The Notebook Universe

Kate and I went to the dentist recently (a thrilling start to any story, I know).  I was just in for a routine cleaning, her for the first of a series of more involved appointments.  But that day was just an exam for her, and, finished before I was, she sat near me and made small talk with the hygienist while I made garbled sounds around the vacuum, water, and polishing tools.

At some point, while I was—understandably—distracted, she had an idea, and, with nothing else to write on, jotted it down in the back of my nearby notebook, sitting with my things on the counter.

But I didn’t notice this. 

Flash forward a few days, and I—somehow for the first time—noticed the note.  A mundane investment strategy to look into.

The thing was that I didn’t write it.  Or I didn’t remember it.  But there it was, in my notebook, in my pen’s ink.  Not in my usual handwriting, I was pretty sure.  

And reality broke.

I showed it to her.  “I can’t remember writing this,” I kept saying, distressed, convinced I had left myself a note I had no recollection of.  It was not on my next page in line, it wasn’t dated, the page wasn’t numbered, it wasn’t in my table of contents; at the moment, it just made no sense to me.  

A friend was over; I was just with it enough to insist we didn’t have this conversation in front of him.  We didn’t.  

Kate thought at first that perhaps I was upset she’d used my notebook without asking.  But she grasped quickly that this wasn’t a roundabout way of communicating I was upset; reality was just broken by the surprise, something that occasionally breaks my concept of real.  The unexpected twist in reality.  I had no problem with her using my notebook.  

She explained that she had written it.  Several times.  The dentist’s office story.  But I couldn’t grasp this.  My mind was already off in the alternate universe it was building without me to explain this, while ignoring all easier logic.  In this reality, everyone had Their Notebook.  Like you had fingerprints or a social security number.  And only you could write in your notebook.  I don’t know how this formed or why this made more sense than Kate borrowing mine.  But in this world, this meant that she had to have written this note in her notebook, but, due to our deep connection or legal marriage or something, her notebook had in a way “hacked” my notebook psychically, transporting notes between them.

That wasn’t so bad, but my mind was spinning with possibilities.  Did that mean that anyone could get into my notebook from a distance?  I didn’t want literally anyone in my notes.

And I was off investigating locks and privacy measures (which apparently stopped psychic transports). Kate let me.

Reality slowly returned as I tried to focus enough to make sense of Amazon reviews.

(In the end, I did decide that a bit of security—against real dangers—wasn’t my worst idea, and got a fire and water proof accordion style folder—a type I’d been considering for my notebook and pen and loose papers anyway.  We already have a fireproof safe for important documents, but nothing portable.) 

So went the notebook universe.  Would’ve been a cool story premise.  (I did end up writing about a non magical stolen notebook shortly after, this time about an existing character with actual privacy concerns.)

But, thankfully, I grasped within hours that the premise wasn’t reality.  And so episodes go.  

Dream Me a Reality

New fiction project!

Link

Summary:

Creating real items out of dreams is common, but Phantasia, a schizophrenic, is exploring uncharted territory: creating real things out of hallucinations. Distressed and looking for answers at the intersection of magic and disorder, she meets Nadine, the cheerful lab assistant running tests on her magical creations. The results are interesting, but as she bonds with Nadine, Phantasia wonders if the answers she seeks are less about magic and dreams and hallucinations, and more about the real life she’s built, or hasn’t.

Or: so, the schizophrenic author went back on an anti-psychotic, but then her recurring hallucination/schizophrenia tamagotchi, Farrah, the golden retriever puppy, got sad that she was being mostly medicated away, and the author didn’t want to be a puppy kicker or hallucinate that much more, so she compromised and wrote a story where Farrah’s now a minor character in a world with dream magic, because dream magic is cool. Maybe she’ll get to be a “real” dog in universe? Anyway, the author will now stop referring to herself in the third person and go eat a cookie.

Excerpt:

Saturday.

