Orbiting Sanity by Anonymous

 When we shatter, there’s no way to tell which pieces will land closest.

That time I spent in the white box with a cot in the middle of an observation window that was sometimes there and sometimes wasn’t...Maybe it was two rooms, I don’t know. Schrodinger’s Room: the window both was and wasn’t there. Those long moments felt like days and disoriented me so much that I began to wonder if I had died. Was I in purgatory? I had no idea. I left the room to pee once (with an escort), so I learned that things existed beyond the room. They gave me homemaking and automotive magazines to pass the time - meaningless drivel, sentences that blended together and provided no reprieve or distraction from my despair and rage. Rage at this system that heard my ask for help staying alive and responded with an accompanying officer. Rage at myself for ostensibly being so weak. The strongest thing about me often seems like my negative self-talk. Rage at my job for providing little support beyond telling me to use our EAP and get a therapist who works for the district. A lot of rage burning to keep my jet fuel pushing me forward through what felt like a cavernous abyss.

I wanted to die, constantly. I still want to die often, but this was all the time. 24/7. I was about 24 when this all happened. I had been feeling like this for the better part of two years without abatement. I would smoke so much weed that I saw stars,  attempting to quiet the noise enough so that It’s Always Sunny or Oz or Archer could drown out the rest. By 24 ,I was convinced that I could not do this for much longer. If by 26 this hadn’t stopped, I would kill myself. I hated that it had gotten to that point, but it had. I was a husk of myself -- malnourished, my fire atrophied to a smolder, barely shuffling from home to the bus stop, to the bus stop to work, to the bus stop to the bus stop to home. It was not, at that point, what I considered a life worth living. Even more, my very being was disintegrating as I was putting up a façade of sanity. 

In the winter, I had a day where I dissociated at work. I felt completely numb. My fire had gone out. I didn’t have the energy to keep moving my hollow self forward: the erosion was complete and I was incapacitated by the dizzying fall that awaited me. My vice principal, Sandra (thank you Sandra), suggested that I take the day off and go to Cascadia, a 24-hour mental health center. On the verge of tears, I asked her if she thought I was crazy. She said she thought I was under a lot of stress. I went to Cascadia and talked to a counselor about my stressors, while also hiding enough (a lot) to appear not crazy. That’s the thing about going crazy - I felt I had to hide the signs and symptoms: long-lasting stretches of deep depression followed by bouts of mania. I cycled between weeks of paralysis and courses of talking fast, insomnia, and committing to huge projects without following through. I was not just stressed, as I had told the counselor, myself, and others. It wasn’t “just” stress from work. It wasn’t “just” social pressure to seem not crazy. It was the aggregate pressure of the erosion of the middle class (I taught full time and lived paycheck to paycheck), a predatory rental market (half my income went to rent), and an understanding of the stakes:

Work or Die.

Knowing these stakes and watching your responsibilities and life slip through your tightening fingers is a special kind of despair. I wasn’t eating, cleaning, or filing paperwork. So I began to file for FMLA. I don’t know how I completed the application. But I did, got approved, and I was free. If it had been “just” stress from my job, my life should have improved significantly at this point. It did not. 

I began to lose even more of my grip on reality. I was smoking weed every waking moment that I felt bad, to the tune of about 5 grams a day. I was sleeping inconsistently: 3 hours here, 7 hours there. I rarely slept without crying myself to sleep and eventually, I stopped sleeping. Lacking the right words, I reached out to my former classmates, my parents. I could not communicate that I was crashing and burning and that I needed help. So I got none. I was (still am) angry with them and myself, but these days I am more angry at the lack of resources for people in my situation. I am angry that our country has no interest in keeping us healthy and safe beyond the bare minimum to keep producing. When I fell, I shattered, There was no cushion, net, or even a dustpan to pick up the pieces without further pain or bloodshed. 

You need to give your body time or it will make time.

The fundamental problem with this is that we live in a capitalist world that demands your lifeblood. Your vitality. Your mental energy. Your emotions. Your health. In exchange for crumbs. I knew something was wrong, but I also knew I didn’t have time to figure out what. So I sought out a psychiatrist who took my insurance, and was put on an SSRI. What I didn’t understand at the time was that my anxiety had been keeping something bigger at bay.

