A had a strange experience last night.
Background: I had had some back pain and insomnia for a couple days. It seemed better yesterday morning, but got worse over the day. I met up with friends midday near Prospect Park to grab drinks on a patio. The back pain was getting worse, and I gleefully informed them of my plans to get an edible and not leave my bed for the rest of Saturday. I ate the edible around 4 pm. I cozied into bed, surrounded by takeout as I enjoyed the sensation, and over the rest of the day watched an impulsive mix of The Boys, Primal, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and Love, Death and Robots. I drifted in and out of sleep a few times. It got darker in my bedroom as the sun went down.
Some time in the night I woke up, looking at the Christmas lights I had left going over my bed. As it had all day, it was hard to move but eventually I rolled my head to the side and…my view did not change. I shifted my neck left and right and moved my eyes around but my view was, consistently, the line of sight from when I first awoke. Here is a re-enactment:
(There is some sun coming in from the other room when I recorded this re-enactment, so when I experienced this vision, it was a bit darker)
This was starting to get unsettling. Thoughts raced through my head: had I somehow…become blind, and this was the memory of my last moments of vision, cycling forever? Was I experiencing a form of sleep paralysis, awake but unable to move? This predicament was quite unlike any previous experience on edibles.
I moved my arms slightly and could feel the texture of the sheets. I managed to work my body up to a sitting position, and could reach up and flip the light switch above my bed. This switch controlled the wall fixture that my lights are hanging on, in the above video. The light did not turn on when I flipped the switch, but, I thought I could see my vision get slightly brighter. My point of view didn’t change, the Christmas lights kept flickering, but I thought by turning my light switch on and off I could see a small amount of illumination change at the corners of my vision, like reality was creeping in around the fixed vision I was having. This lent credence to the theory I had gone blind. Scarier and scarier.
Since my laser eye surgery in late 2020, my eyes have been drier than normal. My consistent ritual after waking has since been to use some hydrating eye drops, only after which it is more comfortable to keep them open. Maybe I needed to hydrate my eyes to cure my current brand of blindness?
I’m going to describe what I did with my body for the next several minutes. This is a bit hard to understand, but during that entire time my point of view, what I saw with my eyes, never changed; just the flickering Christmas lights against my wall, the telescope to the right and the two paintings on the left. I could feel with my skin and hear with my ears and navigate around my apartment as if I was totally in the dark, but what my eyes showed me never went away, except during blinking.
I rolled to my left and fumbled through my drawer with my right hand, rooting around for eyedrops with my left hand, but couldn’t find them. I rolled again to my right and ended up on the floor on all fours. I crawled forward to the stairs, and reached up with my left hand to grab the railing, carefully descending. I turned the corner – my hands extending to help navigate and feet sliding across the floor. I felt the fridge and nearly went for the kitchen sink, but was afraid of hitting my head against any dishes in the sink if I put it low. I turned into the bathroom, finding the door and then the sink. I managed to turn on the tap, and make a bowl of water with my fingers and splashed my face, rubbing my eyes repeatedly. My vision didn’t change at all. I reached backwards and turned the bathroom light on and off, and thought I saw the same slight change in illumination as I had before, but still my original point of view remained primary. I now remember the feeling of getting on my knees and resting my cheek on the counter. I splashed water onto my face as the tap kept running, and blinked my eyes multiple times but my vision would not reset to where the rest of my body’s senses thought I was.
That’s it, I was having some sort of medical emergency! I felt too unsure of myself to call 911 right away, and needed to talk to someone else first. Several years ago, I had a very high fever that I had to go to emergency for, and I talked to a friend first who convinced me that, yes Dustin, you should go to emergency. I was reminded of that. But of course I couldn’t see to operate the phone – still all my eyes saw was the same point of view (please refer to video above).
I stumbled over to where I kept my phone charging on top of my fridge, pulled out the cord, and held down the power button on the iPhone that triggers Siri. I heard it beep, and said “Call Dad”. It worked – which I inferred because I held it to my ear and heard it ringing. It rang out several times, but he didn’t pick up. Of course, it was probably late. From my point of view, I could see there was no sun anymore. There was a big clock in front of me where my body was in the kitchen, but my eyes were unhelpfully not looking at anything that gave me the exact time. I think the last time I looked at a clock it was 9pm-ish. By now, it was probably the middle of the night. I got Siri to call my brother on the west coast – he was probably still up! The phone started ringing, and he picked up, “Hey?” in his perfectly unique tone of supportive befuddlement. I started “I…uh…think I’m…”
And then I woke up. I could tell I was back in a body where the senses were in concert again. I was staring right at the point of view I’d been locked at during the entire experience, but when I rolled my head left and right, the view changed to my relief. Slowly, I got up to a sitting position. I retraced the steps I had taken: out of the bed, down the stairs, to the bathroom and to my phone. My clock on the kitchen wall said 1 am.
I think the easiest explanation is that I had a strange dream. Some would say I had an “out of body” experience in dream form, but for some reason one of the senses (vision) stayed behind.
There was no trace that I had actually done the things I imagined I had done – the sink was not wet, and there were no calls recorded on my phone. I sleepwalked a few times when I was younger, but the last known time happened when I was 9; it was possible I had a semi-conscious sleepwalking experience but since what I dreamt of led to no physical effect in the world, I doubt it.
My preferred theory is I entered a dream state just as I was falling asleep, and either started the dream while my eyes were still open, locking my vision to a single point of view, or somehow dreamt with my eyes open. Hypnogogia is a very special, and I have had enough strange experiences falling asleep in lectures to not consider this far outside the normal. Add in the lingering effects of the edible and everything was explained.
Rationally reassured, but still unsettled, I futzed around a bit to reassure myself I was in real reality, and went to sleep without incident.
An Alarming Epilogue
I woke this morning more refreshed than I’d felt in over a month, with almost all of my back pain gone. I started my day with stovetop espresso, got on gym clothes and headed out. All was normal and good, the last night simply a stranger than normal dream I already planned to blog about.
When I got back from the gym in the door at home I was struck with an intense smell – like someone had dumped a liter of paint thinner in my kitchen. The fumes were overwhelming, almost like I was about pass out. I frantically checked my gas stove, turned on every fan in my place and opened my windows. I texted my neighbours, and looked through my cupboards in case some cleaning solution had broken. I could find no satisfying explanation.
One of my neighbours did get back to me – the monk next door who incidentally helped install my AC units, since they face right onto his porch. His porch, which is just a tar-topped roof he puts plants on, had been resealed mid-week. My AC units, running with great effort, had been pumping these fresh sealant fumes right into my apartment for days. It was the time of day now where the sun faced directly onto his porch, increasing the pungentness of the fumes. Perhaps I just noticed the fumes for the first time because they were stronger, and leaving and coming back to my apartment hit me with the sensory shock instead of it slowly building up.
My apartment is now airing out, and I write up this unsettling experience from a patio in Brooklyn.