Since I've been on E2, I've had a number of people ask me what a psychotic episode is like. Here's one possible answer. There are thousands more.
Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again.
I am thinking about Virginia again. She comes to me in times like these, her crisp voice a lilting, wry counterpoint to my own addled thoughts. She made her own suicide note sound like poetry, like art. Was her talent undone by her illness or a product of it?
I'm in the shower but it isn't morning. I haven't seen morning in weeks except in pallid snatches of predawn prelight as I stumble to bed. The actual feel of it doesn't surprise me exactly; it's more like the arrival at a party of someone unpleasant but expected.
For months I have been sliding toward this point, and the inevitability of it is like skidding on ice toward something sharp and vicious. So here in the shower (of all places) I feel it beginning, and I am coldly afraid.
Hallucinogenic drug users know this feeling. They court it, wait for it, savor it. The feeling I have in the shower is very much like the moment when the drug settles in for the job, when reality ripples and shifts and warps around you like a rubber sheet. But I haven't taken hallucinogens in fifteen years, and this is no flashback. It is organic; it is my brain's version of the angina before the heart attack.
Later that night I ask my husband to sit down, tell him I have something to say, but the words won't come out right. They are mushy and they leak meaning like blood. He watches me stumble and fumble and before I get through he stops me, holds me, says we will get through this. I look over his shoulder numbly. I want to believe, but the voices are back.
I do not tell him about the voices.
Two days later, and sleep is more elusive than ever. It toys with me, allows me to just pierce its cool surface before unceremonially ejecting me into a particularly brutal state of semiconsciousness. What I want more than anyting is deep, dreamless, refreshing sleep, but I am frayed and bleeding around the edges.
I am having trouble forming words, and the words I do manage to string together make very little sense. Thoughts flash past me like phosphorescent things at the bottom of a black ocean, but I can't catch them, can't grasp them. They worm out of my reach, slick and taunting.
Goddammit. God DAMN it. I know I have to go back there, know where I have to go, but I can't reconcile the part of me that is still lucid with that place.
Sam is quiet and watchful. I have quit attempting to speak, as words are garbled and thick and slow as cold honey. Sleep, that fickle traitor, has utterly deserted me and I know that without sleep on my side the war is lost. It's a waiting game now, and I play a sad sort of chess with myself.
The pills are a joke, a fucking joke. I've doubled dosages according to doctor's orders, and my sweat smells sickly sweet. My tongue is coated with something bitter and foul that no amount of water washes away. It takes me several minutes, but I manage to ask Sam to please buy a little pot from our dealer. I need something to relax my neck, my shoulders, my jaw, the muscles of which feel seized and bruised with tension. He looks worried but agrees that I have to relax. Neither one of us want to go back to that hospital, not tonight.
While Sam is on his illegal errand I try to focus on the television, but nothing makes sense and the blonde newscaster seems to be smirking at me. The news is bad, and it's my news. The weather report is ominous and is some sort of code, I know it is a code, the out-of-season snowstorms in Ohio are metaphors for my condition this very instant. The weatherman knows more than I do, and he smiles sadly at my plight.
Just before Sam returns, I hear the weatherman say my name, my entire name, first middle last. Hearing my name on the national news is simultaneously chilling and comforting.
I decide not to smoke a joint.
It's morning. How is it morning again? It's constantly all morning all the time, and I am sick of it.
Sam doesn't believe I've been taking my medicine. We argue. We argue until it occurs to me that he may be right - how long has it been since my last technicolor handful of drugs? Hours? Days? I say no goddamit I am through I will NOT take those pills anymore God DAMN it. Sam looks grim and leaves the room. I hear him whisper into the telephone as I lay on the bed, rigid and irrationally stubborn.
Sam comes back in. I am sorry to do this, you know I love you he says, and I feel this blazing mixture of tenderness and fury shoot through me. He pins me to the bed with his knees and pours a bitter, grainy concoction of water and capsule dust into my mouth. His tears drop onto my face as I choke on the medicine and I relax for his sake. I drink it. I wait for something good to happen that doesn't.
The sun is higher now and Sam is exhausted. He's sleeping, one of his forearms over his eyes, his knees drawn up as though he's been punched. I suppose he has.
I cannot stop pacing the house. I go from room to room and the clutter upsets me, but when I try to rearrange things nothing goes where I want it to go. I decide that I need to see my friend Holly. Yes, Holly! She always knows what to do. I reach for the car keys Sam keeps in a bowl by the front door but before I can turn the doorknob Sam is in front of me, pale and stern.
But he isn't Sam, he's a demon, and he's trying to stop me from getting to where people who love me can give me help. I glare at this demon who has Sam's face, and it pretends to be confused. It reaches for my car keys and I start to scream, I scream and scream and the demon is taken off guard and I run past it to the parking lot.
A startled beachbound mother scoops her child up and runs into her apartment as the demon grabs me from behind. It is dragging me back to the Bad Place and I know that once it gets me back inside it will grin at me and eat me. I am panicked and still screaming as my sleepy neighbor walks outside. This is the cruelty of psychosis, I can recognize the face of my neighbor but not the touch of my husband. I hear my husband, the demon, ordering my neigbor to call someone. I think I pass out, but it isn't anything like sleep. It is white and dry and restless.
I am thinking about Virginia again.
By the time the ambulance arrives Sam is no longer a demon, he is Jesus, and I cry after him pitifully as the EMT forcefully shepherds me to the waiting vehicle. I see JesusSam brushing at his eyes as he gets into the car and I am moved by the compassion He has for the whole world, even for me. I pray out loud all the way to the hospital. The lady EMT keeps a gloved hand on my forehead as we speed through the streets, but she will not look me in the eyes no matter how desperately I try to make her see me.
In the emergency room the doctors frighten me with questions to which I have no answers. One of them takes my blood with a needle and I know then that I am doomed, that I am in Hell and that because they have my blood I will have to stay there. When I realize that fact I grow calm and quiet, and JesusSam holds my hand and answers questions for me.
I am asked if I can walk, and I try but fall down. The doctor, the Indian man with kind eyes, calls for a wheelchair and I sit down, shaky and thirsty. I am thirsty, I say. JesusSam brings me a plastic cup of water and I know he has to leave and I try to be brave.
And they kept me there for a couple of weeks, and they patched me up with all their doctor skills, and they sent me home. That's how it was last spring, almost a year ago exactly. These and other things are what keep me up at night this spring, what keep me bantering on E2 at four AM, what keep me frantically dangling entertainment of all sorts in front of my too-active brain. I am scared. Sometimes I feel as though some malevolent deity, gigantic and carelessly cruel as a child, has taken an icepick to the parts of my mind I loved the best. And I wonder sometimes how Virginia felt that cold morning when she slipped stones in her pockets and waded into her own private Lethe.
But I know I won't, I won't ever do that. No no no that is not my path, a thousand, a million times no. I am too afraid of the dark and of what lies behind the darkness. I am too afraid that I will make my Sam cry again, and I am doing everything in my power to never do that again. I am doing everything right.
On the 28th of March, 1941, at the age of fifty-nine, Virginia Woolf walked into the river Ouse near her Sussex home. Her pockets were filled with stones.
She left the following note to her beloved husband, Leonard:
Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that - everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer.
I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.