On Growing Up in a Violent World

Seventh grade, age twelve.  There’s a swastika duct taped—really, not spray painted, duct taped—on the ground on the basketball courts, and so PE is moved to the soccer field.  We also could’ve moved to the indoor basketball court, or the pool room, or the gym room, or the track, or the tennis courts, or—God, this school is a lot.

The swastika concerns a lot of my classmates more than it does me.  They are both easily impressed by threats at a school swarmed with security guards and features, safe from the outside world, sheltered, and also acutely aware many of them are worth nine digits, sometimes more, in ransom.  Serious security as a school feature is new to me, the outcast public school transfer, and I feel relatively safe even though I know security is not going to be focused on protecting me, because I also know that no one’s coming here for me.

B jogs up to my side as we run warmup laps, looking up at me with wide eyed concern.  She’s nearly a foot shorter than I am.  “What do you think?  How did they get in?” 

“Hopped the fence last night?” I guess. 

V jogs up on my other side.  Her last name is a brand plastered over nearly half the stock of every grocery store in America, and she flies planes with her dad on the weekends; when I go over to her house, I try to keep out of the way of the staff, hanging out on the nearby golf course or in her “bedroom” instead, the entire second floor, probably more than 1500 square feet.  Her dad has an at home high tech weather station he showed me around and gives me his meteorology magazines when he’s done with them.  I’m an aspiring meteorologist at the time, but only as a day job so I can write, which is what I bonded with his daughter over.  I can’t imagine what she’s worth in ransom, but having read her fiction, which has gore to match and surpass my own, I wouldn’t want to piss her off.  “Yeah, the back fence is way easier than getting around anything in the front,” she says with a frown, “and it’d get you close to here.” 

The three of us, in Hunger Games fandom fashion, call our friendship an alliance that includes one other friend, a boy who’s over in the other PE class right now.  Allies are more important than mere friends in a questionable world. 

… 

“THIS IS A SHELTER IN PLACE.” 

Eighth grade, age fourteen.  The rest of the pre-recorded message blares over the intercom in the middle of third period geography.  I once told my school counselor I would rather carve my own eyes out with a rusty spoon than attend this geography class, but if anything can make the class worse, it’s a shelter in place.  The classroom is in a free standing portable, not a nice one; there is one door; we are cornered, trapped here, if it’s ever real.  I almost miss my last school. 

A few of my classmates groan; we all slip under our desks—in this class, shared tables, three rectangles pushed together, one horizontal and two backing up to it vertically, not desks.  I look over at a boy we’ll call S, who sits next to me in every class except PE.  He slides under our table with his knees tucked to his chest and we exchange a tired look as I curl in next to him, our legs brushing.  On my other side, the girl who sits around the corner of the cumulative table from me looks like she’s going to cry, again.  She always cries when there are drills, and they keep doing them in third period when I’m there to see it.  She cries when we watch a sad documentary in class.  She’s very sweet and tries desperately to make small talk with me every day before class starts, but God, I swear there’s nothing going on in her head.

I look back at S.  After one of the last third period drills, we’d talked in a later period—sixth, the last, when we were both student aides in the front office, running errands or doing homework, or something that looked like it, and chatting.  I’d said, “God, we’d be better off running.  Why would the shooter come for the portable first?  We’re in the back.  We’d have time.  Just run off to the Smith’s.  No fence.  Have better odds on the move than trapped in that portable.” 

“I’ll come with you,” he’d said dryly.  

But neither of us thought it was more than a drill today, as evidenced by us obediently climbing under our useless table instead of running for our lives.  In a few minutes, there’s pounding on the door, loud and fast.  The principal—I recognize her voice; we both do, as office aids—shouts, “Let me in!” and similar phrases.  

“Ignore it,” our teacher stage whispers from under his desk.  “It’s part of the drill.”

Still, S and I share a concerned glance.  The girl on my other side finally cries.  I offer some kind of shushing sound.  We know to ignore the shouting—the principal could have a gun at her head, the teacher explains later, and is being used to lure us out.  Same for the fire alarm.  

It’s just a drill—another drill—this time.  Still, when S and I part ways for lunch and PE, before we’ll see each other again in fifth period English, I can’t help but worry, as I always do after drills, that there’ll come a day that class transition is the last time we’ll ever see each other. 

