From Somewhere Else

Lorna woke up at noon, took a Lamictal for the first time in several days, and dragged herself into the bathroom, nervously wondering what she was about to see. She stared into the mirror and slowly ran her hand over her bald head. She had shaved it the night before in a manic fit because she didn’t want to wash her hair anymore. She hated the way her hair looked anyway, long, short, or in any shade she had ever tried. In fact, she didn’t like much of anything about her appearance—her gaunt face, wan complexion, narrow shoulders, wide hips—they all bothered her and often added to her paranoia, to that inescapable fear that the world was closing in around her.

She felt drunk even though she wasn’t. At least her medication would soon lessen the highs and lows. Sometimes, her mind was clear enough to realize that her greatest worries weren’t even real, but depression is a practiced liar. Although the artificial situations her mind invented were just disturbing fantasies better ignored than anything else, she often struggled to distinguish them from actual circumstances in her eternally gray present.

Lorna massaged her temples. Her whole body ached. She toyed with the idea of waxing her head regularly and wondered what her therapist would say about this in their next cognitive-behavioral session. Life wasn’t about the choices her friends and family told her she should make. She didn’t need to hear anyone say, “Cheer up! Your life is good. Just be happy.” What nonsense that advice was when everything seemed out of control and her problems were so overwhelming she couldn’t imagine a way out. Telling her to cheer up only made things worse. People needed to understand that her brain didn’t produce enough serotonin, which meant almost nothing excited her. Not sex. Not family. Not friendship. Not exercise. Not even food. More than anything else, she needed people to help her accomplish things she couldn’t handle, which is what her ex-husband did until he left her for another woman.

She put on some sweatpants and a T-shirt and headed down to her art room. Oil painting was a way to communicate when speech failed, and she felt less isolated with her works surrounding her. This wasn’t just a coping strategy. It was a relationship. Lorna’s paintings were more than just an extension of her identity. Each one was an act of faith, a step away from the abyss. She was as intimately connected to her paintings as she was to most people she knew. She understood them, and she imagined that they understood her. Lorna was convinced that her creative impulse wasn’t chemical. It originated from somewhere else, whether the art was disturbing, tranquil, mystical, or whimsical. She stared at her most recent work, a painting six feet high and four feet wide of one large human face, pale and angular with hollow eyes and a shaft of light penetrating a hole just above the left temple. She smiled gently and thought about where to feather slate gray shadow features into the face’s smooth flesh.