Recently, a friend of mine had to help a student who had an undiagnosed mental illness. Unsurprisingly, that was a pretty significant challenge for both her and the student, and I think they both handled it as damn well as you can handle it when the universe propels shit at you at high speed.
Later, my friend said to me, "Here's something I learned from that experience. Neither you nor I are mentally unstable." I knew what she meant. We worry about it, but being around people whose reality really is fragmenting between their own thoughts is a humbling and chastening experience, and you feel arrogant and self-absorbed for ever entertaining the thought that you were losing your mind. Because we both worry about that quite a lot. It's a special worry for me. It's THE worry. Forget Death or Abandonment. The dark, terrifying thing that observes me from the corner of the room at night is Going Insane.
I have the sort of overthinking, never-off, boredom-prone, many-tracked, volatile, highly invested, intense temperament that often generates speculation about whether or not I'm losing my mind. Reality has a sort of mosaic, technicolor, neural structure for me that is sometimes too bright, or suddenly the links seem thin and fragile, or the dark spaces between the gleaming arcs of Things threaten to swallow everything. I want reality to have a sort of tightly-packed, continuous, homogenous flavour about it, but instead it has a diffuse, vaguely webbish, extremely heterogenous splinteryness. I am going to fall into the open spaces or my thoughts will upset the balance of the weave of things and the threads will suddenly dissolve and derealise before my eyes.
My great friend H, who is a terrifying savant in these matters, always knows when I am doing this -- floating in reality with my arms and legs tucked closely against my body and my eyes scrunched shut, trying desperately not to touch anything, not to think anything, because I'm going to stab myself on a reality-splinter or break apart some crucial web between two reality-bits. She looks at me and says, "Put your feet down. There is ground there."
When she says this, I know why we are friends. That sense of groundlessness, of no contiguity, of nothing linear or stepwise, is exactly what frightens me. And she always reminds me that there is nothing to be afraid of. See? There's the ground. Step down.
In sickness and in health
2 months ago