endings and beginnings

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winter’s finally leaking out of
my bones,
summer’s first breaths warming
my flesh.
the ice in my veins is
melting away
rushing in light rivulets down
my limbs.
sunset pools in
my eyes.
the wind whispers
conspiratorially.
the future beckons warmly
my skin
glistening with morning promises
I gladly bid farewell to
desolation, and welcome
the coming days with
open arms and
an open heart.

the empty

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a gnawing void in the pit of my stomach
screams for attention,
throwing a temper tantrum and
flinging my insides about like
broken toys.

the substance of my being has
slipped through my hands like
so much sand.
I fall to the ground,
grasping at the grains,
trying in vain to gather some
semblance of self together again.

I’m scattered in the wind
swirling in small dust devils in the air,
I can only look on blankly as
I fly apart.

like a pit whose unsteady walls
keep crumbling and falling to
the bottom,
the hollow slowly expands beneath me,
soon to swallow people whole.

it takes one to know one

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the furtive looks.
the sidelong glances.
the antsy insecurity underlying
your every tick and tock.
your laughter’s hint of
desperation.
they all put cracks into
the fragile facade you maintain to
keep your inner world from
spilling into the wider universe.

your words come quick and manic, but
your eyes are dipped in
an aqua melancholia.
you feel trapped,
cornered like an escaped convict,
convinced the world is actively
plotting against you,
but like myself,
you are your own worst enemy.

your hands wander to
the flask at your hip or
the pills in your pocket that
whisper “I don’t give a fuck,”
to a brief respite from
the detritus clanging around in
your skull.

I hold your hands in mine,
trying to pull you back from
the brink, but my back’s
against my own cliff.

and so we stand on this plateau
between our grand chasms
clinging to each other for dear life,
fully aware that an idle breeze
could easily send one
or both of us
reeling downward.

this can only end in two ways:
reciprocated rescue or
mutually-assured destruction.

Interrupted (Part II)

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My heart pounds in my chest like frenzied war drums. My head fills with rapid-fire, overlapping thoughts, like the sound of a dozen television sets blaring at once. I can’t sit down. I have to move, to act. I have to do something, anything. I can’t decide whether to curl up into a ball or run screaming down the hall. The former won’t do me much good, and the latter will just earn me a longer stay in this godforsaken place. I try to take a deep breath, but my respirations are quick and shallow, not sending enough oxygen to my overloaded brain.

“Are you okay?”

I snap attention to the woman in blue scrubs standing by me, brown eyes wide with concern (whether genuine or trained is hard to say).

I force myself to sound calm. “Could you check my pulse?”

They strap me into the blood pressure machine and find that my pulse is at 132. It starts beeping loudly, giving an alert of tachycardia.

The nurse frowns. “Do you have any meds for anxiety?”

“Just Atarax, but it doesn’t do anything. Can’t you guys give me something else?”

“Not without doctor’s orders. Why don’t you just take the Atarax anyway, and practice some deep breathing?”

Deep breathing. I could have punched her. I can barely breathe, period. Too angry to speak, I roll my eyes, mutter a quick “thanks”, and walk into my room.

Well, I guess curl-into-fetal-position time. I close the door to at least give myself the illusion of privacy. I collapse into my bed, willing my thoughts to stop running marathons in my head. It doesn’t work. I clutch at my chest, cursing my body and brain for doing this to me. My headphones in, Lou Reed slowly sings me out of my anxiety.

I’m not entirely sure what triggered this attack, but this hospital seems to be making it worse instead of better. I feel like a lab specimen under the microscope, being poked and prodded at all hours of the day. I’m a caged animal, pacing back and forth around my prison, itching for escape. I entered voluntarily, but now I curse my captors.

I look down at my arms and see the deep scratches I’ve gouged into my arms. I didn’t even realize I was doing that. White and pink lines run up the length of my arm, warm to the touch. Old habits, I guess. Maybe I’ll just take my sleep meds. I’m so done with this day. I walk outside, and bump into John.

“Here, take this.” A wide grin splits his square face in two, his eyes sparkling mischievously.

John palms me a small pill capsule, and I feel that familiar flurry of excitement in my stomach brought on only by love and drugs, and I’m not in love. I notice the night nurse behind the desk and panic, taking the pill right away before anyone takes notice. It was a good call. As soon as I pop the pill, breaking the capsule to make for a quicker release, she calls me over for my sleep meds – 10 mg of Ambien to send me into a dreamy sleep. She gives me her penetrating stare. This nurse always seems to look straight through you. My paranoia kicks in. She knows, she must know, how could she not? Avoiding her gaze, I tongue my meds. I’m not going to sleep just yet.

Time trickles by. I sit down next to John, watching American Pickers for the umpteenth time. This much reality television must count as some form of torture. “How’s that Librium treating you?”

“Nicely.” I feel a looseness in my extremities. My shaking has subsided.  My head is clear, the racing thoughts all melted away in a chemical haze. “Thanks. I really needed it. I really wish they would prescribe me some benzos.”

