This didn’t post properly before. Sorry. Here it is again:
When I was ill, nobody listened to me, or at least nobody heard. When and if I spoke, I didn’t make my point well. My tongue didn’t have the right words, and I was timid. Now and then a word came out: “wind,” “grow,” “china doll”–but the words wouldn’t line up properly; they fluttered in the air before me like downy feathers and I couldn’t catch them. I tried to speak to the doctors, and to them there were even fewer words; all that came out was rage, or tears, or silence. The doctors responded, mostly, by turning away. I saw them turn like figures on a cuckoo clock: methodically, with clicks of their shoes, timed just so. When I saw their suits and ties, I sickened.
When I was ill, I was misunderstood, that much was true; I realize this only now that I have a grasp on things, that I can see myself as an ill and a well person side by side. I recall that when I was ill even the most basic tasks of communication daunted me: eye contact, body language, even sentence construction: “I”–“need”–“food” quickly became “I food” and finally “I,” a single eye that watched the others eat pancakes and fake maple syrup with plastic knives and forks. So I squirreled away my hopelessness, my angst, my visions, and kept them locked in the murk of my mind.
When I was ill, I had everything in storage. They talk about keeping feelings “bottled up;” well, I kept myself in boxes, as if any day my mind would relocate to a new residence. I remember those boxes well, the smell of the dusty cardboard, the clear packing tape, and the pressure of boxes piled on top of each other, waiting and waiting for someone to come move them to a better place.
When I was ill, I knew well the sound of tap-tapping of nurses’ shoes on tiled hospital hall floors, the hiss of the blood pressure device, the call: “Come get your meds!” I knew the sounds of the hospital at night: the whir of the copy machine, the whispers of the night staff; I could even hear the turning of newspaper pages the night staff read when they tired of doing their “charts.” Often, it was during those night hours that I would, if I were allowed, get up and go to the dining room, dressed in a couple of johnnies, one facing forward, one backward, with a pad of paper and pen. A drip, and then a trickling stream of all that stored misery came out on paper.
It wasn’t much at first, just a few words; perhaps they made sense; perhaps they did not–it mattered little. I only stopped for a moment to heat up my leftover macaroni and cheese in the microwave, gobble it down, and wash it down with skim milk out of a carton, then I returned to my writing.
As time passed, this became a gush and rush of emotion splattered on the pages of my journal. I tended to repeat myself from day to day: “I am Evil.” “Everyone can see the Evil in me.” “I cannot rid myself of Evil.” As I passed from hospital ward to halfway house back to the hospital ward, I brought my journal with me. Occasionally I shared pages with the social workers and doctors that attempted to help me, but most I kept hidden in notebooks. I wrote profusely and with great fury and flurry, especially when I was smitten with feeling. There was much I kept hidden in the pages of my journal; indeed, there was much packed up in my head at the time, some broken like china packed improperly, in haste.
Then I became well, which happened rather suddenly and dramatically. It was not due to any sort of medication, but rather an act of Nature; and Nature happened in a whirl, seemingly overnight, on my 40th birthday. Yes, I was still the embodiment of Evil, but the Evil Being that had lived in my head for years was suddenly gone, and as if I were suddenly relieved of a tremendous weight, I lifted myself, feeling as though I could stand upright for the first time, my spine no longer hindered by curvature, by heaviness, by bone deterioration, by grief. I could breathe real air, not the stale air of illness I’d been breathing for so long, the air of hospitals and shrinks’ offices and the stench of meals on trays that reeked of nursing home food.
And then I had nothing to hide anymore. I stopped keeping a journal. Eventually, I started a blog. There was just as much conflict to deal with in life, perhaps more, but was less pressure in my life, less to fight against, no Evil Being, no rash of stuff in my head. The outpouring of feeling stopped. I wrote pinched e-mails that lacked outbursts of unrestrained joy or tears, and never shook. I suddenly found myself unable to cook up true passion as I had when I was ill.
I no longer had to fight against my own head and the Evil Being that lived there. I no longer had to fight so I no longer had to push against myself, that isometric exercise I had completely forgotten about. A muscle that pushes against another gains more strength than does one that simply pushes air, right? Is this why some people complain that when they get well, they’ll have no drive to write, no muscle? Is this why patients, particularly those that are the artsy sort, tend to go off their medications to deliberately fall back into illness, out of frustration because they want some of the passion they once had?
I, however, chose to stay in the realm of wellness, as madness scared the heck out of me; even passion would not pull me back to where I was before. Did I create passionate work? You could say that I did; you could say that I did not. My concentration, organizational skills, memory, stamina, and confidence had all improved tenfold–imagine: the interference in my head was gone, the Evil–gone, gone, gone! I could write a paragraph without someone telling me that it sucked. I could think my own thoughts. I could write my own words.
I wrote every day. I wrote a draft of a novel, then decided I wanted to go to school and study writing. This I could not have done in my illness days, in my days of heightened feeling–passion itself would have betrayed me. I was able to concentrate on my school work and graduate college, and go on to graduate school. This I would not have been able to do had I been ill.
Do I miss the angst, the feeling, the passion of my illness days? Yes, I do, but not enough to pack myself back into boxes and suffocate in my own crap, not enough to walk those halls and listen for the tap-tapping of doctors’ shoes so those men in suits could present their verdicts to me as if on a plastic tray from the kitchen “downstairs,” not enough to give up what I had earned: wholeness–because what I had now was so precious that I had to be sure to tread even ground to keep it upright, balanced, and fair. And what I had now was not dry; it was so dear to me, so sweet, so luscious and full. I deserved every bite, every lick and taste I could muster. I relished in it. I suckled. I slurped. It dribbled down my chin and onto my t-shirt–and though it wasn’t the same passion I’d known in earlier days, it was a fruit of magnificent beauty and weight, and it spoke to me in words that–pen in hand–I could at last comprehend.