Don’t ask, I can’t tell, I can’t even explain.


[Originally written on October 17, 2012, after a hospitalization for pneumonia and gastroparesis, in which I experienced severe delirium for five weeks. This was my first attempt to explain what I was going through. It was the basis for part of the story in my comic.]

She skated towards me wearing a red winter scarf. My feet were frozen to the ground. She waved her scarf in the air from a distance. It was the only thing with color in sight. Then it flew through the air and landed in my hands.

I clutched the scarf tight. I didn’t see but felt her fall. I didn’t see but felt life struggle to maintain itself, and fail. I didn’t understand. I never understood. I couldn’t make sense of anything anymore.

I never let go of the scarf. I unzipped myself and wrapped it around my heart. To keep everything warm when nothing was certain. And then I cried until I thought I would never stop.

And I’ve tried to hide what is gone. But I’m not sure if it fools anyone. There are places we used to go, things I used to do, and they seem as dead as she is. Only sometimes I feel something squeeze my heart. And things pop into focus once again, in color.

I can’t tell you all of my wishes, because they are all in code. I can’t tell you what I can’t do anymore. It’s just one more room in the building, left blank and unexplored. I wish I was known for who I was and not for what I did. I can’t tell you what I’ve lost or what I’ve gained.

I can still see more than people want for me to see. I can still feel things deeper than people expect. What I can’t understand, I still can’t understand, only more. I still want things that can’t be named. I still can’t tell you any other way than this here, right now. What stays, what shifts, what’s changed.

If you wanted something different, I can’t help it. This is what you get. If you don’t understand, maybe it’s not here for understanding. I’m just exhausted, and didn’t have the energy to tell you the normal way. So I took what I had and I went where I could. And this is what you get.

Don’t tell me what I should have said. Chances are, I couldn’t. This is brain damage we’re talking about. It isn’t convenient. It doesn’t instantly vanish. If I could only tell you a tenth of it.

It’s hard to look around and see that nearly everything I used to pay attention to, is impossible to understand. It’s hard to know I can’t say anything unless it follows a particular pattern, like this does. I couldn’t say this part without all the rest before it. All the rest. Not something else. Something acceptable.

I’m scared and I couldn’t tell you why. It’s winter and the wind is blowing hair in my face. I’m glad I have the scarf around my heart. Otherwise I’d get lost in all the snow. Everything used to be familiar. Now there’s so much snow I can’t identify anything. Or not much of anything.

Please, something be familiar. Something be unfrozen. Something be other than white. I feel tiny, and I’m shaking, and I don’t remember anything. Not what I just said, not that you’re alive. In here, I don’t know you. I don’t know me. I don’t know anything.

But it always fades back. And there’s always more. And I always find myself writing this. To you. To who? To me. To they. I don’t know. All I know is I couldn’t have written this any other way. And maybe someone can even figure out what I meant. Because it’s in there. If you look in the right places, and with the right eye for the reality of one experience or another.

I am through, so I hope, sitting up all night with neon pink insects eating my eyelashes. Lying in a sunlit room with parts of me flying into the sky and back again. Night after night trying to avoid being flattened into a grid pattern and dissolved. In lots of pain. With lots of nausea. And I hope never to visit that realm again. A lioness carried me out.

Not that anyone noticed. They come in and change your IV bag and the hours between are left for you to lie still and drift into bizarre hallucinatory worlds that always have an undercurrent of hell on earth to them. They don’t check you for it. That’d take time. So of course they’re blindsided by my paranoia and then, after that was gone, sliding into the blank white snow everywhere. They only noticed what affected them.

I’m out. But it’s not over. And I wish I could tell you the things I can’t say or understand. But they’re just lost. And I get scared if they’re ever coming back. And this was the only way to tell you. So don’t ask it to be less roundabout or full of things that didn’t literally happen. Because right now that’s one thing I can’t do, can’t do at all. Don’t call this creative writing it’s the only damn writing I have at all this moment. And what I’ve done hurts like blinding colors in my eyes instead of a scarf warming my heart. If she’s dead or asleep, I can’t tell you, don’t know, but it hurts.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

3 responses »

  1. I want to write about my experience with delirium. I’m working so hard to piece together what was real and what was triggered by reality, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I still am so grateful to not be the only one to have this experience, and that someone is talking about it openly. I see from the lack of comments, and from my own experience, that people who haven’t gone through it just don’t know what to say. They expect you to just try to forget about it. I’ve been told it was just part of my illness. That it means nothing. But it *does* mean something.

    I’m glad you aren’t expecting it to be forgotten. You’re inspiring me to think about blogging again (we used to “know” each other through LiveJournal but that was a long, long time ago).

    So much gratitude for this.

    • Yes that’s something that I had to deal with, was this sense that it wasn’t “supposed” to mean anything, and yet it felt like an extremely meaningful experience. Like not that the content of the hallucinations or anything “meant” something in particular, but that somehow the experience itself held a lot of important meaning to me, it was a huge part of my life for a long time and I couldn’t just forget it and fold it back into the past and act like it had never happened.

      I still don’t understand a lot of things that happened while I was in the hospital. And the worst part for that was actually this part when I was starting to get better. Because before that, I’d clearly been in this really otherworldly state where everything was so strange there was no way to even translate it into words or thoughts. But when I started to get better, I developed delusions and hallucinations that centered around the nurses in the hospital, and I’d hear them talking outside my room about me but it would turn out to be a hallucination, and it was extremely hard to believe people when they told me I was hallucinating. I got paranoid and thought they were trying to kill me, too, or that they didn’t believe I was really sick. The nurses were actually amazing about that though — any time I heard voices they’d wheel me around the ward to show me nobody was really talking about me. But it was a horrible experience.

      It seemed to kind of happen in stages. Like there was a stage where all these weird, disconnected things kept happening, my mind was half on and half off, and everything was just bizarre and dreamlike. And then there was a stage where I started hallucinating this succession of people who would appear to me and then vanish, and it kept happening with my cat, too. And they came with a feeling of emptiness. And then after that stage, I developed auditory hallucinations and delusions, a lot like what psychosis is supposed to be like. And then after that, I didn’t have any hallucinations really, but I would feel my mind just dissolve into blankness and I’d become extremely disoriented and not know where I was or who I was or what was happening, and it was very hard to stay in the real world. And that last part took the longest to recover from, as in months.

      But for a year afterwards it felt like I had a foot in the delirium world and like I couldn’t quite touch the real world anymore, and it was a really awful experience.

      And yeah, I know that technically it was just my brain misfiring in all these ways. But at the same time, this was my experience of life for over a month, and that means something, always.

      • Oh, and the paranoia too, yes. I was convinced that the nurses were monsters. Not physically monsters, but cruel, cold, uncaring people. I was a hassle because I am fat and hard to move and was menstruating heavily. I could hear them in the nurse’s station and they didn’t like me and they made fun of me and they were angry at me when, in more lucid moments, I gestured for a pen or pencil to communicate while I was intubated. Their meanness was dismissed as misheard “gallows humour”. “Gallows humour” being overheard by patients should not be tolerated in a place where real people often die. What if I had died and my last thoughts were of the supposedly inadvertent cruelty?

        I thought they had stolen my smartphone (which I never use for oral, verbal communication). That part was probably an hallucination but it was so very real and nobody would comfort me because I was being denied my primary means of communication. It was unimportant because I was not “all there”.

        This all happened in February. I’m cognitively back to normal, mostly. I am still intensely dragged into that world every day. Much of it may have not been objectively real, but it was my only reality. It was real to me.

        I can’t overstate my gratitude for your posts even if nobody else understands.

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