Touched with fire

I’ll begin by reaching down my throat, pulling out my insides and scattering them in front of my audience. I’m not an expert on mental health, addiction or suicide. I’m a survivor. I’ll dip my pen in the blood of my beating heart and if vulnerability is being stripped of everything, this is the nightmare I wake up anywhere, naked.

I knew myself only after I destroyed myself and only in the process of fixing myself did I know who I really was.
-Sade Andria Zabala

My diagnosis came not long after my accident. The accident happened fast, in slow motion. It was a new millennium and I was twenty. The outside of my body celebrated that I would soon be twenty-one; the inside was certain I wouldn’t make it. Driving in the rain at midnight, my foot became lead and I blacked out as it hit the floor of my Honda. Alive, I couldn’t tell if the impact was the end or the beginning. That my skull wasn’t shattered should have meant I’d become smarter. That I did not lose my eye should have meant I’d see clearer. Just down the street from Disney World, I walked out of a hospital with a few broken bones, a concussion and a great conversation starter – 220 stitches where doctors put together what was left of my head. Years later I’d accept the scar as a really expensive tattoo and a reminder that nothing is ever as bad as it could be.

“It gives you character” people said to cheer me up. The prescriptions I was given for pain may as well have been Beyonce’s new album because I collected them at the pharmacy window like I was accepting a lifetime achievement award for being a fucking asshole.

I carried no passengers, didn’t hit another vehicle and no one else was hurt. It was years before I told anyone that the car crash was not an accident. I drove my car into the concrete and steel wall that guarded my apartment complex because I wanted to die more than I wanted to live.

The passing time was troublesome. I declared war on my insides. There were shattered relationships, substance abuse, irresponsible sexual encounters, fist fights that I mostly lost, hospitalizations, an arrest, failed attempts at rehabilitation and an overdose. Rejected, evicted and devoid of all hope, I made the decision again to turn the power off. I secured my noose, dipped my feet in concrete, loaded my shotgun, grabbed a toaster and jumped off the highest bridge in town. (In actuality I swallowed 100 pills, washed them down with a gallon of vodka and sat on the couch.) I woke up in a hospital and was sure I was dead and no one wanted to tell me. I remained conscious for just long enough to know I hadn’t made it to heaven. Tubes poked in and out of everywhere and obnoxious hospital machines beeped and buzzed.

I had one fleeting thought, “Fuck. The third time will be the charm.” A day could have been a week and when I finally came to, I was strapped to the steel frame of a decomposing mattress and the purpose of the brutal restraints became clear. I was in a psychiatric hospital way worse off than any you’ve seen on television, in a confused part of a small town that may or may not appear on any map and the only person by my bedside was the nurse whose job was to make sure patients were stripped of their shoe laces upon delivery.

The next few days were composed of silence, bodily fluids that likely were not my own and the disinfectant used to clean them. There were countless visits from doctors and nurses I was sure were stealing my medications and calling my parents plotting to never let me leave this place where the only locks on the doors were on the outside.

My tendencies became my diagnosis. It’s comforting to know that even though I might be crazy, I’m not unique. Bipolar disorder is a motherfucker. I can’t think of a softer, gentler way to put it. It’s like I vigorously shake a bottle of champagne, pop the cork, spray it in anyone’s face, rejoice in the sticky mess, then slip on the residue and crack open my skull. It’s part Christian Bale in Batman, part Christian Bale in the Machinist and part Christian Bale in American Psycho. If you’re unfamiliar, one is a super hero and the other two are just fucked up. Most days I can’t tell if I’m not myself, if I’m more myself than ever or if I’m 10 different people, I never know which one and i don’t believe anyone when they try and tell me.

When I’m up, or manic, I swallow liquor and lighters, gargle gasoline, throw up fire and watch my world go up in flames. I’m a legend. The MVP of the universe. I’m racing, standing on the track at the Indy 500, staring at a 42 car pile up 100 yards from the finish line and it’s that moment I realize I’m the one who caused the crash.

When I’m down, I move through days like a fish on a line fights to regain its freedom only to end up skinned, gutted and dinner. I’m every nine-inch nails song on an endless loop. I’m the track marks on the addict’s forearms and the scabs on the cutter’s wrists. I’m a tightly wound guitar string ready to snap no matter the softness of the strum. On the best day, bipolar depression is like I’m on an airplane and there is turbulence. At its worst, I’m on the same airplane, there is turbulence, the plane crashes, I realize I’m the only survivor-and I can’t feel my legs.

If you’ve made it this far you’ve surely thought at least once… “I. Never. Had. Any. Idea.” In the opening line of the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” we’re told that “there is only one serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Without even taking mental health into account, deciding whether or not life is worth living will always be the fundamental question of human existence.

By Casey Cannizzaro /