By Sheila Nkirote
“You look tired.” This is the unsolicited observation that I get from people in my life who think there’s value in pointing out the obvious. I get this from people a lot. My rushed makeup routine, if I get to do it at all, does little for my dark, bloodshot eyes. My skin and hair are greasy and unkempt. My clothing, usually gently worn, hangs awkwardly on my rounded edges. My general appearance suggests that I leaped out of bed at the last minute and threw myself together. Which is entirely true.
The unfortunate fact is that makeup, clothing, and sleep can’t cure or conceal mental illness. So if I was fighting with my inner demons all night and morning then I’m probably going to look a bit fatigued. But instead of wondering why I look like shit people just point it out. This little assessment reminds me of another common one that I get when I’m embarrassed. “You’re turning red.” Oh hello captain obvious, thank you for your words of support. I think we can all rest well now, knowing there is someone full of truth and wisdom in our midst. Thank you for sharing, so that we both can stand here awkwardly while I hang my head in shame.
When I was sick with a cold my brother would often pass by me on the couch and casually say, “You look like death.” At least he was funny.
You look tired
But there’s a chain of events happening here that isn’t understood by the insensitive and oblivious. I look tired because my body and brain ache for the comfort and solitude a blanket and pillow. I struggle to get out of bed on time because my medications make me super tired. I take these medications because I can’t sleep without them. I can’t sleep without my medications because I have a brain that turns against me when the sun goes down.
The truth is:
When it’s time for bed, I have to take a bunch of deep breaths just to get the courage to walk upstairs.
When I lament the walk into the dark hallway, I fumble around with things in my surroundings.
When I fumble with things, I usually arrange the items around me in a comforting way and rub my feet together while picking at my scalp.
When I realize my head is bleeding and too much time has passed, I gingerly switch off the lights in the downstairs and run up the stairs like my life depends on it.
When I get ready for bed at night, I sometimes don’t get all of my makeup off because I’m too afraid to close both eyes.
When I lay in bed, I sometimes hear a voice talking to me.
When I put my head down on the pillow, I use all my will to keep my eyes open and alert for intruders.
When I close my eyes for a moment, I wonder if I locked the front door.
When I open my eyes again, I see a shadow.
When I finally fall asleep, it’s only out of sheer exhaustion.
When I’ve slept a couple of hours, I sometimes feel spiders crawling on me, but I try to go back to sleep.
When I inevitably can’t go back to sleep, I throw the covers off, jump out of bed, and survey the area.
When I feel sure that there are no creatures in, under, or around my bed, I reluctantly lay back down.
When I lay back in bed, I imagine spiders crawling in my clothing while I stare wide-eyed into the darkness.
When I wake up in the morning, the song “Yankee Doodle” runs through my head over and over.
When I finally get out of bed I usually have to lay back down because I feel faint and dizzy, one of the many side effects of my meds.
When I take a shower, I try to get the song out of my head. Yankee doodle went to town a-riding on a pony. It usually doesn’t go away for an hour or two.
When I’m driving to work I sometimes struggle to keep my car within the lines because my vision is blurry and distorted, a symptom that comes when mental illness mixes with head injuries.
When I get to work and greet my coworkers the words sometimes come out in a slur, reminding me that my night meds haven’t quite worn off yet.
So you say I look tired? Since I don’t have the energy to articulate my night’s events to you, I’ll just tell you, “I am.”