Self Portrait of the Author Listening to Lies
Reality has a way of rearing its hideous head at the most awkward and unusual moments, catching us off guard and under dressed. Monday, Philip emailed me when he got to work to let me know how much we didn’t have in our bank account and I went into an instant tailspin. We have a water bill and an electric bill due and 90% of the next pay check will go towards paying our rent. We made some poor choices this past week buying too much beer, taking our kid out to eat. Taking our dog to the vet. Paying my phone bill. Now we can barely afford coffee and cheese is not in the budget.
Max has an infected ingrown toenail and the advice nurse suggested he wear a pair of open toed shoes and I explained that he thinks flip flops are an abomination. She said his shoes might be too tight and should wear a looser pair. I explained that he has only one pair of shoes. I can’t explain the feeling that blossomed in my gut – but any parent who’s ever struggled to provide for their kid doesn’t need this explained.
Ever since last fall we’ve been struggling to make it on one income because we function best as a family when I’m home full time to care for us and to write. Because that’s the life we actually want to be living. We came so close, and yet, not so much. So on Monday I got the message loud and clear that this isn’t working, that the next four weeks are already promising to be pretty dire, that I can’t get a job soon enough.
I instantly spiraled deep down into a freak-out of epic proportions. 48 hours later and I’m cautiously crawling out of the fuck-fest of my own dark hell. I have smeared my social media with my sticky tarry thoughts and shot down every person who tried valiantly to improve my outlook and mood. I’m a fucking professional when it comes to these emotional roller coaster rides and yet I can’t get off of them come hell or high water.
Right now I feel ragged with an emotional hangover so bad I’m going to feel it for days. I’m ashamed of my profound loss of hope, of my determination to be the loser I believe I am when I’m not vigilantly guarding my successes. Of how ready I always am to curl up into the dark and let it subsume me in one big hungry bite.
Whatever I’ve said in the last two days is a part of me, a part of my story, my studied lines. That darkness is real, the despair is honest, the brokenness is so real you can rub the rust of it off on your fingers just reading about it and taste the metal blood of this life I’ve cut myself to survive.
I’m ashamed to have let it all show. And yet I know that part of the honesty I’ve taxed myself with in this life demands that I not shove this ugly under the rug so you all think I’m some special light shining through all adversity and never breaks. I BREAK ALL THE TIME.
I do nothing by halves. Ever. It’s all technicolor fox trots and suicide with me. It’s the one thing you can always count on – I’ll never hide the real show behind the velvet curtain. All this ugly is public. Because I know that someone else out there is struggling to gulp air into waterlogged lungs of hopelessness.
I’m mentally ill. Not in a mild and fun kind of way. I’m seriously mentally ill and I strive to live a life as full of inappropriate laughter as I can muster because it’s where I gather my strength from. The irreverent, the ridiculous, the ironic. That’s my food, that’s my drug.
But of course I also have psychiatric drugs and I thank my fucking stars I have access to those because my son depends on me to keep some semblance of evenness. Of the calm that comes with vespers and flooding night blindness. In spite of support from medications I will always be vulnerable to epic losses of faith, of hope, of light. They are real to me. You need to know this. I FEEL them as strongly as some people feel a rise in hope as summer approaches.
Thrown off course I will spin violently against my own will. I’ll watch as I do it, a hapless victim of my own wild permutations of mood and despair. I can feel myself revving up with the fire of a thousand matches set to light abandoned cars on fire, to watch life burn to the ground all around me, ghosts rising up to meet the toxic smoke, lung for lung.
This is mental illness. It tells me so many lies. In the quiet moments I can recognize them. I can meet them with a chartered smile and an artificial grace. I can smell the lies for what they are. I can kick them aside and cry foul. I can recognize the false voice that tells me hoping is for losers, that everyone else has lost hope for me a long time ago. It speaks for people it’s never met, it speaks for people it’s met with lies.
That’s the main thing about mental illness – it lies to those that suffer from it. Constantly. It’s exhausting fielding the lies and digging through the spiritual rubble for the truth. Every time I succumb to its seduction of failure, its stench of quartered moldering dreams, I don’t see it until afterwards. Until I’ve screamed into the darkness like a child seeing death for the first time. The words I’ve said, the despair I’ve earmarked for myself is false. It’s built on a pyre of lies.
If I was smart I would close into myself when I feel the shit storm approaching. I would cut off all communication until it passes. I would protect you all from the dark clouds and the stench of human frailty. But I promised myself I would never cover it up. That I would be honest and ride it out and take the blows as they come, take the damage dealt as part of my illness, as it IS.
Not just for my sake. For my whole tribe. Some of whom can’t begin to articulate this torture we experience and who lose themselves in it. I will not lie, because of them as much as for myself. So I let it all come out, oozing at times with the toxic sludge of self doubt and rushing at times with the passion of creativity so many in my tribe are gifted with. I remain honest through good times and bad.
I can’t divorce myself from myself. I tried that when I was a teen and almost fractured my personality. I still have issues related to this. I can’t be other than I am. I WILL ABANDON SELF or I WILL KILL SELF or I WILL BECOME A MIME – distress calls from my spirit.
I bleed true. Always. Whatever you know me to be – I am she. I am that. I am IT.
I am strong so much of the time. I will support you with my life. I will shield you from your worst self. I’ll jump into the chasm between your work and your heart creating a bridge between the two. I will hold you above the fucking fires – but I will always fall underneath my own goddamn flag of genius.
Please forgive my hopelessness. My mental illness tells me terrible lies that I believe every single fucking time.
I’m shaking the fire from my bones. This takes a while. The more I make jokes about not being a cannibal the more restored I am to my equilibrium. I said I gave up as a writer. I etched this declaration with bits of flesh and blood because that’s how much I have given up. Except that I can never give up.
When I’m telling you how completely I’ve given up I’m still in my heart and I’m still bleeding when I say it. Look away until it’s over if you need to. This bit is pretty fucking bloody and vile because I’m still in my heart as I say it. I can’t leave it. So the truth is that I have to keep trying, keep hoping, no matter how much abuse or shit gets between me and the truth.
I always end up back at the Happy Super smelling the slush of fish guts the trucks drain into the gutter underneath my bedroom window. I always end up standing motionless at the back of the truck talking to the gutted pig with dead eyes. I always end up talking to the packages of squid and buying boxes of Thai Tea.
If you remember me in your life beyond this morning I hope you remember that no matter what, I hoped for myself I always had room to dream the stars for you. If you remember me beyond today, let it be that I believed (against all odds) in love, love, and true love. If I make a mark in your life at all, let it be that the mentally ill are a magnificent crowd of people full of stories, a darkness so dark you never have to worry when your own lights go out – we’ll still see you. If you remember me, let it be that an atheist spoke to God and got the same answer the devil got to the question: what does it all mean?
It means we crossed paths and now you’ll be the person I have affairs with for the rest of my dreaming life.
You and David Bowie. Some day you’ll see this for the deep compliment it is.
I was going to apologize for my steep fall from hope. I’ve decided this isn’t necessary. Some day you’re going to find yourself in this same place and I will be your usher out of the abyss. All for love.
All for fucking love.