“I’m looking out from inside the chaos. It must be a one-way mirror because no one seems to be able to see back inside to where I am. The looks on their faces, the judgment in their eyes, tells me everything I need to know. The most frustrating part about the whole messed up situation is that even though I’m the one that they stare at in shock, I am just as shocked as they are. I know no more than they do of why I lose control. What they don’t know is that I am more scared of myself than they could ever be.” ~ Tally Baker
I walk into my second period history class. It takes every ounce of willpower that I have left to take my seat today. I need to be up moving around. I don’t need to be sitting still—I can’t sit still. I need to walk so that I can think. My mind darts from one thought to the next, never bothering to stop and complete any of them. Of course I didn’t do the assigned reading last night. I can only hope that Mr. Dickinson will not call on me.
I can hear the whispers from the other students. I can feel their stares on the back of my neck and I just want to turn and scream at them. My foot is tapping restlessly; my hands are shaking like an addict desperate for a fix. I’m not an addict. I’m not going through any form of withdrawal. I’m broken. Something inside of me is defective and refuses to operate properly, like a busted radio that won’t tune into your favorite station.
Uttering a prayer of thanks I notice that I actually brought my history book as I pull it out of my backpack. I open it to a random page because I have no idea what unit we are on. I have no idea what the topic has been for the past couple of weeks actually. Would I like to know? Absolutely. I would love to do my homework like everyone else. I would love to pass a test once in a while. But broken people don’t do homework and broken people can’t pass tests. And as much as I would love to do those things, the shattered soul inside me brings me to a place where I don’t care. Getting from one second to the next is all I care about, it’s all I can think about. Just breathe Tally, in-out-in-out.
I don’t even realize that class has started until I hear my name. My jaw clenches as Mr. Dickinson’s nasally voice reaches my ears.
I look up, briefly meeting his stare before my eyes dart away. I wonder what he sees when he looks at me. Does he see the monster crawling under my skin, clawing to get out, to take over? If he does, he gives no indication of it.
“Would you care to summarize last night’s reading?” He gives me a knowing smirk; or maybe I just perceive it that way.
“I can’t,” I admit and my voice is dry and gravely, sounding more like a smoker of twenty years than that of a seventeen year old.
He adjusts his glasses on his long beaklike nose. His condescending smile reveals two rows of coffee-stained teeth. “You can’t, or you won’t?” He asks me.
My pulse is racing and my hands are growing clammier by the second. I’m clenching them tightly, trying to clear my head and fight the rage that is building inside of me. I don’t know why that I’m so angry. Mr. Dickinson is a jerk and everyone knows it. Every student in his class has, at some point, been on the receiving end of his degradation. Somehow I know that it is not him that I am truly angry at, but that doesn’t matter to me right now. All that matters right now is that I can’t handle his smart ass comments. I can’t handle his belittling. I feel small enough right now.
“If my answer had been I won’t then that is what I would have said. The word won’t is a contraction of two words—WILL and NOT,” I continue, placing an emphasis on the two words as my voice steadily rises. “This would imply that an individual has the ability to perform a task, but chooses not to for whatever reason. Since that was not what I said, then that is not what I meant. Any person of average intelligence with even a rudimentary comprehension of the English language would know that when I said that I can’t summarize the reading, I meant that I don’t have the ability to summarize the reading.”
Some far away part of me knows that I need to shut up. It almost feels like I’m watching someone else say those things. Unfortunately it’s not someone else, it’s me and no amount of telling myself to stop talking will work. “At this point, an appropriate follow up question you might ask would be something like, why can’t you summarize the reading? That would give me the opportunity to tell you that it is because I did not do the reading.” I look down and realize that I’m standing. At some point in my tirade I have gotten to my feet. I look around at my classmates staring at me in horror. When I look back to Mr. Dickenson his face is bright red and I can tell that he is about to let me have it. I want to tell him that screaming at me in this moment would be the dumbest move of his life. Instead I calmly walk to the classroom door. I ignore him calling my name, threatening to have me suspended, like I care. My movements feel mechanical as I walk to the girls’ bathroom. There is only one thing that will pacify this pain, this rage that scares me to death.