We don’t get any talking in as we settle into English, because our teacher is already lecturing the class again about the fight that broke out in the bathroom during lunch yesterday.  The door locked by one of the students from the inside, it took a long time for staff and emergency responders to get in and take more than one student to the hospital, one with a knife in his stomach.  No one in the class was involved, but I understand the teacher’s need to say something.  Still, I got the lecture from my second period algebra teacher and tune half of it out.  

S and I walk to the front office for sixth period in silence; the hallway is a roar around us, and we don’t try to talk over it, walking quickly to make the bell.  S and I share a single digit class rank and he’s the state’s junior soccer star; he’s boyishly handsome, puppy dog brown eyes and golden hair, physique toned by soccer practice routinely running until after 10 PM on school nights.  Every girl in the school wants him; they tell me this in the same breath they tell me, “But he only looks at you.  You go everywhere together.” 

As we do now, swift strides down the hallway to the office.  We settle in.  He pulls out algebra homework.  I tap my mechanical pencil against my composition book and frown at the Hunger Games fan fiction chapter I’m writing, a sword fight I can’t get to work.  “You look tired,” I tell him, when he’s staring at the numbers on his page more than he’s solving anything.  I tell him this maybe once a week.  “You always look tired,” I add dryly, which is because R, another student aide who usually adds that bit, is preoccupied, and because it’s true.

“You always look tired, too,” he tells me, with a smile that’s fond or tired or amused, as he does about once a week.  I think we started that game after I started having the panic attacks that landed me in the nurse’s office nearly blacking out from lack of air, being offered water in a paper cup by EMTs.

“THIS IS A SHELTER IN PLACE.”

“Jesus,” he mutters, rubbing at his neck.  “No wonder we’re so tired.”  

“God.” 

R looks up.  We climb under the one round table we all share, the three of us and three more student aides.  We’re not really all meant to fit under here, even pushing our chairs and backpacks and messenger bags into a protective ring behind us as if they’d do anything.  There’s a Swiss army knife in my bag that I pretend might help one day.  

The message over the intercom abruptly cuts off.  

“What if it’s real?” R whispers, wide brown eyes even wider, glasses magnifying the effect.  “They wouldn’t do two in a day, would they?”

“And it cut off…” another girl adds.

“This is how we die,” a boy on the other side of S mutters into his knees.  “They always come for the front office.”  

“It’s not real,” I whisper back.

“It’ll be fine,” S echoes, though we share another glance.  We’re kind of the parent-friends of the student aides, and the glance is a prayer that our entirely empty reassurance to the others is true.

“—False alarm!” the principal trills over the PA system.  “Ignore!  Hit the button by accident.” 

For some reason, we’re allowed to take heed of this over the PA system but not when she’s pounding on the door, so we hesitantly climb out from under the table, though we’re a bit skittish.  S patiently explains the math homework to R in even simpler terms for the thousandth time as the final bell rings.  I gave up on her last semester.  He’s kinder than I am.  I envy the trait and also think his compassion is only making him more tired.   

The next day, we sort out a pile of detention slips to run to students in different classrooms, while the other student aides get in two more minutes of homework. Done, we sigh and take first the piles that the others are unwilling to run—portables, a hassle, or teachers who don’t take kindly to the interruption. I’m not looking closely enough and pick up the pile for the boys’ PE class. They’re out of the locker room by now; I can find them in the gym or outside; but I always got half a dozen or so rape threats shouted at me—oh, the things they want to do after school—and now S always takes that pile. If I insist, sometimes he’ll trade, give me the girls’—they shout similar things at him—or he’ll insist on taking both. We both get fewer, but some, threats from our own gender.

He notices the paper clipped stack in my hand and slips it out of my grasp, adds it to his own pile. I take the girls’ stack from his and he shakes his head but lets me. An adult office aide, aware of the whole situation, cautions us on the way out that the girls’ and boys’ PE classes are both using the outside field today, something S and I had both forgotten since fourth period. S holds out his hand for the girls’ stack. I sigh and give it to him. We can play this game all day. “Thanks.”

… 

Tenth grade, age fifteen.  “C is gonna kill us all one day,” M mutters as we settle back at our pair of lab tables in environmental science.  It’s our program class, our high school major.  She sits across the two back to back tables from me.  J, next to me, half laughs, sounds off.

