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Checkup at the Asylum

My cat Green, who stays with me throughout all the breakdowns.

It’s been five months. The break from reality began the second week of December. Insomnia kicked in first. Then came the tremors. As the winters days turned darker, the moods thickened. A mention of Christmas, the black hole in my existence, put me in a rage. I could howl the roof off the house.

My cat, Green, and I during the breakdown, Christmas, 2017. We hung out a lot.

Then the delusions came.  Now, let’s be very clear on what a delusion is. I’ll quote the dictionary: a delusion is an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.

I like dictionaries. They help me understand myself.

John Nash, the mathematician who won the Nobel for his contributions to game theory, suffered from schizophrenia. He saw and interacted with people who did not exist. They followed him all his life. Read his biography, A Beautiful Mind, or, if you’re in a hurry, watch the movie. Though it’s always better to read the book.

When I’m sick, I have delusions, bipolar ones. I don’t see people, but I do hear things, such as the tiny chain saw embedded just inside my ear. It’s cutting its way toward my brain. My head, on its own, jerks to the right, over and again. I lock my sight to my right, looking at nothing, just the right; then my eyes move upward, to a corner of the ceiling, always to the right. Somewhere up there, I am safe, though I am not, because the chain saw is ripping inside my ear, like a violent, mechanical whisper.

My wife hates me. My children want me dead. Then the shimmer comes on: The walls of my home do not feel real, even though I touch them. There is an invisible membrane between me and existence. I push my hand through the air and feel it against my fingers. Everyone who once loved me, who now abhor me, looks at me through the membrane like studying a caged, rabid dog.

And fear, oh fear. It grips me like a sadistic god. It penetrates each cell of my body and says You know, all this could end, if you did.

I don’t feel that way now. This is a calmer time, and I want to take advantage of that calmness. This is not the time to say “Well, I got through another one!” and move on. No; the bipolar person must ruminate. Because another episode will come again. The question is, how to mitigate the damage of the breakdown?

It takes thought, and discipline, and study. Medication, therapy, and love. And writing. I have all those. I plan to make good use of them.

Tomorrow’s post: on psychiatrists and poets.

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