Phantasia rolled over and went back to sleep as many times as she could, hoping that if she barely opened her eyes each time she woke, the meds would last long enough to let her sleep in for once.

Eventually, she felt too awake to successfully roll over, groggy but heart rate rising. She could no longer resist the urge to check the time. 9:48. It would do, especially for dreamless sleep.

She flicked the lights on, opened her dorm window for some fresh autumn air. Made the bed. Dressed. The disability plan got her a dorm to herself, and certain luxuries, all smoothed out last year, freshman year. Dressing “normally” got her others. The illusion of normalcy. Patient is neatly groomed and casually dressed. All that.  Nothing psychotic looking about a floofy light brown ponytail, glasses, a light sweater and jeans.

Today, she thought, she’d stop at the nearest coffee shop for something like breakfast on her walk to the other campus, which was home to the lab she wanted to drop some items at.  The counseling center, at least, was on the campus with her dorm. 

She was on the stairs when golden fur, or the light shining off of it, or something like that, kept flicking into the corner of her vision. Another flight down, and Farrah, the golden retriever puppy, was under her feet. Trying to step around her like it mattered, while not tripping, Phantasia thought, You’re not helping, at the adorable, yet mischievous, recurring hallucination in question.

Farrah just wagged her stumpy puppy tail, chewing on a red blob that might have been a leash. Her collar, the red hue kind of hovering over the item, still gave an inconsistent, barely audible—only to Phantasia—jingle, of the dog bone tag that had appeared with the name Farrah on it. She hadn’t really seen the name since that first flash of it, and felt it in a way more than seen it, the first time, but it had stuck.

Farrah gave a tiny growl at a squirrel skittering away as she—they—stepped outside. The squirrel, of course, didn’t hear her.

Go back to your void, Phantasia willed her mentally. Sometimes Farrah appeared in all consuming flashes away from the present reality, and into a white void. She kind of thought of it as the place Farrah went when she wasn’t seeing her at all. Called her a schizophrenia tamagotchi because of the resemblance of that occasional cute pet, empty void, limited interaction setup.

Farrah flickered in and out as she walked to the coffee shop, vanishing by the time she was inside. She stayed gone as Phantasia ordered, ate her pastry, and left.

She headed for the lab office, got in line, digging things out of her bag.

“Next in line,” said the receptionist.

Phantasia stepped up. “Analysis drop off?”

“Perfect. You have the paperwork?”

She nodded, and handed over the papers. Contact information, tests requested, general notes, etc.

“Phantasia Smith,” said the receptionist, though she struggled to read the handwriting. “How suiting.”

As if she hadn’t heard that one before. She forced something like a laugh.

“All righty.” The receptionist scanned the form. “Items?”

She handed over the container of items. These weren’t all the usual items pulled magically out of dreams, but some of the first solid ones she’d managed to pull out of hallucinations. Dreams were notoriously tricky. Psychosis, even harder. Science, more reliable. Hence, the desire for some lab testing, even if they usually worked with dreams.

From the Desk of Hannah the Scribe

Flash memoirs from my notebook during 2020.

… 

I started to worry about living today.

I was worried before about surviving.

Food.

When will it run out?  Where will it come from?  At what cost?  At what risk?  For how long?  Who will it feed?

Water.  Soap.  Medicine.  Toiletries.

Today… 

Will I pretend everything is okay enough that I can write?  Read?  Crochet?  Make a font, make something fun to eat?

Even some of the worst apocalypse novels are told via diary.

What if I run out of yarn and electricity and paper and pens and books?

Before I run out of food?

… 

I dream about Dad a lot, dead or alive.

It’s not usually really him, if dead.

Sometimes it’s Mom.

Sometimes it’s Grandma.

I think about the email he sent my mom about fleeing, about the box in his garage with outdated first aid gear.

And he said, “It’s irresponsible not to be prepared,” about living and dying both but— 

Bold words from a man who died without a will. 

