“. . . We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe . . .” (Karl Giberson)

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The Golden Gate, Jerusalem. Ha Rachamim (Gate of Mercy). Built (perhaps) 810 AD, opened 1102 AD, closed 1540 AD to wait for the coming of the Messiah (Ezekiel 44:1-3). Reality? Why does it go to the bother? (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 2015)

For about a week I’ve been writing my magnum opus. I’m delving into everything I think/feel/believe about life, death, thought, unconsciousness, physical fitness, eating, making love, and generally being on the face of the earth. It will probably take me another day or two to finish it.

No, really. All of that stuff.

Should be quite a tome, don’t you think?

I started because I finally (after 60-70 years) got around to trying to write a description of my experience of what I’ve always called dissociation. The description asks in part,

I feel my brain. Physically. That gives me a weird sensation of awareness of my entire body — but especially my head — that makes it feel very close and real, but at the same time distant and as if I have no control over it. . . How am I supposed to do anything, accomplish anything, be close to anyone when I feel as if my mind and my body are at war with each other. These are the times I come the closest to wanting to die. Why can’t I just feel “normal?” Every cell in my body is tingling, but it’s as if someone else is feeling it, not me ― I am happening in someone else’s mind.

I’m right in the thick of my magnum opus. What do I think/feel/believe about life, death, thought, unconsciousness, and all of those other things?

Mostly I think none of it is real.

Turns out there are names for the way I think/feel/believe ― straight from the APA black book. When I read my description to my psychiatrist, she obliged me by opening the APA book handing it to me to read.

Depersonalization disorder is marked by periods of feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts. The disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body or like being in a dream. However, people with this disorder do not lose contact with reality. An episode of depersonalization can last anywhere from a few minutes to many years.

Derealization is a subjective experience of unreality of the outside world, while depersonalization is unreality in one’s sense of self. Although most authors currently regard derealization (surroundings) and depersonalization (self) as independent constructs, many do not want to separate derealization from depersonalization because these symptoms often co-occur. Feelings of unreality may blend in and the person may puzzle over deciding whether it is the self or the world that feels unreal to them.

Oh, and just to clarify what the black book says, depersonalization might be a symptom of other disorders, including some forms of substance abuse (), certain personality disorders such as bipolar disorder (), and seizure disorders ().

So writing out what I think/feel/believe is quite simple.

Mostly, none of it is real.

I read a lot of weird shit. You know, about the Big Bang and all that stuff. Of course I read only dumbed-down science because I don’t know enough to read real science. The other day I read,

One thing we do know now about that mysterious beginning is that it proceeded according to a precise set of rules. We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe. We just know that they are there “in the beginning” and that they constrain what can and cannot happen. (Karl Giberson, “Cosmos from Nothing?” Christian Century June 10, 2015.)

I’m not in the habit of reading Christian Century. I think if anyone knows what’s real and what’s not, it’s not likely to be someone writing in a journal with “Christian” in the name.

However, Giberson does ask some nifty questions like, “Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?” And in part of his discussion of that question, he says

Our remarkable universe is just the lucky one among stillborn trillions incapable of hosting life. In The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, cosmologist Brian Greene identifies no less than nine independent ways to produce an infinity of alternate worlds, any one of which can produce a universe like ours without a superintellect monkeying with the physics.

But Giberson is skeptical because, “A scientific drawback to these theories is that none of these posited realities have any empirical connection to our reality—at least at the present time.”


The sky over the Bedouin town of Sousia in Palestine. Why does it go to the bother? (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 2015)

All Giberson or Greene or any of those guys need to do to get a glimpse of the posited realities that have no empirical connection to our reality is find a way to experience what an epileptic experiences with regularity.

If what I feel, see, hear, smell, and taste is, in fact, happening to someone else and they don’t know it, does that reality have any empirical connection to our reality? Do I even have an empirical reality?

I know what you are thinking. I’m making up word games or something to try to explain a weirdness in my life for which no explanation is obvious and which is crazy-making to me (in the sense that it drives me crazy, not that I am crazy).

One thing we do know now about that mysterious beginning is that it proceeded according to a precise set of rules. We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe.

