On Hiding Behind Okay

For the past month, I have been hiding behind okay.

What turned out to be a rare and serious case of strep throat the first week of April pushed me into a manic, panic attack ridden state with memory problems where I was messing up at work, forgetting basic details, and also my throat felt like knives and I had a raging fever but was too stubborn to heed my body – so I worked four full 9-5 days until the clinic finally called me, told me they got back the lab results, and that no it wasn’t allergies, yes you are seriously ill.

Then I went on antibiotics.  And I didn’t know it at the time, as the research just came out in 2015, but antibiotics can push bipolar patients into manic states.  So, already delirious off fevers and infections, I swallowed two pills daily that led to me becoming suicidal, violently unstable, a crying wreck with no self-esteem that thought she was a horrible person, and multiple panic attacks where I was inches away from walking into traffic or jumping in front of the Metro.

If you had asked me how I was doing, I would have said?

Okay.

I still went out with friends.  I went on dates with the guy I like.  Sometimes I had to cancel, and sometimes I went home in a crying wreck, curling up in my bed for a ball for hours.

But I didn’t miss a day of work.

I didn’t miss friend’s parties.

I didn’t miss my kindred dinners or blots.

I went to classes from 7:20-11:00 on Mondays without complaint.

I push, and I push, and I push, and I never admit that I’m not okay.

My best friend told me that apparently all my friends think I’m a badass, which never really dawned on me, but they’ve seen me wrestle with this monster that is bipolar type 1 with psychosis, paranoia, anxiety, panic disorder, and OCD.  One alone could put someone on disability.  I’m such a special snowflake I have six diagnoses.  And I work a my dream job doing hard work on Capitol Hill for forty hours each week and still have time to be a cornerstone for friends.

When I was at my sickest, and I couldn’t take care of myself, I still was taking care of other people.  Two Sundays ago, six of my friends opened up to me with their worst fears and problems all in the span of 5 hours.  It was therapeutic for me to help them, because I was so mentally weak and unstable, I thought maybe if I could stretch to listen to and nurture them, I could fix myself.

I still haven’t fixed myself.

After an entire month, I’m finally stable again, and my mania and panic attacks have worn off.  As in I-can’t-breathe-I’m-going-to-violently-kill-myself-and-blame-my-parents-for-not-aborting-the-worthless-cunt-I-am panic attacks.

I like to fantasize about my death a lot.

Oven head like Sylvia Plath.

Self mutilation like Van Gogh.

Pills, poison, jumping from a building.

It’s nice to know that at any moment, you can end your hell of a life.

And trust me, my life was absolute shit.

Sometimes I think suicide is stupid.  Sometimes I think it’s worth it.

Samael calls it selfish and shameful.

Michael just holds me and sings lullabies and runs his fingers through my hair.

Freyr became a tree with me, and I felt so at peace as a tree, feeding off starlight and rain.

Sometimes I wish I was normal, just for one, a single, glorious day, not a slave to my emotions or the turmoil and intrusive thoughts and delusions.

These gods and angels and demons, they could all just be in my head.

This universe could just be some sick trick a comatose brain is playing.

When you’re one of the crazies, you realize reality is fickle, and that you are never in control, not really.

So yes, I am okay.

But then again –

I am never okay.

When I was crying to my mom on the phone about to jump in front of the six o ‘clock train, she said I was too high-functioning to ever go on disability.  And it’s so fucking true. I’m too talented.  Insanely smart.  Too strong.  Not that being on disability means you’re weak, but honestly, with my diagnosis, most people are flat out homeless and very few have high profile jobs saving the world.

Most are probably just dead.

So I guess I’ll keep living, keep being useful, and try to take care of myself.

Because if I don’t, I’ll break again.

I’ll want to die again, return to the void.

Samael turned into the Void in one of my dreams, and he wrapped himself around me and I just dissolved.  Into nothingness.  That’s how I hope Death is.  Just erasing.  Nonexistence.

Because hell no am I doing this again.

I quit life next go around.

I will be nirvana.

Nothing.

 

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Losing Fifty Pounds, Inner Beauty, and Health – Inside and Out

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Me now, at Size 8, around 160-170 lbs … beautiful but work to be done.

