I reach out a hand to the world.
The hand is heavily scarred from the bite of a dog. The
scars are deep and never healed properly. The knuckles of that and the other hand are
gnarled from arthritis. Some of them half the size of the wrist. Most people would recoil
from the site of such hands. But I still reach out.
I use the hands to try and help others. Every day I try
to do something that reaches out this monstrous disfigured hand to someone. However timid
and weak the grasp I still try. They cannot see the hand here, so they do not run away.
I don't always feel like this.
Sometimes I see the beauty in my words and in my soul
that outshines the scars and the wrinkled skin. I'm getting older and I know it and yet
I deny it violently by refusing to study my reflection in the mirror and by keeping my
eyes trained on the words the hands types. Not looking at the hands anymore.
I've spent 50 years being manic-depressive and wondered
why. Why I was given this gift that is also a curse. An alcoholic can get help. They can
decide to stop drinking and see their own eyes looking back at them in the mirror through
their new and sober selves. But a manic-depressive cannot just toss aside the bottle and
take on a new life free of the problems that once plagued them.
Drugs you say? Lithium? Death of the senses! You can
keep your lithium and other drugs that limit the range of emotions manic-depressives can
feel. I tried it. Six months of time lost. I could feel nothing. No anger, no pain, no
love, no joy. Just nothing. It was like being dead inside. I was alive but there was no
If that is all the normal human range of emotions can
be, if that is all you "normal" people feel, then I pity you. For you cannot feel what I
feel. You cannot possibly hear a soft sweet song coming from your daughter's throat and
hear it so clearly that you burst into tears and hold her, wishing you could hold her
until your flesh becomes one person again.
She nearly went deaf as a child due to the incompetence
of a pediatrician. You with your limited emotions cannot imagine the rage or the anguish.
The small child in your arms dependent on you to do something. You know, but the words
can't compared to what I can feel.
You can look at a scar on your hand and not remember in
vivid detail the look in the dog's eyes right before it bit you and know that there was
an intelligence there in those eyes that mocked you to move your hand and let it go
instead for your face. Frozen in fear I stood and offered my hand, the way I make my
living and my dominant hand, so that my face would not be one I could never bear to see
Why do I dwell upon my hand? Because I am using it now
and it hurts to use it. Do I stop typing when it hurts? No. I keep going until the pain
is so integrated into who I am that it isn't there anymore. I keep going until I can shut
it off. I keep going until I have said what I came to say. Until I have helped someone
... should there be anyone there to help.
Why do I try to help? Because I can help others when
I cannot help myself.
This time, maybe, that someone I help is you by reading
these words. You cannot know what it is like to be what I am. To be capable of laughing
in the middle of a funeral or to cry suddenly for no reason at all. To go without sleep
for weeks, maybe even months at a time because you don't need sleep. Maybe an hour or
two every few days so your family doesn't admit you to a hospital and force you to sleep
The candle of mania burns hot at both ends until it
suddenly and inexplicably goes out and darkness settles on my soul once more. I can't
move. I can't think. I just can't ... whatever it is. I sit and accomplish nothing at all
and think to myself like I'm not inside here "Why can't I get this done? What's wrong
with me?" Then with no warning at all the flames light again and I am perfectly capable
of hand-coding 400 web pages in three days or less. I've done it.
It is not to accomplish anything so much, as it is but
to try and exhaust myself so that I may sleep. So that I can stop the thoughts wandering
aimlessly through my mind that will not be silenced.
The thoughts won't stop. I see what is not there. I can
rage white hot at my closest friend in anger that could easily turn to violence and yet
I can forgive others who have harmed me deliberately without a second thought.
A blessing yes, but I have described the curse.
The blessing is so much harder to give over to words.
The love is so strong that it outshines the brightest stars in the heavens. I held my
father's hand, just him and me, when he lay dying and said "I'll miss you" and let him
go into death, knowing he heard me even though others said he could not.
I wanted to cry but no tears came. The one time in my
life I could have shown emotions and been comforted, they just weren't there to display.
I walked out into the hallway and calmly told the nurse that my father was gone and then
helped her remove the oxygen mask and the blood pressure cuff and straighten the bedding
... because I was once a nurse.
To be able for one moment to shut off what I feel? No.
To feel it all is better. But the others, the friends, the family, they are confused. They
think I am fine and then I explode with outrage at nothing. They think I am fine and then
I laugh and laugh and cannot seem to stop ... at nothing. They think I am fine and then I
cry, sobbing and unable to speak or explain what's wrong, because nothing is wrong.
To only feel the limited emotions of others? No. I do
not seek that. I am surprised there are not more suicides. I am envious of those who go
through cancer and chemotherapy and go bald and wretch their guts out and seem to think
they can handle this. They can. They cannot know what it would be like for someone like
me to go through that.
Do I fear death with my life half over? No. I fear being
alone. Alone because I have alienated everyone who tried to care about me. Because I raged
at them for some small offense. Because I pushed them away when I should have been holding
them close. Alone with no one to talk to. Alone with no one to care if I live or die. That
is fear. Fear far greater than death. That I cannot bear.
So I reach out a disfigured hand when I can manage to do
that, and I try to help. I try to imagine what it would be like to be disappointed rather
than devastated. To be happy rather than ecstatic. There is no middle ground and I'm
always measuring my words carefully until one day I just let them burst forth ...
and there is one less person who I am able to help. The
scars slapped them in the face because the scars aren't as much on my hand as they are on
my soul. The deep wrinkles of time are emotions held in check by sheer willpower to be
"acceptable" to others. Just let whatever it is roll off like so much rain water until
there comes a time that the fuse reaches the dynamite and the explosion inevitably
I am drowning in a sea of despair and there is no
lifejacket and no one to throw it to me. I have cut them all off from me trying to protect
them from a person who loves them. Trying to protect them from me.
I tell you I am manic-depressive and you sit there
nodding your head as if you know what I'm talking about. You cannot know.
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