The sky was still black when I woke in awe from my first dreams of this new year. Other people’s dreams are, I know, commonly thought quite dull, but humor me—I’m still grateful to have been returned to a life in which I am able to sleep and wake normally, after 2019’s virulent nightmares and daymares that, yes, were hallucinations. This is the first time I’m typing that word for anyone to see.

2019 was the year I discovered the hard way that I have cavernous hemangiomas in my deep brain. They are little raspberry-shaped clusters of blood vessels that don’t belong and leaked into the tissue and cerebrospinal fluid and led to many extremely upsetting experiences. Among those were hallucinations and, following them, a kind of burial alive, six feet under the abject shame that my brain had failed me in that way, and that I hadn’t been able to recognize it or stop it from happening. Thankfully that shame has fallen away; it was a medical condition, inflammation in a region that’s acutely sensitive and, it is said, more complex than the whole universe. It could have happened to anyone, that vascular anomaly. Biology is not a meritocracy. Bodies we cultivate and care for can still be stricken by illness or accident.

Anyway—I have a friend, S, who just started teaching college courses. His field is religion. I asked him over the holidays what the word “mythopoetic” means to him, as it had drifted into my mind during our conversation. How strange that I should ask, he said, as he’d used that word for the very first time during a recent Zoom class.

In my dream, S volunteered to drive a young and impoverished pregnant woman, whom we’d happened to meet, ten hours to a prison to see the father of her child. Sitting in the passenger seat, the seat belt crossed over her belly, she looked at the wide country they traversed and spoke her thoughts aloud. Recounting this within the dream, S said to me, “I hope she’s able to find time as a single mother to write some of this down.” He told me what she’d said, gazing out the passenger window, that struck him the most: “When it comes to breath, there’s ‘my exhalation,’ which is lame—and ‘your exhalation,’ which is lame—and ‘the collective exhalation,’ which is lame—but when they gather over the sleeping land, they become spectral and beautiful.”

There’s some social realism in that dream; for example, the poor are far more likely to be imprisoned and sent far away from their families. It was her words, though, which I heard so distinctly in S’s voice, that made the greatest impression on me. The way I translate them for myself is, Regarding the essence of life, which ought to inspire and elevate, our discourse tends to fail and fall into cliches. Even so, there is a place beyond words where the echoes of words fall into a hush, and the true collective breath of all living things—the biosphere in its breathtaking mystery—maintains itself with or without us. Perhaps I found that as profound as I did because I was still half-asleep. When I looked at the clock, I realized dawn was coming, so I made some coffee and drove out past the sleeping town to meet it. The sky was vast; the spectrum, diffuse, stretched along the length of the horizon. I was alive to the cold and the light. It was mythic. It was poetic.

Text and image copyrights on this site are held by me. The shame I experienced began to lift after I had my MRI and had a context for what had happened; but my ongoing hesitation to identify that I’d hallucinated points to, among other things, the deep internalization of stigma, as though a malfunctioning brain were a bruised fruit that might contaminate others. Feeling that way is dangerously isolating. Many thanks as always to those who’ve loved me through thick and thin, and those who gave me company in my pain. If you’d like to see more of this story, let me know, and I’ll try to write it — no promises! Happy New Year to one and all. EA


  1. I’m so glad you got checked out medically. And yes the stigma around psychosis. Wishing you a great, truly great 2021!

    2020 treated me a lot better than most people. Incredibly better. Every day and night I’m so grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was lucky for the diagnostic insight – lucky most especially for the kindness and reassurance I experienced at Mass General – but I also advocated hard for it, at a time when I had almost no energy or resources for anything, and my experience of the health care system was traumatic in and of itself. I’m sure there are MANY who could relate to that, at least in this country. I have a fair amount to say on that subject. Anyway, it is good to hear from you and joyful to know your 2020 was good. I return your wishes for a truly great 2021!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I experienced vulnerability in a way I never would’ve imagined possible. It was the worst time in my life, bar none, and I’m truly lucky and grateful it’s behind me now – but for some people, vulnerability is a long-term state, and medical advocacy is important. In the States, I learned there’s something called the Patient Advocate Foundation. I think if it had come to that, they would have helped me interact with my insurance company, to understand my benefits, etc. WordPress isn’t letting me do a neat link within this comment, so here’s the URL for anyone in the U.S. reading this:

          Liked by 1 person

          • I should add that I had a friend who attended all three of my neurology appointments with me, to take notes, including driving me the hour to Mass General – and another friend drove me an hour to get an MRI from an insurance-approved facility – I wouldn’t have been able to manage that alone, I don’t think.


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