… 

Sometimes Dad’s alive in my dreams but I know he’s not; sometimes I dream about the grief itself. 

I fall asleep in my bed; I wake up standing next to the body again. 

I zone out in my room, snap out of it in a flashback, standing next to the body again.

Standing next to the body again.

And again.

… 

How do I tell Mom I’m finally starting to fall asleep with my eyes closed, that I jump just as much when startled but I’ve never screamed, that when I blink in daylight it’s usually okay, that white linens aren’t as frightening now, that I went into the bedroom while my girlfriend was sleeping without thinking, that I don’t sleep on the couch as much?

If I talk about getting better, she’ll say the same, “It should’ve been me,” and I’ll say:

“That’s a noble game,” or, “But it wasn’t,” or, “But I’m glad it wasn’t,” or, “No, Mom, it really shouldn’t have been you.” 

Mom’s never seen me cry over it and she’s not going to.  

… 

I’m still trying to think my way out of that room.

There’s a dead bird I’ve passed on my walk at the curb for a few days now and I keep thinking I’ll walk the other way or not look and then I don’t, and it’s decaying into liquid, decaying, decaying, and I think of Dad, and how I thought I wouldn’t sit with Grandma’s body, either. 

… 

Morning.  It’s sun warmed, bright, sunlight patches on light carpet, sunbathing cats, warm fur, stretch, purr, yawn.  Smells like sunlight on light dust.  Sun, sun, sun.

… 

My walk—everyone else is in pairs—you can tell who dragged whom.  It’s almost cold out.  Crisp.  Fresh.  No hot pavement scent yet.

… 

Brunch.  Clear glass bowls of chopped fruit still wet from washing.  A few flowers remain alive in the vase.  Stripes of sun through the blinds on the tablecloth.  Sweet strawberries and Nutella, the crunch of toast.  My best friend is bedheaded and in pajamas.  My wife to be is dressed in black.  We all talk and laugh too much and too loud. 

My fiancee and I cook dinner together.  Evening slats of sun.  The broiler, the frying, the oven, the stove—hum.  It’s hot.  Everything smells delicious.  She is so beautiful.  The potatoes are colorful, the pork chops shaping up to the right hue.

… 

Today’s the kind of mental health day where you listen to Evanescence and hope for the best.  Time and space happen to me strangely.

It’s 9:30 AM and I’m nonverbal, and it feels like I shouldn’t be—it’s too early, too much of a problem.  Nonverbal, like drunk, happens at more like dinner.  But I woke up like this, and I don’t drink.

… 

My dearest fiancee,

It is May 2020.

The world is ending.

And you have asked me to marry you.

… 

It’s late afternoon, hot, dry, the sun just starting to cast long shadows.  The pool water is cool and clear, has to be eased into, but refreshing.  Mom is drinking white wine out of a Dixie coffee cup.  All of the neighbors are in their pools too, cannonballs and voices carrying over.  My mom and my best friend and my fiancee and I splash each other, blow water through pool noodles, throw a ball around.  Everything smells a little like chlorine.  My fiancee and I lay on the bed in the afternoon and cuddled and talked about the future earlier.  Later, we all eat dinner still a little wet, but in dry clothes, and pick at desserts knowing we’ll sleep well.  All the people I love are happy.  We talk about the engagement.  The AC isn’t too cold.  The food is good and plentiful.  I stepped out of the pool and started dinner wet and still in my underwear.  And life is good. 

… 

I have started to hallucinate a golden retriever puppy regularly.  Her name is Farrah. 

The smell of heat on pavement.  Sweat.  Water getting warm in bottles.  Swings creaking.  Gas station snacks eaten on the side of the parking lot in a patch of shade.  Kids yell in the distance.  My best friend’s voice.  The chime of the gas station door opening and closing.

… 

I woke up from my first dream where people were just… wearing masks.  How weird is it to adjust?

I wake trying to scream and batting at a corpse that isn’t there. 