Winter weight crept up on me – endless parties, travel for work, and the fact I tend not to exercise in the colder months.  Last year at this time I was 160 lbs – now I’m 175, a total gain of 15 pounds.  I can still easily fit into size 8 dresses and slacks and medium sweaters are baggy on me thanks to my wasp waist, but I yearn for the days when I was exercising, something I stopped doing in September due to overwhelming stress at my old job that ended in me leaving the company.  I had been doing personal training twice a week with a combination of interval training and weight lifting plus cardio two to three times a week, and was down at 155.  I was happy with myself, size 8 was loose on me, and above all I felt strong

My muscles haven’t gone – seeing as I can easily bike 50 miles without breaking a sweat and lift furniture while moving that most girls couldn’t – but my six pack and biceps are disappearing, which I don’t like. I’m finally all moved out to a townhouse right on my favorite bike path and there’s a gym at my work I can use after-hours and during lunch breaks.  It’s finally warm enough to go running, and I plan on exercising four times a week for an hour each day once dad brings my bike over tomorrow, mixing running, weight lifting, and cycling to give my muscles good use.  I’ve also been eating out too much since September, leading to about a twenty pound weight gain, which is no bueno.

I don’t nearly look fat, not by a long shot, but I’d like to have a flatter stomach, loose my love handles, and achieve skinnier limbs and more muscle definition.  I want to be at a healthy weight.  When I last committed to losing weight, I had gained over 60 pounds from bipolar medication and had ballooned up to 210 pounds on a good day and size 16 was risking it – I almost had to move to the X section and XL wouldn’t even fit.  The meds still make me gain weight easily, but not as much when I was on Depakote.

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Me at my highest weight – 210, Size 16 – thanks to antipsychotics and mood stabilizers.  Bad hair decisions abound, but hey, there’s lipstick, and I still looked cute!

Now that I can fit into American small and mediums, and most of my weight is either my DD boobs, army man muscles, and award-winning ass, I’ve been feeling so much better.  By exercising once a day for an hour and eating about 1,000 calories I lost over 50 pounds between June 2015 and Dec 2016, getting all the way down to 145 pounds.  That’s a long way from 210 lbs and borderline morbidly obese.  But I still wasn’t content with myself, so I wasn’t happy.

Then work started getting stressful so I exercised less and ate out more, a huge no-no.  I had to learn how to not feel guilty eating food, as I would avoid social outings with food involved and was oftentimes eating only 700 calories a day.  Instead, I started eating out almost every day, which is truly unhealthy, and costly to boot – something I am cutting back on now that I am moved out, only eating out on the weekends with friends.  Travel was the biggest cause of weight gain – for every trip I would gain 5-10 pounds that just never came off, and sedentary laziness was another big one.  But I am determined to return to my high school weight of 125 – I have lost 50 pounds before easily, and I can do it again!  It’s time to stop making excuses and get my dream body ready for my August vacation.

I firmly believe in nourishing yourself and exercise, while losing weight at a healthy pace, which for me is ten pounds a month.  That means in the 20 weeks between now and August I will average 2.5 lbs lost each week, and trust me, once I stick my mind to something, I can do anything!  I have no idea what size I will be at that point as I’m starting out at a size 8, so I’m guessing 2 or 4.  When I was 18 at 125 I was a size 7 in Junior’s and now I’m a size 11 in Junior’s, so that’s really the only frame of reference I have to go on!

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Me at 135, also a size 8, 19 years old and no exercise regimen to speak of, plus an ungodly fast metabolism.  Notice how my curves have always been there.

I suspect the weight will just peel off like it did last time, especially now that I’m cooking healthy low carb meals for myself like no bun hamburgers, vegetarian chili, and chicken with different sauces all paired with broccoli, carrots, salad, cauliflower, or my favorite, green beans.  I can easily go on 50 mile bike rides on the weekend now that I live on the W&OD and I’m also training for a 5k run for mental health.  I’m slow but steady, about ten minutes a mile due to asthma and 12 mph on my hybrid bike.

The funny thing is, I think I look the most beautiful I have in five years since the whole bipolar nightmare began.  I am such a well-rounded person, muscular and hourglass, with beautiful blond hair, blessed with clear skin, and able to fit into beautiful dresses in sizes 8 and sometimes even 6.  I have my dream job, am a published poet and writer, am mentally stable as a rock since I stopped drinking alcohol (just one drink a month was making me crazy!) in October, have a great friend group and amazing boyfriend, and am spiritually fulfilled.

