You know how you’re just going along, minding your own business, maybe humming a little Al Green, and then BOOM! You smack your head on something, you break your favorite coffee mug, you hate all of your clothes, and you realize you made a big mistake not going to that Meat Puppets concert the last time they were in town? And then you decide you hate the color of your living room, your husband averts his eyes and communicates in post-its rather than be in the same room with you because you are completely, totally, and incontrovertibly insane?
I know it’s not just me. I SAID, I KNOW IT’S NOT. JUST. ME.
Back when the world was young and I was a transfer student at THE University of Southern Mississippi, I had this sofa and chair I got from Salvation Army. They came en suite. Learn from my mistake: If it’s a two-for-one deal at Salvation Army? You need to run. Fast. They were promptly covered with the finest boho sheets McRae’s in Hattiesburg, Mississippi could supply. Staple guns were involved. This was no amateur operation, obviously. Things in my world were a little upside down. I went through a period of truly horrible insomnia (an affliction that seems to have reversed itself nicely). There was a boy who was totally uninterested and another who was a little too interested. I believe he’d be what the kids today call a creeper. My philosophy professor convinced me that I really did not need to be a sociology major, I should be one of, oh, three women philosophy majors. There was talk of a scholarship which was quickly dropped when my professor lost track of what he was talking about and started ranting about the owner of the only health food store in town having flyers on the bulletin board for the John Birch Society.
The chair accepted its new slipcover nicely. With grace. The couch? The couch became the Marshall Stack of all the negative energy in my life with its percussive beat pounding out a tattoo of failure. It would not stay covered. It groaned, shrugged, and thoroughly rejected its new look. I would tuck in one side only to have the other pop out. It disdained its coat with all the enthusiasm as a six-year-old boy trying to get out of wearing his church clothes. The harder I tried to make the thing look presentable, the harder it worked to look distressed. No one would sit on it for fear it would eject a staple into an available buttock.
For everything that went wrong–I was convinced my macro economics instructor was not speaking English, my therapist seemed to have no interest in me as she was trying to build a career as a Pine Belt Dr. Phil, I couldn’t fit my favorite jeans–my couch would pop a staple or un-tuck itself. The couch became the symbol of My Very Sad Life. The more wound up about something I got, the more recalcitrant the couch became. I even–and this is God’s honest truth–said incantations over it and burned sage in a smudge pot trying to release the negative energy from it. When I moved, my friend’s mother wanted the thing. We again saged it in hopes it would not take its evilness with it to her home. I know the couch wasn’t the cause of my problems. I know that NOW. Then? I just knew when I was not there it huddled in the corner with its black eyeliner, combat boots, and burn book hatching plots to ruin my life. “Dear Diary, ” it would write, “I’m totally gonna come undone when she has company. She thinks she’s such hot snot. I’ll pop a cap in her ass. Or staple. Whateverrrrr. I was listening to The Cure waaaay before SHE was!!”
I have a room in my house like that now. We charitably call it the office, but it’s more an over-sized closet the former homeowners painted dark lacquer red after apparently suffering from some sort of seizure brought on by watching too much HGTV. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, it’s become a Repository Of Crap. Most of the art supplies I worked to get moved into Standard Shed have migrated back into there, old photos are scattered all over. It looks like the morning after a raging kegger at the FIJI house. No, that’s not true. It’s like there were ten deranged scrapbookers living in there until their hot glue gun accidentally ignited some paint thinner and the place BLEW THE HELL UP.
I have placed all my anxiety in that room. And by that, I don’t mean that I’ve put it in there and locked it up so I can get on with life. I mean it’s become a symbol of everything I can’t control. The disorder of the room, in a trick worthy of the Old Testament, has become the writing projects I haven’t finished, the laundry that didn’t get done before we were all out of socks, the kitchen that isn’t clean enough, the Christmas decorations that probably won’t get put up, the car that needs to go to the shop. And I know, on the surface, those things don’t really sound like things worthy of a nervous breakdown, which I believe myself to be having DESPITE THE FACT I have an amazing therapeutic team; the most caring friends anyone could ask for; a husband who thinks I’m the nifty; a supportive family; AND that there isn’t actually any such thing as a nervous breakdown.
Some people respond to stress by making lists or organizing their sock drawers. I respond to stress by shutting down, craving carbohydrates, and bursting into tears every ten minutes. I want to disappear. I want to be away from myself, from anyone, because at that point I’ve turned toxic. No one should have to be around me. The dirty kitchen becomes every failure of my life. And if there is one thing at which I excel, it’s spectacular failures. The mess I feel I can’t control becomes the overwhelming emotion. It becomes glaringly obvious how everything is MY problem because everyone else is acting as if nothing’s wrong.
For as much as I can sit here and talk to invisible people on the other end of the internet about what’s going on in my head, it doesn’t actually come out like this when trying to explain to my husband why picking up a can of diced tomatoes is making me cry. So I write. Not just because I’m emotionally unavailable, but because I’d like not to be. That’s what you call your classic crazy person conundrum.
The mentally ill such as myself–and I really prefer the terms touched (Tetched, as we say here) or batshit crazy–don’t respond to things like the rest of the world. A problem isn’t a thing with a solution. IT’S SOMETHING I CAN’T HANDLE! I’M TOTALLY WORTHLESS! WHY DO YOU STAY WITH ME? A bad day isn’t just a bad day. It is the beginning of endless punishment for being a weak human being who can’t even wash some damn socks. Here’s the best way I know to explain what goes on when I get, well, weird. It’s like I’m driving a car from the backseat and I’m going to work naked. And I know I have to take exit 3A, but I know 3A is closed. Now, I can take 3B and go in a back way that takes a little longer, but gets me there. YET, I still take 3A. I think it must be like being a self-aware robot. Or a clone. The worst part isn’t that I took 3A. It’s that I knew to take 3B.
My friend says Mercury is in retrograde so a lot of people are kind of weird. Not–to use clinical terms–dealing with our shit very well right now. I figure there’s probably someone out there who feels my pain. Hot tea helps. So do clean socks. So go do a load of laundry and put on some lipstick. It’s a start. Also? I find The Rolling Stones always help.