… 

The Christmas tree with rainbow lights.  Wrapping paper, stockings, pillows, blankets—everywhere.  The fireplace is on.  Games and snacks line the table, brunch abandoned.  Instrumental Christmas music plays.  I lie in the pile of wrapping paper and blankets wearing my Santa dress, head on a bathrobe gift, my wife next to me, my best friend next to her.  We laugh.  Mom is close by.  I’m home.  It’s Christmas morning.

On “Are You Hallucinating?”

“Are you hallucinating?” 

It sounds like such a simple and important question.  But there are several catches that people don’t realize when they want to hear yes or no.

First question: do I know I’m hallucinating?  I usually have a pretty decent grasp on that for the big stuff, but not everyone does.  Corpse, not there.  Dog I don’t have, not there.  Hallucinations.  

But is that flash of light in the corner of my eye from traffic out the window, or my own mind?  Is it just a trick of the light?  Is staring at a trick of the light unsurely for way too long a hallucination?  

What about changing real objects?  Is that cup upside down on the counter, or right side up?  Well, if I just confirm: is there a glass?  That’s not useful.  Sometimes it is Alice in Wonderland like distortions, larger, smaller, some more subtle than others until your fingers flit through the top of an object that doesn’t quite reach there. 

Is there a slight aura around that lamp, or just me?  Is the cat messing around upstairs making hard to describe noises, or is it in my head?  Neighbors talking indistinctly, or just me?  

Should I start describing everything in the room to you to make sure we see all the same things?  Hear?  Smell? 

What about the fact that my sensory processing issues mean I frequently hear very real sounds that other people don’t pick up on until they really listen for them?  What then? 

I remember in a bad psychosis phase putting on noise canceling headphones and realizing how much noise I still heard.  But it was just that: noise.  Like a white noise machine.  Like very steady running water.  Like the sound of a crowded restaurant when no table is drawing attention in particular.  Like the cats making a ruckus upstairs.  It just kind of added mental decibels to what was really going on around me (which, as someone with sound sensitivity, is its own very real issue).  But how to describe that? 

Also consider that my line between reality and hallucination, or even fantasy, is jagged and thin and I’m highly suggestible in that way.  If you say, “Are you seeing Farrah right now?”  Well, I wasn’t.  Until you said her name.  Now I kind of got a flash of her, my little recurring golden retriever, like a mental flashback.  But is that the normal helpless visualization that comes from people talking?  What if, three minutes after you said that, she hasn’t quite gone away yet, flickering in and out, under a real chair in the room?  “Ah, now I am.  Nope, not anymore—wait, there it is! Oh—nope.  Hold on—ah, there—no.”

Is my daydreaming over the line of hallucinating when it sometimes slips a few seconds ahead of my actual thoughts?  When characters can do things unexpected?  When I can’t snap back out of it?

Is seeing a blur out of the corner of my eye that’s never there when I turn a hallucination?  Is it a hallucination if I sense something that isn’t there, but don’t strictly see it?  

What if the real issue is delusion—times I think I’m hallucinating something that’s very much there—like the person asking the question? 

“Are you hallucinating?”  It’s not really a yes or no question.  No is a simple, soothing answer, if temporary by nature.  Yes means something definable has gone wrong without doubt.  But it’s not really hallucinating or not hallucinating—or, for my Hunger Games fans—real or not real.  

The answer for me, sometimes, is definitively yes.  But I’m not sure I’d ever give a definitive no—because what do I know?  Who am I, the schizophrenic one, to answer that?  I don’t trust my perceptions any longer.  And how long do you have to think you’re not hallucinating for before it counts?  If Farrah was here three minutes ago and isn’t now, can I say no?  An hour?  A day?  A week?  Ah, gerunds.

I don’t really have a better question to propose.  Just some things to keep in mind.  It’s tricky in a lot of oft overlooked ways.  That’s the thing with schizophrenia—it’s not a real or not real game—even when it is mostly episodic, you are always questioning.  Every flash of light, every distant conversation, every dog, every bump in the night.  Real or not real?  Might want to ask someone else. 

