When my therapist advised me to check into a treatment center for a month, all I could think of was how wonderful it would be to go somewhere restful and sleep abundantly.
It’s exhausting fighting for every second of your life.
“Treatment center” is therapist jargon for “mental hospital.” I prefer the romance of “loony bin.” It comes from the word “lunatic,” derived from “luna.”
There’s something comforting in the antiquated notion that I, like vampires and werewolves, am simply the victim of changing phases of the moon.
I have an ongoing fantasy of electroshock treatments cauterizing the endless loop of negative voices in my brain. A high voltage solution to cleanse myself of stockpiled pain, almost primitive in its simplicity.
Insert rubber mouth guard, flip a switch, incinerate the past.
I long to spend a month in bland, sterile surroundings which provide no distractions. There, I can knit together all the holes poked into my psyche by the circumstances of my life, and the even bigger ones torn raggedly by the self-destructive ways in which I coped with those circumstances.
But life relentlessly beckons. I am not able to take a month off from the very same daily minutiae that I find crippling.
Instead, I’m doing intensive outpatient therapy, four times a week. Two individual sessions and two groups.
The course of treatment is 8 months; maybe longer.
Yesterday, despite it being November 2, I wore my Harley Quinn costume for a third day, including to group. As I entered the building, I wondered if the need I had to wear it three days; to the gym, supermarket, work; constituted being crazy.
Yes. Probably longer than eight months.
I didn’t expect my new therapist to be so adamant regarding my diagnosis, and even more so about how much treatment I needed to address it. Our first session she told me I was PTSD embodied in human form. She was surprised I don’t short-circuit even more than I do and lobbied strenuously in favor of checking me into the loony bin.
My therapist listed for me the major causes of PTSD, aside from active duty in the armed forces – terrorist attacks, natural disasters, rape, domestic violence, violent death of a loved one, childhood abuse and neglect…
On paper it scared me to see how many I was able to cross off an anti-bucket list of things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Before finding her, I did the responsible thing and typed my symptoms into WebMD. I either had PTSD or systemic yeast overgrowth. I went with PTSD. I located a support group through an online network.
This is how I found myself, one Saturday morning, in a smoky room filled with grizzled war veterans. It was as if Pippi Longstocking had mistakenly stumbled onto the set of “Platoon.”
I told the story of how I lost my oldest brother, the gentle soul who raised me, to a brutal murder two decades ago; his brains and blood splattered all over his LA apartment.
As I spoke the room grew eerily silent, the kind of silence that only happens when people aren’t shifting in their seats or even breathing. The stoic faces around the room softened with the one thing I cannot tolerate – pity.
Afterwards I fled, never returning.
Last fall, my mother and a different brother died the same week.
I imagine I will die alone, since I am opposed to marriage. But I hope not to die alone surrounded by uncaring strangers in a bustling airport; clutching at my chest and dead before I hit the ground.
It was in this way that my brother died; ironically, on the way to my mother’s funeral. His death was so viciously unexpected that I went into rigorous denial. I invented exotic stories to explain his absence.
He was on an archeological dig in Papua, New Guinea. He was hiking the Peruvian Andes. I eventually floated so far away from the truth that I no longer felt connected to my own body.
One day I watched my disembodied hands typing at the keyboard and poured boiling water all over the right one, charring it with a third degree burn.
When I was younger, I self-harmed because my world view was derived from a damaged foundation. I’m renovating it, and it becomes sturdier all the time. But occasionally, the faulty misalignment at the base of my existence wavers, and I weave precariously out of control.
Now I go to therapy four times a week to somehow make sense of the unfathomable.
I have a steel cage around my heart.
My closest friends don’t know my real name.
I dare not hope for love for fear of being deeply, painfully disappointed. I date many rather than loving one. I ricochet giddily off one date onto another.
I am no longer the ugly bucktooth kid she left to rot in a group home. I’m not that desperately lonely teenage misfit. I’m the motherfucking prom queen.
I slip out of their houses in the wee hours to avoid the harsh reality of morning in the presence of another.
Sometimes I need someone to hold me so badly I think I might die.
My fear of abandonment is like a bomb suspended in the forever right before it detonates. I build walls to keep people out, convinced that once in, they will only leave, and days I am the cheeriest are usually the ones I feel most dead inside.
And thus I dream of the sizzle and snap of electricity rearranging twisted neurons and giving me a start as fresh as a child’s.
We are but specks in the infinite universe, finite and limited, but every action we take is to somehow create meaning despite our own brokenness.
This world was not meant for perfection. It is broken dishes; shards of glass. Fractured memories coated in shame and smoke and soot. Shattered life.
Despair and hope are yin and yang. One cannot exist without the other. Hope without despair is hollow and dishonest. Despair without hope is bleaker still.
And so I stumble forward.
Talk to me. I’m listening.