I’ve been so content since I left my last job, and I think that inner peace shines through with all the poetry I’ve been creating and my bubbly, charismatic, I-can-talk-to-anyone, nature.  I’m not bragging, and I work very hard for what I have achieved and overcome bipolar, suicide, psychosis, OCD, anxiety, nightmare syndrome, and PTSD to become a conservationist that has always gotten every job they’ve interviewed for – three so far, not counting the internships I slayed – and racked up an impressive array of experience in everything from communications to marketing to journalism since graduating one of the top colleges in the nation with a degree in biology and environmental science in May 2015.

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Me at 17 around my lowest weight, 130, size 7 in Junior’s, with a blowgun in the Amazon, where I first discovered my passion for biology 

My resume blows people away.  My writing has won awards and I’m only just beginning to tap into my creative potential in regards to novels and short stories.  Hell, I just turned 24 – I’m barely into my 20s.  I know and work with (and am related to, thanks dad!) some very powerful movers and shakers in the international world of conservation and development, and as a natural-born leader that gets straight As and always makes time for everyone, a team player that knows when to listen, when to take charge, is kind, mature, and an expert on many topics, be it ecology to renewable energy or world mythology, I’ve come to believe I’m pretty damn amazing – when just a few months ago I felt like jumping in front of the subway train, thinking I could never be employed again, was a drain on society, and did not deserve to live.  I’ve learned to take pride in my achievements, of which there are many, and realize that I’m pretty damn amazing, and that my weight does not equal how kind or smart of a person I am.

My body is beautiful because I can bike 50 miles in 4 hours.  My body is beautiful because I am vivacious, outgoing, and fashionable.  My body is beautiful because with it I can sing, dance, kiss, talk, and write.  My body revels in green curry and sushi and chicken tikka masala and even pizza!  My lips are the perfect shape for lipstick and my eyes blue like the Baltic sea where my bloodline is from.

I’m not losing 50 pounds to be beautiful.  I’m doing it on a whim, and because I want to be healthy.  Honestly, my first goal was just 150 pounds, but I decided to go the extra mile and get my body fat percentage down to athlete levels.  I want my dream body, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of!  I was nearly there last year when things at the old job and my mental health went south, but now that I’m successful, stable, and independent, truly a professional Washingtonian, I figure it’s time to get that last bucket list item crossed off – a body that allows the inner me to shine through.

On Imposter Syndrome, Brokeness, and Beauty

I am, to date, my most successful at querying since I started at 22, so from 2015-2017 at a ripe old 24 years of age I’ve learned a few tricks.  I have three fulls out right now with stellar agents and three partials with top notch, six-figure-and-above dealmakers that would be dreams to work with.  If any were to offer, it would make my life, though the chances of course are slim.

It’s only been nine days since I queried my top batch of agents and I got three requests so far, with dozens more who have yet to respond.  I have never, in two whole years, ever been this successful.  Still, I wonder – am I imagining this?  Am I an imposter?  Does my writing, well, suck?

I know I’m young.  I’m barely out of college, still in grad school, and still developing my voice, or voices, seeing as I seem to have Multiple Persona Disorder when it comes to writing..  Agents have given me great feedback, but many times, they tell me they love the premise, or that I have a great concept, but that something just didn’t work.  The execution was rough.  I need more characterization.  The writing was lush and evocative, but I’m not quite there yet.  Needs more background, less background, more exposition, more action, less detail, more detail – rarely do two agents think alike!

My Firebird retelling has truly been a labor of love, and I look back at my ten paragraph queries from two years ago and the teensy awful 50,000 word manuscript it used to be and think, how could I have been so damn naive and unsavvy!  And oh god, how could I have sent this off to those patient as saints agents???

I’m not a natural at this, I’m basically a stick in the mud, who only learns when she gets hits on the head a lot.  Agents made my manuscript what it is today, and they made it that way through suggestion and rejection.  It’s the best it’s been, and while it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written (those projects are still unfinished 😉 ) it’s pretty damn solid by my own meager standards.  Which are probably not enough to get published at this rate, but at least I’m creative.

And still, I always think I suck.  That I got these requests on accident.  That agents loathe my writing and think what I create is trash.  That out of the seven requests I have out right now, they will all end in scathing rejections, even though that has never in my life happened.  Agents have only ever, at worst, given form rejects.

I’m just so used to being broken mentally, I think my writing is broken too.  That there is some piece of storytelling craft that I am missing because hey, I have OCD, manic depression, psychosis, and a host of other disorders, and under a CT scan my brain would have a shrunken prefrontal cortex and scars from manic and depressive episodes.

