How can I tell you where it began? The episodes. The doctor always asks that. ‘Did you take drugs? Did somebody slip you something?’
No. It began with water … a long time ago. With a whisper calling me to gaze deep into it, and then a lifetime of following through. To harness and evade it. To yield without faltering. To fall and rise with its rhythm. To transform, evacuate and fill. To flush and gather. To hold and to keep still without raising the temperature, the pH level, the salinity. To source all nourishment from its constant movement and my restlessness. And the place that I hold in it. And the places it holds in me. The call of cell to cell to cell. ‘Come back. Beat into me. I will hold you. In some form, I will hold you.’
This is how psychosis seduces. Like Chelsea Beach. A large plastic clamshell. Like a puddle.
You are three years old. You’re wearing winter padding. You’re on your knees and crawling to a pool of golden light that is beaming out from the ground and into the trees that surround. You’re looking for the source. It’s a puddle that lies at the edge of the forest. You look in. You become drawn to water. Once you’ve seen your world reflected through a bottomless filter, with its tall pines lingering, with their skirts rustling, with their nestles that hold the babes of wolves so lovingly, with the soft beating of wings that lift a ripple off the surface, you can never un-see it.
And when the wolves raise their voices? They don’t raise a sweat in you. And when they pad out of the forest and walk to your left? You look to your right and see barley and sunlight. And when your father turns to look behind him? He can’t make sense of the thing. Of the two of you walking out of the forest. And later when they ask you what your earliest memory is, you tell them. ‘I walked out of the forest with a wolf at my shoulder.’
As a child you are drawn to water. To touch it, hold it, catch it. To let it slip through your fingers. The water asks for nothing but to see you smiling with release … to see you splash and throw mud for no reason. You lose yourself in four centimetres like this. And when you go inside you’re in trouble.
‘What have you done? You know you can drown in a teaspoon of water? A thimble?’ But your mother still makes you warm milk with honey and the skin is golden on top and lingers on your tongue for a moment and you feel safe. You’ve just been playing.
This is how psychosis seduces. Like the Snowy River. Like a paddle steamer on the Murray. Like snow melting.
You’re 17. You’ve just had your heart broken. You’re searching for meaning in incense and Jane Austen. In books about the Cheyenne. In daytime hours spent sleeping and nights spent retracing your steps. You move in concentric circles always returning. No-one knows what you’re doing. Sleeping, rising, walking, burning the candle at both ends and watching the world through a window slow thickly past midnight. No-one else sees it. They’re sleeping. Time doesn’t move. You look down to find your brain has fallen out onto your assignment. It’s due tomorrow. It’s made a mess. How are you going to clean this up? You seek solace from late-night live telly because that way you don’t feel entirely alone. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. But until then? You hide razors before showering as a precaution.
You wonder, as the only soul witnessing 3 am, whether you’re the world’s only reliable witness. You dabble in philosophy like this and the esoteric but it comes in swings and you cannot commit. You see the comfort in dream sequences. Your brain reconnects its wiring and you see tranquillity coming. You wear strands of amber from the old country to absorb bad energy and picture your grandmother smoking. You find ash scattered in patterns. You feel a connection with time. With its slowing and quickening.
You feel an alternate reality pull at the edges. You’re up to your knees now. You approve of the general concept of thinking. Expansion. Extrapolating infinitesimally, but you don’t need to dwell in it.
But look, now you’re swimming at least! The water fills your cupped hands. It propels you. You propel you. You’re not quite sure who is moving who but you are moving and quickly and elegantly and better than most. In a straight line. To a schedule, sure … but swimming! You are agile and praised for it. Strong. Between the lanes for the most part, but every now and again you kick out. Duck under. Throw your hips loose and feel yourself slip under into a thing. A spin, a pirouette. Your body is like an eel twisting, all muscle and brown skin, away from the lap swimmers and the dive-bombers and the dirty old men. You are your own thing. Under your own propulsion and loving the weightlessness. The absence of expectation except for having to breathe.
