art by Chuck Wojtkiewicz in reference to a Slake-Moth in the book, Perdido Street Station
I couldn't read. I couldn't write. I forgot the name of the man standing next to me. I lost my depth perception. My right hand went numb. My headache was murderously painful. If slake-moths were real, then one was definitely trying to rip the consciousness straight out of my head, because, for a short while, I lost my damn mind.
Now, let's go back in time, and justify that first paragraph.
As my regular readers will know, I began the Lemonade Diet, a liquid fast, on Tuesday September 5, 2006. My goals were a) to detoxify my body of antibiotics and other built-up poisons; b) address some specific health issues c) complete a lifestyle transition that seems to have begun at the beginning of the summer; d) commemorate my 29th birthday; e) remember my mother (who introduced me to the fast 14 years ago); f) reset my digestive system in preparation for a dietary shift; and g) see if I could do it.
I did it.
My initial plan called for five days with an option to extend to 10. The maximum range on the fast is 40 days. I pulled off 13.
This past Monday was my first day coming out of it, and I took things slowly. Monday was all OJ and grapefruit juice. Tuesday was the same with a salad at night. Wednesday saw the addition of vegetable broth, and the plan continued adding cooked veggies, rice and eventually non-meat protein.
Wednesday, however, I got a little tickle in my throat. Some little bugger was trying to get me. By Thursday (yesterday) I had the proverbial head cold or virus or whatever: slightly clogged sinuses, slightly sore throat, slight fatigue. It wasn't anything I hadn't felt before, and I had a plan set for the day involving work for a client, standup comedy show, tax preparation and sleep.
Then came the slake-moth.
Somewhere between 5:30pm and 6:00pm, I was working in that most creative of media -- not charcoal, not paint, not clay -- nay, PowerPoint. I was reviewing a slide with my co-worker, trying to tweak the headline. But after a moment, I got that feeling, common in college, of reaching to the end of the page having no idea what I'd just read.
I tried to read it again.
I could not read.
I would manage to hold on to a few concepts for three, maybe four words, and by the time I'd reached the fifth word, I couldn't remember what the other words were. The letters didn't seem to make any sense. The word that stands out in my memory now is "service." That's an extraordinarily basic bit of vocab. However, my brain couldn't handle it.
I looked over the letters, not word, several times and thought to myself, "ser" "vice?" What is this "ser" "vice" and why have I put in on a slide?
The flip side was no easier. I could not write. Typing was slow and consisted of more typos than typing. Jason, my co-worker, noticed and asked if I needed to take a break. I thought that was an excellent idea and left my office to refill my water bottle and walk around a bit.
When I got back, I went over to Lana's cube to chat. Things were getting more remote, mentally.
She mentioned a man named "Dave Patterson."
"Who's that?" I asked.
She and others around her thought I was joking. "You know, Pat-terson!!"
"I don't remember him."
"He used to work here!"
I did remember the name Patterson, vaguely, but "Dave" didn't mean anything. They assured me that "Dave" was Patterson's first name.
Then we moved to some photos Lana had on the wall outside her cubicle. They were men from the office with female wigs on. I asked her why she had those pictures up, and she asked me, "Don't you recognize them?"
I sort of did, but the names escaped me even under direct questioning. For many, I could come up with a first name, but last names were a no-go. The final test was the most frightening.
"Do you know our names?" Lana asked.
I came up with her first name, but no last name, and I blanked on Jason's first and last name. It was time to go home.
As I began packing my bag, I saw my hand moving to put things away, but I wasn't fully conscious or in control of the movement. It was as if the hand itself was on auto-pilot or had received instructions from a part of my brain I had no access too, like a rogue brain! Quick thought! Maybe some part of my brain is part of the Axis of Evil!
Not only did I lack reading and writing skills, not only had I forgotten the names of people I clearly new and failed to recognize in photos, but now my motor control was suspect. With all the madness going on in my mind and body, I had a very clear realization fall upon me: I couldn't drive home.
There was no hero complex, no macho "I can do this" attitude. It was simple logic: if I couldn't reliably control my hand, I couldn't reliably control a vehicle. It's good to know I have that switch inside of me, even when I'm out of it.
The final symptom which occurred even as I began to walk out of my office was a numbness and coldness in my right hand. I was incredulous more than anything: "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!??" I moved around and did some stretches, which sent that away. I also called The Comedy Studio to cancel my gig, and I called a cab.
When I got home, I cooked a nice dinner, including a significant amount of protein for the first time in a few weeks, had some OJ, watched The Office and went to bed at 9:30 with a still-horrible headache but restoration of the reading and motor control stuff.
Waking up this morning was still pretty bad from the headache perspective, but all the scary ish was past. As the day went on, things got better. I could talk fine, write fine, read fine.
I got my mind back.
So what happened, and why didn't I go to the hospital?
First, I may still go to a hospital, but don't feel the need to right now. The deal is, my body has been through a lot. I fasted, hardcore, for two weeks, with only lemon, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. My immune system hasn't been restored. This week, my body got hit with a lot: introduction of solid foods, significantly heavier workload, eight hours in front of a computer, air travel (to Jersey no less), 4-5 hour nights of sleep, and a cold/virus.
Second, given my low immune system, a hospital is the worst place to be.
With all that, I think what I experienced last night makes a bit more sense. It's still terrifying, but explainable to me.
1. I just performed at Jimmy Tingle's in Somerville and decided to tell a bit of this story rather than do my standard set. I got two different audio recordings and hope to put a version in my next podcast.
2. A friend of mine was at the show and came up to me afterwards. "Dude," he said. "You had a nervous breakdown. I went through a similar thing last year." He said it was related to pent up grief over his father. I'll have to look into this more. He could be right.
3. Finally, if you want to know what a slake-moth is, buy the book, Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. You will help support my artistic endeavors, and you will be rewarded by experiencing one of the greatest stories I've ever read.