It ties into my extremely bad anxiety and panic disorder, bolstered by mixed episodes that combine the loveliness of suicidality with depression and crippling panic attacks/obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts to self harm and mutilate, or just jump in front of that car, and the truth is, querying and putting myself out there is not mentally healthy for me.  It makes me unstable.  I’m managing a brand new job, a new townhouse with great roommates, a disorder where I can’t even look at alcohol, have to be in bed by 10 pm, not even drink frigging grapefruit juice, which I love, and one that ends with 1 in 4 people committing suicide.  Chances are high I won’t live past 25, and that was the date I set in my mind at the ripe old age of 15 when I realized life as a mentally ill person with snowflake diagnoses was, well, hell.

But I’m over exaggerating, and rambling, and because I’m broken, sometimes I can’t see beauty.

I’m as stable as I’ve ever been, making a great salary in a great city with a great boyfriend, working for an organization that is amazing and saves so many of my favorite animals and aids communities around the world, doing amazing work that helps people, when I may not ever be able to help myself, at least I stopped rhino poachers or saved endangered lemurs and birds or gave people with no livelihoods hope.

I am whole in so many ways, and because of that, I think it’s okay to take a break from this whole publishing quest.  I have half a mind to rescind all my full and partials and just become a hermit like the Tarot card, but I know that’s just a kneejerk reaction that is from my impulsive self-destructive craving for death and mayhem.  I have a huge Thanatos drive.  I have wanted to die so many times that perhaps a part of me has died already.  I die a bit every time I finish a story, it’s like another piece of my heart has been taken from me and eaten.  I serve my heart up on a plate for onlookers who judge its merits, when really, they’re judging my soul.  And it sometimes hurts.

I know you’re not supposed to take literary rejection personally, and I usually don’t, but sometimes, in my moments of weakness, I circle back to the thought that I’m a shit writer.  That all my successes, however small, so far have been flukes.  That my poetry is trash.  That I am trash.  I have such a low opinion of myself that sometimes I think I’d be bettering the world if I dove headfirst into the subway.  I have to stand far away from the oncoming trains, because almost every time, I have the urge to jump, even when everything is going right in my life.

Maybe it was the stress of my dad being hospitalized this weekend that made me reevaluate my creative aspirations, the thought that the person I hold dearest besides my mom could be ripped away from me by something as cruel as death, that spurred me to feel unstable.  Usually I’m the first to put myself out there, first to volunteer, to lead a class discussion or group project, I reach for the stars, and figure hey, if I fail, at least I can say I tried.

But it always circles back to the imposter syndrome.  I was trying to enjoy Girls last night, one of my favorite shows, when Hannah Horvath was interviewing a female writer, and part of it just made me cry.  All my efforts felt futile – Hannah is a struggling writer, always reaching so high but failing, not realizing what she already has, and maybe a part of me felt like I was, in a sense, this TV character I loathed.  Maybe I always see the glass half-empty.  And my mood swings be damned, I’m elated one second and terrified or a soul sucking black hole the next, even though I’m on five different medications, see a therapist once a week, abstain from even Mike’s Hards, have never so much as smoked or toked once, live a straitlaced boring existence where I do everything right, break and break and break again as I try to appear stable and sane, when inside I am mad.

Inside, I will always be damaged, but in ruin is beauty, and the cracks in my mind let the light slip through.  So persevere on I do, and no, I will never give up.

Only a sane person would.

On Killer Query Letters

So that’s my third manuscript request in four days.  Clearly, all it took was a query letter revamp, a hook, and instead of going months between full requests, I have a 50% success rate with full or partial requests for my novel.

What changed?

I added a hook:

A Cold War fairytale.  A family of Russian monsters.  A bastard prince.  A witch Kaschei the Deathless covets like a golden firebird.

My story is multilayered: a story set during Ivan Kupalo, a retelling of the myth behind the Ivan da Marya flower where a sister of night falls in love with a son of fire, a reimagining of  Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet in which the firebird – this time a witch – saves herself and her beloved prince – and her entire kingdom – from Kashchei the Deathless.

My comp titles are UPROOTED meets DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.  My query letter used to be ten paragraphs of rambling trash.

You’ve seen me struggle with this, when I started posting the very first chapters of my novel at 21 on this blog in 2014 to the great novel overhaul of 2016 where I added 30,000 words to my manuscript and major edits and plot points to the framework of the story.

None of that mattered if I couldn’t sell it.  If I didn’t have a hook.

