Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dark Blue

If you don't follow me obsessively around the internet, you might not know that I recently left my job. There were a lot of reasons, but mostly because my work situation was becoming rapidly and overwhelmingly upsetting. One of the first things I remember being excited about when coming to terms with the fact I was likely to be unemployed for a little while was the idea that I could stay up all night again if I wanted to. I've always loved being up when I'm not "supposed" to be, and after two years of working 9 to 5 the idea of being able to be awake or asleep as I chose was utterly glorious. Apart from the obvious childish glee at breaking the societal taboo of "proper" sleeping patterns, my love of staying up is actually driven by something kind of complicated.

You see, sometimes, it's like there's someone else trapped inside of me. Okay, to be totally honest, I feel like that all the time, it just bothers me some times more than others. It's not a distinct other person, like another personality, but rather a different, bigger, more nebulous aspect of the whole sum of what makes up me. There are lots of parts of me - there are parts that are overwhelmingly kind, and some that are horribly callous and unfeeling. There are some parts that are simply pragmatic. But under all of that, under all the conscious thoughts and rationalisations and the parts of me that are allowed to determine what I do most of the time, there is something else. Something deeper, darker, crueler and kinder. Something...bigger. It's almost as if she's a giant who's been shoved inside my skin, and a lot of the time she doesn't sit comfortably.

I've been drawing her for years, on and off. Looking back over my old sketchbooks, she seems to have first shown up when I was around about 17, and shows up more and more often after I moved out of home and got the chance to really explore who I was, what I wanted to be, and what I wanted my life to look like. While reading Imajica by Clive Barker, I was astonished to come across what seemed to me like a direct description of this woman inside me, this aspect I'd never actually told anyone about out loud. In the book she's a Goddess trapped by evil patriarchal Gods; the woman inside me isn't trapped by patriarchy specifically however, but by my need to interact with the outside world in an acceptable way. The feel of binding rung so painfully true though, and it remains one of the most powerful images for me out of the whole enormous tome.

"The bricks were the same plain stuff as all along the passages.The mortar between had a stain in it she recognised however; an unmistakable blue. Excited now, she drove her mind on...It was dark on the other side, darker even than the ground she'd dropped through to enter this secret place. Nor was it simply a darkness made of light's absence, but of despair and sorrow. Her instinct was to retreat from it, but there was another presence here that made her linger; a form barely distinguishable from the darkness, lying in the squalid cell. It was bound - almost cocooned - it's face completely covered...Her mind sank towards the binding, and slipped between the threads into the body's maze. She had expected darkness, but there was light here, the forms of the body's innards delineated by the milk-blue she'd come to know as the colour of this mystery...The dead woman had been large in life, hips substantial, her breasts heavy. But the binding bit into her ripeness everywhere, perverting the swell and sweep of her."

Last time I was unemployed I finished a huge painting featuring her prominently, or the closest I could manage to a visual approximation of her. I think the influence of that particular passage from Imajica is pretty obvious.

It was incredible to at last have the time to create an image of her that seemed big enough to come close to conveying how she feels to me. The whole painting is enormous - so enormous, and so heavy that I actually have no idea how I'm ever going to hang it. But that seems kind of appropriate too, because she never sits entirely comfortably inside me. When Mr. Reluctant Femme first saw this painting, he asked if she was sleeping or curled up ready to burst out, and I honestly couldn't tell him. I didn't intend her to definitively look either way; depending on the moment, the woman inside me can feel like a warm, blue beating heart, strong, solid and unshakable. Other times she feels like a raging giant, struggling furiously at the bonds of flesh and bone that bind her into this stupid little useless body. It's usually at night that her struggles become most prominent, and for many years I had a habit of staying up writing in an attempt to soothe her, to let it all flow out into words so that I might have some peace when it was done. I remember more than once waking up the next day to find bruises on my wrists from where I'd been pressing them against the desk too hard while I typed. I would sometimes read back over what I'd written later, and have absolutely no memory of having written what was there. It's actually kind of alarming to see pages and pages of words written in what is definitively your own handwriting, but not have the slightest idea how they got there. The fact that these parts I couldn't remember writing were usually much better than the rest of my work only encouraged me to ignore the fact I was apparently losing great chunks of time, and keep at it in the name of art.

It all sounds pretty romantic when I write it out like that. There's a beautiful, glorious blue Goddess living inside me, and that's where all my pretty words come from! It's a story I told myself for a long time, and unfortunately the romanticism is part of what stopped me seeing this whole thing  for what it really is - a symptom of my mental illness. You see, the times where I feel like I'm a vessel for a being bigger than me are actually what psychology calls manic episodes. What I usually get is more properly called "elevated mood", but can easily slip over into a proper manic episode.

