Fragile – An essay on Mental Illness.

Normally I would only publish submissions from members.  But the truth is that this one came in via our email address and it’s content interested me and I think will interest our members.  Certainly, I am sure, there will be parts we can all relate to in one way or another.

Actually, for all I know, the person submitting this piece could have  a blog which is a member.  But alas I did not recognize the email address.  So for now let me just thank then for taking time to share this with us and to accredit this piece to her first name as used in that email – Amy.

FRAGILE (a mental illness essay)

At some point everything becomes clear. That doesn’t necessarily mean a good clear, but fact is preferred over fiction when you’re locked up. Again. And it’s snowing out—and worse—it’s New Year’s Eve, your thirtieth birthday, and you’re little girl must be looking for you. You sit next to a Christmas tree with paper ornaments the patients made, crying, as the psychiatrist explains psychosis and chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I listen over my breakfast medley of pills, and I think about my mind so clearly for a moment—an image of a blue and orange brain scan showing clouds of shrunken cortexes. Then I slip back into the room, in and out, and the yellow walls are much too close and anxiety rises into vague, psychotic flashbacks. My clarity is gone. I need drugs. I need chemicals because this is too much. I dart over to thenurses’ station behind the security windows and motion for Nurse Jo. She knows. She follows me to my room and guides me through the flashback. This time I’m blindfolded and there’s blood on my face. She sits by me, in the dark, and reads aloud the facts of my PTSD. I like facts. They neatly fit into my head, massaging my brain. Exhausted and again alone, I turn in my white sheets and watch the fat snow falling in the halogen halos out my window.

My first time at the hospital I showed up like a child in women’s heels, banging on the security door, and after the intercom beeped, all I could manage was “Help.” I had been seeing things by then and hearing voices. The psychotic episodes were growing stronger and stronger every day. By my third time back I at least had an awareness of what was going on, only that didn’t hold well enough. I’d lay there at night believing my breath would quit me, too—that it was my last night alive. Every night. I’d try to close my eyes and pretend I was home, safe. But then I’d hear the voices and the little girl crying every turn I took. I’d think about the warning signs I’d missed—like playing Radiohead’s “Wolf at Your Backdoor” over and over while painting everything in my writing room black—the walls, the ceiling, the picture frames, the shelves, the lamps, even the lampshades while my child and fiancé slept somewhere in the house.

As I said, there are points when everything is clear. Points when your mind takes you beyond yourself and out into the vacuum, the fear never subsiding but becoming the fuel you run on; your self has truly left you behind in all your faulty manufacturing, and you look, again, into the tin pan mirror bolted into the wall at the psych ward. Your eyes are black spheres in a woman’s swollen face. You stare at the scars across your cheeks and listen to the buzzing light.

So it comes to this, I say to myself when I’m grounded and not delusional—it is this: this plane of being that is stripped of all emotion, all comfort, all basic needs, and no one—no one—is going to reach you or get you out. Alone in the end, what is this faithlessness? Where is God, my God, your God, Atman, Yahweh, Ali, the Godhead? In the stripped down version of life we are amoebic entities swayed by chemicals and disruption. Love is a construct. All that I was was a construct. I am no one and neither are you, so empty I’m not even scared anymore.

You can try to build a world around you and maniacally fill it with what your hands can try to take, coming up tired and empty each time; coming up short another death, and dying every day—watching who you are slip between your fingers—changes you. There are people and there are circumstances that, if they strike when you are defenseless, can devastate beyond repair. Some parts of your self cannot and will not heal. So? Your possibilities change. Your choices enhance in an unknown direction. You’re a different person right down to your mutated amygdale.