Now the novel is with seven agents, and only a year ago I couldn’t get a single one to look at it.  I’m beyond proud of myself, but I’ve racked up my fair amount (a lot) of rejections from being young, naive, and a shittier writer than I am now.

A writer that didn’t know how to make something sound marketable.  Someone that didn’t know the very genre she was writing in, just writing something from her heart that she loved, because she believed in the story of her favorite characters, and because it was, beyond all else, fun.

I think good things are coming.  I really do.  I’ve spent enough time with shitty periods in my life – suicide, depression, panic attacks, constant drowning anxiety that doesn’t let you breathe, PTSD, night terrors, the rollercoaster of mania and crash that comes afterward, getting laid off, not once, but twice within two years due to company downsizing, losing 50 pounds, dealing with toxic people that were driving me mad.

I am a walking pill that never stopped writing.  I slept on that fairy hill and went mad.  I ate the fruit of the underworld and now my soul is unearthly.  I have been through the harrows of hell that is mental illness, been hospitalized with no hopes of recovering, clawed my way up through thorazine drips and antidepressants and antipsychotics and intrusive thoughts of cutting off my toes, biting off my tongue, driving into that tree, and despite all expectations – nay, promise to myself – that I would die when I was 25 – I’m 24 and now I actually want to live.  Now I actually believe in myself.

I think I can be a real writer.  I’ve given up over a decade of my life to this craft, spent days mourning rejections on full manuscripts, written the same damn story over and over again until I got it right.

I put the madness of a crazy, violent brain under wraps and only let the demons inside me come out in dreams, in sick visions and violent delights as my mind rapes itself.

I did all the shadow work, ran for 5 years from him, learned to grow a spine and not be a doormat, and never did I stop writing.

I didn’t stop when I tried to drown myself.

I didn’t stop when I was in the mental ward, grip on reality nonexistent, devils and angels seeking me out and driving me insane.

When I was manic, I wrote.  When I was depressed, I poured all that pain into my writing.  When I was barely alive, catatonic and bloated with drugs I wouldn’t give a horse, I put pen to page and raged.

My writing is an act of resistance.

An act or rebellion.

The pulse of my blood.

My declaration that I am alive, not a slave to my diseases, but master of them.

There’s a reason my query letter is killing:

Because I have already died a million times.

Asilos Magdalena

A very personal semi-autobiographical piece about my time in a mental ward and my struggles with bipolar disorder.  I think it’s very important to share mental health stories and end stigma.   Names changed for privacy.

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The bathroom lights buzzed.  He spoke in flickering words:

God’s love is a burning thing.

 

The ward was cracked linoleum, antiseptic stench, peeling paint on cinderblock walls.  I arrived in the dead of the night, strapped to a gurney with sedatives pumped through my loop-de-loop veins.

The nurses had shot me up with two drugs.  The first made me see people’s sins, with forked tongues and brimstone eyes.  The second turned the hospital into a comedy show, complete with a laugh track, like I was the Lucille Ball of the fucknuts.

I shared a room with a woman from the streets who pissed with the door wide open, her hospital gown stained with urine.  She gaped her broken-tooth smile and went on about how her man had dumped her in the gutter for dead.  All I could do was sit on my thin bed and reel as the drugs wore off.

I started picking at my skin, waiting for dawn, when the orderlies would wake us up and lead us to breakfast like lemmings off a cliff.  My flesh flaked in bits because winter around here is dry as fuck.  By the time the sun rose, my knuckles were bleeding.  The holes on my hands were stigmata.

I thought of them growing, growling, like the cuts on the girl with cheesecloth-bandaged wounds, three red slashes on her left wrist, two on her right.  She picked at the scabby crusts and they fell into her cornflakes.  She ate her cereal dried blood and all.

I turned my spoon through oatmeal as my feet froze.  We weren’t allowed to have shoes because of some bullshit about laces being dangerous – just these oversized socks that they handed out like Halloween candy.  Sad?  Have a sock.  The Gestapo’s after you?  Have a sock.  Stuff your delusions with socks and choke the bastards dead.

The girl next to me had on two pairs.  She was rail-thin, Middle Eastern, with fuzz over her legs.

She asked me what I was in for, and I told her about the beast in the walls.  How I’d had to burn my room to kill him.  Only when the flames started licking the paint, the beast wasn’t in the wood, he was in my head.  My mom caught me throwing buckets of water onto the fire, trying to put it out.