I already came to work in every other mood, so when I came to work and was talking very fast and walking very fast and laughing too much, I just assumed that I was trying to be proactive about managing my overwhelming workload. When I went home and cried myself to sleep at night, I thought of all the teachers who told me that crying was a normal part of teaching: this job will make you cry. On days when I felt suicidal, I would take an extra dose. And when I told a colleague that I was feeling strange - that I had been taking a small dose of Lexapro and couldn’t contact my psychiatrist because she quit, and couldn’t take time off to find a new psychiatrist because I was out of sick days, my colleague suggested I take more. So I did. Predictably, this didn’t help. Eventually I decided to flush them.

Okay so here’s the thing: I didn’t know the brain zaps were even a symptom other people who quit SSRIs cold turkey experienced until years later. But it was a turbulent time filled with paranoia, panic attacks, hallucinations, and delusions (I thought I was a sleeper cell at one point). So yeah, I went crazy. And at a point, it felt like too much. So I called the crisis line and said the magic words...

and they sent out a counselor 


who refused to leave when I said I wasn’t comfortable with him there.

I didn’t have the words to explain properly why I was so uncomfortable, so I moved up close to the counselor, within breathing distance, and said, see? Keep in mind it has been a day of hallucinating, so I am burned the fuck out. The cop tried to push me back, so I moved his hands, and he cuffed me. He took me to St. Vincent, where I got put on suicide watch (white room, no pads), and eventually was admitted to the inpatient wing for a two-week commitment evaluation - which is what the paper they shoved in my face to sign said, though I far from understood.

The strangest things stick with you when you’re laying amidst the pieces of your shattered self: fragmented...trying to orient to some sort of magnetic north...division rules. All the history, post-colonial literature, critical race theory: on the ground somewhere. Division rules? Certainly not the only piece that remained. I still felt like a car battery hooked up to a pocket flashlight: brimming, tense, on the verge of a blowout or blow up.

Fucking division rules.

Even number? Divisible by 2. Ends in a 0 or 5? Divisible by 5. Thank god for the whiteboard, I thought as I chattered away to the other patients: a perfect medium to work out my psychomotor agitation (I didn’t think that part until I learned what psychomotor agitation was years later). The whiteboard was smudged from infrequent cleaning and yet I continued writing in my doctor’s scrawl across the whiteboard.

Arbitrary numbers floated, seemingly disembodied: 471, 149, 368, 725. My faded purple Expo became a pointer as I explained: If all the digits add to a number divisible by 3, the whole number is divisible by 3. 4 plus 7 plus 1 is 12. 12 divides by 3 into 4, so the whole number is divisible by 3. For some reason, this brought me a lot of calm. I don’t remember names from the hospital at all, save a few, but I do remember earning a nickname that day: The Professor. I actually hate nicknames, partially because I have never found any of mine flattering enough to suit me as well as saying, “Alexander, as in the Great.” The Professor I didn’t mind, because it reminded me that certain parts of us cannot be gaslit or tranquilized away. Even if I’m sitting in an inpatient mental health wing, I still can’t help but explain things. To convey ideas, feelings, and whatever else I feel the need to.

Tranquilized. Do you know the feeling? 

There is a Japanese legend known as The Standing Death of Benkei, in which a soldier - after killing 300 men - is riddled with arrows and dies while still standing. Technically, this is possible. Rigor mortis takes about 3 or 4 hours to occur, but after strenuous exercise this process occurs much faster. Additionally, arrow trauma can cause muscles to stiffen.

I imagine it would be kind of like that, if general protocol wasn’t to pin you down when sticking a needle into your hip. It’s how I imagine a satellite feels after detaching from its propulsion source: drifting, no matter how hard you try to stay lucid and under your own agency. Lost in the gravitational pull. You exhale and wake up in bed. I was annoyed they had triple-teamed me, but ambivalent: I was pleased with my own strength. Their technique was nonexistent: they just hugged my legs. Simply getting an arm between my leg and them let me keep leverage on the first, then the second. But the third teetered me over. 

It was ---- not fun.

This author wishes to remain anonymous, but has shared that he is a former teacher living with bipolar disorder.