Monster – Jack Moody

        Borderline Personality Disorder is not a romantic mental illness. There’s no creative connotation that comes with this diagnosis.
        Bipolar is a romantic mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. These disorders walk hand in hand with the stereotype of the tortured creative genius. At least in the eyes of those who don’t suffer themselves. We as a society revere the artist teetering on the edge of sanity and suicide. We swallow up their pain and erect pedestals in their honor on which to place their work—the labored result of their martyrdom.
        We picture Bipolar in the poetry of Sylvia Plath. Her ethereal words forged in the irons of unbearable masochism and a fractured mind at the whim of its own uncontrollable ups and downs, soaring upward and crashing down to earth violently like a paper airplane caught in a strong draft.
        See, that sounds fucking romantic, doesn’t it?
        People don’t think about the fact that when she stuck her head in that oven and asphyxiated herself at age thirty, that she had stuffed towels against the cracks of the kitchen doors so her children sleeping upstairs wouldn’t smell the odor and stop her in the act, but instead be forced to find their dead mother lying on the floor after it was too late.
        That part is less romantic. That’s just mental illness.
        We picture depression in the novels of Jack Kerouac. How his suffering led him west on the greatest adventure in America, west to find God itself, to find meaning and salvation from his existential pain in the sights and sounds and smells of his country.
        That’s romantic as hell, isn’t it?
        People forget that by the late-sixties, Kerouac was a bloated, babbling drunk too afraid to kill himself for fear of violating his deeply engrained Catholic beliefs, and so instead chose to drink his way to massive internal hemorrhaging as a result of cirrhosis of the liver. Kerouac never found God and never found salvation. His depression led to him vomiting blood and dying a middle-aged alcoholic, a vague shadow of his former self.
        That is less romantic. That’s just mental illness.
        I lived with people who were Bipolar my entire life. My father and my sister. They are two of the most creative, intelligent people I’ve ever met. There is certainly an undeniable connection between mental illness and creativity. Whether it be due to the mentally ill’s ability to see the world differently—or inability to see it through anything but strained eyes—or that simply the wider spectrum of emotion available to them allows them to experience what others can’t, is difficult to say. But as someone who has experienced that connection himself and as someone who has experienced it firsthand in others, I’d find difficulty in refuting that stereotype. What is most important to note, though, is that this is the smallest and by far most profound positive aspect of having a damaged mind. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the only one.
        That’s the problem with the glorification of mental illness in the artist. People read their words or see their artwork or hear their music and all they know is that this was a factor in creating something beautiful. And by extension they romanticize the mental illness itself. They only catch the best glimpse of what the condition can facilitate. The thin silver lining can be blinding to those unaware of what it contains. They haven’t seen their father standing atop the roof of their house when he’s gone off his medication, claiming he can fly and that he’s about to jump to prove it to you, as you stand watching from the driveway in your uniform waiting for him to take you to school. They hadn’t gotten on a first name basis with the local cops by age ten, after they’d come to your house on a weekly basis to talk your teenage sister out of suicide from behind a locked door. They haven’t had to take the knife out of her hands themselves when the cops don’t arrive fast enough.
        When experienced firsthand, the illusion of so-called romantic mental illnesses quickly dissipates.
        In a way then, I was spared that illusion after my diagnosis. Borderline Personality Disorder is not a romantic mental illness. The list of my peers is not comprised of artists and writers. My peers are evil, manipulative monsters. Murderers. Serial killers. Tyrants.
        O.J. Simpson. Jeffrey Dahmer. People say Hitler had it.
        Fucking Hitler had it.
        Those are my peers. That is less romantic.
        I am not creating art in the face of a monstrous disorder, grappling with my own broken mind until I find something beautiful within the cracks. I am the monster.
        One of the theories is that the majority of cases are a result of prolonged childhood trauma. Some sort of mental rewiring that occurs in the malleable, developing brain during the formative years. The other camp within the mental health community believes it’s simply a matter of genetics. A roll of the dice. But having an abusive childhood is as much a roll of the dice as anything else, so at the end of the day this really doesn’t change much.