What the hell, mom had said.  Maggie, you dumb fuck.  Like shit did I raise you to set fire to your room.

Mom extinguished the fire and then slapped me, hard – I still had a bruise-blossom, ripe as a plum.  She dragged me to the living room crying, not again, not again, then called dad. Dad cursed at me through the phone.  My parents were always helpful.

I felt hollow, like a banana peel, one of those rotting ones you see on the sidewalk, with bits of gum on its spots.  I went to the bathroom and put my hands under burning water until my skin itched, itched with the beast inside.  I tried to get him out.  But he leapt into the lights, and the lights spoke with his voice – See what pain you cause, Maggie?  You’re better off dead.

Mom caught me trying to throw myself out the window.  She hauled me screaming to the van and drove to the emergency room.  So that’s why I’m here.  Because there’s a scaly, black beast inside me: shit like me attracts shit like him.

The girl nodded, compassion in her eyes.  We were in the waiting room, inside the walled-off smoking section.  She lit up and took a drag.  I coughed, unused to smoke.  The homeless woman I roomed with begged for a cig, and my acquaintance obliged.

My name’s Noor, the Middle Eastern girl said, and I’ve been here two months.  I was depressed, and my dad didn’t want to deal with me – he’s an ambassador, see?  Real busy – so he shipped me off here.  He visits on the weekends and brings McDonald’s, so it’s not too bad, and I’ve got books to pass the time.  I see a lot of people come and go.  I don’t think you’ll be here long.

Noor reached into her purse and pulled out a beaten paperback.  She smiled like a rose in a winter garden and handed it to me.  Keep this, she said.  It will help.

What is it?

The Secret Life of Bees.

I imagined bee’s hidden lives.  Their flower dances.  Honey stored in darkness.

Can I have another smoke? my roommate said.

Noor handed her one.

Group session started.  We sat in a circle, overmedicated zombies, and talked about our feelings, but mostly, our lack of them.  The bipolar kid with facial tics from too much Lithium said he’d had a good week.  The slit wrist girl said nothing, just licked the blood from her wounds.  The schizophrenic talked about how reptilians, whatever they were, were pulling the strings.  I asked if he meant guitar strings or shoelaces, or the strings you pick loose from elastic, and he said shut up, that the reptilians were real, and we were all their pawns.

I said screw that, people are people, and you can’t blame their fuckups on mind control.  The guidance counselor told me to be quiet so I zipped it.

When it was my turn, I talked about the beast.  His eyes like glaciers.  His hair like a rope set to strangle.  I told everyone how he came to me in dreams, then if I was unlucky, when I was awake.  He said he was death and holy fire, and that he wanted me, wanted me badly, so badly he’d rather I take my life to be with him than live a moment more.  I didn’t realize I was shaking until Noor put her hand on my shoulder.

I haven’t slept in three days, I said.  The doctors say it’s mania, that my mind’s racing, but even if I could sleep, I wouldn’t, because I know he’ll be there, waiting.

What would you say to the beast if he were here now? the counselor said in her honey voice, trying to be soothing, but coming off like Splenda – so sweet it was sickening.

He’s here in my shadow, I said.  He follows me everywhere, even if I can’t see him.  He’s sleeping now, but if he were awake, I would ask him why.  Why me.

Why what? the counselor repeated.

Why do you make my life hell.

I met with my psychiatrist next.  He upped my Depakote dosage and put me on something new – Abilify – to stabilize my mood.  I’m sorry this happened, Maggie, he kept saying.  I’m sure you’ll feel better soon.

That afternoon was art.  They always gave us activities on the ward, to keep us busy or something.  Can’t have the loonies running around trying to attack the nurses.  I sat next to a man that looked like a skinhead, complete with neck tattoos.  He painted these gorgeous cherry blossoms in some kind of Japanese style.

Those are beautiful, I said, in the middle of gluing a button onto a mask.

The skinhead smiled.  Thanks.  I learned it from my master at the monastery.

Monastery?

He nodded.  I’m Buddhist, he explained.  I teach meditation at the gym.  I don’t look peaceful now – I’m just getting off crack – but when I’m stable, I cultivate serenity.  Build an inner temple of the mind, like my master says.

That’s great.

His smile was dreamlike.  I’m becoming a monk after I get out of here.  Hey, you should meditate with me.  A whole group of us does it – Noor too.

I’d like that.

