The Notebook Universe (Delusion)

My wife 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.  

She 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 her 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). She 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.  

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 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 Nightmares, Briefly

It was a nice enough dream until it wasn’t.  I don’t remember the rest of it, but it was uneventful and nostalgic.  I was at the middle school I went to for eighth grade and, as usual, my dad was picking me up from school.  But he seemed uneasy, in a way he’d never expressed uneasiness in real life.  “But don’t you remember?” he asked now and then as we walked from what should’ve been ten feet from the school’s front door to said front door, but we walked a long while.  Very bright white light.  “But don’t you remember?” every few steps. 

But I didn’t.  Something about him was off though, fading.  Kind of grayscale and dark and blurred.  “What don’t I remember?” I asked. 

“I’m dead,” he reminded me.  At once, I did remember.  He morphed into his corpse, or perhaps he had been that the whole time, the way you abruptly notice someone is their actual ten day old corpse in a dream.   

And because I abruptly noticed that, I abruptly noticed that this had to be a dream, a nightmare.  I wanted to wake up.  So I screamed.  As loud as I could.  But the sound was only in the dream.  I could feel my vocal cords tremor and fail again and again and I don’t know if it was real or not.  I screamed again and again and again.  Wordless.  No.  Please.  It would wake me up if I screamed in real life.  It would wake Kate, who would wake me.  Trying.  Montage.  Screaming, screaming, screaming. 

Bolting upright in silence.  Heart pounding, gasping, sick, shaking, sweat dripping down my skin, but silent.  Kate barely stirring next to me.  A cat looking up curiously, but mostly sleepy. 

I’m still awake as the sun rises outside the windows, but there’s something comforting about a bit of light as I finally manage to doze again.  The next night, I avoid sleep even as I get tired. 

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 Assorted Illnesses and Language (A Conlang Concept)

As someone into grammar and linguistics, who debates the requirements of a split infinitive and the correctness of implied antecedents and whether you can punctuate dialogue with semicolons, for fun, language is in my head a lot. 

As someone with schizophrenia, not to mention autism, language gets messy. 

I’ve pondered making a mini constructed language (conlang—a language artificially created rather than naturally evolved) based on superlatives. 

Tired, tireder, tiredest.  

The thing is that the difference between “tired” or “very tired” or “sleepy” or “exhausted” can mean very different things to lots of people. 

To me, “exhausted” clearly meant, “I am about to fall asleep on my feet and it is hazardous for me to stand up.”  I found out that apparently, other people use exhausted to mean what I call pretty sleepy—a strong urge towards going to bed as things got hazy. 

Additionally, I separated mental and physical energy in a way a lot of people apparently do not.  I can be ready for a long, productive writing session while barely able to sit up.  Much less frequently, on the other side, I can be nonverbal and ready to run a mile.  Their correlation is low if not nonexistent. 

Plus, it can be hard to describe things that are incredibly subjective or an uncommon experience.  How dissociated are you?  How intrusive are the hallucinations?  How bad is the sensory overload?  This isn’t a new problem—say, pain—if you’ve ever been to a doctor’s office, you’ve seen a chart of smiley faces and numbers desperately trying to solve it.

So I pondered a sort of mini logical language—a conlang meant to remove ambiguity—that would use some extremely simple ways to describe certain spectrums, to be used between me and people its relevant to.  I faced the reality that they would go “which one was that word again?” and I would tell them the definition, which meant I should just start with that definition.  It still might be useful for journaling or something, and it’s still in my mind. 

Say, tired, tireder, tiredest, sleepy, exhausted, mental and physical energy. 

It could be given a rating system, maybe 1-5. 

MentalTired1 – messing up a few words now and then, a bit slow to catch hidden meaning or jokes, not coming up with brilliant ideas. 

to

MentalTired5 – nonverbal, non-responsive to language input, likely crying. 

or 

PhysicalTired1 – notable muscle fatigue, depending on cause, might be slightly short of breath/sweating. 

to 

PhysicalTired5 – it is hazardous for me to be sitting up unsupported; will be asleep shortly. 

Etc. 

There’s also the kinds of overlap—mental distress that creates physical symptoms.  Anxiety and muscle tension, nausea, chest pain.  Depression and lethargy.  Hallucinating and dizziness.  Sensory overload and headache.  Things that can be hard to explain in English if you have only ever experienced the symptoms independently, or only the physical side. 

When tested for diagnosis, I took an IQ test, which I don’t find to be the one true measure of intelligence or all of what it’s sometimes made out to be, but it was interesting, and an example here—  

My verbal reasoning?  130. 

My spatial reasoning?  92. 

I’ve almost assuredly written millions of words of fiction in my life, never gotten a B in English, but I both miss doorways for walls and still have to do the L thing with my hands to find left and right on a daily basis. 

