Claritin D is a psychoactive hallucinagen for me. It's the D part that does it and I'm starting to suspect that it always has. Which explains a lot about my childhood seeing as how I was basically allergic to all organic matter and therefore spent decades consuming Dimetapp and Sudafed the way most kids drank Koolaid.
Decongestants don't effect me much during the day but at night they always make me twitchy from head to toe. When I try to sleep, I get uncontrollable wiggles - I feel like I have to keep wiggling my right foot at a blinding pace, trying to get the spastic energy to exit out that direction instead of pinballing around in my head.
And then there's the pictures. An endless procession of colorful, semi-psychedelic images flashing through my mind one after the other. I had a mild version of these these slideshows pretty much my whole as I fell asleep each night. They were normally just amusing pre-dreams unless I had taken a decongestant or had too much caffeine, in which case they would hammer at me for hours and keep me awake.
Is this what ADHD feels like? If so, I hope ADHD people get some sort of superpower as compensation, the same way dyslexics have amazing spatial perception and are natural drummers. Maybe ADHD people are super creative or can see through walls?
As is the way with things that have happened to you your whole life, I assumed that everyone saw these images. But when I was 17, I suddenly discovered that no, in fact, not everyone sees a parade of hallucinatory snapshots as they drift off to sleep. This moment came for me when my friend Laura and I spent a few days of our summer break at her Dad's house in San Antonio. It was the early 80's and he had just gotten the miracle of cable (yes, I'm that old - what of it?) and we spent 27 consecutive hours mainlining David Bowie and Dire Straits with the help of Martha Quinn and Mark Goodman and mass doses of Diet Coke. It was glorious.
But even 17-year-olds have to sleep eventually and when we did finally go to bed, I laid awake for hours forced to watch my own inner strobe light of videos thanks to all the caffeine. Honestly, my videos were as good or better than the ones on MTV but I couldn't make them stop and they were making me crazy. I thought if I spoke them out loud maybe I could get them out of my head so I woke Laura up and started reciting the pictures to her as they came across my inner screen.
Me: "There's an African savannah, with zebras and Volkswagen Beetles milling around. There's a tattered red chair with a balloon pinned to its arm, floating through a sunny, blue sky...."
Laura, groggily waking up: "What the fuck, Xan?"
Me: "I'm just telling you about my pictures so I can make them stop."
Laura: "Your what?"
Me: "You know, the pictures you get as you're falling asleep. They usually only last a few minutes but tonight they won't stop."
Laura, impassive: "No. I don't know. Sounds cool though. Have fun with that," and she promptly rolled over and went back to sleep, leaving me to deal with not only the unrelenting images but also the added fear that I was a complete nut job.
Sometimes, when I've remembered the pictures the next day I would write them down or turn them into paintings. The one with the chair and the balloon became a children's book that I have written and re-written the first 75% of for the last two decades. Can't quite get the ending.
At some point the pictures stopped happening; they just sort of faded away as I got older, which was fine. But they still come back with a screaming vengeance when I take a decongestant or have one too many cups of coffee, which for me is literally one cup. It's odd though, I didn't see any pictures when I took morphine, which totally seems like a suitable time to be seeing apparitions.
It was when my daughter Alijah was born by emergency c-section after 36 hours of gut-wrenching back labor and afterwards my doctor put me on a morphine pump by way of apology for making me struggle so long before calling it and diving in. Or maybe it's just standard protocol. But it did feel like a fair reward for my remarkable valor. At any rate, she handed me a little magic plunger that would administer the one true nectar of the gods into my veins on demand. Well, almost on demand. I had a 10-minute time limit but I kept needing a new dose every eight and a half minutes so I would spend the last 90 seconds clicking like a maniac, demanding that the plunger quit fucking around and do its damn job. Somehow the nurses would always know I was trying to get the dose ahead of schedule (possibly they had a monitor or possibly they heard me screaming "I WANT IT NOW MOTHERFUCKER!") and they'd come in and count the seconds down with me: four, three, two, one, plunge .... a few moments of pain-free bliss, a hallelujah choir and then sweet unconsciousness. It was a total blackout though - no parade of pictures. Wouldn't you think an opiate - a substance distilled from opium - would be more likely to cause hallucinatory images than an over-the-counter decongestant?
Nowadays when I have a mild cold or the sniffles I try to nip it in the bud with some Zicam or zinc lozenges but occasionally, like tonight, I take the damn Claritin D (or Zyrtec D or Benadryl D, it doesn't matter which D) and I end up twitching like a circus dog while one absurd snapshot after another scrolls through my mind. Oftentimes, the images are now often accompanied or even replaced by words. Sometimes they're ideas for blog posts or imaginary conversations I need to have with historical figures to save them from themselves or it's the first 75% of a children's book but never the ending. The words are what's happening tonight. I'm hoping if I get these sentences out of my head my brain will let me Go The Fuck To Sleep. Which, by the way, is a brilliant children's book - with an ending.