“I wouldn’t count on it. Aren’t you here for drugs?”

“Partially, yes. But not for that.”

“It don’t matter. Like they say, drug is a drug is a drug.”

“Dude, you’re the one that just slipped me your anxiety meds. We could get in trouble for that.”

“What could they possibly do, kick us out? What a tragedy that would be.”

I suppose it’s for the best that the doctors refuse to prescribe me benzodiazepines. I have a propensity for excess that makes that class of drugs quite dangerous for me. Still, with the severe anxiety I’ve been suffering from lately, it’s no wonder I long for a quick fix.

The beating in my chest calmed for now, I lie back and let the drugs wash over me. Leave it to me to find a way to get high while locked up in a mental institution. I feel a slight twinge of guilt, but it’s nullified by the lightness of my being.

“You’re not gonna go back to what you did before, are you?”

I look up, startled by the concern in his voice. “If you’re afraid that you’re sending me back into a spiral of self-destruction, calm yourself. No more heavy drinking for me, and I’m not touching any opiates either.”

“Okay, okay. You can’t blame me for being worried.”

“I know. I really don’t want to keep ending up in places like this. This is the third time I’ve been in a mental hospital. I am done. Finito.” If I keep making this a habit, the staff at this hospital are gonna greet me by name every time I walk through the front doors. I refuse to become a frequent flyer. I need to get my life back, and now. I need to get out of here and do things right for once.

Let’s just hope I can take my own advice this time around.

breathing underwater

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the surf laps over me.
a scream escapes me, and
small bubbles caress my skin on
their travel upwards.

everything is lessened and mitigated,
painted in light strokes, downgraded.

obsolescent eyes snap open.
the world, gone aquamarine,
falls away.

nothing matters anymore,

just this rushing in my ears and
this fire in my lungs,
burning all my worries and
cares like dry timber.

thoughts slow to a grateful
crawl, no longer running
marathons in their well-worn paths.

the universe shrinks to
the air in my chest,
the lightness in my limbs,
light and heavy all at once.

the fire burns and burns, but
I stay down below.

the light of morning

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I’ve vanished without a trace into
the vacuum of outer space, lost in
stardust and nebulae with
naught but my own voice
resonating in my skull.

I’m caught in the air
between respirations,
shook to my foundation,
I’m flying into
multicolored hazes, into
warm and vibrant blazes.

I’ve vanished without a trace into
pulsating rhythms, into
the shrinking schism between
myself and the world about me.
I’m looking ’round for
signs of life, but
all I see are lights,
washing out everything in sight.

a menagerie of bodies
pressed against me,
I sway with the larger body,
sense of self left at the door,
my senses begging for more.

I’ve vanished without a trace.
I’m going to another place now.
where the people are real, and
the stars are never still.

a touch of the arm
spins me around and
gives me alarm.
a smile dances on my lips as
you make your debut.
we just met
but I think I’m love with you.

still, I need more sleep than highs,
more rest than Good Times.
I’m coming down fast, and
I’ve got nowhere to land.

so I lay down next to you,
this guy still flying high,
eyes dilated, looking
towards the sky,
wondering how long this will last,
how long ’til this night has passed and
the harsh light of morning
sends us all crawling away.

we thought we’d vanished
without a trace, but
dawn finds us all the same.

façade

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my walls hold strong.

a smile doesn’t quite
reach the eyes, but gets
caught in a web of worry lines.
a laugh hides the nerves.
a shrug hides the desperation.
idle words deflect attention from
my hyper-self awareness.

my walls hold.

I can wax apathetic for hours,
sweeping all manner of
uncertainties and insecurities
under the proverbial rug.
I can pretend your idle touch doesn’t
send jolts through my skin, that
your every utterance doesn’t
resonate in my thoughts for
days on end.

my walls still hold.

your gaze meets mine.
I dart away,
fearing you’ll glimpse
something of the truth
behind my weary eyes.

I send reinforcements to
my battlements
send out townspeople in
brilliant garb to give
the semblance of life, to
appease and distract and
deflect further scrutiny.

street lights falter,
hairline cracks fracture
our walls.
paper doll soldiers
collapse, and
rain washes away
the thin veneer of paint from
houses and apartments.

my potemkin village is crumbling.

Interrupted (part I)

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“It’s getting very Girl, Interrupted up in here.”

“Oooo, yes!” says Sarah, stretching her lithe body on a cheap yoga mat. “You’re the quiet one, so I guess that makes you Winona Ryder, and makes me Angelina Jolie.”

I laugh. “Do you really want to play the part of the sociopath here?”

“Hey, you’re the one that chased a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka.” She pauses. “You’re not that bad, are you?”

A hollow laugh escapes me. “No.” That arrow struck a little too close to the mark for my taste.

She stands up, all bone and sinew. I feel like could throw her over my shoulder, run off with her, and not be worse for the wear. She bounces about the room like an elastic that’s been twanged. Her springy limbs stretch out in all directions, arching her back to crack her bones.

“I think the Valium is kicking in. My muscles are all loosy-goosy. It’s so nice!”

