Dostoyevsky syndrome

 Wikimedia Commons. Pah!

Wikimedia Commons. Pah!

For some time now I’ve been living with the Dostoyevsky syndrome.

It’s been a few months at least, at just 20 minutes a day, but not every day. Not every day? Pah, devil take you. Because 20 minutes with a Russian master at 6.30 in the morning, even not every morning, is enough.

I cough, I sneeze – my immune system is shot to hell; the only thought in my head between sleeping and moving is: where’s my frigging book? Ah, right there. Devil take you. I’m being hypnotised, becoming an automaton.

Fyodor spies on me in the shower, on the family throne, at the samovar. This is our third serious relationship. The previous two were of the same mould, which is to say heavy, wonderful encounters, if somewhat spiritually exhausting and occasionally abusive. He has the whole world in his hands. Pah, devil take his hands.

The physical symptoms range from pathetic to the joyful. Last night I slapped my palms on my knees, stood up briskly and shook a friend’s hand before telling him he was “a good man” for no urgent social reason. And that’s small fry compared to the hallucinations.

In Spar, I realised I was standing next to a cardinal from the Spanish Inquisition; and then Jesus popped in. Oh aye, I thought, what’s this? I got myself a Chomp, moseyed, listened: turns out he wanted to imprison Jesus, right after he got his loaf. I approached the Asian guy to pay for my Chomp but his face was oddly contorted. He insisted he hadn’t killed his father, Asim, but was going to take 10 years in a Siberian labour camp anyway. Pah, devil take you – that’s just like in Dostoyevsky.

Due to time issues, I manage at best 12 pages a day: it’s as if he’s even firing the devilish thing off to me on Twitter. Doesn’t matter. A single paragraph is enough to subsume me entirely. Often I have to brush the sentences off my clothes before I go into work. Is this the ash from Iceland? Pah, devil take Iceland. I found an exclamation mark in my pocket that looked like a flattened sickle and thought: pah, you must belong to him! TO HIM!!

Due to my condition, I’m seeing the people I know and work with as if anew: their nobility, their torment of spirit, their wild disruptive thoughts. Everyone and everything is even enriched, on the brink of possibility and raving passion; they might easily collapse with the falling sickness, faint, start shaking with nervous fever; or run out of the office onto the main thoroughfare and get crushed by a horse and cart. Pah.

And their loved ones? Their loved ones will profit from a small inheritance, receive visitors, suffer terribly. Such drama within drama, so tightly coiled, has set off an incredible series of explosive charges in my brain.

On Friday I went to Waterstone’s, nominally to get a birthday card for my niece, but was drawn straight to the D section in fiction, as if I didn’t have a choice. I sat down, strapped myself in and exhaled even as the sweet Russian crack took hold of my shaking system.

Didn’t I have somewhere to be? Pah, devil take them. There’s a small boy here with tuberculosis – this is even absolutely critical; in fact, I may need some time off work on compassionate grounds.

Or on medical grounds, perhaps. No, not medical. Devil take you.


First published in The Sunday Herald.