Sometimes I know, during my kaleidoscope of mood and identity shifts, that I will discover and explore this world I’m in just as I would’ve explored the other, and I’ll find a way to make it what I can accept. There is no time for grief or pity—madness teaches you that. And sometimes I think, as I look at the reflection of my starless pupils: you really are just fucked. And then another thought occurs as I prepare for another psychosis, another delusion, another flashback—imagine then, imagine what it would look like—what it would take—what it could mean—if a person still lifted themselves up and faithlessly put their heads and hearts in the hands of no one and nothing but a chasm of unknowns. Or God. Or a nothingness that allows for a different sense of security. Or a power that was great enough to find you here. We do not break. We open, given the chance to see what our guts are really made of. And there is love in the world, but only if you’re well enough for it. My sense of security had lain on such fragile things, fragile as a body. Even now, I still have dreams where I am displaced—put out into the dark space among the stars with no line to pull me back in, no gravity, no air. Not a soul but me and my quiet, spinning brain.

12 comments on “Fragile – An essay on Mental Illness.

  1. A very powerful and well-written piece. It moved me. I am very glad you posted it. Made my Bipolar Disorder and Asperger’s seem small in comparison. But perhaps, we lead lives of quiet desperation daily.

    • Hi Ellen,

      I agree with you it is a well-written and powerful piece which is why the main reason for my publishing it.

      As for your Bipolar Disorder and Asperger’s seeming small in comparison I would have to say that whilst I can certainly undetrstand that reaction and indded there can be benefits from seeing or hearing what othrs go through, I have always thought that it can be an unhealthy thing to do – comparing our illnesses and trials to those of other folk.

      None of us really know what each other go through, or what help or assistance they do or don’t have in their lives. Likewise one person’s tolerance and coping levels are different to the next persons.

      Illness is such a personal thing isn’t it?

      I have just had a discussion with a friend of my son during which he made the observation that he thought that in some ways I was more fortunate than one of his relatives (who has been mentally handicapped since birth) as I at least understand my illnesses.

      I asked him to consider the possibility that the opposite may also be true and that actually his relative might be in a better position in some respects as he has never known anything other than his current state of mental health and the fact that he doesn’t really understand it can also mean that he doesn’t really understand the differences.

      But of course the fact is that both positions have their merits and disadvantages and for either one of us to claim ‘greater suffering’ would somehow be to deny or in some way seem to reduce the suffering of the other. I am therefore convinced that in terms of personal suffering it is exactly that ‘personal’. And in saying that please understand that I do not intend or seek to reduce what Amy has been through in any way at all.

      Hope that all makes sense. I am extremely tired at the moment and a little bit fuzzy in my thinking.
      Hope you are well.
      Kind Regards,


      • Thank you for your very thoughtful reply, Kevin. I do appreciate it and the content of what you wrote. We all have some cross to bear. I understand your feeling about the friend of your son. I never thought I was depressed until I found out that wanting to die was not “normal.” And I learned a lot in therapy about my so-called “normal.” In fact, I would not have gone to therapy at all until I hit bottom and had a “breakdown.” Part of it is what one is surrounded by– family, friends, etc. But comparisons are insidious and none of us walks in the other’s shoes so you’re right.

        • Hi Ellen,

          Gald you weren’t offended by my last comment. I assure you they were meant in the best possible way 🙂

          Your conributions are valuyable and I appreciate them.
          Kind Regards.

  2. The line that has struck me very powerfully is: “And there is love in the world, but only if you’re well enough for it.”
    I am at a lose for words at the moment and need to digest this piece more, but that one line really jumped off the screen at me.

  3. Thanks for posting this Kevin. It is very moving and I really felt like I was right there as I read. Incredibly well written and I wish I coudl write as honestly and as clearly as Amy has.

    • Hi Cate,

      I agree with you it really is an exellent piece of writing. I have thus far refrained from commenting on it myself as I wanted to see what other’s had to say.

      As for your writing, I really enjoy your writing and personally think it is clear and well written.
      Kind Regards

  4. I just wanted to say thanks to you all for reading and for your kind understanding and comments!

  5. Reblogged this on bipolarandbreastless and commented:
    No matter what we’ve experienced, are experiencing or will continue to experience, I think each person with mental health issues can find pieces of this excellently written essay with which they can identify!!

  6. To the author of the Fragile essay: Thank you for writing it. It’s excellent and worthy of an A. I am trying to write about mental illness and I hope that my work will be as good as yours. Janice

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