23 October 2010

Recollections on madness

Sometimes if I know that I have a short amount of time for writing, I'll try to amass some sentences to start me off for when I'm washed and dressed and sat in front of my screen. Then by the time I've finished my shower, all the words have rinsed straight off me, the last of them wicked away by the towel I use to dry myself off with, and I come out clean - clean of my sleepy disarray and clean of words.

Today I've decided that I'm going to sit and write something anyway. This morning my thoughts turned again to that short period of nearly ten years ago when I went mad. I don't like to talk about that openly with people, and it occurred to me this morning that even though mental illness is a prevalent thing in society - and something that is much better understood than it used to be - it's still a shameful thing for those of us who have ever suffered at its hand. Shameful because it does two things very well: its appearance subverts the parameters of what is socially acceptable and, more importantly, it reminds us of what we mistrust most about human nature (helping to relegate certain kinds of experience to the shadowy realm of taboo) – loss of control.

My intellect isn't nearly as good as it was ten years ago. Motherhood changes you physically, but nobody tells you how it reshapes your mind into a primal calculator, stripping it of all but the barest pragmatic functions. Streamlined and reactionary, it churns up the gravel of each real moment and interprets our best chances of survival. Before motherhood, before adulthood even, my mind was a furious thing, like a wasp trapped inside an overturned glass. When I went mad, that wasp began to consume itself. I was under attack, on a level so microscopic I didn't realise that I was the source.

Some pretty frightening things happened during that time, but a few interesting things happened too. I felt very powerful for a while. The night I spiralled out of control, for instance, I was convinced that I was a genius. To prove this to myself, I did what film and television depicted mad geniuses doing a few years later: I made spidery charts out of bits and pieces from my train of thought, connecting these up with arrows, isolating some in cloud bubbles, until I reached the epicentre of the storm. I can't remember what this chart revealed to me, but it shamed me to come across it once I was feeling a little better, and I threw it away. I made so many charts and diagrams, even from my hospital bed, where I was convinced that I was being lied to about what time of day it was. I was trying to prove this by diagramming the trajectory of the sun in relation to the direction I believed my window to be facing.

The thing is, I don't know what to do with any of these recollections. Sometimes I wish I could harvest the energy from these ancient, muscular delusions; rinse them of their toxicity and put them to good use. I can put them down here as an example of something that happened to a person you wouldn't glance at twice now, with her fingers wrapped around the handles of a push chair, making steady progress from one place of stability to the next. I can mount their heads above my mantelpiece as a reminder of why I no longer tap against the sides of the overturned glass; why I no longer capture venomous creatures, however small.


Amy said...

You are such a wonderful writer Jackie. The imagery in this post is vivid, frightening and perfectly captures something that is hard for anyone who hasn't experienced it to imagine. x

Brandy Anne said...

Jackie, you are amazing. I have always known you to be, even when you thought you were mad - as I now discover. Though never completely connecting in high school, I really admired you from afar - and still do. ;)

Suz said...

I'd suggest writing it all out or making a collage of thoughts, words and images of that time. Ceremoniously purge it.

I have found that "telling" my story to myself seems to be one of my most-used ways of managing the times in my life where I was less sane than others. :)

Robin said...

I love you. And you're so right about what motherhood does to your brain, and how nobody tells you.

pk said...

Ah, you make me cry. In a good way. I truly believe you'll be fine; but I told you that. Thanks for coming over.

pk said...

PS: Motherhood etc haven't affected yr ability to write in any way, That first paragraph? A little concerto.