Chance and I were sitting on my bedroom floor, coloring a fuzzy poster with markers. It was late, we had hip-hop playing on my speaker, I was getting sleepy, and all I could think was, I’m going insane! I’m going insane!
I am quite familiar with insanity. It goes something like my former roommate finding me in her bathtub, fully clothed, screaming about being burned at the stake. Something like being convinced that a stray cat in my backyard is God. Something like rocking back and forth, watching shadows dancing menacingly on the ceiling.
Yet this was not that. This was the insanity of stability.
When I was in group therapy at my last treatment center, there was a girl who we’ll call “Jane,” who had the most severe case of bipolar disorder I’d ever encountered. On the surface, she was very put-together: cute outfits and a nice haircut, intelligent, well-spoken, and funny. She had landed in group in an effort to level out her extreme highs and lows. As Jane and I progressed through group and got to know each other, both from what was shared during the therapeutic time and the snack/cigarette breaks we were given, I saw that we had a lot in common.
At this particular center, I implored the psychiatrist not to change anything regarding my medication. I was just starting to improve due to the combination of Clozapine and Abilify, and I did not want to go through another psychotic episode. Jane, however, was put on a mood stabilizer that did exactly what it was supposed to do: it stabilized her mood.
Suddenly, she was not staying up for a week at a time to work on projects, nor was she bed-bound because she was so depressed that going to class and work seemed pointless. I was jealous because my moods were still all over the place. I wanted to stop working on my mental health as if it were a bone that could be healed once and for all after wearing a cast for a few months.
Back to the fuzzy posters in my bedroom. Chance was looking at me with a question on his face. “Is this… it? Is this stability?” I asked him.
He laughed. “Yes!”
“Oh my God! I hate it!” I shouted, only half-joking. Exasperated, I flopped onto my back on the floor and stared at the ceiling. “I’m so bored! What can we do? Where can we go? I need pizzazz!”
I realize that this is an absolutely bizarre sentiment. Most people have goals aligned with the things that I have: a steady job, a place to live, food in the pantry, a happy relationship, a handful of friends…
Like a tiger kept in a too-small cage, I feel as though I’m simply pacing the same floor over and over, wishing it were the jungle. I go to work, where I see pretty much the same thing every day. I go home, where I intend to read a book but stare at my phone instead. I go to the same stores where I look at cheap, plastic things I don’t need, I buy some of them, and for a moment, I feel happy with my new thing. I drive home and think about how I will use my new thing, where I will put it, or how I will wear it. Then I get home and think, Crap, now I have another thing! I write the same thoughts in the journals I’ve been filling with my nonsensical musings with increasing speed.
I used to think my routines kept me safe, that if I could do every day the same way, there would be no room for thoughts of Bad Men, shadow people, and Henry. But I know now that triggers are everywhere, and that living in a self-constructed bubble only hinders me. I have to accept that the world is unpredictable, even in my own home. For instance, my cat Archie (who happens to be the best cat in the world) killed a rodent in my house. I woke up and saw him eating its eyeballs and immediately started freaking out because 1. nobody wants a dead rodent in the house and 2. dead animals are a HUGE trigger for psychosis for me. I called my dad, who handled it, and went about my day.
That right there demonstrates to me that I am getting better at coping with the world. Although this incident did trigger some voices, I was able to go to work and have a normal day.
My twenties are slipping through my fingers, I thought as I handed the customer in front of me his change. I vowed never to become one of those twenty-somethings who’s always complaining that I’m “so old,” but it’s hard not to feel like a little old lady when I’m ready for bed at 9:30 and the most exciting part of the day is discovering that my CVS coupons haven’t expired yet.
Like many people these days, I love instant gratification, which is essentially the opposite of how to treat mental illness. Learning how to use coping skills is hard, and for a while now I’ve considered myself bad at therapy because despite any therapist’s best efforts, when it comes time to talk about hard things like self-harm and trauma, I shut down. I will stare at my own feet for thirty minutes to avoid talking about the issues I need to work on. I will get up and walk out of a therapy session the moment I begin to get into the heavy stuff.
For so long, I identified as a tortured artist. It is well past time to shed that identity. But what’s under there?
My father, who is a mensch like his father was, once told me that Torah study is supposed to last a lifetime. Perhaps mental health is the same way. Although we read the Torah again and again, each time it lends new insight on how to live our lives. God’s Torah is meant to inform our lives through the ages, and while a relationship with God is not a cure for mental illness (or any illness) it is a good place to start. As it says in my synagogue’s Siddur, “Prayer may not mend a broken bridge, water an arid field, or rebuild a ruined city. But prayer can mend a broken heart, water an arid soul, and rebuild a broken will.”
Most of life is not exciting. It is eating cereal for breakfast and changing the litter in the cat box. My mom says that it’s important to find meaning and magic in the little things: a good cup of coffee, a captivating novel, and a meal with friends.
A few nights ago, as Chance and I were falling asleep, I asked him if he ever prays. “I pray for you every day,” he told me. “Thank you for showing me God.”