A year ago today
I was unable to speak
one syntactically coherent
thought let alone write it down: today
in this dear and absurdly
by your grace
I am here
– Franz Wright, from “Thanks Prayer at the Cove”
It seems I’ve been a bit of a downer in the past few posts—tragic, joyless, bleak, without a balancing comic inflection. My husband reads them and keeps saying the same thing: “Harrowing. But where’s the redemption?” Meaning: Hello? Anyone for a little levity and Saving Grace? Isn’t this blog intended to chart recovery? No backsliding! No grim nostalgia for the rosy manic past! Just me and IT in the ring, duking it out, both of us bleeding from the nose and mouth. At the end of the twelve rounds? My glove raised in assured victory.
But nothing is assured in this fight.
I should try to stay on the up-and-up for you, whoever you may be. I know you’re waiting for the day when I’ll shrug IT off and emerge healed and whole. So am I. There’s a lot at stake for me these days in the simple act of maintaining balance, one foot in front of the other as I cross a beam that is only an inch wide. You see, besides the possibility that I could lose everything that I love to this disease (kids, husband, family, friends, writing, teaching), I am also facing a more immediate doomsday edict: the next hospitalization won’t be a short term junket, but will be a minimum 6 month confinement to a STATE FACILITY (the devastating import of this requires capitalization). My knees buckle—what do I have in common with the catatonic staring impassively at her thumbs? Or the psychotic smearing shit on the walls? Or the mundane mad rocking back and forth on her heels, plucking out her eyebrows?
Oh, ever-so-smart PhDed Kerry snickers: Nothing. I have nothing in common with any of that. (“Except,” the reasonable voice of unreason chimes in, “you have this funny history of becoming manically incoherent, starving yourself, purging, cutting yourself, and attempting suicide.”)
Oops. I’ve wandered down the brambled path again. Apologies.
I should disguise the edges of this ever-present, low-grade despair. I could, for instance, write about the past five days of sunshine and blue skies, a rarity in Meadville even in the best of summers, and the melting icicles, and my goofy dogs bounding through the snow in the woods, and how I tilt my face towards that beneficent light which feels like a whispered blessing: You will be restored to yourself. You will find the way back into your life, a life which is filled with love and silly joy.
Or I could write about my riding lesson yesterday. Back on Chandi, THE HORSE WHO SPOOKS AT EVERYTHING. Loud noises and unaccustomed objects (a pole, an orange cone, a square of sunlight on the ground) startle him, muscles bunch in frightened agitation, and then he hops around, rears back, speeds up. Or as Lee, my instructor put it, “He’s way out of control.” It didn’t help that melting ice kept sliding off the arena roof, so he would tense up and balk at simple things like sticking to 20 meter circles, bending at the curves, and maintaining a consistent trot. It didn’t help that my heart would pound in fear every time he went bonkers, and then I’d overcompensate—reins too short, bit pulling at the mouth, too much, then too little leg. “You’re out of control,” Lee said. “Remember: calm line and pace. Keep your seat back and loosen up on the reins. Your energy transfers to him.”
Which got me thinking about my own anxiety and fear and their relationship to mania. Because aren’t the manic phases steeped in anxiety and fear, don’t I get spooked, start imagining a monster where it is only a splotch of light, start speeding up because I can’t contain all the nervous, terrified energy, start balking at the simple things that keep me safe and grounded? And aren’t anxiety and fear IT’s weapons that keep me from recovery and grace?
Towards the end of the lesson, Chandi refused to step over a series of close-together poles. He’d start to walk up to them, then his ears would flatten back against his head, and he’d stand stock still, then back away. Poles on the ground. A pretty basic, non-threatening obstacle. And yet, wasn’t he imagining some enormous snake? The simplest task was alarming and the only way we could help him to walk through his fear was for Lee to take the reins and lead him over the poles, gently, confidently, quietly pulling him through the course.
Which also seems to be connected to IT and recovery: giving up control means ceding the reins for the time being, allowing others who can better see my route to recovery to guide me—maybe even pull me—through the obstacle course of IT, and in this guidance, help manage fear and anxiety. No need for blood at the nose and mouth, no need for the hyperbolically-raised glove. Just this assurance, and it is enough for now: Chandi and me, cool and collected, calm line and pace, stepping over the poles and sticking my seat.