Refugees. A study of madness.

I’ve started having these semi-hallucinations more regularly since I came back to Bristol. I’ll be lying in bed, thinking of very little. Or I will have just finished reading, or I will be sat on a bus early in the morning. I will feel a texture grow behind my head, a sort of sticky, rough swelling…and this texture begins to develop a surface pattern, which feels like a monotone paisley; strangely garish for something I cannot actually see. This invisible textured pattern will wash over me like a wave of nausea, and develop a sensation of falling, or floating, or flying. It’s nearly impossible to describe; the overall impression is one of utter insignificance, I am no longer this body, in this bed; I have been replaced by a cell-thick film of ectoplasm that coats the entire wall of everything I have ever seen.

Occassionally, this sensation will appear and depart quickly, in flash. When this occurs, I feel as though I have moved half a second backwards in time, as though there is a scratch, a mote on the vinyl of consciousness. This happened today, when the sharp morning sunlight thrust itself too hard, too quick into my bleary morning vision as I cycled, grim-faced and mumbling incoherently on my way to work. I want to say that in that moment, the entire world convexes itself, but of course it doesn’t. It is just a split second in which my perception takes on a sickening synesthesia; for in those moments I taste the wet, dull flavours of madness build in my throat, I can hear the high-pitched whine of these maddening textures penetrate the whites of my eyes.

And so we ask; what is this sensation? Madness? Confusion? Sickness? I am loathe to accept any of those words. I was introduced to the sinister projections of the mind as a child; violent allergic reactions and vicious convulsions left me pinned sweating on sheets, experiencing hallucinations more vivid and terrifying than anything drug-induced. I clearly remember seeing a lightbulb grow teeth and scream at me with a black, gaping mouth that filled an entire lifetime; I remember being attacked by a million, million, million small white ants, feeling their pin-like feet cut my flesh and fight to enter the gaps beneath my fingernails. My seven year old mind quickly adjusted to the idea that what I perceive could not be real; but the moment we force ourselves to doubt our senses, where are we left? At what point can you cut-off these convulsions or visions, and consider yourself lucid once again?

One of the ways I managed to deal with the regularly recurring abstraction of my sight was to consider the idea that I am not necessarily my body, not just a sum of my various components. And nor is anyone else. Where can we place our consciousness? In a finger? In an arm? A torso? People are too ready to accept that their cognitive being resides inside their skull. My outer-body experiences are not linked to any spiritualist ideas or practice, nor are they forced or encouraged. But perspectives shift, and we begin to suspect that we are refugees in our bodies, trapped for now in a shell which is not as reliable as we encourage ourselves to believe. I suspect that my experiences of synesthesia and hallucinations are not unique, and I would be eager to hear from anybody who has, on occasion, seen their consciousness convex, or has been overcome by sickening textures they cannot see.

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About Benjamin Norris

Published writer of short stories, long stories, poems. Well received art critic and cultural commentator for Berlin magazines. Collaborator with operatic societies. Co-writer of fictional historic psycholinguistic journals. Lecturer of architecture and art history at a Budapest University. View all posts by Benjamin Norris

2 responses to “Refugees. A study of madness.

  • Georgina

    Hi. Oh yes, I have had many similar experiences. I used to have a recurring dream about a texture that was truly sickening and frightening. I don’t know if I saw or felt it, somehow I was just lost in it. Don’t have that one anymore… thank whoever.

    I tend to suffer (suffer? benefit?) from moments of disassociation, I think. I will be doing something normal, like washing up or having a conversation with my sister, when all at once my consciousness sort of expands and whatever it is I am doing seems utterly absurd and strange, and then I come back from wherever and I feel like throwing up because it feels like complete insanity.

    I also sometimes hallucinate, but these tend to be very lucid and usually quite pleasant.

    I recognised what you were writing about, although it’s hard to say if what I experience is the same thing, qualia wise. Still, I’ve never seen anyone attempt to describe this stuff before. Interesting, thank you.

  • benchic

    Thankyou for your comment, I really appreciate any thoughts on this subject as it is such a fascinating, fleeting thing to explore (albeit a very difficult one!).
    Benjiva x

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