Insane, Got No Brain

Insanity is inconvenient.

There is this impression which ‘normal’ people have that insanity is somehow a result of personal deficiency.  As if somehow having your shit together can prevent it from sneaking up on you.  That having money or friends or a good family will offer some sort of protective barrier.

It certainly seems that way, right?  Because the really crazy people you know are separated from family.  They’re destitute.  They’re those lunatics on the street, mumbling under their breath and yelling at no-one and everyone.

It doesn’t occur to them that many of ‘those people’ might have had all of those things.  It’s simply that insanity pushes those things away.  It pushes them away and takes you away and discards you.

It is really hard to form connections with people when you are mentally ill.  Doing that requires opening up.  Not just opening up and revealing who you are inside (which in itself is terrifying), but opening yourself to damage from the outside.  Because other people are dangerous, even if that isn’t their intention.  When you are mentally ill, your wrongbrain tries to steer how those interactions are going to go.  It sabotages.  It distracts.  It exhausts.


About a year ago I started feeling things that weren’t there.  Burning sensations.  Popping sensations.  Vibrations, numbness and even feeling moisture on my leg when I could clearly see there wasn’t anything there.

I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, caused by my diabetes.  Unfortunate, but normal.  Normal to feel things that aren’t there.


I’ve been having auditory hallucinations.  This isn’t new.  I’ve had them to some degree on-and-off since I was a child and it’s probably why I was originally thought to have ADD.  I could sit for hours, staring off into space.  I remember performing really well on tests (at the gifted level), but struggling to focus while I pushed the sounds and images out of my head.

Hearing sounds that aren’t there means you’re crazy.  Not normal to hear things that aren’t there.


Wshhhhh shhhhhhhh whisper shhhhh wuhhhhh shhhhh

Why? Shhhhh whisper why shhhh no no oh shhhh

Sounds filling my head in a quiet room is not quite so bad.  But it wears on me.

Stick me in a room with other people, all competing to be heard, and the sounds in my head do battle.  I can’t focus.  I can’t keep track of my spot in the conversation.  I can’t sing in the choir when there are two voices; the one that comes of my mouth and the one I hear in my ears.  It’s wrong.  All wrong.

I know that I can’t trust myself to be with people when I start to see them as antagonists.  I feel the stares.  I hear whispers and can’t tell if they are from inside my head or behind my back.  People’s looks feel aggressive.  Their words feel dismissive.  I don’t want to be around friends because I don’t want my brain to tell me lies about them.  It’s easier to hide where the voices can lie, but at least my eyes don’t confirm my suspicions.

But I can’t hide completely.  What do you do when your lover reaches to kiss your hand and the nerves endings in your skin send your brain a message of burning and your brain answers back with a mental image of melting, sloughing skin?


My body is sending my brain the wrong signals.  My brain is sending my body the wrong signals.  Those two things should be the same and reasonable.  But I don’t kid myself that they are.

On a drive to the doctor’s with my mother, we make casual conversation.  “Do you miss your car?” she says.

“Once the neuropathy and the muscle spasms got bad I didn’t feel it was safe to drive.”

“Ah.” she says. “Good point.”

“I also kept finding myself thinking about driving into oncoming traffic.  I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

She says nothing and just presses her lips tightly together and keeps driving.


Insanity says “fuck your schedule”.

Insanity says “you’ll never achieve anything”.

Insanity says “I decide”.



Ways My Life is Exactly Like Downton Abbey

The problem with ditching cable and subscribing to Netflix is that you tend to binge-watch shows, especially if you you’re procrastinating. (Of course, as writers we are never procrastinating, we’re ‘gaining life experience/cataloguing creative fodder’.)

It should come as no surprise that watching 10 straight hours of period drama tends to shape your perception of reality, and you start seeing yourself in not just one, but all of the characters.

For instance…

If you’ve read my writing, you’ll note that I have a bit of a persecution complex:

failurefamily But I struggle very hard to be heard:


Although I sometimes forget to be particularly diplomatic:

sharptongue And occasionally say things that have people shaking their heads in disbelief:


Working from home means I tend to lose track of what day it is:

whatisaweekend And although I try to maintain optimism that I’ll accomplish something worth sharing:

looking forward I fret that writer’s block and apathy will derail my efforts:


And I tend to beat myself up over it:


So I cook:

assistantcook And curse a lot:


And am uncharitable about other writers’ successes:

superiorUntil finally I pathetically resort to Buzzfeed-style photo-essays to distract from how few words I’ve managed to coherently string together:



I’m dying.  I mean, faster than some and slower than others, but it’s not going to happen in the next 10 minutes.  Probably.  But we’re all dying, aren’t we?  So how exactly, if you are occasionally prone to morbid delusion, do you reconcile that?