“Five bucks says you’re wrong,” says E, always ready to disagree, rounding out the four of us to the table pair, slapping it on the table a little loudly considering C is still across the room, where he recently went off in one of his twitchy shouting fits after giving a presentation in the lab next door. 

“If I’m right, I’ll be dead.  He’s always looking at me weird,” says M, shoving the money back at E.  “Who’s your bet on?” 

“Oh, we all know it’ll be Hannah.” 

I, Hannah, laugh.  J does again, too, still sounding off, leaning on my shoulder.  “I’ll keep it to the writing.  Guns are too loud.  I’ll just stab you in your sleep on camp weekend.  Quieter.” 

E laughs.  “You’re right.  You’d be the dumbass charging in here with a knife instead.” 

“Thanks, E.” 

“Anytime.” 

We all kind of wander away from each other as we’re given time to work on the assignment or do other homework.  The Aurora shooting last year still has a lot of people on edge, and Sandy Hook over last winter break solidified it.  We make dumb bets, or don’t, and we say that your real friends are who you jump on top of in a shooting.  

“Hey,” E murmurs to me from behind later, making me jump; “J is freaking out again.  She wants you.” 

I kind of laugh.  E, knowing, offers a shrug to rescind that last statement.  J doesn’t want me; I’ve wanted her since near the end of freshman year and every time there’s another shooting somewhere else, or another drill or scare, I think that she’s the one I’d be lying on the ground over.  I have nightmares that it would be too late, that I’d be watching the life drain from the angelic blue eyes I spend half of my classes staring at.  But still, I’m the mom friend at a new school now, and when J is “freaking out again” I am the one people come to seek.  She cries into my shoulder when our tight knit class fights and when there’s a Holocaust survivor speaker and holds my hand while we, the environmental science students, circulate the school to collect recycling bins on sunny Friday afternoons, and while we hide under our desks while school district employees pace the room.  If we make eye contact with them, our school fails the drill.  They circulate the school for an hour and a half while our legs cramp under more tiny shared tables. 

I sit with J on the floor in the walk in supply closet off the lab and listen while she talks about her worries that one of these days one of us, dead or hurt or traumatized at least, will win our dumb bets.  “It won’t be us,” I tell her.

“How do you know?” 

Well, it won’t be you, I think, heroic, romantic, realistically hopeless and deadly plans flashing through my mind.  It’s an open campus; greenhouses and acres of empty desert land for the environmental sciences students to play in; perhaps here, too, we could run.  “I just know.” 

… 

2016, aged eighteen.  “I hate thinking that we’d be fish in a barrel here,” says K.  “I hate that I should think that.” 

We’re in the local LGBTQ center, crowded, as K put it, like fish in a barrel.  The Pulse shooting happened the night before, and our group of friends—writers, queer—crowds in near the back.  Near the door.  It feels cowardly to stay home.  I tucked myself into the backseat of K’s husband’s car with Hamilton blasting on the radio singing and talking and rapping of change and change I have yet to see. 

“But we can get married now,” says another friend, T, dryly, “so really, what the hell are we complaining about?  What else could we possibly want?  To not get shot at?”

It’s a touching memorial, except for the part where the mayor gets on stage and says that if only people were aware of where the exits were, tragedies like this wouldn’t happen.  

We know where the exits are.  There are double doors, open, behind me, a few people deep, leading to another room with a set of two glass sliding doors that go out.  

She is escorted out the other nearest exit, a single security door behind the stage, as the room gets close to a riot.

… 

2017, aged nineteen, having a go at college.  I don’t understand what my friends are on about.  I’m bleary eyed and half awake doing a morning message check, not sure why all of my group chats are blowing up.  Shooting?  Festival?  Country music? 

I open Facebook.  Oh.  Oh, no.  Oh, shit.

I am safely in Boston, Cambridge, college, but there are dozens of people lying dead in the Vegas streets.  Or they wouldn’t be, by now.  Maybe.  I hope not, imagining the October heat of home.  

I am out the door of my dorm, in the hallway with only a vague memory of shoving something like clothes on and grabbing my bag, before it occurs to me that it’s useless.

No one here can do anything.  No one here knows anything.  

I am sending texts frantically.  I am typing and deleting several times to make enough words be spelled right for the question to make sense.  I am calling.  I am not getting answered.  My texts are delivered and unread.

Dad.

