I've been thinking a lot about family lately. About what home is, where home is.
Maybe it's because I have a lot more time on my hands than I wish I did right now.
Maybe it's the fact that through a set of less than chosen circumstances I've moved back home to live with my parents, and maybe it's the fact that where my parents live is not really home to me.
But where I am now is with them. With Family.
Is it home, then?
I can't work yet. My brain is still very fragile. My good and kind doctor has estimated that after this last episode it will be another several months for my brain to to really heal. This time - unlike last time - I will choose to believe my healer and not my ambition to be normal. I will choose to rest.
As a rapid cycling bipolar, I had a cataclysmic psychotic crash toward the end of last year that was more like a slow-motion fall into a nameless canyon.
Slow. Very slow. Then impact.
It happens to addicts, lunatics, and warriors. There's a period of overdrive, overload. Gears grind and cogs melt. There really is a Point of no Return, and it's startling. There's a point - a measurable snapping tearing breaking point. You've witnessed or committed just the right number of atrocities, absorbed the final millimeasure of pain, and that's it. Everything inside of you caves in. There's a sound that you don't hear - you just recognize its vibration - and then it's the End.
After that it's really just an anticlimax of cliches and darkness. The Edge of Reason. Staring Into the Abyss. Pit of Despair. Angst Ate my Suffering. Take your pick; they all fit the bill.
But once you hit that level of despair, once that last impact has buckled your knees and splintered your spine, the weather in your brain gets weirdly clear. Here's another cliche: Eye of the Hurricane.
Someone flips the sun on and suddenly you're not in the comfortable parlor of your own headspace anymore. You've somehow just...broken out. But you don't mistake it for freedom; freedom isn't like that. Freedom in this place is an alien dialect spoken in tongues.
You're just broken, and it isn't sexy and it isn't exhilarating and it is most certainly not the new rock n' roll because all the sound has been turned off and your tongue doesn't work anymore. It isn't anything at all, not really, because the colors are all gone. And the landscape you're in is Escher and Giger and Dali, and none of the old physics make sense.
And once you're in this new place, nothing at all makes sense, but there's a calm awareness that it's all most definitely gone to shit, and that particular bright awareness is a carnivorous lullabye. It's the most terrible comfort. It will allow you to truly remain there indefinitely, spiralling toward something you can't even see anymore but that has wickedly sharp teeth and a great deal of hunger. If someone doesn't stop you, that thing will get what it's hungry for.
So it's really good to have family around, and I don't necessarily mean a spouse or lover.
Now, I'm not talking here about the kind of spouse who's been near you since childhood and knows all your fault lines and who has the flexibility to function as a devoted lover during the earthquakes. If you have one of these spouses, please clone him or her and freeze-dry all the DNA you can harvest from them. You will quite possibly wear one out, and the rest of us could use one. Good to have a spare if you can swing it.
I'm talking here about the sort of someone who met you on a good year and decided that they really, really liked you a lot and wanted to, like, move in with you and stuff. These people are fair weather friends in the truest and most regrettable sense. It isn't their fault; they are not load-bearing relationships, these things. And that cold fact only makes things more agonizing.
Your best bet for a lifeline is another sort of relationship. A relationship founded and built on a bedrock of kindness. The kindness of old and tempered friendships. The kindness of parents, sisters, brothers. People bound by the same experiences or by the same blood and gristle and GATTACA that composes your own ragged leftover mind, your own tattered soul, your own scourged body. A kindness that is bone-weary and still as strong as the day it was born. Lust is tricky and serpentine; romantic love has underpinnings of spun sugar. Kindness is something unlovely and unsexy and solider than the earth beneath your feet.
Because - and this is important - that sort of kindness is forged in furnaces older than madness. It is tempered and tested. It is solid.
These people that you may or may not recognize in your present state of mind - these people and no one else remember you as unformed, as forming, as almost whole. They remember you as baby and child and adult. They remember all the things about you, good and bad, that compose the real you, the you that got tossed out into that barren landscape of crazy. They understand that you were tossed there, that it wasn't your penchant for drama or your thirst for adventure that got you into this mess. They know that you - the real you - would never have chosen this, not if you lived to be as old as madness itself.
However terrifying and heartbreaking it is for them to witness your breaking, these people will not let you slip away. They will not - cannot - allow that.
Blood relatives have a memory of the day they first saw you come squalling and fighting and screaming into this world. These are the people who diapered you and fed you and (in the case of siblings) beat you up or were beaten up by you. They remember you, not as perfect, but as you were. Whole and breathing and fully alive.
They watched you grow. They let you fail when failing was important. They watched you fall and rise again, over and over until you could finally walk, talk, read, live. They taught you that promises are permanent and trust is worth trusting. Their memories of you are etched in blood and written on skin and bound in bone.
In the case of close friends, only you and they know what the memories are, but you must be able to count on the reserve being deep, the water being wide. If they are true friends, you might have a safe sphere in which to be crazy - a sphere that won't shatter under the pressure of the craziness itself.
Most - not all, but most - spouses have needs and fears that are fragile and complicated. Most - not all, but most - will not have the reserves needed to nurse you back from your sojourn in the Land of Crazy.
And so, often and wearily, it's family. It's groups of friends, soulmates. It's the Trusted Ones.
So you are there and you don't understand why, but there are gentle and mostly patient hands willing to touch you out of that barren place. Those hands cup your face and gaze into your ruined eyes with the quiet assurance that yes, you really are in there somewhere. Yes.
I've been thinking about these things because I have time ahead of me and some healing behind me and grief in between. It isn't a grief that's unique to me, it shreds many people. It is indiscriminate. Right now it doesn't seem to hold a pearl of wisdom in its claws. It just feels a little heavy here on my back. I think its grip is loosening. I know that I am glad for that.
I don't know that thinking about these things too often is healthy, so I ration the thoughts. When they come - and they do come - I place those thoughts here where I am safe from them for a while.
But they are important thoughts to me. They are ugly and jagged and don't make much sense. They are pieces of a puzzle I've been studying for decades, and I want them to be here when I get back home.
I have people surrounding me now who know that I am still in here somewhere. For me, it's family. They see that much of me is already home. The relief on their faces is something that breaks me in half and heals me again, every single day.
The atmosphere these days is less frantic search-and-rescue operation. Today the feeling is that of a dusk-lit game of hide and seek where parts of me can't respond to the muffled cries, the calls that say come home, Ashley! It's time to come home.
Come out, come out, wherever you are!
I can't quite get to home yet. Not just quite. They understand all the reasons why. It isn't even the home I used to know. But I am closer than ever before, and they are there. My family. They are waiting for me.
They are waiting in a place warm and safe, and their faces look like a home I used to imagine. Their faces are beautiful. They know I am on my way, limping though I am.
They are holding out their hands.
They are leaving the light on for me.
A word on a word imbedded throughout this writeup: macushla. It's a Gaelic term expressing strong affection and deep feelings, pronounced "ma geeshla". It means "my darling; my blood; my favorite, my pet." It speaks to me of family.