleep. Getting our three young boys to go to sleep at night, in the same room, is a process that transpires in a series of steps. Step one, where I am trying to get them into bed, was done. Step two, where people have calmed down and are starting to fall asleep, was almost complete. The third step, where I wait for the oldest boy to drift off, has me lying quietly, checking the calendar on my phone, going over that day’s events, and planning the following day, Frequently, it is during this step that I end up briefly falling asleep myself.
On this night, I'm not sure if I had yet fallen asleep, but I became acutely aware of confusing and unusual thoughts, which I perceived to be memories. They seemed too lucid to be dreams. And yet, facts and ideas seemed jumbled and without any discernable order. I tried to organize them into coherent trains of thought that I could examine and try to understand. I tried to gather them together, like picking up sticks, but they were elusive. As I mentally approached the group of associated thoughts, the group started to fall apart. And then they vanished, like dissipating smoke .
As soon as one this first group of associated ideas was completely gone, another one presented itself. I couldn’t even describe to myself what it was that I was trying to grasp. It was like I could sense the presence of thoughts but they stayed just out of view in my mind. The ideas were there, but they were hiding in the dark.
I marveled at how persistent they were in their need to be acknowledged and dealt with. They seemed urgent so that I had to accept their presence and deal with them immediately. They would not be ignored. And yet, as I tried to shape them into a comprehensible mass of ordered and rational thought, they began to pull away from me. I repeated the aforementioned process, trying to make sense of these thoughts which had appeared so suddenly, as if from nowhere and with no apparent provocation. I tried to gather everything up and make sense of the new concept, but it proved to be elusive as before. Then it was gone.
This progression of events must have repeated itself eight or ten times. Each time I became more desperate to catch at least the gist of meaning but ended up with nothing I could hold onto in my mind, nothing that I could use as evidence that my mental faculties were not slipping. Each time there was a main idea or central theme that seemed more concrete than the others, and to which the others seemed anchored. I pursued the “side thoughts” or “complementary thoughts” first, believing each time that I had the luxury of getting to the main - and obvious - thought after I gathered up the smaller, scattering pieces. Then I would be able to put them all together and build one basic concept. Inevitably, however, after all the little fragments had escaped, I would turn to the main one to look at it more closely, and it would have disappeared as well.
What was particularly unsettling was not knowing whether these assaults on my memory banks were from intangible dreams or actual experiences. There was much apparent evidence to support either explanation. That they were so hazy and difficult to pin down or hold onto made me certain they must be dreams, but the force with which they demanded to be acknowledged gave them the appearance of tangible and concrete events that I had witnessed and in which I had participated. Dreams usually were acknowledged upon wakening, rather than waiting until day’s end to show up - then quickly retreat - in the conscious world. Memories of events tended to gently drift in and out of active thought, rather than ambushing the unsuspecting mind with an aggressive game of mental hit-and-run. The elusiveness of my thoughts and the confusion that they presented made me think they must be dreams, but their intense presence made me think they must be real memories of actual events. I had been assaulted by dozens of seemingly unrelated and random thoughts with no previous ties to me (dreams) that had at once demanded to be heard and recognized with such force as to suggest familiarity (events).
Somewhere around the fifth or sixth “dream assessment” I began to earnestly question my mental stability. I was convinced these were no mere dreams or intangible mental wanderings. They were too powerful, too relevant. But why was it so hard to see them clearly? Was I on the verge of accessing another dimension or universe - a universe that had been there all the time but that very few people have access to? Was I developing a unique ability or possibly just a very rare one? Was I on the verge of an amazing, as yet unimaginable, life? Was this a dream gift or a hellish burden?
Seriously - what the fuck was going on?
I texted my wife and told her I was experiencing something very strange and I really needed to talk. I knew she was at work, but I couldn't explain what was happening in a text. I thought if I just spoke to her briefly, I might gain some sort of sane perspective. At least she might be able to talk me down off the ledge of mental collapse. The boys were asleep, so I tucked them in and went outside.
As I waited for her to call, I started browsing my calendar of events for the next couple days, and I saw a notation to read my most recent, and as yet unposted, blog to check for grammatical and other errors. I opened Google docs and scanned through, looking for the entry. Between my wife and I, there are over 100 individual documents, but I felt confident that I would be able to find what I was looking for, as they are sorted by placing those which have been recently opened at the top of the list.
I couldn't find the blog. Nothing looked familiar. I had only written it five days previously, but it was nowhere to be seen. I came across one that looked like it might be what I was looking for because of the title. I opened it and started reading. I thought that Julie must have written it, because I didn’t recognize anything in it, so I closed the document and continued my search. I soon realized, however, that this was the document that I had written. When I opened it again and started reading, more closely this time, two things struck me. One, it was incredibly powerful, of a metaphysical or religious nature. Two, I had no recollection whatsoever of having written it. If it was so powerful, how could I have forgotten it? It had only been five days!! I began to wonder if it had been of divine inspiration. Had God spoken through me? Was I a conduit for His message? Was my life about to change, drastically and completely? Had I been chosen for a special purpose? Was this a one time thing, and, while it was incredibly powerful, was my usefulness to spreading the word of God at an end? Would my message from then on be mediocre in comparison? I wasn't sure which was worse - the burden of being a mouthpiece for God for the rest of my life, or the reality-check of being the mouthpiece once, then being thrust back into obscurity.
My wife called and we talked for a few minutes. She suggested that perhaps my getting off Zoloft was the culprit to this weird chain of events. I had been on Zoloft for about 20 years. The last six months saw me slowly lowering the dose. On the evening of this incident, I had not taken any of the drug for close to two weeks.
I had decided to get off the drug because I wanted to live life with more clarity and fewer filters. Well, the filters are gone, and the intense desire to actually experience all aspects of life and reality has been reestablished by the wakening of a long-slumbering human psyche. Some believe that dreams are just the mind at play, but I believe that in many ways they help us live a life of infinite choices and limitless possibility. Dreams are one way that the mind helps us sort things out and find answers to questions that elude us. And they are only one of many ways that the mind provides us with information to help us cope, to help us grow, to help us thrive. I believe the deluge of mental images and ideas that came forth on that night had been locked in my drug-addled mind for years, impatiently waiting to be released into a consciously-decipherable form. There was a huge arena of sleeping brain cells where my life was locked up so as to protect me from myself, to deny access to the unpredictable, the unscripted, the unprotected part of being a human. I am done living my life with blinders on. I've taking off the seatbelt, and I'm heading down the highway at 100 miles an hour in a vehicle that is equipped to provide excitement and a little danger.
Since quitting the Zoloft, I've been crying over anything and everything - Father’s Day cards from my wife and kids, things my kids say, texts, songs… If you're using drugs - legal or otherwise - to take the edge off of life, you're missing out on some amazing stuff, like feelings, experiences, opportunities, deep connection to people and to yourself.
It’s time to wake up.