He is my first, terrifying thought.  The day before, he had sent me a selfie of himself in a little spotlight basket high up in the air over the very festival that now has dozens dead.  Hundreds of feet in the air, him and a spotlight, trapped.  Off to work shooting that light and another kind of shooting altogether and never home again.  I am sure of it.  You can all but see the shooter’s vantage point mentioned in the articles in the background of his innocent selfie.

I am in the school’s little security office.  I am a familiar sight to the few employees there; I bring them chocolate chip muffins I bake from scratch in the awful shared dorm kitchen upstairs; they let me in the technically forbidden elevator when my grocery bags can’t make it up the six flights of stairs.  I am panicking, crying; I am being told to sit down, to breathe, to drink some water out of a little paper cup.

He is not answering.  I call my grandmother.  She lives next door, with Mom, who is already off to work.  Off to work in a school building with few exits and no windows and no chance.  I had spent so many worried thoughts on her or Dad simply falling from his station in an accident, I had underestimated the danger of the public events he worked altogether.

Grandma is bleary from sleep, three hours behind in time zones, and sleeping medications.  “His car’s there,” she yawns.  “So’s his girlfriend’s.”  She kind of trails off eventually and hangs up.  I am not communicating well, either.  

The car means nothing to me.  Dad frequently had trouble with it and carpooled to work.  His girlfriend could’ve spent the night there without him, waiting for him to come back from the late shift he would never return from.  She could’ve gotten worried and gone looking for him in an empty house.  I don’t know.

I am in the counseling center.  I am not a stranger here, either, again the muffin girl, and a patient.  My usual counselor is friendly, but there is nothing he can really say.  He doesn’t see a lot of hope, either.

I am somehow in my first class of the day, anthropology.  I am staring at my phone.  I am refreshing tabs.  After Dad, I realize that everyone I’ve ever known save a few are in that city.  Enough music lovers and festival goers.  Did I really know where all my friends were?  The ones who were always off to concerts?  I have vivid flashbacks to T, who asked what we, “the gays”, could want other than the right to marriage at the Pulse memorial, blaring country song after country song in her car with the windows down on hot summer nights. I think of how many people I am out of touch with, would never know if they were going.  People are marking themselves safe on Facebook.  Kids I have not seen since elementary school.  Middle school.  High school.  My cousins.  My sister.  My friends.

But not my dad.

I apologize to the professor briefly at the end of class for staring at my phone, telling her I am waiting on news; she knows I’m from Vegas and knows about the shooting—not everyone does, yet, safely in New England.  I am one of two students in the entire school from Nevada, and the other, I’m told—we’ve never met; it’s a big enough school—is from Reno.

I run into the longtime Internet friend who brought my attention to this college in the shuttle heading towards the other campus for my next class.  I am listing names she has never heard at her, who is safe, who is not.  She asks what I’m on about.  “There was a shooting,” I get out.

“Oh.  Oh, no.” 

The words being screamed in my head are just that.  There was a shooting.  This isn’t a drill.  This isn’t a drill.

My professor and TA in my next class all but shoo me out of the room, already aware of the situation.  I am in the counseling center again when Dad texts me that he impulsively took the night off to spend time with his girlfriend.

I am still checking names and lists for days. 

… 

2019, aged twenty-one.  When my dad does pass, years later, in his sleep, at home, I am looking around for a weapon that isn’t there.  I am being offered a paper cup of lukewarm water on his front lawn by a fireman.  Kate holds my hand.  

I left Cambridge after a psych ward stay the counseling center talked me into.  I met Kate eight days later, like fate.  I remember the hospital, turning in a borrowed tablet to the nurses that had a browsing history of how do you kill yourself in a psych ward basically over and over; I remember staying out of swinging range of violent patients; I remember watching a man bolt for the elevator room in a failed escape attempt and wondering how to do it better.  In the ER there, too, they offered me water in a paper cup.

Contrary to procedure, paper cups of water don’t solve years of worry. 

On 2020, and More

2020 has been a hell of a year for everyone. 

For me, it meant turning twenty-two, buying a home, getting married, writing accomplishments from a tenth NaNoWriMo to self publishing, pandemic quarantine keeping me from my library volunteering, my best friend moving in and then out, going back on meds, reading dozens of books, crocheting dozens of projects, pursuing the idea I might be having seizures (I don’t), losing another beloved family member, trying new recipes, making new fonts, the US election, taking some writing workshop classes, riots in the streets, trying new photography techniques, exploring being a landlord, growing some plants, wrangling the cats, and so many other things.

