Sometimes I get the very sad sensation that there are no words to say. Like I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, madness beneath me, its’ hot breath pressing in around me, rushing in one ear and out the other with whispers of my life’s failures and futility. I can feel the weight of losing my mind as if it is already gone, and the premonition frightens me.
I began to feel the weight of my brother’s death, the pending onslaught of grief, so far away and yet so close, when I was nine years old. As if time did not exist. By the time I had been married for a year or two the grief would overwhelm me, often while I was doing the dishes. I would fall in the floor, water still running, screaming and crying, knowing in my bones that it was coming for all of us. And it did.
I first showed signs of difficulty coping when I was nine, my oldest brother sixteen. I won’t sensationalize our history, and I won’t go into details out of respect for the dead. Out of respect for my dead. I will say that watching him suffer was traumatic for me. Our suffering involved a lot of anger, fear, and this uncertainty about what was real and what was not. That can be a very damaging thing, being taught that you can’t trust yourself, that your thoughts, your perceptions, your memories are lies. It’s the kind of thing that leaves people broken. So I’d sit on my bed and pull my hair into a ponytail for hours. Hours and hours. Sometimes I never made it outside at all. You’re vain, and vanity is a sin – you need to pray for God to take your vanity away. Smoothing, smoothing, smoothing, but never perfect. Sometimes I would slip away in my mind and pretend I didn’t live in our house at all – normal childhood behavior, right? But I’d do it for days. Days and days, convincing myself that what I saw was not my reality. Sometimes I built entire rooms in my closet – a miniature bed, TV, favorite toys, books, I’d drag a lamp in, close the door. I so desperately wanted to leave. I understand that now.
“You’re certainly resilient, there’s no doubt about that”, my psych NP said a month or so ago.
I recently experienced my first truly manic episode during a medication change. I had worked an overnight fifteen hour shift, been awake all day alone with my boys, and then picked up four hours that evening. I did my job well like I always do, but once I was off the clock, my mind no longer focused on immediate tasks at hand, my thoughts began to race. They got faster, and faster – and then my body raced – back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, room to room to room. Within hours it felt as if reality was slipping away from me, right in front of me, and I was helpless to stop it. Eventually my husband called for an ambulance, but instead three policemen came to our home. I had been awake for over 32 hours, I was nervous and in my underwear, and three policemen walked in, as if they had every right to be there. It was so strange. Apparently I got smart enough with one of them that he decided enough time had been wasted, and they took me to the county psych ER. I was marched through the hospital in handcuffs, told to strip in front of strangers while they counted my tattoos and looked for weapons, given size 2XL scrubs, and put in a locked room with men and women, mostly homeless or intoxicated (or both), all of us on the wrong side of the bulletproof glass. I knew what I had to do to get out, so I reached inside and held the familiar icy hand of what I like to call “the splitting” – that gut-wrenching survival instinct that lets me feel myself burning down on the inside, but remain calm on the outside. So I gave them nothing. Resilient. I was awake for over fifty-five hours before they released me, my blood glucose had dropped twice, and my caffeine headache had turned into violent, overwhelming withdrawal symptoms with nausea – but I only let them see a few cracks on the surface. A tear, maybe two. Sweating. Shaking hands. Quiet requests for juice. I’m hypoglycemic – please. When I finally got back home I cried in the floor for a long time, the cool, clean tiles like heaven under my hands. I begged my husband not to ever let anyone take me from my home against my will again. The next day I had my arm tattooed with Rupi Kaur’s line, “I have survived far too much to go quietly”.
Resilient, right? Right?
But for how long?
The hot breath of my past and future rushes through my ears, quieting the world around me, shutting my eyes. My brother’s Beast still roars in the fading sunlight. I can hear him, like he’s still falling. Or like he never really fell at all. Like he’s been standing here with me all this time.