Mania manifests very differently for different people, and can be a reaction to a lot of different situations. It used to come off the back of long held frustration for me, emerging from a sense of not being able to speak, or inability to let something out. If I tried to hold something in for too long, or "behave" for too long at a stretch, the woman would burst out in a fiery explosion of mania. Sometimes it manifested as uncontrollable anger - I remember a fight with an ex of mine where I was gripping the counter to prevent myself from hitting him, and screaming in his face the whole time. It could also manifest as an overwhelming desire to go on an adventure, anywhere, RIGHT NOW. Which sounds like fun, and sometimes it WAS a lot of fun. Especially when I was younger and had more time on my hands, I would often call a friend and head off to Rookwood Cemetery or to some random beach in the middle of the night, and just have a delightful adventure. But the thing about manic episodes is that they're unpredictable. The same urge that led me to go and explore Rookwood Cemetery one night, led me to flee my house another time leaving only a note for my partner saying that he had to come find me. I ended up halfway across the city from him, for very important reasons I couldn't quite remember the details of, with him calling me over and over, unable to pick up the phone for very important reasons that I couldn't quite put into words.

These days however I'm not nearly so frustrated in general as I used to be, and I've noticed that instead of coming out of anger or frustration, my mania now usually starts with me being really happy, or excited about something. Perhaps it because I spent so many years barely touching the edges of feeling happy that now I'm happy quite a lot I still don't always know what to do with it. I start off happy, but if I get TOO happy I start wanting more. More happy, more excited, more fun, MORE. I start feeling restless, frustrated, trapped, and eventually it builds until I feel like if I don't run or smash something or set something on fire I'll  tear my own skin off just to get OUT. This happens often enough that I've started getting wary of being too happy about anything - I've started monitoring my mood really closely once my excitement hits a certain point. Luckily, the onset of a manic episode almost always triggers a lot of physical symptoms for me. Both my toes and my fingers get really twitchy, wriggling or adjusting position almost constantly. I'll often catch myself jiggling my knee up and down, or pacing around far more than is actually necessary. I'll start to speak more quickly and urgently, in longer run on sentences. I apparently blink faster, and my pupils get dilated; I can only take Mr. Reluctant Femme's word for that, but it seems to fit with everything else.

For all my watchfulness and awareness and lists of symptoms, I still don't know how to settle down the restless Goddess inside with thoughts alone. If I'm working or need to be somewhere the next day, I just down some sedatives. I'm lucky enough to be quite easy to sedate, so unless the mood is unusually strong I can just shut it down. But now I'm not working, I want to let her go more often. I hate having to shut her down so abruptly, so often, and I want her to have room to move every now and then. I know that I can't let her run wild like I used to, if only because I live with someone who will get understandably alarmed if I drop all presence of behaving like a civilised human being. If Mr. Reluctant Femme wakes up in the middle of the night and I'm just gone, there will be questions asked, and fair enough too. There just isn't room in my life, in the world I live in, for her kind of chaos. Her movements are too broad, too uncontrolled and too unpredictable. While she takes me on incredible adventures, she can also just as easily burn my life to the ground.

Illustration for Imajica by Richard A. Kirk
Even so, I still hate binding her, binding myself. I went for a walk tonight to try and shake off this mood a bit, and I can't tell you how much I just wanted to run. I didn't want to run anywhere in particular, I just wanted start running and see where I ended up. But I can't - there's someone waiting for me at home, I didn't have any money to get home from wherever I might end up, all sorts of real life threads binding the giant inside me who just wanted to run away. I mourn the fact that the way my world is doesn't allow for how she is, and sometimes wish there was some other sort of world I could live in; a bigger, broader, more hardy world where we'd live in a bigger, hardier body, so she could dance and run without breaking everything. I know that if I let her take over, she could destroy everything,. But sometimes I don't want to stop her, and that worries me. While the woman inside me and I are co-existing more comfortably than we used to, I still haven't really made peace with the reality of having to keep her bound most of the time, and I'm starting to wonder if I ever really will.

1 comment:

  1. wow. i understand this more than i can put into words. only i don't think of it as a goddess, but as a beast. some sort of amorphous dark leathery animal that i both despise and cannot live without. it is bigger and braver and bolder and darker than i will ever be, and i hate feeling it roar inside of me. but god, i wish there was a world where it could live in harmony with me, and the rest of society, rather than being this chained up animal - this large bundle that i drag around, only just keeping hold, almost dropping it...