No mental health professional that I’ve dealt with in the past year has ever used the phrase “mental breakdown.” I am not sure why given that my experience with mental illness and the events that led me to be hospitalized certainly felt like a break—from normal thinking, from being able to deal with anxiety, from the perceptions people have of me being “cool, calm, and collected.” My thick walls of protection disintegrated and what was left was a shell of me, in pain, weak, with a loss of words, and a near deadly fascination with dying.
I felt broken, not strong enough to speak, not strong enough to move through life’s everyday motions. Several things kept me from truly doing harm to myself: my wife and kids, doctors, therapists, and writing in a journal.
The following writing comes from the journals I kept during the most devastating parts of my illness. Each piece represents a different day in my journey to regain some semblance of sanity. They are reminders of how strongly depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse affected my life and still do, though to a much lesser degree.
Drag. Heavy heavy. Walk. Breathe as deep as I can. Release. Jaw wired shut by stress and all the unspoken words. Whisper “I don’t feel strong.” Drop. A whole in your bed where my dead weight made the mattress sag right there. On the right side. I lay. Who is beating my heart so strong? Does anyone else feel their ticker, hear it in their ears pulsating blood, moving through veins. Heavy leaded blood filled with years of fight or flight, flight or fight, flight, freeze, flight. It trickles from the scratches on my wrists. It stings-was not aware that would happen. Fight or flight. Flight, flight, goddammit fly fly fly far away into a silent abyss, cradled by the earth around me. I moved from the bed to the table.
Three people were on the payphone. Four more fought over what football game to watch. The nurses ate their meals watching over the sickos, druggies and alcoholics. Four guys smelling of cigarettes play a card game. Some lay on the plastic sofas waiting for their meds.
She stood there in her pink velour jogging suit. She came in kicking and screaming and losing the grip she had on her high. She stood next to the nurses; she had limited privileges even to pee.
“I have to use the bathroom” she yells at the direction of the nurse’s station. They fill out papers and eat hamburgers and French fries, ignoring Pinkie. The room moves its gaze. Some are still on the telephone. Others wage bets on what she’d do next. “I have to go to the fucking bathroom to take a shit.” More of the room fakes non attention and I stand at the phone talking to Kat.
“Listen if I don’t take a shit now I’ll do it right here.” Head nurse looks her way and takes another bite out of her hamburger. “If I don’t take a shit right now, I am going to take a shit on this floor then take your fucking wig off and wipe my shitty
ass with it.” Nurse lady takes another sip of her giant soda.
The room resumes its ways.
I recall perfectly the moonlight in my room and the blinds cutting the light against my skin. So much was gone then-apartment, job, partner, and lover. What else was there to do but wallow in my misery in the basement of my parents’ home? This room, where books lined the perimeter of the small space allocated for me. I forgot how to talk. I lost faith in my abilities. My New York had failed me. And there, as I lay on the ceramic floor, my desire for life in this world began leaving, like the night makes room for the day.
My left eye can see more that its crooked self ever leads to be able to. She moves, she turns, and when I am really tired she shakes and makes my eye blur. Here I sit writing this down with my right eye and simultaneously seeing with the left the bookshelf filled with books. I can disconnect and reconnect. It’s a weird gift.
This eye is not blind in fact it sees what it wants without me knowing it. Sometimes the viewer thinks I am not paying attention. I’ve gotten in trouble for that on more than one occasion, the viewer never realizing we all have imperfections. This one is mine, my little cross to bear.
Here at the ward, it helps to look off because people will leave you alone. Some of us sit in the far corners coloring. I’m wondering why the tall red man keeps calling the group window lickers. He often looks for me to say hello. There’s a Latino man who talks a lot of bullshit sitting laughing at his own jokes. Red man says “don’t trust him, he’s a fucking terrorist.” I nod and change the subject.
Here I am, sitting on the institutional chair and the fucking white walls and the courtyard we cannot enter unless watched over—those overseers just as imperfect as me. Then the tears start burning my lashes. This depression still cuts me to pieces, and exacerbated here; I see someone else is crying too. We exchange glances and know, we are crazy. Our lives out of this box, away from all the misfit tragedies, our lives are fucked up, or just within, the trauma that rearranged our thinking, or so I’ve been told. Trauma bits drilling away my sense of belonging and uncovering what I really fear. Who can really do this without breaking down? Who could crawl through their own making just to cleanse the soul? If God were here I’d ask for his hand, to lead me through the gates as Gabriel does, so I could stop these tears and finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Who can you trust when the words that you say enter holes that are sieves filtering out the pleas of safety, love. Why should I speak with the words that come from the hole in my face falling down like fall leaves disintegrating before they hit the ground and someone out there is staring at me. I heard myself once in another girl. I had been told one day someone would truly understand what I’m about and I had very high doubts. I spent my days with crooked lips muttering this is bullshit and there, wearing nothing I would wear; my words escaped the hole of another.
“Why should I speak if no one seems to ever want to talk about anything other than fluff? I rather be alone.” is what she said.
I sat across from her trembling. Out of my mouth were muted words lingering in front of me and afraid to actually reach the ears that were waiting. It must be uncomfortable watching a person suffer from their own lack of self-esteem. She waited till I could say it—I was not safe from myself and self-harm. Imagine feeling all of your bones tethered to veins, arteries, and flesh move uncontrollably. The body must fear when death is in its midst.
Her actions were careful and quick, and I knew my life had changed at that very moment. I felt it riding in my car behind her, walking into the ER…and I knew I would lose her to the severity of me. Two beings colliding and ricocheting in opposite directions. Me to the house of hopelessness, and her to her own convictions. Endings are hard and sometimes they are not meant to be. And sometimes someone interjects at a time you’d least expect it; and sometimes you have to learn when to say “help me.” Help me.