The Wild Man (1)

In this series of posts, I'm going to explore a figure who appeared to me in my dreams when I was about 20 and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I'm going to suggest that this figure helps us unlock one of the functions of the arts - to hold a mirror up to a civilisation and show it all that it's forgotten or left out. The arts help us come to terms with the parts of nature that we're alienated from, and which terrify us and threaten to destroy us. In this sense, they are profoundly important for our well-being.

When I was 20, I had a series of nightmares.

In the first nightmare, I was in a car with some friends heading to a music festival. We heard on the radio that a lunatic had escaped from a local asylum. The traffic started to slow on the motorway, and we realised this was because people were leaving their cars and running away in terror. The whole motorway was deadlocked with abandoned cars. My friends also ran away but for some reason I kept going forward. The motorway turned into a foggy country lane at night. Lots of dry ice. Very spooky. A figure stumbled out of the fog. It was a tramp, clutching his side as if he was wounded. I realised with horror that this was the escaped lunatic, and that in his hand he was holding a gun. I turned to try and run away, just as the tramp raised the gun and aimed it at me. BANG! I woke up.

A second nightmare also developed this idea of dangerous creatures having escaped from their enclosures. I was walking through a zoo, when I realised that the fences of the animal cages had fallen down, and the animals were loose in the zoo and coming to get me. As a horde of snakes, tigers and crocodiles came for me, I flew out of their jaws and into the air. I joyfully flew through the air for a bit, but then my 'rocket fuel' started to run out, and I sank back to the ground, into the awaiting jaws of a crocodile.

In the third nightmare, I was driving my parents' car, by remote control. It veered round a corner and out of my sight, then I heard a sickening crash. I raced round to see the damage, and the car was completely destroyed and on fire - a burning tyre bounced histrionically past me. The only way it could be identified was by the number plate.

In the fourth nightmare, I was at a party, and I looked in the mirror. I realised that my body was covered with tattoos, and that the tattoos prophesied that I was, literally, a marked man, that there was a price out on my head. Just at that moment, a gang of armed men burst into the party, looking to gun me down. I managed to escape by hiding, but ran out into the streets knowing it was only a matter of time.

In the final nightmare, the tramp reappeared. I was sitting in the passenger seat of a lorry, hurtling down the motorway. I looked to my left, and there was the tramp, filthy and laughing away. He seemed drunk. We careered off the motorway and half-way off a bridge. Just before the lorry fell off the bridge, I managed to pull myself and the tramp free of the wreckage.

These nightmares occurred when I was suffering from what was later diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on not by any heroic war service on my part, but from having done too much LSD. I'd been terrified by a couple of bad trips, in which I'd felt deeply paranoid, but I was too ashamed and frightened to talk to anyone about it. So I buried the experiences. The bad times seemed to pass, until I went to university, when my emotional life went hay-wire. I suffered panic attacks, mood swings, feelings of dissociation or unreality, paranoia, and long periods of depression. I felt that I didn't recognise myself anymore, that I had turned into someone else - a weak, insecure, wounded person. I hated that person, and did everything I could to escape him.

My nightmares were showing me this, showing me the guilt I felt for having messed up my life chances (smashing my parents' car) and perhaps they were showing me what I had to do. The final dream showed me that the nightmare figures I was trying to escape and who I thought were trying to kill me - whether that be the escaped lunatic or the escaped zoo animals - were actually a part of me, and that they needed saving, not escaping.

Unfortunately, I didn't heed the signs. I carried on miserably for another three years or so, until finally I almost killed myself in a skiing accident, in which I careered off a slope and fell 30 feet, breaking my leg and my back. I knocked myself unconscious and then had a sort of epiphany, and realised what I needed to do to get better. If I had understood the message of my dreams, perhaps I could have recovered without almost killing myself.