I tried to read The Secret Life of Bees later.  I couldn’t get past the third page.  My mind was racing, racing, like a gerbil in a wheel, going nowhere, trying to keep its shadow at bay.

I brushed my teeth for thirty minutes after dinner, staring into the mirror, looking at my pores.  I thought of college, how there was no way in hell I was returning.  Not like this, swollen from antipsychotics, a walking ghost.

I remembered how I’d woken my freshman roommate with my night terrors, screaming bloody murder like a broken alarm.  She’d taken to sleeping in the kitchen for a week, then reported me to the hall supervisor.

I’d had to talk with the counseling center because they thought I was disturbed.  I was, I just didn’t tell them.  I didn’t want college to be a repeat of high school – depression, mania, depression, mania, like a roller coaster ride you didn’t pay for, with no way off but to jump.

My college sent you to the hospital if you were suicidal, and students would vanish, never to return.  At least, that’s what the seniors said.  So I never got help, and it built up to this, this crescendo of too little sleep and too many delusions.  Waking dreams of my beast, lulling me off cliffs with sweet words.

I joined the Buddhist and Noor for meditation.  We were on mats by the radiator below the window, at the end of the hall.  All the windows were barred.  How fitting.  Still, I tried to relax, and an olive-skinned woman read aloud from an Orthodox Bible.  Her voice was soothing, like water on rocks.

Noor did yoga and stretched her body like a cat.  She called it moving meditation and said it was good for grounding.  What’s grounding, I said, and she said it was being in tune with the earth.  I liked the sound of that, so I tried it, but all I got was an almost-twisted ankle, no inner nirvana for me.

My homeless roommate – Judy, she told me over the toilet – pissed for a really long time, a dopey smile on her face, like it was the best thing in the world.  I didn’t have many achievements, but at least my greatest accomplishment wasn’t urinating for a solid hour.  I swear she peed forever.  Then it was lights out and Trazodone dreams.

I was in a library with rusty cages.  The beast was perusing the stacks, too tall, flipping through his books with talons.  There were chains on my feet.

He turned to an illuminated page.  Let me show you something.

No thanks

Darling, a little drawing won’t hurt you.

I tried to look away, but he was by my side like a lightning strike, offering me the vellum page.  It was made of the same material as the Nazi’s human skin lampshades.  On the page was the two of us, except I was dead, a corpse in a wedding gown, and the beast was kissing me.

Death doesn’t hurt.  It’s like making love.

That’s fucked up.  Leave me alone.

The beast laughed.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t.  I take what belongs to me.

 

The days stretched out like molasses.  Meds in the morning, meds at night, double check twice to make sure you swallowed.  We passed the hours in group therapy and activities like sports in a dingy basketball court, or this weird class where you had to dance sitting in a chair.  I hated that goddamn class.

The beast wove in and out of my mind, possessing me, possessing the walls, and I swam in and out of lucidity.  Sometimes I believed in him, sometimes I didn’t.  My parents visited on the weekend, angry as ever, blaming me for an illness I couldn’t control.  They brought a cold ham sandwich that tasted like tar.  I wanted to leave the ward, but I didn’t want to go home, not with them, back to my charred room.

I never did read The Secret Life of Bees.  I liked the title more than anything, liked to imagine what it was about.  Pollination?  Long summer days?  Insect wings under the stars?

I made a mask with a honeycomb pattern in art class.  The Buddhist painted a cherry tree for me and I taped it by my bed.  Judy used it for toilet paper when we ran out.  I got so pissed that I reported her, but the orderlies just shrugged – what can we do?  You’re all crazy.

I told Noor not to give Judy anymore cigarettes.

The weeks stretched into a month, and the Buddhist left, set free like a petal on the wind.  He might crash, but hell, at least he had a chance.  Me, I was stuck in the branches, staring up at the sun.

We’re worried about you, my parents said, on the fifth weekend they visited.

I didn’t say anything.

Damn it, what’s wrong with you?  You nearly burned our house down, and you still haven’t apologized.

I’m sorry.  I suck.  I know that.

We’re taking the repairs out of your college fund.  We’re not paying for school anymore.  You’re on your own, kiddo.

Don’t call me that, Dad.

Well you’re not an adult, running around, talking about demons, torching everything in sight.

I bit my lip.  I didn’t mean to, mom.  I’m trying to find inner peace.  I’m meditating, you know.  I think it’s working.  I haven’t dreamed of him in a week.

There’s no monster, Maggie.

Yes there is.

