train mountains India

Do you ever have the creepy sensation that things aren’t what they seem? I have had that feeling regularly in my life. I don’t know if others do, hence my question to you, reader. That wasn’t just rhetorical. I really want to know.

Often over the course of my life, I have had this sensation upon waking up from a dream. Lately, I have been dreaming about being healthy and able to do everything I want to do. Then I wake in the morning and remember my physical constraints, and I sigh and feel blue. But for a brief moment as I wake, I truly feel that I can do anything, while knowing intuitively that I can’t, and I get that feeling of unreality, as if the constraints are imaginary and I am insane for thinking I remember what happened yesterday and the day before.

But these feelings of unreality can happen during the wakeful day, too. One incident that jumps out in my memory is sitting in church as a girl, and having the bizarre thought that I could suddenly stand up and start screaming in the midst of the quiet congregation: the feeling that this was in my power, and I was actively choosing not to do it, but rather to sit quietly. At such times, for it happened more than once, it felt as if reality was turned on its head, and instead of simply sitting and listening to the service, as I had often done in the past, I was having to exercise massive constraint in the face of temptation, temptation to do something insane and meaningless, just because it was possible to do it, and because it seemed in that moment like the greater reality.

A similar strange moment in wakefulness occurs in the novel A Passage North, by Anuk Arudpragasam. The protagonist is riding on a train with the woman he is in love with, when suddenly he doubts that their relationship is real, doubting that past events they enjoyed together even happened at all:

“. . . he began to feel even more anxious as he watched her sitting in front of him, totally absorbed in her reading. In the absence of concrete words and gestures, which had a solidity you could cling to in a way you could not cling to unexpressed feelings, he found himself doubting all his convictions about the time they’d spent together, as if his memory of that time might be wrong or inaccurate, as if that time might not even have taken place at all, as if it might have been nothing more than a dream, the person sitting opposite him a total stranger.”

The passage uses the word anxious, and I suppose the feeling of unreality is a form of existential anxiety. The experience seems to happen in quiet, reflective moments. It is certainly not a comfortable feeling. But life is often slow and hesitant to offer solid consolations, and the brain is quick to jump to conclusions.

Again I ask: have you experienced this?

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