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The Colors of a Manic Episode

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Mania can be hard to understand. This poem aims to bring to life some of the images I associate with my own experiences of being manic, as well as my feelings towards being manic or hypomanic.

Bruise Days

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Did you ever feel that murky film lift and
your chest swell with all the new colors —
rub your eyes to see the world in this new light —
a world like a carnival,
until you saw the clowns’ faces start to drip,
their smiles of hot wax melting fast onto the ground?

Any sensation is good news, at least at first.
It starts with a purple bruise —
those nerves, that extra feeling.
Tell me, honestly: Did you want to hold onto it?
That strange vortex in your chest, most definitely blue,
intangible and transient, but still…
I bet you tried (just like me)
to clamp your hands around an entity.

Does it become an engine in your insides?
Do you wait for it to pass as it grates you like Parmesan,
and tell yourself as you flake apart
that this is only what you asked for?
Sometimes I can be reassured:
Machines have parts that crack or rust and
pain is part of my machine.

Sometimes, there is no bruise.
Sometimes, this world is mine.

But please, tell me this:
Do you ever wait for the bruise days to come back?
Rolling up behind you, your legs seem ready to mount it.
You seem ready for the danger, your eyes too wide,
too blue and too soon to pop and splatter like jelly
out into public and on the sidewalks,
out to dirty your now starched-clean clothes.
Do you recall how you used to laugh as you went blind?
Or remember the green orb of joy you thought you were,
burning out through the sky on your way back down to Earth?

Because I do. It’s hard to say I blame you.
We like to watch things burn out fast; we call this tragic beauty.
We don’t remember what it’s like to turn back to gray,
to turn back to dust and ash.

When I went gray I would go under my flannel covers,
and when my eyelids went black, so did the bed
and the room, and then the sheets vacuum-sealed.
I’d squint to try and figure out if
things had really turned back to black and white,
or if certain objects still had hints of color.
And maybe you wondered, in a world no more than tinted —
You couldn’t remember: Had it been like this forever?

But it won’t be forever.
We will peel the film back again.
We will buzz from the inside, 24/7, be our own alarm clocks.
We will subsist off anything, even exhaust fumes.
We will swell as fast as we deflate,
become too tired to be anything permanent.

They teach us to fill up, to deflate, more gradually.
This is good practice.

But tell me, do you miss it?
Because I do.
There were nights when I held the world, new again, in my hands.
Nights the world erupted into view and I would sit there, stroke it,
tell it how soft it was, how crystal clear —
tell it how I would never lose focus.
Not this time.

We forget. Has it always been like this?
Is this the full spectrum? Is it sepia?
Are there dust speckles obscuring my vision and
am I seeing the world through a plastic, orange-bottled tint?

You are like me.
You know the world both with a plastic bag over your head
and in colors nobody else has seen.

So maybe we do forget.
But life is paradox.
We can remember how it could feel:
It felt like we owned more of the world
than the world ever owned of us.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: September 22, 2016
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