“Things Blur” is a story about a time in my life in which I had a “break from reality.” Due to PTSD (among other things), I had what was later described to me as a manic episode. I was deeply affected by trauma. My mind could not quiet and I stopped sleeping. After hospitalization, I first wrote the piece, in the form of a diary entry, to understand what had happened. Later, with time and space, I developed it into a story.
I submitted the piece to the Brooklyn Non-Fiction Festival and I was selected to read. The experience of reading this deeply personal story was nerve-racking. I was relieved when the reading was over and afterwards felt unsure if I should have shared the work or not.
Recently, I was sitting in a coffee shop when someone came up to me. They told me they had been at the reading and were moved by my words. It made me feel proud of sharing and created a desire to share more often. I think it’s important to talk about trauma and mental health but it’s a difficult conversation to have. I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable doing it completely, but I know it is important to try.
It is Saturday night and I am certain that I am going to die soon. My brain moves with the city; Manhattan is a dictator. I enter the underground to travel back to Brooklyn, seeking quiet; my body moving away from this other borough, hoping it might change the speed of my thoughts, reduce the fear that lies heavy in my chest.
I am really running from certain memories that attack my mind. A violence I can no longer take. There has been enough violence. So I thrust the trauma into a deeper crevice of my mind, but it creeps into my muscles, making me jittery. It creeps into my eyes creating a hyper-awareness and constant need to look over my shoulder.
On the subway everyone is looking at me, studying me. They can tell something isn’t quite right. When traveling between 1st Avenue and Bedford Avenue I lose my balance and tumble down on the crowded subway car. I am laying at the passengers’ feet as they continue to look down on me. A man helps me up and asks if I am okay but I am not certain how to answer.
It hasn’t always been this way. “It” being existence. “This way” being perplexing. It had once been clearer, but perhaps I lacked awareness. Perhaps I did not yet recognize that existence was nonsensical. Additionally, my particular traumas of being a body caused me a new type of bewilderment — a blurriness.
When I exit the subway I walk down Grand Street, where I live in Williamsburg, to meet my boyfriend at The Drink. Hoping to do just that. Hoping that this act will dull the noise. I want to consciously check out, find a dark corner. He sits at the end of the bar drinking a beer with a shot of whiskey beside him. Before greeting him I take the shot, sit down beside him and order another round. The night continues. We travel from bar to bar, but the drinking does not bring the faintness of thoughts I had hoped that it would. We arrive at a bar called Night of Joy. The bar is loud and crowded. My boyfriend’s co-workers and boss are there and he tells me to “act normal,” not like the strange self I have become. I dance frantically hoping to tire my mind and body. When this doesn’t work, I exit the bar and call my brother. I cry into the phone, slurring my words. My brother tells me I should go home. I am a ball on the sidewalk outside the bar when my boyfriend walks drunkenly towards me. He asks where I’ve been and I tell him I was doing my best to be “normal.” He sits beside me on the sidewalk. “Let’s go home,” he says.
The night air is still warm even though it is October. We move down the street slowly, feeling exhausted. He looks at me with concerned blue eyes and asks me what is wrong. I begin to cry. Everything feels over stimulating on the streets of Brooklyn — the lights of the cars, the signs on stores, drunk people moving about the streets. I can’t focus my attention or think clearly.
We arrive back to my apartment but I can’t get the key to go into the hole, my hands are shaking. He helps me open the door. Once we are inside the apartment I move quickly to my room. I lie on my bed but I can’t find stillness in my mind or body. I am trembling as he rubs my back, telling me to breathe. He eventually falls asleep once I stop crying. But I cannot. The movements of my body become out of control as I seize in my bed. I am concerned that the motion may wake my boyfriend, but he snores softly beside me, grinding his teeth. I don’t feel safe in my own body as I continue to convulse. I fall asleep while listening to the sound of chirping birds outside. It’s 5 a.m.
After lying awake for a long time I decide to buy some groceries to cook breakfast for my boyfriend. I want to make up for my strange behavior the previous evening. It is now 9am and my boyfriend accompanies me on the excursion. We head down Graham Street towards the local market. While crossing the street a biker nearly hits me but I quickly dart back to the curb. My heart races as I turn to my boyfriend who holds my hand as we cross the street.
The grocery store provides another kind of anxiety. Cans of food ordered neatly on the shelves make me think about the lack of order in my own life. I quickly head to the refrigerated aisle and pick up eggs. I try to open the container to make certain that none are cracked, but in doing so I drop them all. The eggs shatter on the floor and yellow yolk runs by my feet. My boyfriend laughs. “Something is seriously wrong with you.”
I bend down feeling guilty as someone from the grocery store approaches with a mop. I grab another dozen without checking for cracks, apologize profusely for the mess I’ve created, and checkout.
On the way home I move quickly. As I cross the street where the near-fatal-almost bike incident occurred something brushes my face. I scream. I turn to see what has brushed my face. A monarch butterfly flies by.
“You are a crazy little monster,” my boyfriend scoffs.
The day progresses as does my anxiety. Nighttime comes. Drinks are had. People become tired and drift towards beds. My boyfriend and I move towards mine as well and to my surprise I fall asleep. But something strange happens while I am asleep. I wake up somewhere that is not my bed.