I’ve had a few actual brushes with death, which doesn’t help dismiss the notion.  When your body is in a real and actual degenerative state with various organs telling you to go fuck yourself, it’s hard to ignore the steady decline towards what seems like an inevitable conclusion.  And migraines — sweet Jesus — when it feels like your eyeball is going to explode out of your head it is easy to imagine that a stroke is not only possible, but imminent.

IMG_0146I’m not sure where this started.  It pre-dates my actually being sick, I think.  As a child I suffered two things:  chronic nosebleeds and headaches.  (I say headaches, because I don’t think they were migraines back then, but getting regular headaches were still a bit of an anomaly, in that other kids didn’t seem to get them except when they were sick.)  The nosebleeds were presumably benign, but blood is scary.  Even more scary was the fact that I’d often get them in my sleep, so I’d wake up to a bloody pillowcase.  If that doesn’t convince a six-year-old with an active imagination that she’s dying, I don’t know what would.

Fast forward several years and there was more blood, this time in the toilet.  Yes, gross.  Yes, embarrassing.  Yes, I didn’t tell anyone about it for years out of said embarrassing grossness and instead just waited to silently die from a bowel perforation.

Thankfully I did eventually seek treatment, but not before my fatalistic (although at this point not entirely unjustified) delusion was fully entrenched.

This is where you will tell me that imagining that I am dying is what makes me sick.


Now I’m imagining that I am dying because I am imagining that I am dying.

So thanks for that added layer of guilt.

See, this is the problem with delusion and obsessive thoughts.  If I could stop myself from ruminating, I wouldn’t be mentally ill.  It’s not that I don’t know much of it is nonsense — or at least that it serves no purpose to obsess over my mortality other than to further harm myself.  I know that.  But the thoughts continue to niggle at my brain, and the fact that I continue to get sicker reinforces it.

The definition of hypochondria is excessive preoccupancy or worry about having a serious illness. This debilitating condition is the result of an inaccurate perception of the condition of body or mind despite the absence of an actual medical condition.”  But that’s not me, exactly.  I do have medical conditions.  Real, quantifiable, testable conditions.  

When we were kids, my brother said to me “you don’t fake being sick, you really make yourself sick.”

Did I make myself sick?  I don’t know.  Maybe?  Sometimes when I’m feeling especially self-destructive, I do blame myself for that.  The illnesses that I have genetically come from both sides of my family.  I just seem to be a repository for all of them, all at once.  I am either very unlucky, or there is something about my mental and physical makeup that has made me prone to triggering them.

Ultimately though, does it matter?  If somehow I ‘talked myself into disease’ with my negative attitude, they’re here now, and real, and have to be dealt with.

Conversely, what if I didn’t cause them?  What if my frustrating paranoia has helped me.  Most of my illnesses were detected very early (including my skin cancer), and were diagnosed after initially being dismissed by doctors because I was too young, or the wrong sex, or they had doubts.  But I wasn’t wrong.

So maybe being paranoid and overly sensitive to every change in my body has served me well.

It would be a strange sort of irony if my conviction that I am dying is inadvertently responsible for the prolongation of my life.


To Dream, Perchance to Sleep

Nighttime is when I live my other lives.

It’s not a time of rest — at least not mentally.  I’ve always been a bit mystified by people who wake up fresh and new in the morning.  The first time I encountered someone who said they hardly ever dream, I was astonished.  I do nothing but dream all night.  I wake up exhausted.  And that’s when I sleep at all.

Most nights it takes an hour or two to fall asleep.  My mind turns over conversations I’ve had during the day.  I re-examine every interaction, turning them over in my mind.  I question my choices.  I see myself through other people’s eyes in those interactions and paranoia sets in.  And the only way to calm the anxiety that builds is to continue to play those moments over and over in my head.

clownswilleatmeOf course there are nights when sleep doesn’t come at all.  It’s not an unpleasant experience, necessarily; since my mind is abuzz with ideas and sensations and for the most part I don’t feel tired at all.  I have grandiose ideas.  I write long novels and poems and play movies in my head.  I look back on these times with regret that I didn’t get up and write them down and preserve them, but I doubt very much that I would be able to transcribe them effectively.  The visions flow faster than speech or thought and I don’t want to get up in the middle of the experience lest I disturb that feeling and lose my place.

It’s very tempting to stay in that place.  Around 6 years ago, when in the midst of a very serious manic phase, this is how I spent most of my nights.  An anti-depressant I’d been prescribed combined with a walloping 30 mg a day of hydromorphone (Dilaudid) for pain (and a diet that consisted most of coffee) left me sleepless and occasionally even hallucinatory.  I felt brilliant and sleep was largely a waste of time.

But I know the ensuing crash is inevitable, so when I get those days now, I know it’s a warning sign.  I take note.  If I get more than one or two of those days in a row, I know I will need to take steps and tell someone.  And so far, I don’t seem to get to that point.  Within 24-48 hours, I do sleep, even if it’s not terribly restful.  And so I figure at least I’m probably staying on this side of danger.

