be beside yourself,
as your petal becomes a garlic skin skeleton,
stay near yourself so you do not
turn to nothing.
so you can take your hands and,
thread by thread,
mend your threadbare shoulderblades with imagination.
It’s hard to describe where you can be reached when you are mentally far away from everyone and everything around you. Searching for the words to send up a flare is one of the most difficult things to do, when you feel too far away to be reached in the first place. That’s what dissociation felt like. Dizzy doorways and surroundings swimming and no words to describe how isolated I felt. I couldn’t remember what had happened a second ago, let alone last week. It’s still bizarre to me that I felt disconnected from my mind and body in this way from October 2016 to April 2017 and yet went to almost every college class, work shift, dance rehearsal, and lighting call.
The depression that coincided and followed that period of depersonalization has been numbness on some days, heavy sadness on others, and pockets of respite and joy on others. Sometimes for weeks I find equilibrium again. Thankfully, there’ve been worse days than this one. There’ve been more vivid days than this one, too. But getting low enough to want to end myself is a state of mind only occasionally seems like a good way out. Thank everything I have people in my life who support me unconditionally. I realize not all of us have that privilege.
I later came to understand that the six months of my life that I barely remember and the grayness that has followed are a result of a voice in my head that isn’t my own, of built up panic, and of a quiet trauma that had festered too long. I was dealing with contamination from a specific phobia that had been triggered in mid-2016, which began a downward spiral from which I am still healing. I was coming to terms with the experience of being emotionally manipulated into a worldview that was not mine. The process of unwrapping my thoughts and untwisting my perspective from this manipulation, from someone else’s idea of how I should carry myself and of mourning the loss of the people around me who couldn’t get out of its way has continued to now. Finding a clean space, one free from mental and literal contamination is still something I am building. I have healing to do and growth to honor. I have to honor our strength: the strength of all people who’ve been hurt and are gently making it through their days.
I’m not sure exactly what I have to say, whether I am writing this little piece out of solidarity or out of a need to reveal more of my story that I ever have in such a public way, or whether I’m trying to show that under a façade of passing, a person can never tell how another is feeling—whether they want to be here or whether they feel safe in their surroundings. Maybe it’s just the 21st century person in me whispering: tell your story—that will be enough.
The old joy that I am searching for is something I am carving out by writing. I write myself out of these states when I can find the words to craft resilience. Writing accompanies my processing, which is all part of survival and finding what it is to thrive again. I don’t feel I have a lot of coherent prose words to offer, but poetry? I have pages and pages of attempts at carving a meaningful place for myself in the world again. Pages and pages of growing, and of being beside myself as I am beside myself, of being inside myself after being outside.
Continuing to exist is the noblest feat on some days. And I don’t, by any means, think that the “good” days are over. I’m young and I’ve got a lot of life to live, I just have to find the energy to want to live it. I’m tired of waiting for joy.
But there is always work to be done to find joy again, sometimes just in keeping on, and that is enough. It has to be. Sometimes it is possible to carve out joy from the most horrible place and then be able to hold onto it. Look at all of us, fighting to stay here and alive. We are heroes of this world. We are our own heroes in carrying on. I say living is dramatic. I say surviving is heroic. I say our resilience is striking.
So, here’s a little more of me, surviving. I ask of you nothing but to stay here with me, and I thank you immensely for listening.
when you don’t feel worthful
you have a f***ing field of wildflowers growing on your back
sometimes they wilt
but they keep you alive
sometimes they’re trampled
but they have never and will never die
sometimes you don’t water them and they thirst for love.
the world can be too much for their petals
the dew too heavy
the magnanimity of love too much to carry
they will be growing
and delicately existing
just like you
my worth comes in spurts of
decorate yourself unabashedly with sparkles
in desperately finding beauty
even in this pain
but, seriously: paint your nails, your face, your page
because anything that makes you feel worthy
is worth the waste.
so go out there
with your rotten-dirty-growing-soil-covered clay hands
make your move
forge yourself out of glass
let sand insulate your clay into comfort
into a forgiveness of all of this
My recent experience with mental illness has aided my perception of how to understand other people’s experiences. I believe that neurodivergent people should be respected and treated as the human beings we are, and that the world is on its way to further understanding that all of our perspectives are valid. It is because of groups like MITA that conversations and actions for improvement and empathy are taking place, but there is still so much work to do in de-stigmatizing mental illness and advocating for empathetic treatment of people with mental disorders.
Though I feel I have been helped by the psychiatric industry and not harmed, I understand that not everyone’s experience has been so positive. Mental institutions should be places of safety and healing and not of further trauma. Mental health practitioners should understand and empathize with the people they are trying to help and be sensitive to individual needs with nuance and not “one size fits all” solutions. I hope to be part of a force for more empathetic mental healthcare that considers us as capable and worthy individuals and meets our need for acceptance and healing.
Viv is a poet, theatre artist, and student. She isn’t sure what she wants to do or who she wants to be, but she’s getting there, and she thanks you for bearing witness to part of her journey. Other poetic works can be seen on her Instagram @frettedwithgoldenfire.