mala herba


ola kamińska



They’re here already

It started at parties so at first, nobody really paid attention. You wake up thinking you’re hungover or maybe you just need some time to feel like yourself again since you don’t really know what you took last night. The brain fog, the anxiety should go away. Just sleep it off, your roommate tells you. The muscle pain will be gone too, you just danced a lot, or, worst-case scenario, got a cold from sitting outside for an hour at dawn. So you sleep, and I mean really sleep: for two or three days straight. I’ve heard about those who slept for five or six days, but that’s easy to recognize as disturbing. Two days is still fine. It’s cool, you’ll feel good soon enough. But you wake up 55 hours later and the brain fog does not go away—it’s worse.

We’ve been through a lot this year, so we deserve to have a little fun, everyone seems to be saying. I’m not one to argue: I’ve been dreaming about the venues filled with noise, sweat, smoke, and bodies too, just to feel like you’re a part of something, or to believe that we can all enjoy each other’s company. Well, all except for those men who touch your hips when they just want to pass through—fuck them. We dance the night away, it’s what makes us feel alive. And we all had a long break from feeling alive.

The brain fog is there, but you have to get to work. You scroll through all the notifications, after 55 hours it’s probably almost a hundred of them, get your coffee (doesn’t help), and finally, open your computer. You wouldn’t be able to focus enough to write, but you’ve stopped writing a long time ago anyway. Creating content doesn’t require that much attention, the well-known technique of 20 minutes of work and 5 minutes break seems to do the trick. It’s much harder than you remember it to be but still doable. You eat, you hang out, you watch, you sleep, you do the things you’re supposed to. You spend the weekend at home: instead of partying, you watch movies. Old horror movies seem to calm you down, so you fall asleep watching “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” You wake up tired and the brain fog doesn’t lift, but you sleep the normal amount of hours so you think it’s okay. Until it’s not.

“It’s just those party kids” means “it must be drugs, let’s leave it.”

After a month of never-ending brain fog, your friend urges you to go to the doctor. First GP, then some tests, then the neurologist, then the MRI: it feels like you’re closed in a coffin already, but you don’t complain and focus on being grateful for having enough money to pay for it. Everything looks fine, they tell you. Just relax, make sure to get eight hours of sleep, try yoga or mindfulness, we’ve all been under a lot of stress lately. You stop taking drugs, stop drinking even. You still party sometimes, but a lot less, and want to be home by 1 a.m. You end up back at your psychiatrist’s office: the anxiety is back, huh? How are you sleeping, how’s your mood? Anything unusual happening lately? It’s been a hard year, you know. No shame in a relapse. Years of interacting with doctors teach you to stop believing that you know yourself best. You try to convince him how different it feels this time, but he doesn’t believe you. A lifetime in your body means nothing.

And then, it happens to your best friend’s girlfriend, a DJ. It’s been two weeks and I cannot focus for a second, she tells you. Your friend has been worried sick when she slept for almost 60 hours. It started after a party, but it was a regular night. No, she didn’t take anything, she’s been sober actually. The girlfriend tries to laugh about it: it’s like having a fog machine in your brain and that you cannot turn it off. But both of you already know it’s not funny.

By the end of the year, it’s twenty of your friends and over three thousand people you know about. Almost all of them in their late teens, twenties, and early thirties. You find Facebook support groups, go on Reddit, spend hours and hours on the internet. It’s happening everywhere.

The theories start again, the usual set: 5G, microchips, vaccines, chemtrails, Bill Gates. Some people even mention aliens, but that’s too easy to ridicule, so it doesn’t stick. The science looks answers too: a new virus, a new pathogen, maybe something from Siberia? Maybe there was something there, unknown to humans, frozen, released when the world started to melt. A bioterrorism attack? Some sort of mind-altering cyber-attack? If you really crave a theory to calm your nerves, you choose one to believe in and just go with it. We’ve been through this process before. You stop going to the doctors; only this one time when your ear starts bleeding. You take the antibiotics and you’re fine. Apart from the brain fog, obviously.

In few-seconds long moments of clarity, you feel like a spy, but you don’t really know whom you’re spying on. Just a feeling, nothing more. You learn to live with it. The community, offline and online, offers you some comfort.

It’s this generation, they can’t handle the alcohol, your uncle says laughing during Christmas dinner. You drink with him—you know well enough it doesn’t change anything. The media gets tired. Somehow, the world seems to agree that it’s just a bad, never-ending hangover. They sleep for so long because they lack self-discipline. After all, it happens only to those kids who spend their nights partying. They deserve it, they seem to be saying.

Every couple of weeks you try something new, one of the things people suggest on Reddit or on the Facebook support groups. Last month you went to a sauna for a soft lashing with a wad of birch tree branches. Didn’t really help, but trying feels good. This month, you’re doing OTC antihistamines: if this doesn’t improve your brain, it may at least ease your seasonal allergies. And this spring, allergies hit you more intensely than before: your throat and ear constantly itching. It’s been over a year, you note with a surprise—you don’t remember your brain functioning differently and you don’t think it ever will.

Sometime mid-June, the itching gets really unbearable: it wakes you up at night. It’s 3 a.m. and it’s so frustrating that you open your computer and use your foggy brain to schedule an appointment with an allergist. You go back to bed, but for the first time in months, can’t fall asleep. You lay in the darkness, scratching your ear until something feels wrong. Something got stuck and you really need to get it out. You get nervous, annoyed. You put in your little finger: for a second, you are sure that’s the rubber part of your in-ear headphones, stuck in there. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s the middle of the night, and clarity has left you over a year ago, so what does? You try to reach it and you succeed! A small, black, egg-shaped object falls out. Did you fall asleep listening to music? Looks bigger than the rubber part of a headphone anyway, so you have no idea how you could ignore something like this, just sitting in your ear. You want to reach for your phone to use the light to investigate the object. But before you have a chance, it moves. Your hand tickles, but you’re not able to do anything. And then, the seemingly-rubber part breaks. It opens up. You look closer, barely being able to figure out what’s going on: inside, there is a tiny green creature, covered in slime, looking at you with its big black eyes—just like in the movies! It looks so helpless, moving awkwardly to leave the egg. It slowly crawls out, creeps on your hand, and rests on your little finger. Suddenly, it’s clear: you have never felt more love, ever.