Some Thoughts On Mental Illness

I ask myself first of all ‘why?’ What is the purpose of writing this, to what end will the collation of my thoughts, a collaboration between rampant spirit and critical thinking, be useful? Worthwhile? I don’t know but a compulsion remains to articulate perhaps for myself but also to the pairs of ghosts that hover about the heads of those I love but who are erased at this moment, smudges of charcoal and lead left over from drawings I start but can’t complete. And I want to write about my mental health/illness because perhaps now is the first time it has been possible to do so. Particular circumstances have made it feasible for me to explain myself even if I can’t really explain myself. At times it is best to leave that to others, to Anne Sexton mainly in my case. Reading her words is like looking in a mirror and seeing my face clearly for the first time and the beauty is that as my vision is cleared I see that I am not all that ugly, my eyes are not so lopsided, my nose not so grotesque. In fact it is an image one could live with if they wanted to.

But they are her words and even as I read them with pleasure I also have a guilt-bidden jealousy to snatch them from the page and swallow them so that I may repeat them, again and again and again until they are my own. Because if I could enunciate better, if I could explain with more clarity what I am then that would solve the puzzle, wouldn’t it? At least for some other, perhaps as I am the Other to Anne’s words. Her words didn’t soothe her soul enough to stop her going completely mad so who is to say that mine will do anything for me. Especially given the ratio of inferiority of my own words to hers. So in the end it is just this compulsion which must be fulfilled, without any expectation of self-fulfillment because in the end I won’t believe a word of what I have written here. I will read it back tomorrow and cringe, I will shudder to the point of nausea and go on a mad goose chase to erase all traces of these words from the cyber world. Knowing this, as I do, is irrelevant right now though because I really just want to remove from my brain a snapshot of this moment of its existence.

I talk about my brain as though it were separate from me. I have done this more and more since I was given the bipolar diagnosis. I think this is because many of my own suspicions have been verified, many of the apparent weaknesses have now been given a name, a category, terms by which I can compare and define. I can hold my mind in my hand and see it for what it is; a God, a traitor, a jealous lying thief that nonetheless maintains a purity of spirit that draws people to me. I am no longer suspicious of my mind because I accept now that it can betray me, that the illness I have is inconsistent and unpredictable, it rides its own wave and all I can do is try my best to maintain, maintain, maintain. Even the smallest of things can appear life-threatening: a phone call, a basket of dirty clothes. They rise like mountains in my head, behind my eyes, devilish peaks that obscure my view and common sense. I cannot simply get up and make the call or put the washing in the machine because the task itself is now beset by many other questions and thoughts that have untethered in my brain and I can’t remember at all what I was thinking just thirty seconds ago. You might ask me to do something simple, like walk to the kitchen and get you a glass of water. If I haven’t returned after a minute you can be assured that something else has taken my attention or I have stumbled into another black hole of thought. How quickly I can fall into them and sometimes they open up into whole other worlds and I am not even confused if this is reality or not because I don’t even stop to question it. I think that is how I ended up getting married to someone I had only known six weeks. I just fell down a hole in my brain and ended up in a place I didn’t need to be and which I didn’t have directions for. Took me a fuck long time to find my way out of that place.

But where I am now, I didn’t get here by falling down a hole in my brain. Actually, although it looks from the outside like I fell down the biggest hole out there, I actually think I’ve come up the other way, like I’ve managed to climb out of all those holes in my brain. If the holes had names they’d be called friends, family, expectations of myself and others, regret, resentment. Maybe my holes are more dangerous because I have this mental health issue because it appears to me like most of the people I know don’t fall into the same holes as me or when they do it just isn’t the same. At its worst my whole brain becomes a hole and twice now I have fallen far further than I ever wish to fall again. I would rather live my life up on the surface where the dangers are around but at least I can see them, or name them. I can tell when my mind is playing tricks on me and if I’m having a particularly bad day I can ride out the shaking and nausea. You see what happens in my mind is usually repeated in my body. My hands shake, my limbs feel as though they are hollow, my chest feels like it has been stuffed with bricks, like my lungs and heart have been entombed. Now when those things happen I can let them happen because I know they don’t happen forever. They happen again and again but they don’t happen forever. They make me feel like shit and they generally eradicate any possibility of experiencing pleasure or happiness when they happen but I know I will feel better, eventually, and that is enough. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I have never had many friends, except for in my twenties when I tried to have friends but could never get the hang of it. Having too many friends means having too many people around to compare yourself to and it is just easier to get through the tough times in solitude. I don’t mean tough times like breaking up with your boyfriend or losing your job. I mean tough times like when your anxiety levels reach new heights and you start making random phone calls to people you don’t know but whom you suspect know something you should know but who for some really fucked up reason are punishing you by not telling you what you know you need to know. Those tough times. Not many people have those kinds of tough times so if you don’t have a friend that knows what that’s like, you don’t really have a friend for those tough times and you’re better off just going it alone.