It’s been a wild year for literally everyone I know.

2019, I reflected recently, was also a wild year for me. Respiratory surgery, losing my father, becoming a landlord, starting to volunteer at the library, more NaNoWriMo, reading, crocheting, pursuing possible autoimmune or allergy issues (none), recipes, fonts, photography, cats.

2018? Moving in with Kate eight weeks after we met, trying out a tech job, trying a community college class or two, getting one of the cats (and becoming step mom to the other), four months all but bedridden by toxic black mold poisoning, leaving a toxic primary friend group or two or three, reading, recipes, writing, photography. 

2017? A community college class or two, my first trip by myself, leaving for college in Cambridge, my first psych ward stay, coming back from college in Cambridge, meeting Kate eight days later, pursuing our relationship, writing, reading, photography, recipes. 

Yeah, when our wedding officiant, a good friend, said Kate and I had packed thirty years of marriage into a three year courtship: he was right.

And my mental health was very rocky over the summer or so, and with time, meds, circumstance, effort, so on, it’s vastly improved.

There are bad days. There are days I lie on my office floor and dissociate until Kate finds me and brings me some tissues and water and a snack and a blanket and hugs.

There are bad nights. Nights I forget to close my eyes to try to fall asleep because I’m so used to keeping them open to keep the images at bay. Nights I wake trying to scream. Nights I sleep on the couch because the bed is too much of a trigger.

There are good days. There are days I cannot put words on a page fast enough and days I spend outside happy to mostly swing on our swingset and admire the weather.

Sometimes, those days are back to back. Sometimes, a rough morning becomes a great afternoon. Sometimes, a long, dark night becomes a sunny, beautiful morning.

I had a dream that was one of those fine until it’s not dreams. I stood in the living room of my childhood home, now my rental, but it looked as it did when I was a kid, or maybe as it did early on when it was just my dad living there. But it was still that Wizard of Oz yellow. With me were my mom, my dad, and my grandma. 

I became aware it was a dream, but in a pleasant way. My dad and my grandma have passed, and I focused on getting to “visit” with them. First, my grandma. No one but me really said much but she kind of nodded and smiled as I said all the right things. All the things I did say before she passed, but always want to say again. I love you; thank you. I miss you. 

I turned to my dad, and realized that this was no longer a dream, but now a nightmare. He was beginning to transform into the image of the corpse that comes to me far more often than an undisturbed image of my father, and at the first tinge of black on his flesh, I snapped, “Don’t try any bullshit,” and immediately woke up.

I nearly laughed.  Don’t try any bullshit would not exactly be what I would say to my father if I could, but I didn’t think the dream was some kind of a religious experience or real visitation, and so to say don’t try any bullshit to what is merely a manifestation of PTSD struck me as very funny. As I got over that, I realized the day I had woken up on. And I indeed didn’t have any time for bullshit that day. It so happened to be my wedding day.

Kate and I were married on our third anniversary (of meeting), at home, by a good friend, with a small audience of dear friends and family. We exchanged not only rings but daggers and cloaks, symbolic gifts, and I mean, who doesn’t love daggers and cloaks? We cooked our own reception dinner for a total of ten and ate mostly on the patio. It was wonderful. 

As our anniversary was halfway through November, this meant that it was two weeks on the heels of Halloween. October had been a rough month in a few ways, ups and downs, but let me just say: Halloween is a rough holiday for someone with corpse trauma, man. Let’s face it: for a lot of people, it’s literally just a contest to place the most disturbing or realistic looking fake dead bodies in your front yard. Or hanging out the trunk of your car. Or in the windows of your business. Or anywhere else.

I was so on edge that when I stumbled across a man lying between two cars, half under one of them, by the curb of our street, I almost screamed. Not in the way I do out of the PTSD’s hypervigilance (and I do wonder about having the hypervigilance as someone whose PTSD is from an event where it absolutely would not have been helpful. I joked to the 911 dispatcher, “I mean, no rush, I guess.”) He was silent and very still, no signs of motion, no big tool box nearby, no friend or music keeping him company, and half under a vehicle. As I approached, coming back from my walk and about to have a heart attack of my own, I realized that he was working underneath his car, tools beside him, motions very close to him and totally under the car. He gave me a kind of confused look, one that said he understood my initial panic and then not just how strong it was. I nodded, still a little unsure that he was okay, but he was quiet and nodded back, and I moved on, heart pounding for another forty-five minutes though my front door was less than two minutes away.

