That quote from a friend has been bouncing around my head the last few days. Recently I decided to write a book about growing up with mental illness. For me, reading about people's experiences is highly therapeutic, and I've always enjoyed writing (as a kid I wrote newspapers for cats, by cats, so...), and I figured everybody else is writing books now so why not me? But revisiting some of my past, even with the guidance of my therapist, has been proving difficult.
Like many others with mental illness, I have my hand in a fair number of disorders. An old therapist used to tell me, "it's like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and picking out a little bit of this, a little of that." Having traits of one or a diagnosis of another made no difference to me: I was weird, I was different, and I felt wrong. I felt incomplete, like someone was supposed to flip a switch to give me a normal brain, but forgot. There was always something inside me that was patiently waiting, watching as I suffered through panic attacks as early as age seven and when the perfect storm of life-changing events hit me at age eleven, the monster roared itself to life. My first two suicide attempts came in quick succession, and I spent the next five years convincing myself to get out of bed every morning by whispering, "just make it through today and you can kill yourself tomorrow." Those demons raised me, did their best to break me, and taunted me with hope always just out of reach. I was a shell-shocked child wandering around in a daze, acting out in violent outbursts as a cry for help.
Throughout the following years, I had a few psychotic breaks and knowing that it could be a permanent change one day brings up so many emotions that I just become confused and numb. Knowing that you're not quite insane but very well could become so after one too many breakdowns isn't exactly an easy thing to hear, and not something I can focus on as I'm working towards making myself healthy. But it's always there, in the back of my mind, and some days it's so close I could wave hello. With an indescribable longing, I put my hand up to the glass and watch as my reflection does the same. Feel the pull to join it on the other side, free of any burdens or worries, free to do and say whatever I want. I know that once I open that door, it will be nearly impossible to shut it and there will be absolutely horrendous consequences... But giving up means no more fighting for my life every single day. The voices would cease in their daily torment and maybe, just maybe, they would be my friends. (So, yea, I hear voices. I've dealt with auditory hallucinations most of my life and I simply assumed as a child that everyone else did too, they just kept it secret. Like me!) But those are their promises and I know full well they're empty and hollow, but there are days they're maddeningly tempting.
The closest I've come to that reality was the one time I tried weed. People swear by it to calm their anxiety and better their moods, and I had nothing left to lose at that point. So I ate an edible, and spent the next two hours hallucinating that I was being skinned alive by a man calmly singing along to the pina colada song. A few nights later, while I swore I was taking a nap on the couch, my boyfriend informed me that my eyes were open and I was looking directly at him while ignoring everything he said to me. I've experienced disassociation before but never quite like that. We turned on the tv and a horror movie was playing. I only made it about five minutes before a scene was showing a girl being choked with a curling iron (Like, I get that she'd definitely have severe burns but is that scientifically possible? Death by hot curling iron to the mouth??)- and that's when it hit. I was watching myself die, I could see my face plain as day on the screen and then, just as suddenly, I wasn't myself anymore. I still saw my face but the person inside, trying to recognize that it was me, was no longer me. Having those two personalities fighting for control and the sheer terror of thinking I was seeing myself die again broke me in a way I had never experienced. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't shake off the dread, and every time I closed my eyes the scene was there, mocking me. I had literally terrified myself to the point of vomiting the next morning (and I still went to set and worked a 14 hour day because I'm no fucking quitter!).
This is just a piece of the puzzle of the bizarre mural that is my life and my invisible illness. Being self-aware is the most important skill I can rely upon right now. Confronting these dark places inside that don't want to be fixed takes enormous effort, and experiencing PTSD that nearly rendered my meds useless is exhausting. The joke's on me because now, either as a side effect or result of the stress, I don't sleep at all. My body is refusing point-blank to fall asleep. If anything is pushing me faster and closer to insanity, it's this. So I'm writing now in hopes of organizing my thoughts that it gives me the strength to push back another day.
This is for you, having fought these demons alone for so long. This is for your friends and loved ones, while you may not relate to their pain firsthand, you're doing the best you can to support them. This is for the ones who recently woke up one day and realized something was very wrong, but didn't have the words to explain it. This is for us: may we take each day as it comes, with strength to continue surviving and persevering, and that while it may not ever go away, or we fall victim to the belief that we're in it alone, know we are never alone and we are stronger together.
"The only people for me are the mad ones." Jack Kerouac