My dream life is just a variation on consciousness.  I know that it holds far too great a position of status in my perception of reality.  I know this because I get them confused sometimes.  Much in the same way that I hold odd beliefs that combine both reality and delusion, events that occur in my dreams spill over into my waking life.  Arguments that I have in that world cause resentment, anger and hurt to build within me towards loved ones because of slights they have committed towards me.  Because even if I can rationalize that the events weren’t real, I am still left with the feelings and emotions that they have elicited in me.  Those are harder to dismiss.  To dismiss them, I have to at first acknowledge them.  Then I have to search within myself to determine what insecurity seeded the thought that sprouted into the dream.  It’s possible to do, certainly, but it requires a lot of mental work and introspection.  Multiply that by several dreams a night and combine it with all the other mental work I need to do every day just to keep an even keel and it’s exhausting.

While other people believe in God and heaven because they fear the black nothingness of death, there has always been that part of me that finds that kind of finality reassuring and comforting.  It’s not healthy, I know.  But when you live a life haunted by unwanted thoughts and memories, the absence of thought and the end of being is alluring.

I can count on one hand the number of times in my life where I have slept without dreaming.  While undergoing surgery, for example.  It is a strange sensation and I’m not sure how to relate to people who experience this type restful sleep on a regular basis.  Waking up feeling rested and energized is fantastic.  But without the dreams, there is no sensation of the passage of time.  I find that odd.  But maybe that is why I feel so old and worn so much of the time.

I am living a thousand lives.  It wears on the mind and body.


The Girl That Wasn’t There

Around the age of 6, I developed the delusion that I was invisible.  Not all the time, of course, but it seemed to be a condition that would come and go, with increasing frequency.  It started in little bits.  Outgoing and chatty around close family and friends, I had always been silent and cautiously observant with new people — not so unusual for a young child.  But reaching school age set in course a series of events that fundamentally changed how I viewed the world.

Abuse in daycare taught me to hide.  Silence and avoidance became a matter of both physical and emotional survival.  Initially, school became a place to thrive:  I was bright and engaged, and eager to please my teachers.  I wanted to make friends; an unexpectedly difficult task.

imnothereI had a few strikes against me.  My peers came, for the most part, from two-parent middle-class homes.  I was the only child I knew whose parents were divorced, which made me a curiosity among the other children and elicited sympathetic looks from the teachers.  My mother was also about 10 years younger than everyone else’s parents.  Ultimately though, I knew it was my own personality that set me apart.  I was odd.  This was clear from how the other children looked at me, and how they laughed and whispered.  I noticed how I didn’t get invited to parties (or how I would get invited once and never again).

So I stopped trying to connect.  It was just easier.  Interaction at school risked rejection.  Interaction after school at the day care risked physical or emotional torture.  I made myself quiet.  I didn’t draw attention to myself.  I disappeared.

This did nothing to lessen my anxiety.  It became more and more difficult, for instance, to avoid the other children at recess.  My lack of participation there made me a target for bullies.  I couldn’t hide out there in the open, exposed.  I found any excuse to assist the teacher during recess to avoid going outside.  When that stopped working, I developed (literally) gut-wrenching stomach cramps and was prescribed anti-anxiety meds for stress.  I was 7.

But then, an escape presented itself:  the nurse’s office.  When things felt overwhelming, I would complain about my stomach and ask to go to see her.  She was kind.  She let me lie down for a bit and then would send me back to class.

And then one day I went to her office and no one was there.

I knew I should probably go back to class… but I didn’t.  I lay down on the cot.  I thought for sure someone would come and find me out, but they didn’t.  After about an hour I went back to class.  And the next week I did it again.

I would disappear for hours and no one seemed to care or notice.  

They forgot about me completely.

Of course as I got older, I recognized that logically I couldn’t really be invisible.  But I seemed to be forgettable.  People I’d met before would have to be re-introduced.  And so I stopped introducing myself to people entirely, unless prompted.

I still fight the voice in my head that tells me that people don’t see me.

I am easily put off trying to connect with others.  If someone gets my name wrong, or fails to acknowledge me when I am with other people, I assume they don’t remember me.  When I meet someone I know, I always wait for them to acknowledge me first — I need confirmation and reassurance that I have made an impression.

It takes me time to open up with people, but once I do, they are surprised to find me gregarious, opinionated and blunt.  A lot of friendships have ended at that moment — the moment people are exposed to the real me.  I overshare.  I lack tact.

The difference between the invisible girl and the woman I am now is that I want to be seen.  I need to be seen and to be remembered.  I need to leave some kind of mark and for my name to mean something.  I need to be valued and hold a place in people’s lives.  And what I’ve discovered is that those who want to be around me — the ones that don’t turn away because they find me odd, or difficult or strange — are the people I want in my life.  They confront me, challenge me and discuss our differences.  They support me.  They don’t reject me or withdraw their affection.

And most importantly, they don’t let me be invisible.