Psychosis is like this. Like learning to swim and not being entirely satisfied with the prescribed methodology. Like doing ten laps in the time frame in a queue while being charted and compared and somehow … Are you getting this? It’s like seeing a new textural horizon and reaching out to feel it with your whole body and wondering … are you feeling this too? Am I missing something or are you?
• • •
Psychosis is always suspecting that there must be more to everything. It seduces like music. Like ‘Sea of Love’.
You’re 33. You’re on a daytrip with your sister. You’re post-diagnosis and coming into a trip but your folks aren’t quite sure of it yet. ‘You better take her with you. We’re not going to be home and somebody has to keep an eye on her.’
She says to you, ‘Just so you know, you’re the main reason I came home from New York.’
You’re the yanking chain for her coolness. And her friend? She makes nice faces, sweet gestures but ignores your friend’s request. You dismiss the faux charity and cruise to every tune on the radio that seems to read you, your moment, your mood, your words as they swirl in your headspace. They play into each other likes waves lapping over your feet.
You arrive at the Cheese Factory. You’ve learnt already that from gratitude to providence a gift is required. A souvenir. For your home, your lover and your sensorial memory. You need to celebrate this with cheese. Your cunning brain creeps in as cheese stretches beyond the horizon. Which one? Gouda? But he doesn’t like sweet? But you do. If you take the soft cheese is it more for you? Is this a bad thing? Which cheese is the right one? For the meaning? The symbolism? The gesture? The intention? And who exactly is watching this exchange and judging this crucial cheese selection?
Outside, the lines of vine soldiers are pegged to the ground. They blow their leaves listlessly and consider their coming rest. The skyline is uninterrupted except for people and their moment of bliss … and you? You? You are schwitzing!
You reach for a soft blue jar. The cheese is called Juno. You recall all your meanings for Juno.
A wedding in winter and her bride, your sister-in-law, walking down the aisle to the song ‘Sea of Love’ by Cat Power. The first time you hear it, it moves you. The time. The place. The scenery and the moment. All of it. You cried. Later she gives you a CD, a soundtrack to Juno—a movie. On it is ‘Sea of Love’. You play it on loop, crying endlessly as it charts your crumbling marriage. You ruin it eventually and put it away and forget it all.
Now you’re here, in a cheese factory holding a jar of cheese. Juno, you’ve exhausted all your options. Feta is as good a choice as any. You hold it to your chest. You recall all of those moments in a heartbeat, and your breathing calms you, and you start to resist arrest. Behind you. From the shop’s audio system … slowly … the song starts up: ‘Come with me. My love. To the sea. The sea of love. / I want to tell you, how much I love you.’
Now you are crying. Standing there holding a jar of cheese to your chest. Crying for all those years of unrest. Those moments of soft silence calling, asking, watching for and waiting to be seen. This. This is the quickening. Psychosis seduces like this. Like a current. Like Bass Strait. Like Apollo Bay.
Like entering willingly into the rapid. Like wanting to feel the power and to move with it. Like feeling justified in all your previous madness because infinity exists, you have seen it but cannot translate it.
You now speak a secret language. You don’t need words with the broken. The homeless man on Bourke Street recognises you from a dream and you accept it on face value. You hold his hand in McDonald’s and let him pay for your meals. He calls you his girlfriend. It’s okay. You have an understanding. You slip him a 50 at the counter and tell him to keep the change he needs. He keeps it all. He also accepts the CD you just paid a busker for with a 20.
This man with caked-on dirt and soil.
You don’t know how he will play it but you tell him that all the answers will come to him in a dream if he listens to it. He takes it on face value. A promise. You let him kiss you. Don’t think about it too hard. Don’t linger. The universe needs you now so just do it! You cannot deviate from the storyline, the one that says that you are a superhero. You start wearing your underpants on the outside. Figuratively.
Everybody is too shit scared to correct you. About anything.
This? This is fuel.
Psychosis seduces like a pin drop off St Kilda pier. A misplaced bet. A question.
‘How did you get to the jetty?’
It’s your doctor. It’s after the last episode and he’s asking.
