ISSUE 4 SNEAK PREVIEW
It’s the frequency, really. The frequency of those truly terrible days. All of personkind has a really bad day, sometimes. All of us. But some of us have them more than others. Some of us have more days that are exceptionally hard than we have days that are barely tolerable, let alone really great. And the worst days, they lead one-to-another. Feed off each other. One grows the next that grows the next and the next and the next thing we know the last barely tolerable day was four weeks ago and the last truly good day was sometime before that last blowout with mom and wasn’t there snow on the ground then?
In the midst of this, it’s hard to see out. What can be done? First, take a deep breath. A Nice Big Deep One. From the diaphragm. This is how we breathe when we’re new babies, and we forget how to do it somewhere along the way. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Using the diaphragm to move the air, not the lungs. When you breathe, put your hands on your chest and on your belly. If you feel your chest expanding more than your belly, you aren’t using your body’s breathing capabilities to their highest ability. Push your belly button away from your spine. In the nose. Pull
your belly button towards the spine. Out the mouth. While you breathe, count. In, one. Out, two. In, three. Out, four. Go up to ten and start over again. Congratulations! You just meditated. Your breath is slowing down your body, and the counting is occupying the mind. Belly breaths are beneficial for us whether we’re sad, scared, angry, unsure about the reality of our thoughts, happy, or laying in the sun. Practice this until you’re so good at it that you don’t even know you’re doing it. Lay in bed when you wake, stare at your ceiling, belly breathing. Spreading your lunch mustard on your lunch bread or taking your lunch bag out of
your refrigerator, belly breathing. When you’re showering, when you’re laundering, when you’re book shopping, when you’re arguing. Deep. Belly. Breaths. Laying in bed, back under that same ceiling, at the end of your day, use your breathing muscle to get breath to your muscles. Count those breaths to still the mind. Do you know when your happiest day was? That last truly good day? One of your happiest days? The time that, when you think of it, it makes you at least smile, at least a little? Makes you less fearful, at least a little? Write that day down. Don’t write “January Tenth, went to beach, ate ice cream.” Write it extensively. Every bit of the good time. Every detail. The sights, the smells, your emotions, what you thought, how you behaved, who you talked to, the things you ate, what your hair looked like, what you wore, whether you talked to your brother and how great that went or whether you didn’t talk to your brother and how great that felt. Did you pet your neighbor’s old brown dog’s whiskery nose whilst sitting in the sun on the stoop? Did you lay back in the water and float and feel at peace? Did you wake up that morning feeling good for the first time for quite some time? Which led to more good? Write it all
down. You’ve just written your “Rainy Day Narrative.” Come back to it, when you’re having your worst day, because on your worst days you can’t look outside of your worst days and it feels, sometimes, like all days are the worst days. You’ve just created evidence to the contrary. Birthed the extinguisher that is going to put out your next fire, and, maybe, change that truly terrible day into a barely tolerable one. Which is a massive improvement, right? And you did it yourself.
But, today, you just can’t find the motivation to get out of bed. Or you can’t stop raging out at your loved one. Or you can’t stop looking over your shoulder for danger. You can’t stop worrying. It’s out of your control. Let’s work with that lack of control. Flip a coin. Heads, you stay in bed another hour. The universe told you to do it. Tails you walk around your block. Heads you get to scream and yell and rage and blow it all out. Tails you step away and breathe. Heads you
street have the best strawberries around right now? Are you exceptionally good at making coffee? Do you hate your job less than your last job? Is the man who delivers your mail always smiley and cheery? It can be anything. What would you NOT CHANGE? Turn your focus from what you want to be different to what you want to stay the same. They’re both going to change, you know.
look over your shoulder. Tails you look straight ahead, and lift your chin just a little. You’re not trying to take control, because sometimes it can’t be controlled and it’s out of your control. You’re at the mercy of random chance. Random chance will reduce by half what you wish you could reduce. You don’t need the willpower to take the walk, you just need the willpower to flip the coin and do what you’re told to do. You’re turning the passivity of sadness and fear into useful passivity.
