3.9 Editor's Pick
March 10, 2021

Mental Illness & Addiction: the Bittersweet Freedom found in Dark Places.

I will start with a common sentiment of many love stories: we had strayed far from where we once were.

In a hospital-like waiting room, we sat for hours.

I glanced around the room—white walls, smudged where dirty fingers had left impressions. A cliché print of a sunrise hung haphazardly on the wall, attempting to bring hope to this bleak place. Two windows, their blinds coated with at least an inch of dust, were cracked slightly to let the light in. Despite a muted sun creating shadows on the wall, this place felt devoid of all light and life.

I watched a family march in and sign in at the desk—four small children trailed behind with coats half off, dirty mouths, and sullen faces. I wondered how we had landed here, in this room, waiting for his name to be called. He sat to my left with his head down and eyes fixated on the floor—this position now commonplace for him. I had not seen his brown eyes in what felt like weeks.

I reflected on what brought us here. A week earlier, he began telling me about his hallucinations.

“I look in the mirror and see blood pouring out of my neck with a knife to my throat. I hear whispers in my ear. I hear a voice screaming my name in the middle of the night.”

My eyes widened when he first told me this. I felt my words get stuck in my throat; my heart pounded in my chest. My palms were sweaty as I struggled to find something to say that would provide comfort. Assurance. To ease the tension. I found nothing.

“Please, I’m scared. Please don’t let them lock me up, don’t let them take me away.”

We’d found each other on the internet, and we began messaging back and forth. We shared a common love for music—poetry, really. The kind of music that spoke to all our feelings that we had struggled to name in our angst-filled adolescent youth. Music that made us feel. Made us scream. We shared a common history of being misfits, outcasts, failed by society and the systems they taught us to trust. Failed by family, doctors, schools, counselors. We bonded over our fear, our panic attacks, and the incessant need to escape reality through music, books, and movies. And, eventually, to escape it by any means necessary.

In the waiting room of the psychiatric clinic, we had arrived at 5 a.m. to place his name on a list in the hopes he would be seen by a doctor, but with no guarantee. There was always the chance that we would have to try again tomorrow. Eventually, his name was called. My ears perked up, and for a moment, I felt a surge of hope. Intermingled in that hope was nervousness and mistrust and fear, but hope was present, nonetheless.

Our first encounter, when we met, was in the parking lot of a mall near where we both lived. He pulled up speeding, with a tone of recklessness and without regard for the parking lines. Half in and half out of the parking spot, his car remained crooked. It was a beat-up, old thing with a greenish tint to it. Stickers spanned the back bumper—bands and an anarchist symbol. He popped out of the car with a ferocity and a smile, flashing his crooked teeth.

I saw fingerless gloves, a band t-shirt, and a beanie on his head with reddish-brown curls peeking out from underneath, and I knew I was in love. I would follow this kid to the ends of the earth.

At the clinic, he lied to the doctor. He did not mention his hallucinations, panic attacks, or self-harm. He offered surface-level answers with no detail. “Yes, I have some anxiety. Yes, some depression. No hallucinations. No thoughts of suicide. As he lied, I stared at the floor. My heart sank into my stomach and I felt like I was going to throw up. Any hope I’d had that this visit would be the answer dissipated. We walked out the door to the car with no more of a plan or treatment than we had when we walked in that morning. We were silent on the car ride home.

Years later—we’d parted ways when I checked myself into rehab—our time together was a faint memory of pain, passion, obsession, and fear. I had three years clean, an apartment in another part of the state, and I was warm in bed when I received a call in the middle of the night from his relative that he had died—overdose.

In the minutes following those words, I experienced two waves of emotion. My palms were sweating, and I felt a pit in my gut. I struggled to catch my breath. With a mixture of anger and relief, I dropped to my knees to float a silent prayer to him. I felt relief because I knew he was no longer imprisoned by his own mind. And I felt anger that he had left people who loved him behind, people who were confused and blaming themselves.

Today, I am in my 30s, have many more years clean, and he often visits me in my dreams. In these dreams, he is healthy, vibrant, smiling, laughing. He is not thin, depressed, or despondent as he once was when we were young and confused, getting high every day. These dreams tell me that he is safe. Finally, he is free.

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