You tell him:
I just woke up buzzing
Like the sun had slipped me a thousand vitamins
My eyeballs were pinging with light
My fingers had taken the rays
Transported them to the tips
Spirit fingers, ha!
And the man … he took me
Brought me … the black magician
Now I’m standing drinking it all in
My feet are collecting splinters
All my life choices …
My eyes are shaded … I’m glancing across the surface of the waves
The water has called me, whispering:
Let me feel the smoothness of your skin
You promised you would
That you’d let go
You’d let the things don’t serve you
You would let them fall behind
Let me feel it stand on end
The voice persists like oil on water
Like warmed wax
Like patchouli from a perfumed lady
Let me strip you
Of the scent of the city
Of your past life
The decay of concrete
The glue that binds your feet
Let me warm the tips of your toes
Give them to me—your fingers
Let me feel their buzzing beat
Against my endless chest
I will unburden you
I’ll make your dreams come true
With every prickle as I fill you
I’ll tell you … all the secrets of the deep
You give in. You place your bet and jump. You suspend disbelief, just like you always do when faced with stark reality.
At this point your doctor turns to you and says something like ‘Classic psychotic elements’ and you’re coy, like ‘Doctor. It’s just my belief. Like any other religion.’ The doc says, ‘But it’s not. It’s your made-up religion’, and you say, ‘That’s a very narrow framework for religion and sanity’, and you leave it at that … along with a hefty prescription for a fog called ‘Olanzapine’. Which you shelve immediately.
This is how psychosis seduces. Like a torrent. Like a geyser. Like a spittoon. Like a firetruck. Like a rip-tide suctioning off all the debris. Like a gutter that’s never felt its S-bend so clean.
You’re in it. The trip. You start to engage strangers because you sense their sadness. They get caught in your energy. They look and you look deep into them and in return they look deep into you and it’s hard to break away but eventually … they do.
You tap their blood line for familiarity. They listen and agree though they don’t know why. You have all of the persuasion of a snake oil salesman with none of the guile. You convince a man to drink his own weight in water. He sweats visibly but says ‘thank you’. You’re the water dispenser now by hook or by crook you will sink sane men to make them swim with you. You hand out cardboard cups of water at the corner with the clocks and St Paul’s because Christ compels you … Breathe. Breathe.
This all happens after your psychiatrist lets you out the door without calling your father because he thinks you’re okay so you know that it’s working. It’s all going so well. To plan. You’re nailing it. The appearance of normality with all the powers of the universe crucibled in your tiny skull. You feel the one of all things like the prophets did. You wrap your religious upbringing into everything. For a while. Until you realise it’s a man-made construct and you form your own belief system. Relief.
Now. Remember. Don’t become a guru! Ha, it’s too late for that! Kumbaya motherfuckers! Bring me your cheesecloth and your first born.
Psychosis is more powerful than heroin.
And the whole time your universe continues to split. How you understand it. How your mind takes things in. Takes them apart. Prioritises. How you memorise things. You don’t. You lose weeks at a time.
And the boxes that needed ticking? The bad things that happened? The betrayals and the dead bodies floating? Your marriage, career and financial freedom? They were cut loose by your hand? You let it all go. You don’t need it any more where you’re going. You’re doing the mission.
The sea the tumult the whirling spindle will never neatly undo your unravelling but it will wash the slate clean entirely. So you can begin again. If you let it.
I let it. The sea seduced me. It was Apollo Bay in September under a heavy sky and the weight of my own body. I was up to my knees in wet denim when I heard her. Her sweet voice distinctly, praying: ‘Please, pretty please peel away those jeans, lady. We’re here for the long haul today. My shoals are empty. It’s just you and me, child. I’ve got time. We’ve got all day. Take off your layers, woman. You don’t need them here. All that serves you is this moment on this day and the sunlight dappling through the grey clouds, harnessed by my whims. I’m going to paint your skin like an Arabian pony. So lady, please let me see all of you. Feel all of you without these dead weights dangling. Let me hold you entirely. Let me separate you from the things that don’t want you. That don’t see you as I do. That you don’t need. That don’t serve you. Let me see them float away. Let me see you unedified.’