The difference between skills like that also influences how some days I can write a book but not sit up. 

When those physical and mental lines get blurry and when adjectives don’t describe symptoms, language gets tricky.  At least English—I may have to look into others. 

What seems like a long time ago, I pondered going into a very specific form of being a therapist as a career based on what I would call constructed language therapy—like art therapy, but creating with language.  While being a mental health professional is not for me, and I have no idea if that as a therapy type would’ve been really feasible, it was an interesting concept. 

Words make people feel powerful.  It’s why we reclaim slurs, cling to favorite quotes and lyrics, wear some labels with pride. 

Surely there’s something to a therapy practice of building yourself up by making language that has failed you, work for you. 

Just a thought. 

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 Hindsight and Blinders, for the Queer and Mentally Ill

Quarantine has made a lot of people get back in touch with each other, and in the year before quarantine, I delightfully seemed to keep ending up with sudden messages from old, out of touch friends. 

This always begs the question—what do you say?  

Sometimes I start where we left off and bring them up to speed; sometimes I focus on whatever it was that brought us together to begin with; sometimes I give a summary of my life now and backtrack where it would be confusing. 

Often, mental health comes up. 

Relatedly, a pretty frequent experience for people in the queer community is that before any of you realized your gender, sexuality, so on, your group of friends bonded together over something else and all, later, turned out to be queer. 

Mental health I think frequently goes the same way. 

Two out of the three people I was closest to in high school turned out to be bipolar (and heteroflexible).  The general group I went to for writers turned out to contain more mentally ill queer people than not.  My closest Internet friends were often eventually one or both.  (Once, when I mentioned I was living with my girlfriend to an old Internet friend who got back in touch, I had a moment of hesitation; she responded that she was marrying a woman that weekend.)    

This is true time and time again.   

This begs another question—if something can draw you to certain people before you know what it is—is it unlikely to be a surprise when someone you used to know turns out to be mentally ill later in life?  Is there a way of just knowing that something is off before diagnostic checkboxes get checked and labels get slapped on?  If I mention my mental health as of late to someone getting back in touch, should they be that surprised?  

Some of my diagnoses were belated.  My autism symptoms were nigh life long, arguably my anxiety too.  My schizophrenia manifested for the first time years before it was diagnosed, also at seventeen, and as I poke more at how the average person connects to reality and daydreams and mental processes, there were always at least internal signs of… a predisposition?  Something not quite right?  More than maybe an overactive imagination or the proclivities of a writer?  

Hindsight’s 20/20 and normalcy of any kind can be a hell of a blinder. 

Once, in middle school, I found myself breathless with worry, and wondered—for a very short moment—if I was having a panic attack, which at the time was this abstract concept some of my Internet friends talked about.  I immediately brushed it off, thinking, “I can’t be having a panic attack; I don’t have an anxiety disorder because I’m not mentally ill.”  

That simple moment of thinking of mentally ill as a huge phrase—so easily brushing off this identity that simply could not be mine—convinced me I was fine.  Maybe I was having a panic attack; maybe I wasn’t.  I did not have what I think of as my first proper one for another year.  I accepted what that was fairly quickly once they were handing me papers at the ER that reassured me I wasn’t having a heart attack at thirteen.  

The idea that I could be something that wasn’t heterosexual had not even crossed my mind as a question until I was fifteen, despite obsessions with female fictional characters of a very specific sort, uncommon feelings for some female friends (mostly ones who later turned out to be queer themselves), romantically coded daydreams that seemed to come back to the female characters quite frequently. 

Yet, all it really took was feelings for one girl that skyrocketed beyond what an internal heteronormativity blinder could hide, that took a veil off of years of emotion and threw it aside for the future. 

I don’t remember first developing my suspicion I was autistic, but I was self diagnosed before I saw a psychologist.  I was probably researching mental health issues for my more known ones, and came across a diagnostic list that sounded very relatable and brought a lot of ohhhhh at the hindsight.  I think I continue to frequently find more moments of ohhhhh still—oddly, because I seem to have finally fallen into a crowd more neurotypical than I am—and when they don’t relate to a thing I do—I go ohhhhh.  So that’s a me thing. 

When I first started having psychotic symptoms, they were episodic and tied mostly to severe panic attacks.  Schizophrenia as a label I also don’t remember first accepting, realizing, but I assume it came as I had or realized more symptoms that came outside of the purely episodic; I also was self diagnosed with this before I saw a psychologist.  This, too, I still frequently have revelations about.  It was just recently I found out how the average person’s daydreams work, and that they sound a lot less like psychosis than mine, once described.  But, who thinks to describe some of these things, until you have a reason to ask?  The more I know, the more reasons I have, the more questions I ask.  

I think that’s the only real way to lift the veil, to realize things before it is even further in hindsight.  

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.