“Ah, I see they gave you the good stuff. They won’t even give me a damn Ativan for my anxiety.” I sigh heavily. “As soon as you get the ‘druggie’ label stamped on your head, it’s all over.”

“Well, that’s no fun,” her high-pitched voice trailing off towards the end. “What are they giving you for anxiety, then?”

“Some bullshit antihistamine. I’m basically popping Benadryl. It doesn’t do shit.”

“Then why do you keep taking it?”

I pause. “Actually, I’m not sure. I suppose it’s force of habit…”

A knock on the door. It swings open, a mild-mannered blonde lady in scrubs peeps in, flashes us a saccharine smile, and then closes the door. We barely notice the brief intrusion. If I got startled every time a nurse did her rounds, I’d leave here even more neurotic than before.

“Ugh, I need my Adderall! I’m, like, freaking out here.” She forces herself to sit down, trying to wind her brain down for just a moment.

“I can’t believe Adderall calms you down. That shit would have me bouncing off the walls like a bottle rocket.”

“Well, I have ADHD, so stimulants calm me down.” It’s interesting how quickly a struggle with mental illness will suddenly turn you into an amateur physician, a self-proclaimed expert on drugs and brain chemistry.

“I should probably consider getting out of bed, getting out of this room,” I say, lying back on my bed, eyes shut. “If the nurses tell the doctor that I’ve become a recluse, I’ll never get out of here.”

“Come! Let’s go for a walk!”

“The fuck where? Up and down the hallway?”

“Yes, come on!” Her skinny arm grabs mine and peels me off my bed.

“Oh, fine. I suppose it couldn’t hurt to make an appearance.”

I glance around the room, all neutral colors and stiff sheets. Blunted edges, sharp-free. Sighing, I slip on my shoes and follow Sarah out the door.

It takes us less than two minutes to exhaust the walking distance of our living space. This hospital shrinks your universe down like nothing else can. We can’t go outside except for two designated walking times throughout the day, and the walk is limited to hospital grounds, under constant supervision. I had seriously doubted that anyone had ever tried to make a run for it, but my mother told me that’s exactly what my cousin Jimmy did when he was hospitalized for his schizophrenia years ago. The mental image of my cousin furiously trying to outrun hospital nurses with his beer belly hanging out still makes me laugh.

After several more laps of our microcosm, the walls start closing in. I was a bit listless before, but Sarah’s hyperactivity is rubbing off on me. The frenetic restlessness that precedes anxiety sends electricity shooting through my nerves. I start looking frantically for something to do, someone to talk to, anything. I find John sitting in one of the TV rooms and sit down next to him. He turns to me, his strong features and square jawline lit with unspent energy.

“Hi Erika! Done running around with the rabbit?” His eyes, wide with mania, look at me so intensely that I can hardly stand to look at him.

“I just can’t handle this place anymore. I’m going to start clawing my way out soon.”

“Any word on when you’ll be leaving?”

“The doctor says I’ll be staying the weekend, and leaving Monday or Tuesday.”

“Ah, that’s probably when I’ll be leaving too! I’ll make sure to come find you before I go – I’m gonna miss you the most.” His kind face breaks out into a smile.

“Aww, that’s sweet. I’ll miss you too…” I’m a bit taken aback. For much of my stay here, I’ve been the main audience for John’s war stories. He works (well, worked) as an emergency paramedic, a job I don’t envy in the slightest. He suffers from PTSD as a result of the sights he’s encountered on the job. That, on top of his bipolar disorder, have made it basically impossible for him to continue doing his job.

“Oh, and did you hear?” I say. “I’m bipolar, too.”

“Oh, is that what the doctors have decided?”

“Yup. I’ll just add that to the list, I guess.”

“But you don’t get manic, do you?”

“Not really. But the doctor says I have episodes of hypomania – it’s a step below mania, but shares some of the characteristics of mania. For me, it’s anxiety and impulsivity.”

“Oh.” The fire in his eyes dims down a bit. “Well, do you buy it?”

“I’m not sure yet.” I’ve had so many diagnoses thrown at me over the course of the past year, that it was hard to say what I do or don’t have. First there was major depression. Then borderline personality disorder. Then generalized anxiety disorder. Then rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Then dysthymia, otherwise known as double depression (because one depression just isn’t enough!) And now bipolar type II. At this point, I don’t even know why I bother asking. I’m not using the information. It has all blurred together and become relatively meaningless. Whatever disorder it is that plagues me, it’s really averse to clean categorization. It keeps squirming under the microscope, never letting anyone take a clear shot of it.

The thought drains the energy from me. Maybe I should go back to my room. I give John a somber smile and slink back into my bedroom. I lie back on the bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything and nothing in particular.

Maybe Sarah is right. Maybe I am just a girl interrupted. Maybe I’ll find that this whole experience was just brief turbulence on an otherwise smooth-sailing flight. I suppose only time will tell. I close my eyes, focusing on that explosion of colors and shapes that lurks behind your eyelids, and try not to worry. It doesn’t work very well.