Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mental space

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.


Heidi the Hick said...

Oh Xtin. Today you have broken my heart and made me cheer at the same time.

I have experienced the mental illness and the most frightening thing about it was the non-recognition of it. None of us know exactly when I started to unravel, and few knew once I actually broke down, because I hid it so well.

Having said that, I'm recovering relatively fast compared to the length of time it took to fall. AND I realize that mine is nothing compared to what others suffer. I'm going to be okay. I'll always have this, and always need to be aware of it so that it doesn't take over again, but I can function and enjoy life.

Maybe you're like me: sense everything so intensely that it often is frightening. I don't want to live in a reality that is perfectly ordered though. I've accepted my webbiness.

You're probably not losing your mind. It's just hard to live in this world sometimes. Besides, "Reality" is relative.

Thanks for your words!

Scrivener said...

"Here's something I learned from that experience. Neither you nor I are mentally unstable."

I think something like that quite often. About half a dozen times a week, in fact: whenever my brother calls.

After reading this post, I find myself really wanting to sit down somewhere with you and a pint or two and talk about Wittgenstein. Is that odd?

Xtin said...

Heidi, you go girl. And I'm always happy to provide some words.

Scriv, your posts about your brother are always beautiful and crushing. And I don't think it's at all odd that you'd like to have a pint and talk about Wittgenstein with me. I'm always hoping to have that effect on people ...

Tom Bozzo said...

I've found meeting various blog-pals IRL to have been a pleasure overall. There are obviously 'what you can't learn from the stuff people have written about for months or years' issues, but I'd be surprised if those were worse than 'what you can't learn from meeting someone at a party' or the like.

These distance-independent communications media can be a pain. When Scrivener blogged about hosting drop-in dinners, I regretted not being able to pack the family in the transmat to join in w/o disrupting the kids' bedtimes too badly.

Of course, there is the Gmail-integrated chat, which I could see being a massive time-suck. (Though the absence of virtual alcohol delivery makes it less of one than it might otherwise be.)