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Wrong Foot Put - the vagaries of narcolepsy
They must not a wrong foot put, or they will end up in the soot.

Scientists reckon the thinking part of the brain is suppressed during dreaming.

So how come I can write poetry in my sleep?

I was dreaming that I'd taken a photo of workmen trudging down a wintry street, where the last remnants of snow had somehow changed to piles of soot, and it was whilst trying to think of a rhyming caption that I came up with the above gem, which is certainly more ingenious than anything my waking mind could compose.

My sleeping brain was alert enough to recognise that it had to shuffle the word order to create the rhyme, however bizarre it might sound to daytime logic.

I suppose "they must not misplace a foot" would have satisfied the rhyme just as well, but "wrong foot put" has that delightful quirkiness of the REM sleep state, which does not abide by conventional rules.

Legend has it that Elias Howe perfected his invention of the sewing machine only after dreaming of spears with holes near the point, as opposed to a conventional needle with the eye at the opposite end: whilst Paul McCartney claims to have composed Yesterday in his sleep. So perhaps the conscious mind relies on dream input to inspire it, tapping into a hidden well below the surface.

Being narcoleptic, my sleeping brain brims over with bizarre associations that intrude into my waking life, leaking through in microsleeps and adding nonsense to my reading. Rogue thoughts come unbidden as I’m drifting off at night... Can I do something about your duck? ...and seem sensible enough at the time, until my rational brain takes over again and tells me I’m thinking twaddle. And even as it’s telling me this, I’m lapsing into further nonsense that tries to pass itself off as reason. You’ve come to set the dog on fire? No, I’m pulling your hat. Norma dropped the minibus in the oven.

So let’s try and pie this into the sky. Hick and Mendelssohn. Everyone’s a bitch of a gun... Neologism, they call it, when the mind invents new words and expressions, like menacre in the desert, or an uroxic art. Oh, leave it on your plate! This is doing my little finger in!

Contrary to popular belief, narcoleptics don’t sleep any more than anyone else: it’s a disorder of timing, rather than amount. Most people don’t enter REM till after an hour or so of slow wave sleep, whereas narcoleptics fall straight in. This REM pressure is so powerful that it breaks through in snatches and makes us do sleep stuff whilst still awake: hence the daft thoughts, which are in fact mini-dreams.

They stealthily invade my thinking, disguised as real thoughts, or I hear them spoken aloud in the voices of people I’ve been hearing during the day. That’s why I don’t like parties, because the chattering voices get stuck in my head and I can’t get rid of them. Nurse says it comes out when you’re cooking. But Van Dyck didn’t have vegetables. She’s suffering from banging, new versions about.

It’s more than just narcolepsy, though, because the chattering only started after my frontal lesions appeared. Tetris effect, they call it, when your brain keeps repeating the same sequences long after the stimulus has finished. I can’t play pinball any
more, or I’ll be playing it all night in my head, and the ball will keep on shooting up that channel whenever I switch off the light.

I used to be Scrabble champion, till I found myself still making words on an imaginary board at dawn. It’s as though my thinking runs on half power all day and then doesn’t shut down at night.

But one thing about it is I don’t need a Walkman. Tunes keep playing in my head, and change track without my even noticing. I tried Modafinil once and didn’t like it. That’s the alertness-enhancing drug that students sometimes use, but all it did for me was block my inner soundtrack and take the music away.

Better the devil you know, and I’ve been this way so long that it’s just a part of who I am. People say I walk round in my own bubble and don’t notice things, but that’s just my coping strategy for navigating the complexities of modern life, and I’m actually noticing things on a different level, which is maybe more intuitive. I drink in the atmosphere without seeing the details, and the whole is blended with the music in my head.

But I must have got my "wrong foot put" that time when I caught a snatch of Kate Bush in a charity shop. Heathcliff was wailing in my head for the next fortnight!

2 comments

Howard Somerville said:

Very well expressed.
20 months ago ( translate )

Howard Somerville said:

The fact is that we still a very long way from understanding how the brain works, and until we do, how our thoughts relate to our types of sleep will remain unclear.
2 months ago