At some point everything becomes clear. That doesn’t necessarily mean a good clear, but fact is preferred over fiction when you’re locked up in a mental ward. Again. And it’s snowing out–and worse–it’s New Year’s Eve and you’re thirtieth birthday is coming and you’re little girl must be looking for you. It’s all you can do to decipher the shell-shocked woman looking back at you in the tin mirror bolted to the wall above your sink. Here you get your own sink because this time, this trip into the bin, they knew it was much more serious than they had originally thought, and your “security” is upgraded. You have a thought you would usually have–that the upgrade only makes you feel more nuts–but at this point, you don’t feel nuts. You are nuts. I say to myself ‘I’m clinically insane’ and for a moment I believe it’s something to smile about. When the leading psychiatrist told me on New Year’s Day morning that I was clinically psychotic and suffering from complex PTSD, I thought about my mind–clearly–for a second, and I imagined a blue and orange brain-scan image showing clouds of lesions. Then I slipped back into the room , in and out of dissociating, and the yellow walls were much too close and I could taste rubber in my mouth and then the hyper-arousal–the flashback coming. My clarity is gone. I need drugs. I need chemicals to help me this is too much–and I dart across the sitting room to the glassed-in cage the nurses sit in eating Christmas cookies; Nurse Jo knows me well by now, she knows I’m too embarrassed to say anything; I inch towards the far left window near the hall to my room, she casually looks up and I give her the look and point to my room. Like I don’t want people here to think I need help.
Nurse Jo always followed with a heated blanket, Seroquel, and fact sheets. As I laid there sucking in air and crying like I imagine I must’ve when I was a little girl, feeling blindfolds on me and blood on my cheeks, hot and sticky and too real, Nurse Jo would shut off the lights and tell me to squeeze the blanket as she calmly, almost like a drifting story, read aloud the facts of trauma and sexual abuse and post-traumatic-stress disorder. I liked facts. They neatly fit into my head, massaging my brain. Then I’d listen for the snow out my double-paned window, picturing it falling across the parking lot lights.
My first time at the hospital I showed up like a child in a woman’s heels, banging on the security door and saying into their intercom “help me please help me”. I was seeing things by then, my brain had a fever, I was hearing voices at night and having moments of total loss of reality. Nurse Jo didn’t like me then, she made that obvious when I told her I had been abusing speed. She’d taken her time answering my calls, didn’t check on me, and was curt. I guess she didn’t particularly like anyone–she was a typical business-type nurse. Which I found comforting. I knew I didn’t want a woman’s tone telling me I’d be just fine. Having someone not like me there was a good distraction.
It was, I believe, my third time back, when Nurse Jo seemed to have assigned herself to me, after Doctor Lean asked me over breakfast, face in his notes, “have you ever been sexually abused, Amy?”
“More than once?” Oh, Christ, he’s serious.
“And your ages during the abuse? Okay, okay… ” It was like watching him do alga-rhythms, hunched over his favorite notebook, discovering.
“And physically abused?”
“Yeah,” I could feel my throat failing me.
“Okay, thanks. Eat your breakfast and I’ll have the nurses give you a nicotine patch.”
Every day, there was Jo, watching me, waiting for signs, slipping me information and videos on PTSD. When she was on duty no one switched with her. I could cry like a child and she was there in her plain scrubs (all the other nurses decked out for the holidays) and simple jewelry, spilling the facts. She never left me until I fell asleep. Night, however, allotted no peaceful sleep. I was up every hour, certain my breath would quit me, too. How does it all stay contained within your skin? I wondered and waited for it all to come seeping through me–a black, choking hound of poison. I’d called the desk many times, believing that that was it–it was over.
I’d try to close my eyes and pretend I was home, safe. But then I’d hear the voices, the red eyes when I’d close my eyes, the terrifying way shadows fell from lamps across the floors. I’d think about one of my last nights home-what I had been doing. How had I not picked up on the obviously strange things I had been doing? That was the night I had been painting my library black–the walls, the ceiling, the lampshades, the desk, the bookshelves, as I listened to Radiohead
‘s “Wolf at Your Back Door” over and over, child and fiance somewhere asleep in our house.
As I said, there are points when everything is quite clear. Points when your mind takes you beyond yourself and out into the vacuum, and the fear never subsides but becomes the fuel you run on; your self has truly left you behind with all your faulty manufacturing, and you look again, into the deadpan mirror above the sink. Your eyes are black holes in your gray, swollen face. You eye the scratch marks on your cheeks. The halogen blinks and buzzes.
So it comes to this, I’d say to myself when I was grounded and not delusional, it is this: this plane of being that is stripped of all emotion, all comfort, all basic needs, and no one, no one is going to reach you or get you out. Alone in the end, what is this faithlessness. Where is God, my God, your God, gods, angels, spirits, the godhead, Atman, Ali. In the stripped down version of life we are amoebic entities swayed by chemicals and disruption. Love is a construct. I am no one. I am so empty I’m not even scared anymore.
You can try to build a world around you and manically fill it with what your hands can try to take, coming up tired and empty each time; coming up short another death, and dying every day–watching who you are slip between your fingers–changes you. There are people and there are circumstances that, if they strike when you are most defenseless, can devastate you beyond repair. Some parts of your self cannot and will not heal. So? Your possibilities change. Your choices enhance in an unknown direction. You’re a different person right down to your mutated amygdala.
Sometimes I know, during my kaleidoscope of mood and identity shifts, that I will discover and explore this world I’m in just as I would’ve explored the other one, and I’ll find a way to make it what I can accept. There is no time for grief or pity, madness teaches you that. And sometimes I think, as I look at the reflection of my black pupils: you really are just fucked. And then the thought occurred to me as I prepared for another shockwave of hypervigilance, hyperarousal, panic, flashbacks and dissociation–I thought: imagine then, imagine what it would look like–what it would take–what it could mean–if a person still lifted themselves up and faithlessly put their hearts and heads in the hands of no one but a chasm of unknowns. Or God. Or a nothingness that allows for a different sense of security. Or a power that was great enough to find you here. We do not break. We open up, and then we are given the chance not many have–to look into our guts to see what we’re really made of. I no longer wait for that false light to give me grace and awareness. And there is love in this world, but only if you’re well enough for it. My sense of security had lain on such fragile things, fragile as a body. Even now, I still have dreams where I am displaced–put out into the dark space among the stars with no line to pull me back in, no gravity, no air, no signs. Not a soul but me and my quiet, spinning brain.