The worst part of all this has been the effect it has on those around me. People can’t see in my head like they can see an amputated limb. When they see me shaking they might think it’s something else like I don’t eat or I have a drinking problem. When I’m manic and talking too much, when I’m super excited about every fucking glorious thing that comes my way, people may think I’m on speed or coke and they certainly don’t think about the flip side of the mania or the havoc it wrecks on your appetite. At those times I can literally eat and eat and eat and I will still lose weight and then I look like a junkie. I suppose that’s why most people think I am on drugs. I suppose it is easier to explain things to yourself that way. But I also wonder why they didn’t think that when I was eight nine ten, my whole life before now, when it wasn’t feasible that I might be on drugs and it was more likely that I was just fucked in the head. I suppose it is scary, especially in someone like me. It baffles me too. Sometimes I wonder why I am not famous, why have I not achieved, why have people not realised how talented I am. Delusions of grandeur are another part of the process I guess. But still, I can project such a front of composure and confidence that I’ve had even myself fooled all these years. Yeah I’m really smart, I got first class honors and a scholarship to do a PhD. Yeah I was good at tennis and got to play overseas, got a painting residency in China and sold paintings to heaps of people both here and overseas. I’ve had my short stories published and won awards for my writing. But it doesn’t mean shit in the end because I don’t believe in half the stuff I’ve done up to now. It was all done from the inside of those dark holes, at times when I thought I was in ‘the real world’ but when I was just hiding behind smokescreens, photoshopping everything to remove the creases and wrinkles and anything that might give away the truth. So I guess that’s why I haven’t reached those heights yet, cos I wasn’t being real. I was too afraid of letting the monster out of my head. Not that I’ve ever been afraid of the monster. I love the monster. The monster has straight up been my best friend since the beginning. I’ve indulged the monster and given the monster freedom over my mind and body to the point where I’ve become the monster to the monster. And I guess you all saw the monster too but because I kept it partially hidden, cos I kept trying to dress it up as something it wasn’t then it just seemed all the more grotesque and deformed, like schizophrenia with elephantitis or something. I was always only afraid that you’d be scared of the monster, like it would be too much to handle. There goes my ego again. The monster ain’t really all that bad. Like my psychiatrist said, ‘You’re pretty mad but you’re not running naked down the street hugging trees, are you?’

So this year I decided to let the monster out and perhaps that’s what got me above all those damned holes. But the monster and I have to work out the new terms to our agreement because all the indulging has to stop. I’m in control. Or at least I need to try to be. And it’s the small things that control the monster, like routine and balance in your life, like positive people and positive experiences, like resisting the urge to drink two bottles of wine instead of two glasses, like having the patience to consider options and make logical decisions. All the small things which come so much easier to everyone but me. I find it so difficult to adapt my brain to logical thinking sometimes and even harder to comprehend why others around me don’t see things the same way. Trust me, the world is soooooo much more fun when you see it through the eyes of the monster. But anyway, I know it’s those small things, that all important self-discipline. It’s common sense. But common sense has always done battle with the chemicals in my brains. Like my sister used to always say to me when we were kids, ‘I just don’t get it, you’re really smart but you just don’t have any common sense.’ Used to think that was so weird. Used to think she was crazy but after thirty years I can kind of see where she’s coming from. Which is not to say that I am now on a quest to acquire common sense. I am not. I can’t. Because I was born with the monster and the monster just doesn’t do common sense. So instead me and the monster just have to work together, find another way, another method of doing things which we might call common sense but which we know isn’t really. But that doesn’t matter.

I read a quote by a girl who I think might be Neil Young’s daughter. Anyway, the quote was something like, ‘I feel more normal when I remember I have mental illness.’ And this is true for me too. Not like as an excuse for anything but more like an affirmation, like a Christian might say I feel more at peace when I remember I have God in my life. It’s like that for me. I just wish it could be the same for those who say they love me.



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