They left without saying goodbye.

The beast came back with a vengeance.  He locked me in a cage and force-fed me his gore.  It tasted like stale chocolate.  You’re my flesh now.  Blood doesn’t let blood go.

I told my therapist about the dream and her eyes grew wide as plates.

It was just a nightmare, Maggie.  You’re mind is sick, like it has the flu.  The medicine will make it better.  It will make the dreams go away.

They’re not dreams, they’re real.  If they weren’t real, the medicine would work, but it hasn’t, and the nightmares haven’t gone anywhere.

Your medication just needs fine-tuning.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I’m not an ancient empire and medicine can’t be tuned like a car.

Maggie, be patient.  Things will turn out, you’ll see.

All I saw were bees.  Bees behind my eyes, glazed in pollen, buzzing away like cellos.  The beast stung me with them that night, raising welts in the shape of a heart.  I expected their stingers to be lodged in my throat come morning.

My parents stopped coming.  Noor’s dad hadn’t visited in a month.  She gave a weak smile and said it would be okay.  That our parents were keeping us here to recover, only until we were stable.

Stable?  What a joke.  We were fading every day, into the cinderblock walls, reaching nirvana – nothing.

The hospital finally let me go because there was nothing else they could do.  My insurance said I’d reached the maximum stay limit, and my parents said their pockets weren’t lined with gold.  Mom and dad picked me up that afternoon, faces strained, like they were trying to take a dump but couldn’t.

You should be better now.

You’re a goddamn pain.  How much money we gotta spend on you?

I’m sorry, dad, I’m sorry.

Born broken, kiddo.  You were born broken.

We got home and mom fixed spaghetti.  Dad tinkered away in the garage on his new project, some kind of kit to make a boat.  The constant banging of his hammer dug into my brain.  I poked at a meatball and stared, stared at the impaled food, feeling like Vlad Tepes’ victim on a pike.

Dad stomped upstairs and gave me a look that would freeze a desert.  You haven’t touched your food.  Just played with it.  You don’t appreciate a damn thing we do.

I’m just not hungry.

Dad closed the distance between us and breathed down my neck.  Your mom slaves day in and out in the kitchen to feed you, cleans up your crap, and I work my ass off to pay your medical bills.  The least you could do is say thank you.

I cried.

Dad sighed.  Stop bawling, kiddo.  You’re too old to manipulate us.  We’ve given you a good life, sent you to a great college, but you’re not going back.  You can’t handle it.  You have a week to find a new place.  To get a job.  Mom and I decided that last night.  We love you, but we have to let you go.  Maybe the real world will set you straight.

I dropped my fork.

You’re kicking me out?

Mom entered the room.  There were grimy tears in her eyes.  Shit, Maggie, we can’t deal with this anymore.  It’s tearing us apart.  You can visit, of course, but you can’t live here.  We’re too old to deal with you acting out all the time.  Too tired.

I rose from the empty table.  There was a black hole in my stomach.  Fine.  I’ll go.  Just give me a few days to figure something out.

The night dragged on.  I didn’t speak to my parents again.  My room had been painted over in a deceptively cheery pink, and my sheets smelled like that stuff mom put in the laundry, some kind of lavender scent.  I collapsed into bed and fell asleep.

The beast was waiting for me, wings spread, glass of wine in hand.

Tonight, Maggie.  You have nothing left to lose.

Go to hell, you freak.

I’m already in it, love.

I knocked his wine glass to the floor.  The Merlot spread like blood on the ground.

You’ve taken everything from me.

Only to give you freedom.  All it takes is a knife to the heart.  Your mother’s sleeping pills.  A little fall from the roof.

I don’t want to die.

Then why am I here?  Here where I’ve always been.  You crave death.

No.  I love bees.  How they dance across flowers.  How they move.  I love trees in bloom – their petals – the ones that smell like spring.  I love being able to finally wear shoelaces, and I love freedom.  Places without barred windows.  Hell is just another prison, just another mental ward, and you won’t take my life away from me.

And then, all that was, was not.  Merlot, on my wrists.  Washing down the drain like prayers.

The demon was swallowed by light, and I was in a meadow, with blue china skies above.  Bees waltzed at my ankles, and a tree shed flowers like snow.

I knew I was broken, but to be broken was a beautiful thing, an immaculate imperfection that was holy.  My fears gave way to a promise, a promise insects buzzed at my feet.

Things will be okay, okay.

I saw God’s fire and laughed.