        When I was six I had a pet Leopard Gecko. They live in Pakistan in the wild and in an eight-gallon tank at Petco otherwise. I wanted to name it Crawler but had a strong lisp due to my stroke so it came out as Carl when I told my parents, and that stuck. Carl was a female. I was ahead of my time in 1999.
        I don’t know why it started. I don’t know why I did it. But soon after purchasing Carl I took to torturing her. Resting atop her terrarium was a large heat lamp. Every few days I would take her out of the tank and place her atop the wire mesh ceiling. I would then place the lamp over her so that she was trapped inside the ultra-heated metal, and stand there for a minute or so, listening to her writhing, wriggling in agony beneath the white-hot bulb, until lifting it up and gently taking her in my hands, observing with scientific indifference the cauterized wounds and blisters forming across her bumpy scales.
        It’s a blurred and sickening memory that I’ve since done my best to hide from myself—a murder weapon thrown to the bottom of the neighborhood lake. But like Poe’s Telltale Heart I can still see it shimmering beneath the surface when I pass by the remaining memories of my childhood. I’ve never before told anyone about this.
        That is what psychologists would call a warning sign. I never had an obsession with setting fires, and never had an issue with wetting the bed, so I’m one shy of meeting the requirements for the Macdonald Triad, but by age seventeen anyone could have told you that my behavioral patterns suggested something seriously wrong with my brain chemistry.
After my diagnosis the psychiatrist gave me a prescription for Effexor and showed me an educational video. He said it might help with the bite that comes with the stigma of BPD.
        It was a cartoon about a little dog. His name was Borderline Bill. Borderline Bill had issues with impulsive behaviors. Borderline Bill engaged in dangerous and self-damaging acts like reckless driving and drug abuse and alcoholism. Bill also had difficulty abstaining from indiscriminate sex. Bill had difficulty seeing the world in anything but black and white. The world was a scary place for Bill. The only people who lived on Earth were angels or demons in Bill’s eyes. Bill suffered from extreme and sudden bouts of anger and panic. Bill was often depressed and highly emotional. Bill thought about suicide often and would sometimes make attempts on his own life. Sometimes he would only do it halfway on purpose. These were Bill’s cries for help. Bill could be very manipulative and had problems with lying. Bill was always in pain. It never escaped him. Borderline Bill was married to suffering.
        More than anything in the world Bill loved a little red ball. It was all he thought about. He spent his days thinking about it and thinking about how much he wanted it. But something inside Bill wouldn’t let him have it. As soon as he ever got close to the little red ball he would do something self-sabotaging that would make sure he wouldn’t be able to have it. Bill didn’t know why he had to ruin his chances to have his little red ball. It was all he wanted. But his brain wouldn’t let him have it.
        Bill’s little red ball was happiness. Bill could not let himself be happy. Any time he began to feel okay, Bill needed to do something to destroy his happiness. Bill was never happy for very long.
        Bill’s little red ball was love. Bill could not hold down relationships. As soon as he began to fall in love, Bill had to sabotage that connection. Bill did this sometimes to hurt the other person before they had the chance to hurt him. And sometimes he did it because somewhere deep down he didn’t believe he deserved to be loved.
        Bill had a ten percent chance of dying by suicide.
        Bill never got his little red ball. At the end of the video Bill finally got to hold it in his little dog hands. But Bill became so scared of losing it that he panicked, and his mind became a hurricane and fear became his blood and anger became his flesh, and before he could realize what he’d done Bill kicked the little red ball away. Bill then sat there alone and cried. And Bill began again thinking about the little red ball. Wanting only what he could not allow himself to have.
        The video then squeezed in a few positives before ten percent of those watching killed themselves:
        Bill is very good with children. Bill is a talented artist. Bill can be very kind.
        This video did not take away the bite. I was Borderline Bill. And I would never have my little red ball.
        I sat in my empty body for a while after that and I cried. I cried for Borderline Bill. Borderline Bill, who was empty inside but could be very kind.