After checking to make sure that I’m alone, I let out a slow breath and pull the blade from my pocket. I slowly sit down with my back against the wall and pull my sleeves up. I shake with the anticipation of the relief that I know is coming. The razor glides across my skin and the sting nearly sends me into a trance. But the trance is fleeting. So I cut again, and again, over and over, craving the single moment of physical pain. I don’t notice the blood pooling around me and I don’t even hear the screams. All I know is that there is relief for a tiny second in time and I don’t care if I have to cut every inch of my body, because I need it like I need air to breathe.
“Mr. and Mrs. Baker I’m glad that you could join us today,” Dr. Stacey says with a genuine smile.
It’s been a month since my melt down in history class. A month without a blade of any kind, not even a butter knife. A month of therapy, observation by Dr. Stacey and the other staff of Mercy Psychiatric Facility. A month of deciding the best course of action for treatment. One month, and my life is forever changed.
“Do you know anything about Bipolar disorder?” She asks my parents.
Both shake their heads and I watch as my dad leans forward, adopting his I’m listening posture. I slump down in my chair and try to keep from drawing their attention. I dread the looks of worry and pity that I know will be on their faces after this conversation.
“Bipolar disorder is a mental health caused by certain chemicals in the brain become imbalanced. Some are depleted and some become overproduced. Patients suffering from bipolar disorder experience sever mood swings, hence the name. In severe cases it can be similar to schizophrenia. It can be difficult to diagnose because people often seek help only when they are depressed. Generally, the mood swings don’t happen hourly or even daily like you might think. A person with bipolar disorder will be depressed for months, sometimes years, and then they will swing the other direction, to what we call mania. Again, just as the depression can last years, so can the manic phase. The depressive episode can cause irrational behavior. When a person with bipolar disorder is depressed they often become enraged more easily or about things that normally wouldn’t bother them. The depression can cause unreasonable thinking to the extent that though in reality it is not the end of the world, to them it is, that is their reality. Mania can cause irrational behavior as well only it is in the form of grandiose thinking. For example, believing that they are incapable of failing, or being hurt, spending large amounts of money, often times they will be reckless in their relationships whether with a boyfriend or friends. During a manic phase their need for sleep is decreased and they often will take on more than they can handle because they believe that nothing can stop them, nothing is too much.” She takes a deep breath and glances over at me. I’m thankful that the look on her face is one of concern, but not of defeat. I avoid looking at my parents. I don’t want to see the pain or fear in their eyes—the same pain I saw the night they brought me to Mercy. I don’t want to see those looks on their faces ever again.
“The main thing you need to know is that it is very treatable. While it can take a while to find an effective combination of medications, Tally can lead a normal life if she remains on them and does therapy as needed . Over time she will likely have to have her medicine adjusted periodically. But as long as she takes care of herself, she will be able to manage the disease rather than the disease managing her.”
My parents are silent. Out of the corner of my eye I see my mom shift nervously. My father is motionless. I can’t tell what thoughts are running through their heads. I try not to shift in my own chair but the silence is beginning to make me uncomfortable. Finally, my mom speaks and her words rip wider the already bleeding hole inside of me.
“How long will she be this way?”
I feel the familiar rush of anger that has been out of my control and grip the arms of my chair to keep from jumping up and telling them both to go to hell. I grind my teeth in an attempt to keep my mouth shut and try to take slow breaths like Dr. Stacey showed me.
Dr. Stacey sidesteps the questions and continues on with her explanation of my diagnosis. “We are beginning a combination of medicines that has proven to work well for other bipolar patients and we hope that it will help level her out. It takes several weeks for the medicine to get in her system so we won’t know for about a month if the medicines are going to help. My suggestion is that she stays here through the summer. She needs to learn how to deal with the emotions that make her feel out of control in a healthy way.” Her face grows serious. “I need you to understand that your daughter is not defective, she is not fragile or broken, though she may feel that way. What she needs most from you is for you to treat her normally. If you make her feel like there is something wrong with her then you will hinder her therapy.”
