Finding Back the Glue

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This post was originally posted on my Medium profile on January 13, 2016.

Sometimes I imagine myself as a table, holding a mug. The mug is my sanity, and the table is my life, it’s me, it’s the sum total of experiences and memories and everything that makes me, me.

The table has three uneven legs; they are wobbly and patched in places. One might actually be a real, human leg, but we’re not asking where it came from. Glued together, stapled, hinged, whatever’s available has been used. In the center of the table, between the legs, is a creature. It’s not human, not animal, not plant. We don’t know what it is. All we know is that it has many limbs, shakes constantly, and has a psychic link with my mug.

My mug is cracked in so many places it’s more glue than ceramic at this point. Every time it breaks, my perception of reality shifts a little bit. Every time it breaks, I lose a little bit of my mind. Every time it breaks, I’m left to glue it back together again, even if I’m not the person who broke it. My hands are cut and scored from broken pottery, flesh lined in tiny scars, fingers covered in that awful glue that turns your skin into a scaly nightmare as soon as it touches you.

I’ve glued my mug back together so many times I could do it in my sleep.

Dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. Falling through the holes in reality to the dreamworld, where anything can happen, and everything does happen.

I don’t know what good dreams are anymore. A broken mug won’t hold them. Instead only bad dreams, nightmares, or things that make me think I must be taking hallucinogenics and just not know it get stuck in there and replay, night after night.

Sometimes I can’t shake the nightmares. I wake up and they’re still happening, still real, still part of my world. I start to question reality. Did I really marry my husband? Did I really move back to Canada? Did I finish my novel and publish it, or did I only dream of being a published author, never quite making it in reality?

Or am I still in the States, with my first boyfriend, living out a miserable, unpublished existence with a man who never loved me? Is my current life a dream, and am I only just now noticing?

These were the questions that haunted me this week for over 24 hours. Even after my husband came home and I saw him, touched him, flesh and blood, even then I could not reassure my brain that this was reality, that the nightmare was not real.

I stayed up so long that day, terrified of going back to sleep. I could not convince myself. My coping mechanisms for a broken mug were no longer working. The creature living within me hadn’t just smashed the mug, as before; it had taken the pieces and scattered them up and down the Nile, and I had to search all over for them before I could even begin to put them back together.

I began reciting things I knew were real. I centered on my mother.

For years my mother has been a central spot in orienting myself to reality. I always know that she is real, and if my brain is telling me a different story about her, I can find something that will contradict it.

In my nightmare my mother was there, in the States with us, seemingly happy with my awful life choices.

Fingers. My mother’s fractured fingers.

My mom’s fingers were broken in the last 5 years, by her rescue dog who hadn’t yet learned the meaning of “Don’t fucking lunge goddammit.” They didn’t heal properly, and you can see they’ve been broken.

They were whole in the nightmare, so I knew it had to be a lie.

My mother’s fractured fingers. My mother’s fractured fingers. My mother’s fractured fingers.

It didn’t work. It wasn’t enough this time.

It was impossible to find something my brain wouldn’t find a way to explain away. I found myself lying in bed, playing Sudoku to try to get myself to go to sleep as I usually do, thinking “Is Sudoku even real?” Had I invented it for my dream world?

Panic started to set in. I’d been up for 24 hours. I’d watched Doctor Who to try to sleep, which didn’t work either. I latched onto that — I didn’t start watching Doctor Who until I moved back to Canada, so this had to be real. My life had to be real.

No, wait. I saw part of 42 and The Shakespeare Code on TV in my first boyfriend’s house. It could be part of the lie.

My wedding ring was real, but what marriage did it represent? I thought my tattoos were real, but all but one I got before moving back to Canada, so it wasn’t enough.

I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t know who I was or what my life was or if I was going to wake up and find that the past 9 years had been a dream, that I was still in the States and not any person I would recognize.

Main Avenue. Bedwell Bay Road. Senkler Road. Ioco. Sunnyside.

I don’t know why this had never been in my coping box before. Perhaps because I’d never had a slide as bad as this week’s. I always have issues orienting myself in reality, remembering what’s real; two months ago I thanked someone for something they’d done for us, and then immediately panicked, because I realized I wasn’t 100% sure that I’d thanked the right person. I had to double-check with Mr. Katje.

(I did thank the right person.)

I am constantly doing that, double-checking my memories with other people, making sure my brain didn’t make something up. But when my brain decided to tell me Mr. Katje was the lie…I couldn’t just double-check with him like I usually did.

“Honey, you’re real, right?”

“Of course I am.”

Well, that’s just what a figment of my imagination would say, so how can I trust it’s true?

Main Avenue. Bedwell Bay Road. Senkler Road. Ioco. Sunnyside.

I know it’s a fairly common technique in battling PTSD — reciting familiar things to help ground oneself — but I’ve never classified my reality slides as part of my PTSD before. Maybe because they don’t always send me into a full blown panic attack. Mostly they’re minor, easily survivable.

So I’d never tried this before, and for my slide this week, for my descent into the madness of “oh gods is my life even real,” I didn’t think it would work. I was looking for things that showed me that the past 9 years, since I moved back to Canada, the past 5 years, the time I’ve been with Mr. Katje, were real. Those specific times, not my childhood. I know my childhood was real, even when I wish it hadn’t been.

Main Avenue. Bedwell Bay Road. Senkler Road. Ioco. Sunnyside.

I admit, I had to open up the neighborhood in Google Maps to remind myself of a few names, and I ended up choosing the ones that I found easiest to chant to myself. (Tum Tumay Whueton Drive didn’t make the cut.) But I did remember three of them before looking up the neighborhood, and I even sort of remembered our old address, even if I was a few numbers off.

I decided to do it this time because this slide reminded me of Jessica Jones. Reciting street names from childhood was part of how Jessica coped with her PTSD and with the reality distortion caused by her abuser.

I guess my slides are a part of my PTSD.

Main Avenue. Bedwell Bay Road. Senkler Road. Ioco. Sunnyside.

I sprawled in bed, chanting those words to myself, over and over and over again, imagining the roads as well as I could remember.

And then at some point, I stopped — because I realized it was over. My slide was done. I was back in reality. Things were clearer; I knew again, with a fiery certainty, what was real and what wasn’t. I could finally, blessedly sleep.

I didn’t dream for those 10 hours. Or if I did, my brain decided to give me a break, for once, and didn’t make me remember any of it.

My mug has been glued back together, yet again, and for once the table doesn’t shake and shiver; the creature that lives within me is calmed — lulled to sleep by the steady chanting in my mind.

Main Avenue. Bedwell Bay Road. Senkler Road. Ioco. Sunnyside.