The trouble with dreams.
On my second to last day in the hospital, a man came in. A little older than me. Call him ‘K’. He told me his husband brought him in. ‘K’ told me he had a breakdown. He said his official diagnosis was bipolar, but he suspected that he actually had borderline personality disorder. He was hoping the doctors at McLean could help him sort it out. We talked about our symptoms. I told him about my experience of being bipolar. I told him about the times I’ve felt like I could do anything, and about the time last year when I stood in my bathroom in my underwear with a mixed handful of pills and a handle of gin. I told him about the time recently, in Cambridge, when I sat down on the sidewalk and refused to get up, no matter how much my girlfriend begged me to just go.
Before I started taking Seroquel, I don’t remember the last time I dreamed. Now I dream every night. These dreams are crystal clear and easy to remember. I wonder if it’s the drugs affecting my dreams, or if I’m just finally getting to REM sleep for the first time in years. “I don’t sleep well,” I told the doctors when I arrived at the hospital. “I wake up a lot in the night.” I had forgotten about dreams until my second night in the hospital. I slept for ten hours and dreamed about an art installation of a woman’s leg arching over a street. There was a long line of people waiting to see it. Underneath the road was a labyrinth. I got stuck in the labyrinth and was trying to find my way out. At the end of the maze was a superhero orgy.
In the afternoon ‘K’ and I both signed up for the ‘Long Walk’ group session, along with some other patients. ‘Long Walk’ does what it says on the tin. You go for a long walk. I did it every day. The campus at McLean is gorgeous. Lots of old buildings, some abandoned, some still in use, surrounded by trees and gardens. Because it was winter, the trees were bare and we were bundled up against the cold. At one point in the Long Walk you could just make out the Boston city skyline through a thin part of the forest. It was nice to see it every day, just a little bit of home, to feel like I was not so very far away from my friends. I was not so very far away from home.
I had a dream last night that I was a politician in a tiny podunk town in the middle of nowhere. I was running for mayor. I was the big money candidate, the rich guy who thought he could buy his way into office. My opponent was the grassroots candidate. My campaign manager was my grandmother on my mother’s side. She passed a few years ago around this time, on Christmas Eve if memory serves. She appeared as I remember her. Short, with curly white hair. Soft-spoken but quick-witted, with a clever, crooked smile, and wearing a powder blue pantsuit. We stood together on the stage in the small town’s high school gymnasium as the local election officials read out the election results. We were losing, and by a lot. It was a landslide. My grandmother began to cry. I held her and told her it was okay. We’d get them next time. In the dream I could smell her. She smelled clean, like soap and talcum and a smidge of flowers I didn’t recognize.
‘K’ and I walked together a little more. He said he was scared to be there at the hospital. “It’s scary at first,” I said. I asked him what he was scared of.
‘K’ said “I feel like I’m finally admitting I’m mentally ill. It feels like I’m giving up.”
I said, “You probably are mentally ill. That’s why we’re here. But that’s okay. You’re safe here. They’ll help you. They helped me.”
‘K’ said, “Do you really think that? Or are you just saying it?”
“They helped me,” I said.
‘K’ said, “I’m sad you’re leaving tomorrow. You seem like the most normal one here. Some of these people are crazy.”
I laughed and I told him, “The people in our ward run the gamut. There’s a range. You’ll adjust. It’ll be okay.”
I had a dream two nights ago. In it I was at ‘K’’s house. With me was a random girl I didn’t recognize. She was naked. Very skinny and lanky, with a shaved head. It was just the three of us. I told ‘K’ she was my girlfriend, then I kissed him. His face was scruffy, a few days beard growth. We fell to the floor. The carpet was long brown shag, and dirty. His walls were hung with wispy, gauzy fabric. He wrapped his hands around my neck and began to choke me. His hands felt rough, calloused. I looked up to the ceiling at a lantern that hung there. It looked like a paper lantern, but was made of glass. Thin, papery, opaque glass. The piping was copper. The bulb inside was one of those where the glass is clear, and you can see the coiled filament glowing inside. A small, orange, late-afternoon sunbeam came through the window. As I lost consciousness I noticed the lantern had red and silver Christmas ornaments hung on it. I don’t know where the girl went off to. She had disappeared.
On my final morning at McLean I saw ‘K’ eating breakfast with two of the other patients there. He had a thin smile. I said good morning to him. He said, “Hi Iain. Last day right?” I nodded yes. He said, “Are you scared?”
“No,” I said. “Not right now.”