a handy guide to mental illness

This is a short story I wrote for a contest at school. I put a lot of heart into it, and it means a lot to me. It talks about mental illness, which goes unnamed in the story. It’s a look into what a person going through that situation might deal with everyday. Not everyone will understand and not everyone with a mental illness experiences it this way, but maybe you’ll relate to it or maybe you’ll gain some insight into what someone you know is going through. Otherwise, I think this story is wonderful whether or not you take something away from it.

The theme for the story was Mirror Mirror, so I generalized it to just mirrors, and went from there. The mirror is somewhat of a symbol, staying unmentioned the majority of the story. The mirror is there to show the character, not their “true self” like some symbolic depictions of mirrors in stories, it simply shows them. In the moment. The mirror is a constant, while their feelings fluctuate and change. Every time the character returns to the mirror, they are experiencing a different form of their illness.

I hope you enjoy my story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

– – –

You place your hands on either side of the sink. Your mind focuses on what rests above. Deep breath now. Tighten your grip. Steady yourself. Deep breath. Look up. Look up now. Look at yourself. Focus on what you see. On who stares back at you.

Your breath catches in your throat. You see a face that you see every day, but at the same time, a face you barely recognize. You’re fine. You’re not fine. You’re you. You’re not you. You are. You really just are. But you wish you weren’t. It’s not that you want to die, it’s more that you’re tired of yourself. Of your whole being. You’re tired of being. You wish you could fold up like a piece of paper, eight times, no more, like they tell you, and put yourself in a drawer forever. You consider the pills in the bathroom, just six steps away. You consider the rope in the garage, just forty-seven steps away. You consider the knives in the kitchen, just twenty-two steps away. But your mind starts racing and your hands start shaking and your lip starts quivering, and the tears burst out like they were waiting just behind your eyes. You wouldn’t, but you consider it. You wouldn’t, but it stays in the back of your mind and comes forward whenever things get tough.

You wouldn’t, but you might someday.

Your whole existence is a war between two opposing strengths. You feel nothing. You feel everything. What a stereotype you are. But your body shivers with nerves that won’t quit, and your mind darts from one worry to the next, while your body also moves in slowmotion, and your mind tells you that another hour in bed is no big deal. Sometimes your hands shake with such force, and other times, you feel like your hands are getting the signals from your brain five seconds too late. Tuesday; you’re in a heap on the floor, sobbing and barely breathing. Friday; you’re in the middle of a party, a drink in your hand and a smile etched across your cheeks. Often even a real smile.

You tell people you’re okay. You tell people “it’s complicated”. You tell yourself you’re okay. You tell yourself “you’re complicated”. And you are. But it’s more complicated than that. You recognize the need to seek help, but when you’re bad, you can barely speak. When you’re good, you’re masked by the pink haze. And when you’re like this, you just can’t. Even when you can pinpoint the problems, it’s not as simple as calling a therapist. It’s complicated.

***

You place your hands on either side of the sink. Your mind focuses on what rests above. Deep breath now. Loosen your grip. Ready yourself. Deep breath. Look up. Look up now. Look at yourself. Smile at what you see. At who stares back at you.

Deep breathe. In and out. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re you, and that’s good, and you’re beautiful, and that’s true, and you’re okay. And you’re happy. You stare at yourself and you’re happy. You write in your journal that you’re happy. You acknowledge that it won’t last forever, you recognize here as well that you’re not really okay, but without trying, a smile works its way onto your face. And that makes you smile more. Because you’re capable of that. Because you can experience happiness amongst all the bad. Happiness and unhappiness are not mutually exclusive, they’re simply independent. And you bask in the fleeting fog of happiness. Even though yesterday, you said today. Even though the time before yesterday, and the time before that, and every time you weren’t happy, you said today. Today, you would get the help you need. Today, you would reach out. You would explode if you had to, so people would know. But today is today, and you’re happy. How could you ever think you needed help? Who would believe you anyway? If you’re capable of being so happy that you’re smiling uncontrollably, how dare you act like you’re deserving of help or like there’s something wrong with you? No one will take you seriously. Not unless you can say that you have these thoughts every day. Not unless you shake and contort in fear and worry. Not unless you don’t leave your home for days at a time because your mind tells you that’s alright or because your mind convinces you that it’s safer inside. There’s people who never experience even one day of happiness out of seven. You’re among the privileged. You’re among the happy. So look at yourself, and smile.