We don’t know whether these rules preexist our universe. What if―just what if?―some of us are given a glimpse of the reality that nothing is real? What if it’s possible to live in a place where the reality we all take for granted slips away in “an episode of depersonalization [that] can last anywhere from a few minutes to many years?”

“Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?”

If I feel depersonalized, why should we assume that I’m the odd one? I may be the only one who has a grip on things, who knows there’s no grip to be had.

Mr. Descartes, doesn’t it make exactly as much sense to say, “I think, therefore I am not?”

Just sayin’.


The Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, built 1541. Entrance to the Old City. Arab Quarter. Why does it go to the bother? (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 2015)

“. . . the forest beast could not abide the holy booming of Cybele. . .”

Cybele and her ox-eating lion

Cybele and her ox-eating lion

When I was a kid my Baptist preacher dad gave a Wednesday evening prayer meeting Bible study on Galatians. When he explained Galatians 5:12, my ears perked up and my memory went into high gear.

“I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:12, KJV). Dad explained that “they” were exactly two in number. How could a pubescent (gay) boy ever forget Dad’s further explanation that it meant “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves” (NRSV)?

He explained the New Testament debate whether or not a man had to be circumcised to become a Christian. I’ve remembered ever since the New Testament version of “Go f- – – yourself,” which is “Go castrate yourself!” The Baptist preacher in the ‘50s explained this to the small but faithful band at Prayer.

These days, I don’t remember much, but I remember Dad’s Galatians lesson. Years ago I discovered the NT debate took place in the context of the cult of Cybele in Galatia with the earth-mother goddess Cybele and her cadre of “Corybants” dancing around her, men who were castrated (“eunuchs”) so nothing untoward could happen between them and the earth mother even if they were out-of-control.

One of the dangers of trying to write about one’s inner experience is that such writing can quickly degenerate into exhibitionism, self-pity, self-loathing, terror—a few of the less than desirable outcomes of self-revelation.
I question my motives when I write about what proper people do not talk about in public. Am I trying to shock? Am I looking for pity? validation? because I’m willing to expose myself and try to be honest? I continue to write here about my experiences in a way that could be described as exhibitionism or a confusion of immodest self-display for candor. I might be a Corybant dancing wildly in “licentiousness” (a word Dad taught us from the Bible).

Much as I would like it to be so, I don’t have Greek poetry floating in my head to pull out whenever I need it. I was trying to find a word to use for being wild and out-of-control, and my thesaurus recommended the old word I hadn’t thought of for years, “corybantic” (frenzied; agitated; unrestrained).

So, just for fun, I tried to find a hymn to Cybele—thinking there must be Ancient Greek ritual texts that would say something close to what I wanted to write.

An ox-eating lion came to the cave-mouth;
with the flat of his hand he struck the great timbrel he was carrying,
and the whole cave rang with the din:
the forest beast could not abide the holy booming of Cybele
and raced quickly up the forested mountain,
afraid of the goddess’ half-woman servant—
who hung up for Rheia these garments and yellow locks.
— —Stesichorus, Fragment 59 (trans. Campbell, Greek Lyrics Vol. III) (7th to 6th B.C.)

(Note: “half-woman servant” is a eunuch; “Rheia” is a more ancient name for Cybele.)

You see, it’s like this. Last Sunday I played the organ for the evening Eucharist at the church I belong to (and which I attend when they ask me to substitute at the organ). I was on something of a high when I finished. I love the chapel organ at the church, and I played extremely well, and all the music was wonderful stuff.

Her eunuchs, wild and out-of-control

Her eunuchs, wild and out-of-control

Monday morning I had an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon at 8:10. Before I left home, I had to give my cat Groucho his twice-daily insulin injection. He hates it—of course—and knows somehow, no matter how sneaky I try to be, when it’s coming, and he runs away. We had a tussle just before I left home, and I was nearly in tears. I hate that he is afraid of me. I grieve it.

