Red curtains move in the wind of an open window. The warm wind then, on warm sunlight, peers through, looking in on me with a face only a schizophrenic could invent. Long sunlight fingers push aside the air. Dust floats. My cats like to lay in this type of sun and I like to sit with them, letting my socks get warm and warm my feet. Outside there are bugs and branches and leaves turning red. The play-dough scent of apple branches being pruned from their trunks evaporates around me even as I write. The smell of hardwood. The smell of sweet apple flesh and hazelnut candles. Pine trees at the top of the yard are green and settle their stout bodies against the cooling topsoil. People lean on one another in the face of gathering winter. For now, it’s still autumn. For now, we still have to use all our apples up and fix the snowblower and stitch our jeans and prepare the house for colder weather.
The days grow shorter and darker and before we know it the snow will arrive and we will be buried up to our necks in it. The cats will stop shedding and pack on some winter weight. All the pumpkins will smile. Bittersweet and rose and wine. Cherries and chestnuts. The colors this time of year are without names. Wordless colors tossed across treetops and all the way across mountains which will soon be powdered in light, quiet snow. And against the blue-sky birds fly south, squirrels gather acorns, and the resident porcupine steals corn cobs from the aged corn fields. Cobwebs gather and the furnace kicks on. Each morning grows colder. Hot soups in hot steamy kitchens are stirred. Ghosts come out at night and stand around their ghostly fires that burn the color of nothingness. The same nothingness that aches in me.
The weather allows for hot showers now and I take ones that border on the cusp of being too hot. When I shower I do it at night with the lights off. Letting the water rinse the coffee grinds and chewed nails and dried skin away. Someone once said depression was like a cold bath, but I know for sure it is a hot shower; easy to get into, much harder to get out of. After a shower that goes on for too long, I try to sleep. I’m always trying to sleep. I feel like I have become an impression of a ghost. Sheet thin and thinking about tombstones. One second, I am the great hibernationist. The next a hummingbird, with two heartbeats and a mouth full of language.
Odd to think that I still don’t know myself. After all this time alone, we never became acquainted. I am an introvert afraid of other people, these people include myself.
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself anymore. I see a self, made new by new flesh. Made new by antipsychotics and antidepressants. Made new by scars. And new by new wrinkles and new stretch marks. I see a new body and a new brain. But I don’t see myself.
It’s hard, having been so many things. Flashes of an aging young adult who never got to know herself. I was a kid once. A kid who always kept my hair cut short. A kid who needed braces but never got them. Once upon a time, I was a tomboy. An arm wrestler in the fifth grade who could beat the boys. For a while, I was a confused preteen. Baggy pants and tight shirts. A teen who didn’t want to have sex. An anorexic. A kid who, while good at reading books, was poor at reading people. I obsessed over spirituality and religion. Questioning everything to the point of insanity. I was unhealthy. Underweight. Sick. Bedridden. Disabled. Non-Epileptic but still having seizures. Dependent. A smoker, god forbid. Someone buying drugs in the back seat of a station wagon that wasn’t my own. Having sex without enjoyment. A woman who saw her womanhood and was scared of it. A woman who saw her body but didn’t know it well enough to know what she wanted. An all A’s student attempting suicide in the middle of the night. A self-harmer. A frequent flyer at the hospital. Psychotic. Manic. Depressive. Confused. Boney. Absent. Schizophrenic. Bipolar. Schizoaffective. Catatonic. A nighttime-midnight-in the dark-showerer. A nighttime-walker. Empty. Lost. Someone who had wished they were dead but ended up happy to be alive. A college dropout and then a nontraditional student. I used to be someone who listened to the voices. Someone who followed the hallucinations. These day’s I’m just tired.
And then came the antipsychotics and all the things I’d ever been came full stop. Now I’m soft and bitter and my brain is full of Seroquel soup. I’m caught between meds having saved my life and having destroyed it. Of course, I should say that Schizoaffective Disorder did the destroying. Sluggish waves with no force behind them turning my psychotic wheels. Caught between wanting recovery and wanting destruction. For being happy for my health and being spiteful of it. Between being accepting of antipsychotics and believing the benefits to be disingenuous. I’m changing into something calmer, into someone that has to relearn themselves, just as everyone who has been disassembled by illness or injury must. I want to be a woman in her own skin. I want to be a woman and feel like it because I’ve never felt like it. I want to be like all the beautiful women I’ve ever seen, all the beautiful people, even now I know it’s not realistic, or true. I also don’t want to be those women, those people. I don’t know who I want to be, or what I am. Sometimes I want everything at once and other times nothing at all.
So out of all the things I’ve ever been I’ve never known any of them for very long. If nothing else I am a survivor of an illness which sought to pull me to pieces, a few at a time. I’m still trying to put myself back together after schizophrenia, sometimes I wonder if I’m not a person at all. Not a woman, but all the voices bouncing around inside of me, like light fragmented through stained glass. Even my many pieces are beautiful. I want to see change but I can’t say I know for sure that I will. Of course, this year went by faster than any year I’ve ever lived. With each year that goes by the spool of thread which is my life unravels faster than I can gather it. If I close my eyes and hold my breath and take my meds perhaps another year will move on like this one did: fast and without too much sadness.
SYRENA CLARK is a young woman. She is a student, a writer, and a schizophrenic. She writes mostly about her experience with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, describing how it completely upended her life.
Featured image: Eugène Carrière, “The Contemplator,” oil on fabric, 1901. Cleveland Museum of Art.