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”.



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.


The Heart is a Leaky Boat

The old adage of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a lie.  It’s one of those things that people tell you in the midst of suffering in the hopes that it propels you to the other side.  Pain and suffering leave lasting changes, many of them negative.  The ‘strength’ that people point to is perhaps more aptly labelled perseverance.  But trauma also leaves you with weaknesses in your armour; cracks and soft spots that are prone to rupture at the slightest prodding.

I discovered early on as a child that emotion was weakness.  The in-home daycare we were sent to before and after school was run by a mostly cold (and occasionally cruel) woman with four children, each of whom directed their anger at us, in varying degrees of cruelty.  I very quickly learned that the most effective way to diminish their interest in torture was to control my reaction.  No tears or crying out.  No flinching.  And above all, no telling.  My younger brother was not as adept at this and they quickly turned most of their attention to him.  I felt helpless to do anything.  Daycare wasn’t something we could escape — my mother was a single parent — and for all I knew, all homes would be like this.  Or worse.  So I just… persevered.  And I survived.

When I had my first brush with death in my early 20s, after complications from my first surgery for ulcerative colitis, I had to endure many painful procedures and what felt like insurmountable pain from the complications themselves (a twisted bowel).  I was certainly not new to pain — I had suffered from colitis for many years at this point — but the surgery was supposed to be the ‘cure’.  It seemed like I’d never see the other side of it.  But I did.  I got better.

But that’s when the tears started.

It’s not like I had never cried before.  I cried when I was sad, or in stressful situations.  But for the most part I was able to control it.  Now I cried involuntarily during movies and sad commercials.

Not so strange.  Still within the parameters of normal behaviour.

If that had been it; if that had been the extent of my physical and emotional challenges, then perhaps I would have been merely scarred.  A mildly wounded bird capable of flight, but walking with a slight limp.  But then came the arthritis.  And diabetes.  And then in 2008, a perfect storm of physical and emotional trauma:  Crohn’s disease, a failed relationship and a manic episode (precipitated by a medicine my doctor prescribed for anxiety) which involved me spending large sums of money to renovate my house all by myself, little to no sleep for weeks and forgetting to pay my bills for months.  Well, ‘forgetting’ isn’t quite the right word.  I just thought I didn’t have to.  And if that sounds irrational to you, it sounds that way to me too.  Now.

The crash from that episode was spectacular.  I had to be put on sleeping pills, antipsychotics and lithium (on top of very heavy painkillers).  I went from being an explosion of emotion to being largely sedated.  I slept.  I ate.  And I hated it.  The pills that were supposed to ‘level me out’ didn’t stop me from feeling the emotions.  They were all still there in my head — I just couldn’t express them.  I was corked.

After about a year of that I slowly weaned myself off the pills.  I could finally feel again.  But the crying was back.

And now I cried when I was happy too.

leakyboatI’m not stronger.  I just have knowledge.  Knowledge that when a new illness or emotional time bomb hits me that I have the ability to persevere.  There isn’t strength with this knowledge.  In fact, if anything it makes me feel more vulnerable.  To know that it’s not over means I have to get to the other side.  Getting to the other side means I have to submit to the suffering.  And there are times I really don’t want to.  When you know something won’t kill you, you have to make peace with the fact that it’s your new reality.  That’s a fairly devastating realization.

Rather than make me stronger, my history of survival makes each new challenge harder.  My ability to cope decreases each time.  Each time it takes me longer to rebound.

And now it’s not just the big stuff.  I overreact to the little things.  Even when those things aren’t happening to me.  I cry.  I cry for everyone and everything.

Trauma leaves you vulnerable.  It teaches you to guard yourself and put up walls to protect yourself from future trauma.  But it sneaks up on you.  You become a sailor in a boat on treacherous seas, hyper-alert and on the lookout for pirates, but forever find yourself running back and forth in your little boat, bailing water from cracks that keep forming in the bottom that you can’t fix.

It’s just a matter of time to see whether it’s pirates that will kill you, or you’ll just sink and drown.