I wake up on the roof, body trembling and exhausted, body so close to the edge. This is the first time my sleepwalking has been really bad. I’ve done it in the past, but it was usually less frightening — more like waking up trying to run the bath, or doing the dishes, or eating a whole bag of apples. This was bad. This was an edge of a building several floors up from my comfortable bed. I call my boyfriend (who is still in my bed) a million times. He doesn’t answer. I call my brother once, he answers. He helps me get down, close the roof door, and find my way back to the ground floor where I live. I collapse on the couch.
The next morning my boyfriend finds me on the couch. He asks if everything is alright. Surprisingly, I feel rested. So I just nod. He heads off to work and I decide to leave the house as well.
Walking down Graham Street towards Greenpoint, I notice the different shops and places along the way. There’s a restaurant called Mother’s, a bar called Daddy’s, Uncle Louie’s ice cream shop and finally right under the BQE, Grandma’s Rose’s Pizzeria. As I grow closer to the McCarren Park I notice details of people’s faces, of things around me. I wander around for the rest of the day speaking with strangers. Eventually I head home to bed.
My eyes won’t stay closed and I am unable to lie still. I feel my body shake uncontrollably. It feels like a lot of pieces, strands of blurred things. Today was an exciting day, but I can’t put it all together. Things are both absent and present. The fabric of the language behind my emotions is falling to pieces. I am trying my best to put it back together, to figure out what is going on. The stakes feel high.
I hear my boyfriend grinding his teeth in his sleep, a trait which I usually find endearing. Not tonight. I’ve had too many sleepless nights. “Wake up” I command him. He opens his eyes with a concerned look on his face.
“You need to leave.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he responds groggily. “You are acting strange again tonight, I don’t want to leave you alone.”
“I can’t sleep. I need sleep. You need to leave.”
“I don’t think that is a good idea. I am concerned about you.”
“But I need sleep! You need to go!”
“You are acting crazy!” he yells. “I’ve never seen anyone act this way. I’m concerned.”
“I need sleep! I can’t sleep with you here!”
I am growing agitated. I need to look out for my health. I need to figure things out.
“I don’t think this is a good idea” he says as he begins to move from my bed. He throws a ring I’ve given him to the ground in anger.
“You don’t have to act that way!”
“You are acting crazy!”
I throw the ring he has given me in response. “Go!” I scream.
He does and I fall asleep almost instantly, exhausted. But I wake in an hour feeling anxious. I need to move.
I exit my apartment and go outside. The night air feels cool but refreshing. It ‘s around 4 a.m. It’s still dark. I feel bad for having kicked my boyfriend out, and I decide that I should go out and look for him. I run down the street. I pass a local diner and notice the lights are on. I go in and ask if I can use the bathroom. The cook, beginning to prepare for the day, agrees although he seems surprised to see me. I thank him and leave.
The world feels as though it is trembling with the need to communicate. Every sign in the window of a store means something. There is a cosmic relatedness about everything. Papers on the ground hold secret meaning. I stop to look at signs in every storefront and to pick up pieces of paper or trash I see on the ground. I assume that everything has some important message because this is a moment of change. Everyone has been talking about it. Everyone has been talking in codes about it though and I have to decode them. Riddles. A language of puns. I am beginning to understand. Everything around me holds secret meaning.
I run down the street and my thoughts move rapidly. I think of all that there is to do and all that I have to say. There aren’t many people on the street at this time but I make eye contact with everyone I see. A man follows me for a bit and I am certain that it is because he wants to protect me. He can sense my importance. He must know who I am. This is a special time and things are going to be different for me now. I can’t live in constant fear, as I have been. People are beginning to recognize me. My phone is recording me and streaming everything I do on the Internet.
I continue down the street picking up papers off the ground and knocking on storefront doors, none of which are currently open. I find a card on the ground for a cab company and decide to use it later to get to school. The ride will be free. I am certain. I see a cat and decide to follow it for a while. It leads me back towards my home and I realize I should prepare for the day. The sun is beginning to come up.
At home I take a bath. I watch my naked body twitch in the tub but I don’t feel concerned. Instead, I move out of the tub and dance around my room, putting on wild makeup and recording a video of myself doing so. I get dressed and wipe some of the makeup off my face, but there is a line of pink lipstick up my arms that won’t come off. This makes me laugh. I put on a sweater. I text a bunch of people from my phone whom I feel I need to speak to today, my parents, my brother, some friends, some people I haven’t spoken to in a long while. I text my boyfriend, feeling bad for kicking him out. I then call the cab company on the card I found in the street. I give them my address.
I head out the door and the cab is waiting for me.
“This is a free cab service, right?” I say as I get into the car. “I have an apple for you!”
The man says, “You can’t pay for the ride?”
“No, I can’t. But I have an apple that you can have.” He takes the apple and accepts the deal. I feel so successful, as though anything is possible. I call my mom and leave her a message about my recent good fortune. She doesn’t answer and I call my dad and do the same thing.
The cab driver asks if I am married and I tell him, “Yes. You have to be in this day and age.” I’m not sure why I tell him this, but it makes me feel safer talking to this man. I text my boyfriend and my brother. The cab driver asks if he can drop me off at first and 14th street instead of taking me to my school. I agree. He smiles.
“Thank you so much!” I say as I leave the cab.