Although I’ve written many words already, I’ll give you one more. It can be more writing, if writing is your thing. You could paint it, or photograph it, or lie in bed and reflect on it. Call someone and tell them about it. Just think: “what would I NOT change about my life right now?” Find ONE strength. ONE GOOD THING. As small as it needs to be. Do you think your tap water tastes better than your friends’? Is your cat the best person you know? Does the grocer down the
Take that breath and look out the window and know that someone loves you. You may feel like nobody does but there are those of us who just love everybody because that’s the best way to be. Those of us who understand and love your strength and endurance and capability to continue. Try these things. Count your breaths every moment until your better moment. When you can, let the sunshine smile on your face and let your smile shine back at the sun. n
For black girls who have to pretend to be strong yet go home breaking down in the middle of the night, trying to breathe. Trying to breathe. For black girls battling depression. For those who feel so alone in a world telling them the disease is for whites alone. Please, live. For black girls who are imperfect, insecure and trying to fit into a world that stifles their voice. For black girls still learning to glow. For black girls trying to fit into a world so afraid of their beauty they sell them cream to lighten their skin. For their black skin. For black girls who smile when they see themselves represented. FOR DAYS THAT FEEL HEAVY AND DAYS THAT FEEL LIGHT FOR DAYS THAT FEEL BEAUTIFUL AND DAYS THAT BREAK YOU - Ijeoma Umebinyuo
Marie Colinet artwork by Penelope Ferguson
We met in the summer of 2013. I had just gotten out of a one-year relationship with depression, and finally life seemed doable again. Something was still a bit off, although I could not quite put my finger on what it was. My energy was back, but I could not get anything done. Neither my work, nor the university thesis I was supposed to be writing. I was not relaxing or doing anything fun instead either: just spending days on end on my computer, scrolling through the internet, panicking about work, but not doing it. I developed a sudden crush on a friend I had known for years, told him about it, got rejected, and forgot all about it the next day. I started sleeping less and less, eating less and less. Not that I decided so: I simply could not focus enough to put a meal together and eat. I lost weight. I started pacing around in circles in my apartment all day, walking into the next room to do something, forgetting what it was, going back to where I started from. And doing it all over again. Most days, I was too absorbed in my thoughts to manage to get ready and get out of the house. When I did, though, I was suddenly the life of the party. I was confidently sparking conversations with strangers, floating from one group to the next, telling one hilarious story after the other, dancing frantically, laughing hysterically. In a corner of my head I felt embarrassed to monopolise the conversation that much, to talk so fast and loud. But I could not stop vomiting torrents and torrents
of words, making outrageous faces, gesturing wildly. It was like being on a lot of really strong, really good cocaine, and never coming down. Funny things were happening, too. A sudden, infallible talent for orientation; a heightened sense of smell (I could precisely perceive the perfume, the sweat, the breath of people walking two metres away from me on the street); and constant paranoia (I felt like everybody was staring at me, waiting for a second of inattention to jump and assault me). The psychologist I was seeing at the time was on holidays in Italy, but accepted– poor thing– to do sessions with me over the phone. During one of those, she finally said: “Well... I think you are having a manic episode”. She sent me to a health practitioner who prescribed an adequate treatment. When I take it every day, discipline myself to meditate, exercise and stick to a regular sleeping routine, I can live and work normally. Mania is still there, but symptoms are contained. As soon as I do not take the treatment regularly for more than a week though– because I party, because I travel, or because it is problematic to renew my prescription at that point– they come back. The first thing I feel is my heart pounding abnormally hard, with a feeling of exaltation in my chest. Like standing on top of a rollercoaster that is about to drop– but for hours. The second is my thoughts getting off track. Instead of taking the usual route, they start pulsing through my head. Pulse, pulse, pulse. They are visual, too: when
I close my eyes, I see flashes of light. Like there is an electrical storm inside my brain– except lightning hits with the regularity of a metronome. When it gets worse, the flashes of light turn into precise, vivid images. Pulse, pulse, pulse. It is hard to concentrate on putting together a PowerPoint presentation when there is a movie screen cracking delirious images nonstop between your brain and your eyes. It is not easy to explain to your clients why you are taking more time than planned to finish their project. Nor to describe it to friends (“well it is a convenient excuse, isn’t it?”, one of them said).
Mania comes with a whole lot of other effects. The sudden, irrational obsessions. The panic attacks. The exhaustion, and inability to sleep. The ultraviolent, morbid nightmares. The migraines– like there is a vice compressing my pulsating brain. The excessive sweat. The pressing physical attraction for about any male within my eyesight. The doubts– am I attracted to this person, or is it the mania? Does the mania open up some part of me– a deeper, rawer, wilder part of me– that I usually silence, or is it poisoning my brain with thoughts and feelings that are not mine? I understand why some people report being addicted to mania, though. When I do manage to focus enough to produce something, it is good. Really good. The best work I have created within the past year was done during periods when I was highly manic. Mania makes me smarter: I feel my brain connecting faster, ideas flowing, words pouring naturally.
Even when I cannot focus, it is not that my brain is unproductive: it is just entirely absorbed in thoughts of another level. I am figuring out the meaning of life, the answer to the woes of the modern individual, the recipe to a satisfactory existence. My brain is up in the stratosphere, bursting with strokes of genius, travelling at the speed of light. How can I concentrate on writing a press release about a holiday promotion (or on sleeping) when my mind is solving one metaphysical question after the other, and really fast at that? There are also the waves of euphoria. I can be sitting by myself on the bus, and without warning feel my chest tear up in two and a rush of pure, gold, liquid happiness pour right into it, to the point of bringing me to tears. I become ultrasensitive to the beauty in this world. The evening light hitting the pavement. The particular shade of blue on a house door. The texture of a dish. The soul expressed through a piece of music. I do not just notice beauty with my eyes and ears: it hits me right in the face and penetrates through every pore of my skin and intoxicates every cell of my body. I feel so much more, enjoy moments (sitting
with friends, blasting music out of the car, taking off to a new destination) so fully and feverishly, with all of my being, that it almost hurts. It is intense, exhilarating, and so real. The price to pay is high, though. I know I cannot function (sleep, work, be healthy) with my mania in full swing. The tensionâ€“ the constant state of alertâ€“ exhausts my body. It aches, cramps, constantly gets sick. I am thankful for the pain, though, because it attaches me to the earth. It keeps me from taking off to the galaxy. My mania has been around for over a year now. It is a long time. Most weeks, I manage to keep it at bay: I just have to put in a little bit more effort and discipline into living normally than people without it. Am I bipolar? If the depression/mania cycle was to repeat itself, then probably, yes. But for now my doctors consider it is a one-shot thing, and we are waiting for it to go away. Until then, my mania and I are living together, trying to make the most of it. n
Doll Hospital is an art and literature print journal on mental health. We believe print is the best medium for this project - a refuge from toxic comment sections and constant link skipping. Something tangible to slip in your book bag and read on the bus. Something still, something quiet. Something just for you.
Artwork by Alyssa Nassner
Published on Feb 20, 2017
A sneak preview of Doll Hospital Journal Issue 4! Digital copies of issue 4 will launch Mid March alongside pre-orders of issue 3 hard copie...