‘You’re the most beautiful particle of myself. Let me take you for a journey and at the sunset end today we will see how far you let yourself get carried away.’
I let myself get carried away. A child floating feet first over breakers that cradled my bunions and split heels and splinters. It was freezing but my body felt nothing but the passage of water around every single stretch of my skin and its own strong momentum.
I paddled out. My feet lost the sand. I let them. My arms lifted and fell. I was part of a movement, a passage of water, of ocean. Of strait and sea. Of salt and oxygen and all the nitrogens and particles … they crawled inside me and brought me to the surface. I floated.
The swells came slowly. Gently. They lifted me. So I could see again the face of old rocks and lost religions glowing beneath the skin of a mountain. A hill. A pillock. It all glistened. And as I’m weaving and cutting into crests, I’m catching, I’m falling. And I’m seeing and feeling this thin sliver of universe as it lies beneath the veil of its own skin.
I tried to stretch it out. I tried to swim farther. I swam, I wanted to see everything. I’m of the sea. I’m an element cycling being repurposed and reborn. I exist. I’m safe. I held onto it until my arms lost their feeling. My legs began cramping. I’d lost sense of direction. My compass had gone and I realised the sky had turned grey. The waves had grown and there was no-one on the beach to see me flailing.
She wanted to separate me from the sum of my parts! How could she! She would surely have drowned me. I came up for air so many times … spluttering.
And after an hour of fighting, she released me. My legs gave way. I crawled out on my knees. My pelvis lost feeling. I lost everything. It was the first time in my life I was happy to piss myself. For warmth and for the truest sign of the reality of my body. Its capacity, its resilience and strength. Its fearless mortality.
My mind maybe was broken. But my body held.
Get out the way you came, child. Turn back and let your muscles remember. Retrace your steps. Get out while you can. While you have strength. While your pathways aren’t hidden with snow. While your trail is still laden with green sweet pea threads and cerise like crumbed cookies. Follow them home. Follow them out. And child, next time you come towards my puddle, my well, my creek bed, remember the other voices that call you.
‘Lover. Lover. Lover. Come back. We need you here.
To save me. To save the world.
To save yourself. For clean sheets and poetry and coffee.’
I heard you, lover. I hear you still. When the tide eases and the water runs off and my ears clear of sand and the sound of rocks being ground beneath the surface of the waves. I can hear you calling me now. Clearly. To come back from the sea.
And now? Now I sit here. Watching the scene unfold as though in a film. My filter is rosé or latte though on any day it could be any drink. And I’m sitting and nursing a view. Of you. They’re bringing your body in. I’m calling you from the bleachers. Your body is spent. Battered. Your last feelings of pent-up rage and hostility were wasted on the sea. You float in. A body bag, lifeless almost, except for the barest pulse flickering. You don’t dare give in now, you hear me, kid? Like me you crawl in almost drowned by the sea. By your knowledge. Your quest. On your knees without feeling only with the will to return to the land of the living.
And when you stand up? Hold me close. I’m the air. And when you take a step? Follow me, I’m the stones in front of you. And when you shield your nakedness? I’ll be the old kilt held out by the two kids and their spare sweater and sandals. And when you do a lap of the old town and it takes you past emergency, the church, the memorial and the hospital? I’ll be sitting here. Sipping. Watching. Waiting. For you to catch your breath. Unravel. Find your land legs again. And walk your feet back to me at the café.
And you can sit down and share a cup of anything you like, darling. And you can latch on to me for stability if you’re still feeling shaky and I’ll hold on to you if you stumble. And we can just sit like that for a little bit and watch the waves roll in. You can tell me the secrets of the deep, darling. If you want. Or we can just smoke a cigarette. Suck down a short black and chew the fat about how art swallows. But it also saves.
Maja Amanita started writing again after her dog died. Last published as a teen newshound in the Whitehorse Gazette, she now releases her brain farts on insta @this.fresh.hell. and is working with Theatre Works.