I should have known being elated Sunday evening and frustrated less than 12 hours later was a recipe for disaster. I had allowed plenty of time but got caught in traffic on the way to the doctor’s office and when I tried to call to say I was on my way the answering machine said they didn’t open until 8:30 but I was supposed to be there at 8:10 who the fuck were they jerking around and I passed the exit to the hospital and took the wrong one then I was lost—how do you lose a hospital?—and ended up driving through Texas Instruments and realized I was in trouble when I was going 70 MPH on a residential street that was a dead-end and I had no idea where I was.

Screaming, crying blindly. Over the edge. Wild and out-of-control.

I won’t belabor the point. It ended without my injuring myself or others, and with my doctor’s care. But it took me two days to calm down, and writing about it now, I have tightness in my chest and want to cry again.

One of my projects of the last fifteen years has been to try to discover how my moods are coupled and what happens to send me into a wild and out-of-control state. I try never to think about these things on my own. My mind is like a bad neighborhood—I should never wander in there alone.

So my psychiatrist tells me anger management classes will not help me. That I must learn to understand that my “manic states [are] predominantly characterized by an emotional coupling between happiness and anger/fear” (Carolan, Louise A., and Mick J. Power. “What Basic Emotions Are Experienced In Bipolar Disorder?.” Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy 18.5 (2011): 366-378).

I know no one wants to hear about this, but I must time and time again wrestle this demon. It seems as mysterious as

. . . the whole cave rang with the din:
the forest beast could not abide the holy booming of Cybele
and raced quickly up the forested mountain . . .

Ancient Greek religion can be as useful as any other.

How can you lose a hospital?

How can you lose a hospital?

Do you have a designer disease?

My designer drug of choice.

My designer drug of choice.




Researching on the Internet is ubiquitous. When I was a kid a million years ago, researchers were people who lived in places the rest of us thought were quaint if not boring, and we felt sorry for eggheads. Those of us who loved The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature didn’t confide our little secret to many people. Now, however. . .

I’ve heard the phrase “designer disease” over the years and I’ve been thinking and writing about DD’s the last couple of days [if you ask me why, I won’t tell you]. My first step in writing was naturally to Google “designer disease” –not to go to a scholarly database because that would spoil the fun.

The first promising website I found was The Doctor Within. Promising.

Designer jeans, designer shirts, designer handbag s . . .  Take an ordinary item, put a name on it, a couple million in marketing and promotion, and voilà – its value is raised . . . How? By skillfully creating an illusion of worth in the malleable, fickle, public “consciousness” . . . Everyone gets mildly depressed from time to time. . . A new disease. . . [and we] have the most advanced marketing machine in human history already in place. We can create a disease out of almost nothing. . . It will be A Designer Disease (1).

As I instruct my students to do, I searched for Dr. O’Shea’s credentials. He has none available on the Internet except he’s a Dallas Chiropractor who rails against standard medicine (vaccinations and ADD) and (probably) makes a lot of money selling his designer ideas to gullible fundamentalist Christian home-schoolers.

But I do like his description of designer diseases. I have one of those. It is not, in itself, a laughing matter. However, any bizarre or macabre subject can be treated with humor—even if the reader doesn’t “get it.” Two of my four classes studying Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “The Body Snatcher” “get” the humor of an academic article about the history of grave robbing for medical school anatomization of corpses. The primary example of the article is Ruth Sprague who was snatched from her grave in London in 1846.

Her body stolen by fiendish men,
Her bones anatomized,
Her soul, we trust, has risen to God,
Where few physicians rise

Academic articles are not intended to put a twinkle in your eye. But Nuland’s is. And, while my writing is decidedly not academic, can you see my tongue thrust resolutely against my cheek?

Sometime between 1956 and 1958. I’m standing on my bed screaming. It’s 9 PM and I’m supposed to be asleep, but my folks are having a

Millwood, the designer hospital of choice?

Millwood, the designer hospital of choice?

church meeting upstairs and keeping me awake. My heart is pounding, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why I’m standing on my bed screaming.

Perhaps 1962. My (secret) heartthrob Steve isn’t picking me up for school. It’s snowing and Mom is driving us because our collective parents don’t trust Steve. No time alone with Steve and no smoking. I’m in front of the bathroom mirror shaving, and in a rage I cannot understand, I purposefully cut my ear lobe with my razor and bleed all over. But they make me go to school.