On Psychosis and Writing

I get an idea. 

A few minutes later, the very distinct thought: I need to stop thinking about this too hard.  Or I need a pen.

My fingers twitch.   

Pen.

It can’t move fast enough on the page, chaos that will be a brief note in a dated, color coded table of contents. 

Tucked in the back pocket of that notebook that is rarely far from me is a sheet of paper with emergency information about me on it.  

In a previous draft, one of the notes, the sort that’s more for psych ward intake than found unconscious in a park, noted a few topics that tend to make my condition worse.  Absurdist jokes about reality; things like The Matrix or Inception; general death and gore; certain corners of politics. 

The immediately following note said that I might bring these up first—some of them even extremely frequently; I spent years talking about nothing other than gory Hunger Games fanfiction—but to tread with caution.  And that I especially bring them up in writing. 

It can be hard to find a balance between reality and fiction when you have a condition that heavily blurs those lines to begin with, and the mind and overactive imagination of a writer.  I have never been one to write much fluff and happy endings; I write about apocalypses and dystopia, morally gray villain protagonists, death and torture, gore to disturb horror fans, extreme mind and power games, toxic and abusive relationships, manipulation and gaslighting.  The note also recommended don’t look in the notebook.  More so a you’re responsible for what you find. I’ve read that such dark obsessions can be common for people with PTSD, another factor here.

Yet in reality, the stray comment that is innocently just incorrect can send me into a frantic spiral of questioning what exists. 

So, yes, I need to stop thinking about this too hard.  Or I need a pen.   

Frequently, when I question whether something I do, think, or feel, is normal, there are two people I ask.  One, my wife to be, is seemingly neurotypical and works in STEM and barely even reads fiction, usually at one extreme of the answer spectrum while I am at the other.  In the middle is my best friend, a writer in much the same genres I am, who has ADHD.  The overactive imagination of a writer gets them halfway to my end of the spectrum, but psychosis takes me the rest of the way. 

Asking about daydreams, my end of the spectrum was, “The room disappears basically entirely.  I am now seeing and hearing my characters like I’m exclusively in the room they’re in, in detail.  I can experience things through their senses.  It may or may not be ‘pleasant’.  It’s all a little bit my doing and a little bit theirs.  I’m dissociating.  It is frequently hard to snap out of.”   

Kate, my fiancee’s, end of the spectrum was, “I am thinking about an unrealistic idea with less logic and more fancifulness.”  I understood that and did that myself sometimes, but it wasn’t what I meant by daydreaming, and her version never really went further than what she described. 

In the middle was, “I kind of see a picture in picture window of my characters doing things; I can hear it; they might be doing well or bad emotionally; I basically control it.  Sometimes I’m a little spacey after.”  I sometimes, but less frequently, experienced that version, but again, for them it never went further, and for me, it still wasn’t what I called a daydream. 

Since I have started taking meds again, I have had an easier time slipping out of daydreams, their grip on me less tight, less emotional.  The rest is still true.  But for a few days as the med levels stabled out in my body, the daydreams were almost hard to stay in when I wanted to—and I found that, deeply affected by psychosis or not, they’re a very important part of my writing process and I missed them.  I felt, strangely, like losing that intensity to the daydreams was to lose touch with my characters, which felt like losing touch with not only writing goals but also good friends. (Now, whether or not most of my characters are good people is a very different question).

I was glad when I was again able to stay in them, but more at will, largely stopping when it was no longer a good thing to be doing at the moment.  

I’ve written before—and God knows I’m not the only one—about the relations between writers and creativity and mental illness.  Most talked about, though, are anxiety and mood disorders, certainly substance abuse, and some personality disorders.  Psychosis, and especially schizophrenia, seem less well documented. 

It’s something I’d like to explore more in the future. 