***

You place your hands on either side of your face. You rake your nails, or what remains of them, down your cheeks. Your mind focuses on the marks you’ll leave. Your mind focuses on what rests above the sink. Catch your breath now. Control yourself. Try and breathe. Focus on your breath. Focus on what rests above the sink. Look at it. Look up. Look at yourself. Reel at the sight. Reel at what stares back at you.

You’re not okay. You’re never okay. You’re the worst. Like a badly-drawn version of yourself. Or if you were a clay sculpture that was smashed ever so slightly. Identify every little thing wrong with you and scrutinize it. How you sweat when you’re anxious. How you shut down and shut people out because of one small mishap. How sometimes you yell so loud, it feels as if your head is going to explode. You don’t see red, but you feel it. The heat creeps up from your neck to your brain, and it hurts right behind your eyes. And even worse, how sometimes you feel so numb. So numb, that your body is reluctant to follow direction, and you sit in class, stretching your hand and watching it move like a slow-mo scene in an action movie. You feel nothing, except the sedated movements of your limbs and the sensation of your skin melting off your bones. God, focus. Focus on your goddamn nails. You picked them all to stubs again, even though mom pays for you to get them painted every two weeks. Focus on your tear-stained face. Focus on the fact that this is the third night this week that you’ve spent on the floor; your chest heaving, trying to find an ounce of air. Focus on the fact that this is the third night this week that you’ve muffled the sobs in a pillow, or held your breath every time a cry rattled through your chest so mom wouldn’t hear. Focus. Focus. Focus on your reflection.

Focus on the person facing you. The person who is you. The person who ruins everything and is such a damn mess. The person who can’t just get a grip. Who more often than not, blames it on a “bad day”, but when is it not a bad day? How can you blame it on a bad day when every day is a bad day? How can you say you’ll get help or do something or be better when apparently, every day is a bad day. Yet you manage to say so while laughing. As if it’s a joke. Yet, you manage to hide it so well. You hide sadness, anger, fear, worry, and every other stupid feeling so well. HOW THE HELL DO YOU GET HELP OR DO SOMETHING OR BE BETTER WHEN IT’S ALWAYS A BAD DAY AND WHEN YOU HIDE IT SO WELL THAT SOMETIMES EVEN YOU DOUBT THAT IT’S THERE?!

***

Today, you would get the help you need. Today, you would reach out. You would explode if you had to, so people would know. Now today is today, and the mirror is in pieces. Now today is today, and your blood drips down your arm as you carefully pull shards of glass from your knuckles. Now today is today, and your sister finds you with a towel around your aching hand as you search for the bandages.

Now today is today, and you place your hands on either side of the sink. A different sink. A clean, pristine, disinfected sink. Your mind focuses on what rests above. Deep breath now. Smell the antiseptic. Tighten your grip. Flinch at the pain. Deep breath. Look at your hand. Look at it. The bandage masks the bloody mess beneath. The cuts that lace your knuckles. Flex your hand. Feel the lacerations stretch apart, feel the blood seep out once more. Remember the pain from before. Deep breath. You don’t have much time now. Between family visits and nurses checking up, you have to be quick. So focus on what rests above. Look at yourself. Focus on what you see. On the person that stares back at you.

The person that stares back at you does so with puffy, bloodshot eyes that sit above deep, purple bags. The person that stares back at you speaks to you with chapped lips and a raspy voice. The person that stares back at you shows emotions on a tear-stained face, that is somehow both swollen and gaunt at the same time. The person that stares back at you hides behind knotted and mangled hair. The person that stares back at you looks like hell. And the kicker is that the person that stares back at you, is you.

You are here. You reached this place. Not because you walked the six, forty-seven, or twenty-two steps. And not because you made it clear what you were going through. But you reached this place. You finally exploded. A bomb set off by its own flame. The carnage you leave will manifest itself as the stitches that hold your damaged hand together. But regardless of your damaged hand, you are here and you are okay. Well, you’re not okay, but that in itself, is okay. Happiness and unhappiness cannot exist simultaneously, as they are independent. But happiness and mental illness are not. You may not be okay, and you may never be completely, but that does not mean you shouldn’t allow yourself happiness. That does not mean you should refuse yourself the chance to get better.

You look up. You look at your reflection. The tangled mess in front of you stares back. You smile, and they smile. You raise your good hand and bring it forward to touch the smooth surface of the mirror, and they do the same. You may not be okay, you may never be okay, you may fluctuate between happiness and unhappiness forever. But you will always be you. Focus on you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s