4 August 2008
“Brain fever . . . it’s something that ‘brains’ get.
Usually, if you just read a best-seller, it goes away.”
Jane Lane, Daria 1999
When choosing a 19th century ailment there are many things to consider—which ailment has the coolest name, which ailment would be the most fun, which ailment has the best sense of ridiculousness and absurdity, and then, perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing a 19th century ailment—which ailment will produce the most opportunities for emotional and physical suffering, drama, and, of course, moments wrought with horrific and beautiful poetic tragedy and excitement. Brain fever is my preferred 19th century ailment because not only does the very nature of its name suggest a profound loss of mind and body but in looking closer at its symptoms, origins, and the mystery surrounding its diagnosis, brain fever is indeed a most beautiful and tragic ailment worthy of my lost, tortured, inexplicably-in-love-with-suffering soul. Brain fever is thought to be caused by the inflammation of the brain. The brain becomes so inflamed, so swollen, irritated, tender, and sore that it causes one to have fever-like symptoms and to, in essence, go a little crazy. According to Wikipedia:
Inflammation and swelling of the brain could cause profound mental and emotional changes, from inability to think, plan, or act meaningfully on plans, or to act-out, hitting, pinching, biting, etc. Many persons with these illnesses could wander away and thus, life without constant supervision became unsafe. (Wikipedia, 2008)
Oftentimes, in my own reactions with the world and the subsequent disappointments with “things as they are” (Godwin, 1974) I too have felt the inability to think, plan, or act meaningfully. But it’s not just life’s disappointments that cause such a reaction, it’s life’s triumphs as well. It is not at all uncommon for me to look at life, experience a piece of part of it with intense emotion and passion, and in the face of such emotions be unable to fully understand or comprehend the significance of the moment I am in. This vain quest for knowledge and understanding leads me to believe that there is too much in one life. Too much in one existence, or one moment, or one world, to ever get a grasp on any of it, let alone all of it. There is simply too much to do, to be, to think, to feel, and to know to ever really do, be, think, feel, or know anything past the most surface of levels. It is at such moments and during such realizations (or lack there of) that my brain becomes impassioned and irritated. That my mind grows sore and tormented. As if the very tissues, the very cells that construct the intelligence (or lack there of) that makes up the content of my being were expanding, growing, and pushing up against the contours of my skull. I begin to feel a loss of control and it is then that I feel the urge to wander away and lead a life without constant supervision—to become unsafe. To join those masses of people who have felt this thing, this unexplainable fever of the brain, that makes them get up in the dead of night, in the middle of summer afternoon, or at 12:00 on a Tuesday and leave it all to wander away to the unknowable places of the world where the mind may not be able to rest, but it can exist, and it can go on. Forever if it has to. And, quite naturally, in a fever.