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What kind of a word is mania, anyway? I can’t bring myself to try it on. Sounds like it belongs in an ad for a blowout sale at some suburban furniture warehouse. A headline about the latest children’s fad out of Korea. Mania: finally, something to get excited about.
They’re there. I can see them on my eyelids: memories, scenes that flit past with the graininess and dearth of urgency I remember from grade school nutrition film strips - I need at least that much distance. A dancing stalk of wheat extolling the virtues of a high fiber diet. White knuckles clinging to the edge of a tile wall. They have the same texture, same static-laden sound. With the listless objectivity once saved for the food pyramid or conjunction junction, I review how strength of will crushes between finger nails and palms into rusty streaks that cry themselves down. There isn’t room under my skin for it to have been real. Streaks on the wall underscore the gravity of the situation since I can’t, goose-pimpled body folding back into the now-cold tub. I remember feeling like a seed wanting to sprout in reverse, endlessly cooling and retreating, folding like origami into my own ribcage. The voice is breathy, warbles, almost more invocation than speech, like a animal strapped to the operating table wailing, howling, gnashing. I just can’t. Can’t. I. II-I. I. How. No. I can’t, can’t can’t. How can I can’t. I can’t. I just can’t. I just can’t. The words pace, guttural, stalking something(one).
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I have been off work for two months now, watching the clouds and trying to keep it all together. It. All. Hypothetical constructs. I haven’t worked so little for so long since I was, what, 15? Two months, even though I can walk, and talk, dress, and feed myself. Type. Read. Go to the bank. I can; it’s just the gap between can and do (or how long I could muster that degree of normalcy without cracking, breaking something or myself. A fragile compromise enables my skin to hold it in, albeit briefly).
Like Picasso, you said. Artists often aren’t recognized in their lifetimes, especially in backwaters like this. I bit my lip, didn’t ask if you had meant Van Gogh. When you took out your feathers and told me the eagle was your animal, meant to lift you up above man, I didn’t ask why all that power wasn’t strong enough to keep you from falling apart. You were somewhere else entirely, soaring over trees making men mice through magnification, you weren’t predator, just well above them. I watched hands that looked flabbier than I remembered, wondered if the pharmacist upstairs was the only one traveling with you. Looked down at your feet and realized they sure weren’t. For all your ego, your bullshit about late night councils with angels and having to drop acid to lower yourself to the level of others, you were more tradigian than hero, melting like a wet block of clay, living on the world but not with it. I have always had that as you and this as me; stared at light refracting off our genome and traced contrast, stretched points of departure, angled away from you so that the light would fall on me differently. I don’t have an ego like that. I don’t even take praise well. It’s just because I’m lucky, I’ll say, you see, got me a good memory… oh I’ve just always loved policy work…. but, how can they be so stupid… just pathetic that they can’t get better advice….hell, give me a week at his desk and I’d show ‘em… yeah, I could go the politics route, it’s just a matter of having the right people see me…, fuck ‘em I’ll do it myself… I have bigger fish to fry… My lips can’t form the round denial that is no. I know I can do it better than whoever did the job before. They couldn’t fix it but I can. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, so watch out, will coming through! So yes. Yes. Yesyesyesyes. Let me show you what I can do... I tell myself the difference is basis: I have honed a skill set, refined talent, built reputation. And dammit, they’re your genes too, there’s never an okay way to say that I know I’m smarter than they are. IQ tests and report cards, early publication, dissolving the career ladder, this is what they point to. Capability. Capacity. “Deluded and grandiose self-confidence,” (Burns, M.D.).
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One of the things I do is teach English. The bulky shape and incoherent, fragmented etymologies are a salve almost as good as astrophysics, so dense they draw your mind away from itself. This is why I swim late nights in TS Eliot or Amy Lowell - whom I loathe. History gives words lives, and I try to inhabit them. But not this one. Origins: c. 1400. Related to mainesthai (to rage, go mad), mantis (seer), menos (passion,spirit). Since 1500s, as the second element in compounds expressing types of madness (cf. nymphomania, 1775; kleptomania, 1830; megalomania, 1890). Forms : adjective manic or maniacal, adverb: manically. Like the adjectives, there are two nouns: mania itself, and the person thus with, maniac. Full stop.
My first asthma attack, mom rubbed my back and scared the shit out of my seven year old self. Softly, she told me of how you used to stop breathing sometimes, how she would wake up and press on your chest, try to reinflate you like a balloon, call the ambulance when the weight of her lips desperately hoping against yours wasn’t enough. You would blackout. You would panic, first. I know that now. I’m sure you could never say the word nor she about you, panic. As though anything could bring you down, least of all yourself. She was scared to sleep, scared for you, herself, or the two babies marveling at the universe against her breast. I know now that you emerged into panic, first. I know because of how quickly my love now wakes if I move in the night. The stories of these medical night scares formed the macabre background in my childhood mind for the wild life, the badlands, beatnik beginnings of how I knew she was braver than me. I couldn’t lie there, never knowing if my love would breathe it through the night, never knowing if he would wake up shaking or shining, manic or maniac. To admit to myself the nights where I’ve awoken shaking, uncertain whether my fault lines would default and finally spill me out, where I’ve awoken in the grip of some panic I can’t name, capable of cardiac arrest quicker than cognition, how I’ve turned to my love to assuage what I can’t name, like flotsam that I cling to desperately against the buffeting of waves and a thousand forces stronger than my pulse, the way that in that moment, more meaningfully than being human or loving me, he is something that is not terror that I can cling to, rends me. Belies a fundamental, structural unsoundness that I’m not sure I can live with. I’ve spent my life scrabbling together stability; apartment, job, love, cat, the kind of independence that keeps me alone and aloft. And poof. I cast you out, knew how your presence could rock my tiny boat into debris, but distance doesn’t matter when it’s already in me. Like you.