May, 1964. I have to go home for the summer and leave the graduate student I’m in love with behind at the university. I have packaging tape for the boxes to send home. In the middle of the night I tape shut all the doors of the music school. Pretty funny, huh? In case you think that’s just a college-boy prank, you can ponder why I was crying uncontrollably the whole time.

This isn’t funny, is it? I’ll stop with the stories.

One more.

November, 2008. I want to kill myself. I can’t stand the depression any more. I call my therapist (I didn’t really want to die), and I end up in Millwood Mental Hospital for two weeks. That WAS funny. All of the doors had signs over them, “Warning! Elopement Danger!” They didn’t mean a couple of us were going to run off and get married.

We watched hour after hour of “Cash Cab” on TV. And “Jeopardy.”  I can hardly stand the sight of Alex Trebek even now. But I’d elope with Ben Bailey any day.

Some things are pretty hard to make silly.

Patients with Bipolar II disorders have typically experienced one or more major depressive episodes with at least one hypomanic episode. . . a period of at least 4 days with an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood (3).

A designer disease. (See a few statements below about DD’s I’ve found in my “research.”) 

The older I get the more complicated things seem. Or, conversely, perhaps I see more clearly every day.  A diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder would explain a lot. The “episodes” I’ve described above are a few I’ve pulled out of my memory hat. They continue (ask my friends about my broken cane in the cathedral at Rauma, Finland, this summer).

Dr. Bennett, a designer doctor of choice?

Dr. Bennett, a designer doctor of choice?

I know Bipolar II was the designer disorder of the decade in 2008, but I trust the doctors who cared for me at Millwood. I saw an internist and a psychiatrist every day for two weeks. I think they had a pretty good picture of my “disorder(s).”

I don’t give a hoot what the diagnosis is. I know that I’m sometimes not a very nice guy, and that I have anger issues and depression. So does everyone else. Some of us just have a stronger dose of them. So as I plunge through this senescence stuff, I just want you to know that most of the time when I’m raging or crying it has nothing to do with you.

Most of the time.
(1) O’Shea, Dr. Tim. “ADD: A Designer Disease.” The Doctor Within. MMXIII. Web. 27 Sep. 2013.
(2) Quoted in: Nuland, Sherman. “The Uncertain Art.” American Scholar , 70.2 (July 2001), 125.
(3) A standard description, this from:  Mynatt, Sarah, Patricia Cunningham, and J. Sloan Manning. “Identify Bipolar Spectrum Disorders.” Nurse Practitioner 27.6 (2002): 15.

Baer, Katie. “Still Puzzling After All These Years. (Cover Story).” Harvard Health Letter 18.11 (1993): 1.
Although CFS [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] has yet to earn its own heading in medical textbooks, it is now recognized as an established syndrome (a specific collection of associated symptoms and signs). In the mid-1980s CFS was often dismissed as “yuppie flu,” the designer disease of the decade.

Driedger, Sharon Doyle. “Overcoming Depression. (Cover Story).” Maclean’s 114.46 (2001): 34.My family doctor prescribed Prozac to help me ride out the slump. It made me feel weird, spacey. Besides, I don’t like being lumped in with the pill-popping crowd who can’t cope without a designer drug. So I stopped. Really, I should be able to get over it myself. I tell my kids: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Why couldn’t I think my way out of depression?

Miller, Toby, and Marie Claire Leger. “A Very Childish Moral Panic: Ritalin.” Journal Of Medical Humanities 24.1/2 (2003): 9-33.
We find new ways to explain the panic, if not to adjudicate on it, and conclude that Ritalin is, as per the wider designer drug phenomenon, the latest path to the United States upward-mobility fantasy of transcendence, a combination of the pleasure and self-development sides of United States popular culture.

Rosellini, Lynn. “Sexual Desire. (Cover Story).” U.S. News & World Report 113.1 (1992): 60.
And while no one can properly distinguish why some people channel childhood anxieties into food or booze while others fasten on sex, it may be that what eating disorders were to the ’80s, desire disorders will be in the ’90s: the designer disease of the decade, the newest symptom of American loneliness and alienation.