Anyone who ever thinks that the ADHD brain can be turned off has never had to deal with one while blind for a week. The days of wearing an eye mask on doctor’s orders did help me get more sleep than normal. It’s logical to fall asleep when it’s dark all the time anyway, but that didn’t necessarily make that sleep any less, um, “active” than my waking thoughts.
I had some bizarre dreams during my enforced lack of vision. For instance, have you ever seen those megachurches along interstate highways in the Southwest or Midwest – or just in California, period! – that look like ranches and have testosterone-laden names like “GUTS Church,” “Cowboy Church,” or “VIVE Church?” They feature boxing matches, baptisms in stock tanks, and battle-ready women’s weekends? Well, my brain created one for the horses those cowboys rode in on! It was called the Whipped Church and was led by Rev. Tacky, who preached that if parishioners were obedient to the Triple Crown in this life they’d roam free – unbridled and unwhipped – in the next. It had a food court where you could literally make hay about your faith and even a bookie onsite. (The horses, too, needed to get in on the betting action to be able to afford their “suggested” church donations.) Of course, as in many megachurches, Rev. Tacky was also known to stirrup some political diatribes alongside the entertainment!
I first assumed I should be ashamed for admitting to such a rowdy dream itself, but my Partner discovered a show called BoJack Horseman on Netflix uses a similar premise – horses running Hollywood – to satirize current events. Rather than being ashamed that my brain is so far out there as to produce that dream, I should instead probably be ashamed that my dream wasn’t quite far enough out there. I managed to somehow subconsciously mind-meld with Will Arnett and Amy Sedaris without ever having so much as received a Netflix recommendation about their show. (I actually kind of wonder how Netflix hasn’t ever suggested it? What demographic profile don’t I fit? Will I have to subvert Netflix’s impression of me by watching the show just because?)
My brain also decided it needed to write a YA dystopian novel. Full-length, with eight named characters, a beginning, middle, climax, and denouement. And, of course, because my life is ruled by trauma right now, it decided that YA novel needed main characters who were more realistically affected by mental illness and the impact of worldwide trauma – that’s what dystopia is, after all – than most dystopian fiction I’ve read. I’m pretty sure the dream was prompted by the fact that the first book on tape I listened to during my week of no vision was one of those progressive feminist novels (not YA at all) that was clearly very proud of itself for including characters that were neurodiverse, but whose characters hit me in the uncanny valley about their mental illness portrayal. I couldn’t figure out why the book unnerved me so much initially, but my Partner agreed with my assessment of it after listening for a bit. He’s becoming a connoisseur of the trauma experience himself, sadly.
My subconscious apparently felt the need to continue considering the problem and ultimately determined that the characters felt like DSM-V checklists of their supposed diagnoses rather than people. They displayed all of the symptoms on the diagnostic questionnaire, but with none of the messy bleed-over between diagnoses or unique expressions of those symptoms built upon their own personality that have characterized my experiences and most of what I’ve read from other bloggers. It felt like the author did a lot of research, but she had no lived experience to make her symptom portrayals convincing. My brain is still so stuck on its soapbox about how we further stigmatize ourselves within the mental illness community by claiming some diagnoses are worse than others or that a person is better off if they are “high-functioning” vs. “low-functioning” that it had to create an entire book in my brain about the impact of within-group stigma in a future world with even more inequitable and ineffective mental health care to further prove its point.
I’d roll my eyes at myself for being that preachy in my dreams – literally and satirically – but I had my first generic PTSD nightmare last night since the spate of randomness. Even an entire YA “novel” about a terrifying possible future is a refreshing change from a replay of my real past. I got to at least direct the terrible things happening to my characters instead of having to (re)live them myself as the captive actor. I’ll happily stay diligent about wearing my eye mask for an hour daily to rest my eyes – my neuro-ophthalmologist recommended it after reviewing guidelines for eye care with Ehlers-Danlos – if it will continue to bore my brain into re-deriving better comedians’ ideas or playing novel writing instead of endless nightmares. My brain has already demonstrated that it can write trauma from re-deriving my own story. Anything my brain creates that isn’t a variation on my own trauma is a treat.
That said, my answers to Mackenzie’s questions prove why, nightmares or not, I would rather trust my own brain to write my story than anyone else’s.
Today’s questions courtesy of Life with an Illness:
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