I just spent a few minutes doing various online searches involving the terms “dehydration” and “self-awareness.” I don’t know anything about medicine or psychology, but I’m pretty sure one of the symptoms of dehydration is a loss of emotional self-awareness. I was thinking about that this morning; yesterday was a hot, humid day, and I was strangely moody. Some friends stopped over at our house; I’m always happy when they come, and always miss them when they go, but yesterday I was overjoyed to see them, so much so that I became annoyingly silly, and unreasonably sad when they left, so much so that I had to take a nap. Neither of these reactions was so far out of the ordinary as to cause a problem; after a few moments of annoyingness, I was able to dial my silliness back, and after my nap, I was no longer sad. After drinking water and eating fresh fruit, I was fine.
As I reflected on this minor episode, it struck me that my exaggerated emotional responses may have been the result of a loss of self-awareness. Usually, when our friends showed up, at some level of my mind I would have had a thought like “I’m happy because they are here”; when they left, I would have had some thought like “I’m sad because they are going.” In my dehydrated condition, that level of my mind seemed to have closed up shop. If I had been asked why I was happy at one time and sad at the other, I don’t suppose it would have been difficult for me to explain it in terms of our friends’ arrival and departure, but that knowledge didn’t seem to connect with the feelings or to give them the shading that emotions usually have.
Among the most famous lines of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous “Ode to a Skylark” are these:
- We look before and after,
- And pine for what is not:
- Our sincerest laughter
- With some pain is fraught;
- Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Shelley thinks that this marks us as inferior to the skylark, who feels the “clear keen joyance” of one emotion at a time. Thinking of my summer sadnesses, I disagree. Drained by heat and squeezed dry by the humidity of the North American interior, I’ve often experienced a loss of self-awareness and a severely simplified emotional life while dehydrated. The highs can be intoxicating. I use the word “intoxicating” advisedly; of course, alcohol consumption brings both dehydration and low self-awareness.
A recent installment of Unwinder’s Tall Comics deals with a similar point: