When Mental Illness Means Searching for Acceptance for Myself
His alarm rings its shrieks into the wintery morning air. I wake to the sound of a demon orchestra, snarling and sharpening their clicking claws in concert pitch, reminding me of being small and hearing monsters in the closet. It has taken years to understand that for some people the ability to see invisible monsters comes with its own special DSM-V diagnosis.
When you’re 4, you get your parents to fend off the monster. Beat and burn and banish. Thirty-one years later, I have to do it myself.
It is easier to pretend to sleep than to admit to him that I need him to take up his pitchfork and evict them from the bedroom. Trespassers will be prosecuted, unless they’re invisible, because he doesn’t know how to fight what he can’t see and I do not have the strength to give directions. Or watch him stare at me.
I wish they were gone. I wish for a hug. I can’t ask for either.
So feigning sleep it is, until he leaves, and I can shake and quiver in the empty space he leaves behind. And perhaps dream a different reality.
Miles to go.
My alarm sounds and the space around me is quiet for the snuffling of Stella and Sherlock. Somehow I have slept. The monsters are silent now.
But there is something watching me. I hesitate to open my eyes. Count to three, then 10, then 50. One-Mississippi-two-Mississippi. Count backwards, forwards, by threes and sevens and 10s. And so on.
I can already tell today is going to be rainy with a chance of spiders.
Sure enough, a lone spider waits hungrily in the corner. He waves his furred feet, taunting me to invade his personal space. As seconds pass, he multiplies, like a trip through a funhouse mirror room. Except I can’t escape, even when the way out is paved with good intentions and the clearest of signposts.
There is nobody here to call to, and no help forthcoming. I can’t call out to the little one and ask her to watch the spiders lest they move when I rise. She might sense something is wrong the way that children often do. She might report it, and there will be hell to pay.
It is easier to make a cave of the quilt and ignore the tap tap tapping of tiny arachnid feet. Sleep is an impossibility now; I need to be on guard in case they leap from the walls to crawl along the back of my neck.
My clavicle itches just thinking about it. The itch travels slowly up into my hair. I don’t dare scratch lest I alert them to the fact that I’m hiding here, biding time.
But the quilt is warm, and there is a dog on each side of me. Perhaps if enough time passes one of two things will happen: the spiders will melt into the walls, or I will be brave enough to rush past them in my quest for proper clothing and the bathroom.
It’s Australian Survivor: Psychosis Edition. Now wouldn’t that get some interesting ratings.
Late you’re late you slept in
useless you’re SO useless
Get up ignore spiders find workout gear strap the girls in now organize the child
don’t let her see us shhhh
No time for meds and normal morning routine lunch school bag scatter food for dogs
Four shoes on four feet
you’re useless you’re an idiot you are letting people down how dare you go out looking that disheveled what an embarrassment
Ignore the screaming do not scream back it’s 8:19
Go go go
Have to drop V at OSHC. Almost succeed in making a quick getaway.
No time to say hello goodbye I’m late I’m late I’m late!
Except. The OSHC director wants to talk to me.
She talks in a normal voice, but her face is painted with a disgusted sneer. It twists across her normally friendly features from chin to nose like I am dogshit on her shoe. Her eyes shoot daggers in my general direction. What did I do?
I’m overdue; I’m really in a stew
But she is talking about accounts and payments and nothing in her voice matches what I see on her face.
So maybe what I see is not real. Or maybe it is but either way I am late (so late; for a very important date) so I can’t investigate.
“So sorry,” why is she mad at you useless what did you do wrong you’re so stupid, “I have to go…”
No time to say goodbye — hello! — I’m late I’m late I’m late
There is coffee.
And I’m pretty sure the coffee girl didn’t poison it. Or actually tell me to go fuck myself when she took my order. But not 100 percent sure. Stupid brain.
I’ll drink it anyway. I might wake up then.
you don’t need the calories so gross
People are talking. Sometimes to me but mostly to each other and I’m fine with that; the morning is fraying around the edges. It’s not even 9 a.m.
The coffee is hot. My friend Jane is here. I am safe with her even though the cafe is filled with strangers. She knows about Boris and she isn’t embarrassed to be seen with me when he’s around. Unlike some others.
No point trying to figure out which people are real. There are no spiders right now. I’ll celebrate the little wins.
I don’t think the OSHC director was really mad at me. I think it was my stupid brain doing its usual mental photoshop trick.
Wish I could remove that malware from my mental hard drive. Fuck.
Boxing in 20 minutes; will there be spiders on the bag like the other day?
Jane is here. There is coffee and the coffee is a good enough breakfast. I don’t need a donut.
No you don’t you are disgusting already
Shut up, brain.
Say a goodbye to third person whose name I can’t remember. Let’s go.
It’s time to punch something.
Spiders spiders everywhere.
Big black one on the chain.
Squat elbow jab hook.
Little red ones crawling inside my gloves. Can’t shake them out. Will look stupid.
stupid is as stupid does you idiot
There are two big black spiders now and they are inching down as I punch and pant.
Jab cross double body shot hook
Twenty black spiders sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N- stop it just stop
Is it possible to be energized and scared at the same time? If I punch harder I might scare them off. Go bother someone else.
My friend Jane is here so it’s OK; I am OK. If they bite she will help me I can ask her to help.
10 seconds fast 20 seconds hard
Kick the bag until I see stars. Stars trump spiders and getting fit trumps that and god it’s a full house of fucking crazy in my brain today.
Bicycles mountain climbers plank
You are done
No more spiders now. I punched them away.
but you still got me baby
There’s a man in her waiting room who stares with cut-glass eyes at the fog that surrounds me.
Maybe he sees them.
Maybe he’s not even there.
Called in. Doctor is wearing red.
She is not safe today.
Don’t tell her anything we will hurt you
No, everything is fine.
Just need a referral thanks.
Yes, my medication has increased a lot.
But I’m managing fine.
Thanks for your time.
help oh please can you see them
See you next time.
I give in to the weight of whispers on my shoulders. I give in to the flicker and flare of not-actual-people. Somehow I sleep.
Showered. Warpaint applied. Two matching shoes. Even brushed my hair.
I almost look normal, but even if I didn’t, Jane wouldn’t care. She sees Boris without knowing what he looks like. She sees him in my gaze, in the slump of my shoulders and the twist of my hands. She knows, and that makes her safe. Boris is wary in her presence because she takes no prisoners and he cannot hurt her. We — the three of us — know this.
I am safe today. And tomorrow D will be at home. So I am safe tomorrow as well. Safe is good.
We eat. It is not poisoned. I am 100 percent sure.
but think of all the creeping calories –
I. Don’t. Care.
.….and miracle of miracles, he does.
People. People everywhere. They may or may not be real. But she is, and she would tell me if I was being “crazy.”
We shop, the two J’s together on a mission. I buy things. We chat, and it’s real, and it’s great. I feel normal. Like it will all be OK as long as I’m spending money and participating in the world.
I try something on.
look at you all that flab you disgust me so ugly
“Not quite what I was after, but thanks!”
It’s important to keep up the appearance of sanity. Even if I momentarily want to hide. But isn’t this what normal people do? Only normal people don’t see spiders on the merchandise when they look in the shop window.
It’s still great fun though, and I refuse to give in right now.
There is coffee.
And I’m pretty sure the coffee girl didn’t poison it. Or actually tell us to go fuck myself when she took our order. But not 100 percent sure. Stupid brain.
I feel like I’ve run this dialogue in my head already today. Wonder why.
There is also a brownie. And we are going halves so it’s OK. I can eat it, and squash Boris and all his insults down.
thunder thighs fat chick beached whale
It tastes good enough to be worth it. And fuck Boris and fuck the consequences and —
I don’t even have to answer. She knows already. I am an open book and she has me almost memorized.
“Are you wondering which people are real?”
I nod. Want to cry. Want a hug but scared to ask more of her than I already do. She is real. That part I am certain of.
“At least there are no spiders. Or unicorns.”
We joke about that being a good title for a blog post. If only I could measure my sanity by the absence of unicorns.
And I think: I wish I could show you what I see when I look around the shopping center. How their faces warp and change. How they stare, and I stare back, if only to measure their infinite realness by whether they continue to snarl or just look at me for another heartbeat then look away like I’m just a normal person with a lack of social etiquette. What it feels like when the walls start to close in.
I don’t need words. Jane knows me too well. We head for the car.
I am home.
It has been a good day, if good is defined by the number of times I didn’t let my crazy come out to play. And celebrating the little wins. Holding a conversation. Being able to laugh, and drink coffee, and concentrate on instructions for longer than your average 3 year old.
Being able to believe in more days like this, where I can feel the ground beneath my feet and appreciate good times, better coffee, best friends.
What mental illness does is parade unicorns in front of you, again and again, tossed manes in rainbow colors and the staccato stamp of hooves. Eventually you begin to disbelieve in your fundamental disbelief of unicorns. Maybe you even start to enjoy it.
And once that happens, once you admit to believing in the unicorns, someone presents you with a horse wearing a cardboard horn, and tells you that all the unicorns you saw were just this: something unnatural, something that is to be laughed at, to be squashed down by drugs and therapies and bloody mindfulness. You almost long to see a unicorn, because at least there is some fragment of beauty in believing in something other than the fact that your brain is out to get you.
When there are no unicorns, no spiders, no chatter chatter snarl, you are just like everyone else. With fears and hopes and dreams. And drugs. And weekly check-ins. And an overwhelming, heart-racing, gut-clenching need to lose yourself in something beautiful, even if it’s not what society considers real.
OK, maybe not like everyone else.
Sometimes I still wish for unicorns, though.
Follow this journey on the world is my apple
Getty image by agsandrew