“I’m right here you know,” I grumble.
Dr. Stacey gives me a brief smile. She is very good at dealing with my surly attitude and I have to admit that there are days that I purposely try to provoke her, though I don’t understand why.
My mom turns to look at me. Her face is blank. Any emotion a mother might show for her daughter in such a difficult situation is absent and I feel it to the depths of my messed up soul.
“We love you,” her words are clipped and sound about as full of love as dried and wasted desert is full of water. “We expect you to do your best to fix this,” she continues, “so that another embarrassing situation doesn’t arise again.”
I nod, but I don’t speak. I know that if I do I will break down completely. I’m so angry and it’s so easy for others to become the object of my wrath, deserved or not.
When the meeting is over my parents both give me awkward hugs but there are no promises of calling and checking in and no lies of understanding of how hard this must be for me. Mom passes on a letter from Natalie, my best friend, and tells me that she’ll be by later that week.
“Tally,” Dr. Stacey’s voice has me stopping before I can exit her office. I turn to look at her and I can instantly see that, as usual, she sees much more than I want her to.
“It’s okay to be angry; it’s what you do with that anger that matters.”
My eyes are empty. I know they are empty because I am empty. I am empty and nothing seems to fill the void. “Whatever you say, doc.”
Her lips purse as she gives me a solemn nod. “How about you take some time to yourself? You can spend time in your room, or anywhere else you can find some peace.”
I’m surprised by her suggestion because we aren’t typically allowed to spend much alone time during the day. Doc says it’s because alone time fosters self-pity and depression. Personally, I think they just like watching the crazies interact with one another. It can be quite entertaining when a yelling match ensues over who was using the color pencils first. Yes, I said color pencils. Scary, I know.
I make it back to my room without incident. By the time I walk in my breathing is shallow and I’m biting my lip to keep back the tears. Tears make me angry because they are just one more reminder of how broken I feel. I shut the door behind me and slide to the cold, hard floor. I pull my long sleeves up and stare down at my arms. The cuts are almost all healed, but the scars left behind will always be a silent reminder that I am fragmented, unable to be solid and whole. I will never wear short sleeves again. I close my eyes and search for something inside me that I recognize, anything to remind me that I wasn’t always this way, I wasn’t always such a mess. I don’t even recognize myself anymore and every day I seem to fade even more. The worst part, the absolute worst part, is that I don’t understand why I feel this way. Why do I feel like the end of the world is one step away? Why does breathing hurt and why does despair seem to be my only friend? What has happened that could possibly make me feel so completely and utterly damaged. My parents haven’t always been so cold and distant. They were never the most affectionate people, but they weren’t so awful to cause me to have a complete and total meltdown of outrageous proportion.
I bang my head against the door as I begin to feel the constant rush of emotions that I don’t know how to restrain boiling up inside. I don’t want to be this person.
“WHY!” I finally give in and scream. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!” I’m rocking now and I know that I should stop. I’m telling myself to stop but I can’t. The flood gates are open and nothing will close them until I’m utterly exhausted. I thrust my hands into my hair and pull, feeling a slight measure of relief from the emotional agony as the physical pain briefly distracts my fragmented mind. I release my hair and begin to scratch my arms until blood is welling up and skin is gathering under my nails. I don’t care; I just don’t want to feel anymore, I don’t want to hurt anymore. I hear myself screaming incoherently, until all that’s left is whimpers.
As I roll to my side and curl up in a ball, I begin to shake as if the temperature had suddenly dropped and a raging blizzard is swirling around me. It’s then that I realize that I’m not broken. Broken implies that I might be able to be fixed. No I’m not broken, I’m shattered beyond repair, beyond hope. I let myself sink into the darkness and welcome the familiar comfort of knowing that I won’t live forever. Someday I will die and this torment will be over.