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It’s less like a chess game and more like Risk. With the right strategy, the dice can only hold you back so long. I have planned carefully. Step by plotted step, circumnavigated the plateau, so I could see the big picture spread out under me. Plot the lay of the land. See where I needed to be. Never doubted that if I could get my hand on the right lever, I could make things turn over. This wasn’t conceit, it was a plan. A strategy. An idea. Don’t say it. My mind fills in the blank before it appears. Delusion.
I have always known better, that’s not arrogance, just honesty. Everyone who has tried to advise me has tried to shape me, the way a lepidopterist pins wings to back boards in tidy rows. My department head said law school, and took away my scholarship when I applied to teacher ed, but I didn’t so much as blink, didn’t need him, anyone. Had a plan. Find the crack where citizenship slides off the table, a generational approach to reconstituting the body politic. Film reels of anticipation rolled behind my eyes at night when I hid so sleep couldn’t find me. End points of angles, trajectories long since laid, pantomime excuses for optimism into my flaming synapses, where they are instantly transmuted into ash, hope for the wind. I don’t need to hold them; they are impermeable already in the solid shroud of belief. Not only I can, but I will. Have wand, seeking ways to wave it. “Manic individuals have the delusion that they are extraordinarily powerful and brilliant, and often insist they are on the verge of some philosophical or scientific break though,” (Burns, M.D.).
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Lithium is classified in my brain as problem, not solution, and I don’t know if I can induce such a recalculation, accept that I was always a problem waiting to happen, that what felt like strength was always just a premonition of collapse. I am an emotional manager, it’s what I do. I can soothe a whole room without directly addressing their feelings at all. I can make a sobbing man see his own strength between tears. I can tame the wings of my heartbeat into something that resembles the regularity of a drum. When you feel a presence in the room with you, it’s an emotion seeking expression. I have danced with them, buoyed by my own intimacy with the unseen. Once upon a time.
This intransmutable despair hits like an avalanche out of nowhere. My friendly neighbourhood despair I keep in my pocket every day so I never forget its face. There is nothing familiar this time. This is not like a slap, not like being hit by a train. It is being buried alive, so cold that hope leaves before it arrives. I have felt the physical weight of emotional pain like an anvil on my chest and sat with it until it melted into me, as though some part of me was big enough to contain it all. My temper has always flared like a pump jack venting petro gasses into a flat prairie sky; it is visible for miles. I have a kinship with steam engines, knowing what is it to have heat stoked in you until you explode. I had contained myself well, bedroom walls bracing for concussive blasts, cradling pieces for me to collect, rebuild before the sun sets, never realizing the similarity to my childhood tea set, how after each painstaking, superglue-based reconstruction, the fragments grew smaller, sharper, harder to refit. We end up with jagged edges and a poor relationship to surface tension, cracking almost at random. “I’m scared of you,” mom says on the phone. Her frank fragility is a morsel my fire-breathing dragon self can’t easily digest. I don’t know how to stop myself, hurting my mother isn’t in my vocabulary either. “I don’t want you to blacklist me,cast me out” she says. Somehow, I have become unforgiving. Bruises along the sides of my hands show what it feels like once you lack the restraint to hit the hard things with a utensil. I am explosively angry at garbage trucks, java applets, allusions to uncertainty. My combustion has lost coherence. Surrounded by eggshells, I try to draw them in, use them to pin down my wings. I have lost the rhythm, cannot hear the steps. The dance degenerates, pairs spinning apart, fleet feet now fumbling.
Connotation is what makes poetry mealy enough to be nutritious; lines become marinade, seeping layers of flavour, of implication. Manipulating interpretation is the art-or perhaps applied science-of framing. It is a way of controlling thought, framing, a way to achieve influence, or even control. I have framed; to frame is to have power, weighty in its potential. To be framed is to be defined, controlled. Like the last, desperate cry of an accused man, my lips mouth the words. I’ve been framed. “In Roman and Etruscan mythology, Mania (or Manea) was the goddess of the dead. She was said to be the mother of ghosts, the undead, and other spirits of the night.”
Mania is a violent derangement of the mind. Mania
may suddenly switch into an incapacitating depression
with pronounced immobility and apathy. The number
of individuals with manic disorders who commit suicide is
60 times higher than that of the general population.