On Farrah and Treatment

Previously

“Fuck,” I mumbled when my shoulder cramped, which was interesting, because I’d kind of assumed I was nonverbal at the moment, the way my thoughts flowed or didn’t and a familiar feeling somewhere in my throat, though I hadn’t tested it. 

I couldn’t blame my shoulder for cramping; my disorientation at speaking came with the realization I’d been lying on my office floor staring at the very bottom of my bookshelves again. 

Against my back, I felt Farrah slump and heard her whimper for attention, wet nose near my neck.  The theme of the morning’s tactile hallucinations seemed to be—weight.  Farrah’s dense little body in my hands, slumping against my back in the same manner the cats did, cold paws pressing at spots on my lap.   

Just to spite my saying to my therapist yesterday that the tactile and visual hallucinations didn’t line up and Farrah teleported away if I tried to get close, the hallucinations started to line up, and she started wanting to cuddle.   

She’d been clingy all morning, and while she didn’t talk, I felt or knew her thoughts in a way that was hard to explain—the way you knew the facts in dreams that were never presented in a sensory manner.  She was disheartened by my therapy video chat yesterday that came to the conclusion—I might need to go back on meds.  Probably, in fact. 

I’m not trying to get rid of you, was what I thought at Farrah, because this was stupid.  She wasn’t real, and so wasn’t sad that I was trying to stop seeing her—and honestly, she was the least of my issues I was trying to stop seeing.  Her behavior was just the manifestation of my own mixed feelings about likely going back on meds. 

My old psychiatrist’s office wasn’t open on weekends, though, and there were no calls to be made just yet.  So Farrah—claws pattering on the hardwood and somersaulting clumsily down the stairs and getting stuck in the legs of my desk and trying to eat the real cats’ food—kept me company all morning and into the afternoon.   

I found myself editing a picture I’d found online that kind of looked like her, to get the image closer to right, as if trying to appease her—see, you’re not going away, you can live in a picture, I can still know what you look like, even if it’s in a healthier format. 

I also have developed a bit of an obsession with where Farrah came from.  I only have two recurring hallucinations currently; one is straight out of a PTSD flashback; I’m very aware of where it came from.  The other is Farrah.  Any others are not coherent enough to be called recurring.  Those little imaginary flashes of light, flips of still objects, white noise I can’t pin down. 

The only real dog I see regularly looks, sounds, feels, and acts nothing like Farrah.  I can’t figure out if Farrah is my mental manifestation of dog or puppy or golden retriever or cute or… what word my brain might have decided to attach to, that conjured this particular image.  I’m not much of a dog person; that’s why my two real pets are cats.  Google told me what Farrah meant—I know no real Farrahs and have no personal associations with the name, its origin in a language I don’t speak.  I keep staring her down, thinking: Why are you here? 

I get at most a wag of the tail or a yip back. 

It’s a big question for a little puppy that’s not even real.  

Talking about it in therapy was strangely disheartening to me, too, because those closest to me are very used to the quirks of my physical and mental health, or at least know reacting strongly isn’t going to change it.  I forget how concerning certain things sound to the average person, and I’d been out of touch with my therapist for a bit there, when I’d been doing well. 

Also disheartening was the fact that, as my psychosis spikes up again, my therapist, an MFT, is not really qualified to treat it.  Therapy is not the front line treatment for schizophrenia as it is—medication is.  It’s an issue we’ve discussed before.  I used to have a second therapist, the psychologist who initially diagnosed me, who my therapist referred me to shortly after I started seeing her in 2015, but the psychologist sadly passed on most of a year later, and I haven’t had that second person to treat that side of my illness since. 

I can write up new medical files and go back to meditation and read more psychology books and call my psychiatrist and go to my current therapist and do some therapy workbook activities and all, and I have—but having a qualified professional to talk to is a good resource.