I haven’t been seeing my therapist, though I’ve texted her a few pictures from the wedding, a Happy Thanksgiving. A brief phone call to my psychiatrist now and then. A trip to the pharmacy or two, though it now seems they’ll send my med via mail, which is nice, as we’re still trying to largely quarantine. And, skipping the weight, the consultation that literally asks, “Is it for sleep or something else?” You’re a pharmacist, my dude, you can say the word.  Schizophrenia.  Seroquel, my current medication, is prescribed often for simply disturbed sleep, and frequently for bipolar. And, also, psychosis. 

But yes, days, weeks, months, years, have their wild ups and downs. Soon we’ll see what 2021’s will be. 

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 Functionality Thresholds and Medication

So I saw a psychiatrist through an online urgent care service after remembering that it was an option, and started on a new antipsychotic. 

I had a lot of mixed feelings about going back on meds.  At first, I felt like it was a cynical move—the action that confirmed the thought that I wouldn’t get better without meds, that I was dependent on them again, that I was worse now than I was back when I got off of them or at any point in between. 

Then I started to look at it a little differently. 

When I got off the meds, I was not working, in school, volunteering, being a great housewife, or honestly being productive at much of anything.  My standards for functional were a lot lower.

I think what’s happening now is more that I’ve hit a threshold. I have a lot more things I want to do now.

I’m deep into multiple writing and other creative projects (I recently won Camp NaNoWriMo with writing over 50,000 words in July), I read several times as much, I happily handle nearly all of the domestic responsibilities, I take classes now and then, I do property management and investing, I go on walks, and when there’s not a pandemic, I volunteer at the library once a week. 

I think that if I wanted to do what I was doing when I got off of meds, I absolutely still wouldn’t need the meds. 

But I want to be doing a lot more—and I’ve hit a ceiling.  I can’t do all the things I want to do now without the assistance of meds. 

It is less that my abilities are that much worse and more that they are being pushed for so much more. 

So I’ve had almost a week on the new med.  It knocks me out at night; I sleep like the dead.  I had thought my sleep had been largely okay for a while, but it seems the quality was lacking in a way I couldn’t measure, because during the day, I comparatively have so much energy now I find myself confused on what to do with it.  I dissociate much less and less strongly, and haven’t had a super noticeable hallucination since I started. 

So I finished Camp NaNoWriMo, then wrote some more.  I started reading several new books, including some on AirBnB management.  I got back to crocheting; I socialized; I got the house in shape; I experimented with my new instant camera. 

I feel much better about the med decision.  

On Knowing Your Mind Is Vulnerable, and What You Do About It

I’m writing.  It’s going really well.  Pages and pages of ink in my beloved dot grid Moleskine.  So many pages, I think to comment to friends about my comparatively unpretentious but equally beloved Bic pen that has somehow lasted me almost sixty total pages, plus about half of my previous Moleskine, and months of Word of the Day Post It notes, mailed letters, and other miscellany.  I included a picture of the inside of the front cover of my notebook, a gift from Kate, with that inside cover inscribed by her at the spot we met on the second anniversary of it, a callback to our first conversation—notebooks.  

I write; I take a break to clean a few things when my back complains about sitting.  I end up sitting on the bed and reading Writers on Writing, a New York Times essay compilation recommended from a workshop class.  I go back to writing at my desk.  It flows.  Something else I can’t place my finger on keeps catching my attention.  I put noise canceling headphones on that I’m borrowing from Kate, with a bit of Harry Potter themed ASMR with splashing water and bubbles.  I remember putting them on and realizing how much white noise was in my brain for the first time as hallucinations worsened.  Something keeps drawing my eyes.  I think it’s black—a prominent color in my most terrifying recurring hallucination, but it’s not that—yet, at least.   

