“It’s all in your head.”

I’ve been fighting chronic health conditions for years.

Every day when I didn’t want to get up I knew I couldn’t give in. But it wasn’t always so easy for me. When the voices started I listened to them. When they told me to hide I hid. When they told me to stay in bed I pulled the pillow back over my head. When they told me that there was a higher power, unnamed though it was, that whispered when the wind blew, I prayed to the wind. When they told me I was a piece of shit I believed them. When they told me my medicine was poison I dumped them down the toilet. I ate when they said I could and didn’t eat when they wouldn’t let me. I counted the patterns in the colors of the cars that drove by me.

When they suggested I kill myself I gave it my best shot.

Now I’m glad I’m here, alive, breathing, thinking, writing and creating. I’m glad to see the sunrise and the wind doesn’t whisper like it used to.

I used to have visual hallucinations. More real than you in front of me. More real because that’s what my brain told me. So real that I felt their breath sometimes, felt their fingers on the back of my neck, saw their eyes move as they watched me. You can’t know what it’s like to hallucinate until you have.

My last visual hallucination was of an alien set upon reading my mind by sticking his fingers in my brain. That was three years ago. My brain’s last attempt at lying to my eyes. Though sometimes it still plays tricks and I see red cats out of the corner of my eye.

But the voices, they never stopped. They’ve been a constant part of my life for about five years now. It’s never quiet. There is never an instant of silence. It sounds like a beehive inside my head. Like a congested subway. Like a too full elevator. It sounds like panic and sadness and mania and anger. Some I can understand and some I can’t. Some sound like a radio in the other room. Some voices sound like voices sound. Some sound like dull hum of white noise. Some come from outside my head and make me turn around, scan the landscape or the crowd. There’s never a source, at least not one other than my own head.

Not to be confused with, “It’s all in your head.” One thing I’ve learned is to never let anyone get away with saying that. As if your brain isn’t part of your body. As if they don’t function as a whole. As if they don’t work together to create absolutely every experience you’ve ever had, every feeling you’ve never felt, every movement you’ve never made, any sound you’ve ever heard, every taste you ever tasted. You cannot have one without the other. The brain and body exist together, one thing that has one goal. When you are sad it’s the whole body that is sad, and when you cry it’s the whole body that cries. It’s the whole body that becomes tired. It’s the whole body which achieves happiness. It’s the whole body which becomes sick. You cannot have the oceans without the moon, or day without night, or spring without winter.

It’s with my entirety that I have Schizoaffective Disorder, it’s my entirety with which I fight. It’s my entirety with which I breathe. This how all things exist. With their entirety.

I’ve learned that my hallucinations are part of me. It’s who I am. Illness is a part of me. But life is a part of me too. Happiness is a part of me. And my body and my brain, they are me.

“It’s not all in my head.”

“It’s all of me.”

You cannot fight a war against yourself. Instead, you’ve got to learn to live with yourself. You’ve got to learn to be gentle with yourself. To let yourself breathe and sleep and wake and you’ve got to move and experience. But that’s all. If you can’t bare anything else today, just exist. Exist from where you are. Life can’t ask anything more from you.

Just exist and tomorrow try and exist a little bit more.

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This Time of Year

Trees burst with yellow, so dust to dust.

Maine sighs the last taste of summer from its mouth.

We bundle ourselves fast beneath our jackets and steel ourselves against the growing hum of winter weather. Rain threatens ice. We breathe fog into the cold air.

I am at peace during this time of year. Loose fitting sweaters hang placid from my frame, I can tuck a scarf beneath my chin. A hat pressed against my head. I am at home underneath big red maple trees. I like the stories New England hauntings read aloud from dog-eared books with broken bindings. I like sweet apple cider. Round pumpkins with funny grins appear on old porches. Chimneys exhale, their ragged and tired throats expel pale grey smoke. Boots clatter and children fetch their costumes, laughing into a dark night sky.

I think my voices like it too.

Whispering in awe at the beauty, they too steel themselves in anticipation, covering my brain in a soft blanket. Soon it will be winter.

Winter means depression. Or worsening depression anyway.

But right now it’s autumn and there are pumpkin pies and ghost stories to be had. A cozy night clasps in her hand’s hot chamomile tea.

She says, “drink up.” And I do. I sleep best this time of year. Buried beneath a mound of comforters the cool air slows my too fast heart.

“slow down,” says the cool autumn air, “slow down. Don’t miss this beauty.”

Standing at the base of an old maple tree, arms wrapped around her trunk my fingers cannot reach. A great, wide, trunk juts off into the sky. It’s lived three or four times the length of my own life. Each autumn she dies and in the spring she is reborn.

“look,” she mutters, her big branches shudder in the cold, “at my resiliency,” her leaves fall and pile at my feet, “I can show you how to be this way.”

Autumn is, after all, a practice in the acceptance of our own shortcomings.

“we all need time,” she whispers absently into the breeze, “to rest.”

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All the pumpkins smile. A black cat, who is not mine, yawns on my porch and stretches to life. A big tom cat, who knows it too. He lets out a silly noise from between his teeth. Cats rest when they need it, which is often enough. Taking cat naps in the apricot autumn sunshine.

“winter is for resting,” says the nighttime, her body stretched across the sky.

“and in the spring,” thinks the cat, “we will stretch to life again.”

The cool air captivates me. It winds me down until I slow.

“winter is alright,” I say.

The cat agrees, and then purrs lazily, “don’t fear time for recuperation.”

The trees shift, “we couldn’t go on so long without it,” they say, their voices not unlike the wind. Talking all at once.

Bittersweet and rose and wine. Cherries and chestnuts. The colors this time of year are without names. Wordless colors tossed across treetops and tree-middles and all the way across mountain ranges which will soon be powdered in light, quiet snow. And against the blue sky leaf peepers gaze, and birds fly south, and squirrels gather acorns, and the resident porcupine steals corn cobs from the aged corn fields. Cobwebs gather and the furnace kicks on. Each morning grows colder. Hot soups in hot steamy kitchens are stirred. Ghosts come out at night and stand around their ghostly fires that burn the color of nothingness.

Everything is still except a lone buck that stands at the edge of the woods, hooves stamping in the dirt. Antlers like strong arms grow stronger with each exercise. He grunts and twists his head to look into the forest. A great silence beats the within it. Suddenly turns and runs against the winter wind. Dark eyes like two black marbles inside his head.

The trees shudder and the pumpkins grin and the cat is lazy and warm and nighttime with her heavy arms comes earlier now. And against the dark a deer races. Heart pounding beneath his chest muscle. His bovine skeleton will come apart and vanish into the soil before the spring.

“rest,” says the cat, “you’re tired.”

The deer races.

The deer races.

Behind him, the forest turns pale and blushes at her naked body. Fall is her favorite season to be naked. Autumn reassures us that spring will come. After all, you cannot have life without death.

A Snowstorm

Trees here,

in winter’s grasp,

expand white on white until the darkness comes.

Pine and maple,

decades in the space between.

Beyond the window, trees lie torpid.

Twisting.

Bare.

Dusklight on my alabaster skin,

and within the hour a storm moves in,

so coats the sod in impassivity.

 

Silence settles,

and bones won’t rattle here.

Despite trees as gaunt as skeletons.

Even as the wind moves between them,

there is secrecy.  

 

Voices at the forest’s edge,

anesthetize and draw me in,

writing love letters on the surface of my skin.

 

As I tear away,

as the nighttime comes,

both bodies naked and infalling in the dark,

a sense of silence overwhelms,

as if noise could consume us whole.