But, hard to find.  The only name my therapist came up with off the top of her head to bring in didn’t take my insurance.  I’ve had many nightmare therapists and I’ve had many who were good people who admitted they were in over their heads.  The internet told me that my old psychologist, the one who passed four years ago, is currently accepting new patients. 

The only real thing to do is maintain routines and wait, and wonder if it would work if I carried clumsy Farrah down the stairs. 

On the Protection of a Facade

I recently read The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (and I saw so much of myself in it, I’ll probably write a whole other post about how amazing it was).  One theme that jumped out at me can be summed up in this quote:

“To some extent, the brilliant facade of a good face and a good outfit protects me.  My sickness is rarely obvious.” 

There are ups and downs to appearing normal (whatever that may mean).  One downside is that it’s easy to convince even yourself that nothing is wrong, if you look in the mirror and all looks well.  It’s easy to think you are exaggerating or lying even to yourself, especially when you have a real disorder that skews reality just like that. 

A thing about schizophrenia is that it sets you in the frame of mind of questioning things.  Reality gets tricky easily.  Maybe one hallucination is obvious, but you know there are others that aren’t.  When something is real, and you do think it’s real, but in any way off, you still give it a close examination in skepticism.  One thing out of place sets off a spiral of—well, if that’s maybe not real, what else am I missing?  Knowing you see things that aren’t there means you question the things that really are.  I’ve speculated that the reason I have so many lucid dreams compared to many people I know is because the key to lucid dreaming, according to most how tos, is reality checking.  Looking for something out of place enough you realize you’re in a dream, and that you can control dreams.  You have to set that habit in the waking hours for it to occur to you in a dream, though.  And I’m used to doing that in my life so much that it slips into my dreams.

The same goes for mental constructs.  You know that you get on the wrong thought trains, and if you’re thinking about having schizophrenia itself, you question that thought train, too, especially when the evidence you’re more sure of looks so… normal.

On the upside, it means that unless I’m truly in the middle of an episode, when I want to play it down, I can, and when I want to not talk about it, I don’t have to.  

This does mean a bit of an obsession with maintaining those appearances, in various forms.  Physical presentation standards—and the ability to keep that up even when there are hard days.  Even online presences or the way I move or talk.  When I fear I am slipping mentally, I develop another cycle of obsession with making sure my clothes have no holes, stains, mismatches, poorly chosen sizes, or anything that stands out too much.   

Recently before a video chat with my therapist, I asked Kate, who has much steadier hands than me, to trim my bangs so I could actually see my therapist and not the backside of my own hair, and an observing friend said something like, “So, ‘I had a psychotic break, but not so much I couldn’t get my bangs trimmed.’”

And on the one hand, I wanted to be able to see, and on the other hand… well, yes.

In some ways, I talk about my mental illnesses very openly.  There are few cases where I won’t mention the diagnosis itself.  There are a lot more cases where I play down how troubling it is, or laugh it off.  Most of my friends know I hallucinate, but they hear about the flashes of light and the white noise and the echoes and the objects that get flipped in my vision, and less about the corpses and voices.  More still hearing things while wearing noise cancelling headphones, and less sleeping on the couch because beds are a trigger. 

It’s been a hell of a year (tomorrow) since the PTSD began and brought a fresh wave of psychosis with it.  It had been fairly easy for quite a while, before, to live with and ignore the odd white noise or flash of light, and easy to sink into the comfort of maladaptive style daydreaming.  After, there were the night terrors that practically looked like seizures, the waking hours’ blurred line between flashback and hallucination that eventually leant far towards the latter.  

Those are the pieces I try to keep to discussing only within the right context for it, and those are the pieces I can tuck away when I’m wearing clean, matching, well-fitting clothes that don’t draw the eye, and my hair clean and trimmed and brushed. 

If I didn’t keep up those appearances—the question of the full extent of illness would come up a lot more, whether I wanted it to or not—something tough especially with trauma.

So I understand the idea of the facade protecting you.  It’s a little wall between you and the possibility of never being able to set illness aside for a moment of normalcy.