Maybe it’s the cat.  Black Sabbath—Sabby—the fanged black cat, naps on the bed.  But every time my eyes dart to her, she’s still, not eye catching.  The legs of my desk, the fabric drawers, my space heater, my knee socks, my desk chair, my computer screen fully dimmed since I’m just using the device for the ASMR—something black.  It keeps coming in the corner of my eye.  I turn on my task lamp, also black, but hoping the light will dispel some shadows.  Pixel, the other cat, tortoiseshell, naps in the rope hammock swing, encased in my white canopy and starry string lights. 

Kate comes and asks if I want anything downstairs while she’s going.  More black in the corner of my eye at first—her usual attire.  I do a double take.  No, she’s there.  Water, I say.   

I get the words down a little faster, not sure how much longer they’re coming for.  I’m behind on words for Camp NaNoWriMo, hoping for my tenth win of 50,000 words or more in a month—one past win being the 100 pages for the sister event for scripts—and I’m not sure yet how many words are actually on the page without the convenience of a computer’s word counter, having not typed them up.  There are plenty of words crossed out for better ones, and random notes about the story or about things to add to the shopping list, places my handwriting ceases to know what a space is.  If I don’t write now, with the first signs of my mind fading for a while, I’m probably not going to anymore today. 

Kate comes back with the water and leaves.  The cat goes off to explore. 

I wish my hands moved faster or my characters got to the point faster.  “I’m rambling,” one of the characters confesses.  Yes, you are, I think at her, hands twitching.  The black cloud seems to be flashing in and out faster.  I should just write down a summary of the rest of this scene in case I don’t get to it.  The chapter outline lives on my computer, a picture of my whiteboard and some added notes, but it’s missing snippets of dialogue and action that have just come to me as I approach them.  I add more notes; I can’t seem to hold them in my head well anyway.  I sense humanoid movement, which means it’s probably heading down the PTSD road; I keep seeing it in the mirrored closet doors next to my desk; I have that distinct sense of something behind me and turning around clears it for only a moment.  

It’s strange to worry about not being able to think.  Day to day, it means not holding where this scene is going only in my head, just in case my mind goes mostly out for a few hours and comes back without those ideas.  It means a bit of an obsession with certain paperwork. 

To be fair, reading Five Days at Memorial would give anyone an obsession with living wills, and I’ve gone and succeeded pro se in probate court with no will recently enough to have it in mind.  Those aren’t really the papers I’m worried about yet. 

Right now, it’s mostly a piece of paper in the back of my notebook, my little “SHTF” paper.  The sort of things I wish I had written down before the blur of my one abrupt psych ward stay.  Emergency contacts. Basics.

Cats—Sabby—a black blob in the bed—no, Sabby’s on the carpet now—the blob flickers out.  I glare at where it was, mostly over knowing I can’t see my psychiatrist for over three weeks to keep it flickered out.  

I called my psychiatrist first thing Monday morning after I committed to calling, because I’m psychotic but not irresponsible—fear of irresponsibility due to my mind fading out perhaps fueling those papers and other things. 

I put the appointment on one of my multiple Google Calendars.  Kate once said I run my life like I’m a startup CEO rather than a housewife writer with some real estate.  I might just be paranoid.  She agrees to drive me to the appointment.  I don’t drive and while I keep tossing the idea around, I don’t want to one day swerve around a dog that isn’t there, like the one that accompanied me on my walk the other day, holding an also hallucinated leash in her mouth as she trotted next to me like it was helpful, flickering and then fading entirely by the time I got halfway to my destination. 

My therapist has had no luck finding me someone who knows more about psychosis on the therapy side, while I wait on meds, and neither have I.  She says the laws apparently changed, according to a coworker of hers, and she’s allowed to treat it now, but no more knowledge qualified than she was before.  I’m waiting on some books, library and mail order, my finds and my therapist’s, and enjoying JSTOR’s pandemic discounts, if research is only a grab in the dark for that responsibility and control.  One book I’m waiting on is My Month of Madness—a paranoid long shot for usefulness, but autoimmune has definitely been thrown around before, and after months of pain turned out to be a rare manifestation of toxic black mold poisoning once, I try to not dismiss rare diagnoses out of hand.  Yet I don’t want to fall into the “letting WebMD convince you that you have a brain tumor” trap.   

So honestly, I am mostly still at waiting, which is a lot of what treatment is.  You’d think I’d be better at it by now.  Waiting for the black blobs to get too consuming, waiting for my appointment, waiting for books.  I have many virtues but patience and sanity are not among them. 

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.