I’ve been in a rut lately. I’d say sinkhole but rut is a better word, more evocative; perhaps this was once just a little dip in the ground, nothing I caused myself, but passing over it again and again, bumping the wheel every time but never changing course… that’s a rut, isn’t it?
Or like the struggles of a fly trapped in the grasping tentacles of the sundew.
Drosera, a genus of carnivorous plants, are universally beautiful (in my opinion) and well-known for their hunting mechanism. You see, they put off a sweet scent, but this same mucosal secretion is a powerful glue. Insects land to sample the sugars and end up trapped. They flail and kick and struggle helplessly until they literally struggle themselves to death; or, more usually, the mucilage clogs their spiracles and they suffocate on the same sweetness they came to eat. Digestion is a slow process. It takes about six hours for Drosera capeinsis, the fastest-moving sundew, to digest a prey item once fully ensnared, and about thirty minutes to completely wrap its leaf around the body.
Recovery is not a word we understand in the context of mental illness. There is no day when the stitches come out and the bone is set. The bone is broken and a dozen splinters must work their way out of the battered meat until nothing is left but two over-sensitive open wounds that now grind together endlessly. You can take pain killers. You can carefully pull out the splinters so they don’t have to gouge their way out like botfly maggots. You can rub bacitracin into the weeping sores to keep them from getting infected and making it worse. But the bone will never mend.
One day you will learn to walk, and the pain won’t mean anything, and maybe, one day, someone will find out that your bone is split in twain, and they will say, “God, I never would have guessed it by watching you walk!” and you will know that you have gotten as good as you can get. But the bone will never mend.
One day, you may run and fight and work just as flawlessly as someone whose leg never broke. You will be everything you were supposed to be. But the bone will never mend.
I’ve never heard of someone whose mental illness entirely went away unless it was from some well-meaning Facebook friend of my mother’s who just wanted to help but can never understand what two naked ends of bone feel like as they grind. Mostly, I hear that you learn to manage. One day, the pain will not be as bad. You will know that when your mind screams down every plan, every facet of yourself you are remotely fond of, that it’s not really true, and it’s not really you. You will smile. You will take genuine joy in life. Your demons will be quiet and manageable and you’ll have learned all the tricks in the book that keep them out of your way.
But the bone will never, ever, ever fucking mend.
Like the sundew plant, anxiety and depression wrap gooey tendrils around you and begin to digest you alive. They burn greedily through your skin and turns your nerves to fire. Guts and fat melt like a gentle night’s frost facing the sun, drip-drip-dripping from the wrecked frame of bones that will be discarded. Inedible, useless to the diseases, the frame that supported their meal now useless with the flesh–with your spirit–dissolved.
The struggle tires you out. You can only lay helpless in the grasp of the leaves of your own broken mental faculties, even as they suck away everything good and special about you, leaving only the agony and the shell. Were you the sundew the entire time? These enzymes are coming from within the house. They are leaking out of your skull.
Why is your body digesting itself?
What if someone saves you, you begin to wonder, what if they cut you free and peel back the leaves, wash away the digestive enzymes? That’s where I am right now. No longer in the grasp of the plant proper, no longer actively being devoured.
But where is my skin? It was the first thing they took away. And huge reservoirs of flesh have been eroded away, still smoking with residual chemical reactions. Their constituent parts were slurped up by the diseases. The very whisper of air on the wounds is worse than the warm intimacy of self-destruction–or at least, it seems that way. Is it just a symptom of the disease? A symptom of nerves that are dying and a brain that is half-engaged in killing you, half-engaged in trying to save what’s left?
And that’s where you find yourself. Living and free and more horrifically wounded, it seems, than you were when the diseases had you.
You might have died and been digested, and then you would not be in pain. But now you’re here and the freedom to exist means you have to wait for the injuries to heal. Healing is just as painful as being digested.
The scabs itch and ache and flake off in ugly chunks, like shingles on a roof ripped up by the wind. Every sore begins to ooze. Not pus, but worse: the drainage of dead cells and dirty interstitial fluid that you must collect, lest it infect the raw new tissues. Lest it swell what remains.
(Fluid pumps make the worst sound, incidentally. Rattle-rattle-SHLURK, rattle-rattle SHLURK. And they hang there on the side of the bed, somehow more obscene and untouchable than a catheter bag.)
The scars that remain are stiff and hideous. They cannot stretch. Instead, they yank the rest of the tissue wherever they go, and there’s no way to predict which way they’ll yank as you attempt even the tiniest movement. The temptation to tear them out seizes you from time to time, but don’t do it.
The scars have replaced the skin, and they’re all that’s holding your guts in. Don’t tear them out. Who knows how bad the ones that would replace them would be. Who knows if you’ll even make it long enough to get new ones.
Beneath it all, the tendrils of the plant are swaying. Sticky dew drops form on each tentacle, ready to catch you again. It’s always there. Nothing will dig it up and make it go away, not forever.
It’s not like it even smells sweet.
At any moment, the leaves could catch you. Their dew, the drosera from which the genus takes its name, could entangle your limbs, heavy, sticky, irresistible as gravity.
Your own mind could begin to digest you again.
Maybe you won’t even notice.
Maybe you’ll think you’re fine. Your nerves were digested, remember? Who knows if they can feel the same way they did before.
Maybe you’ll think you were saved, and it’ll be too late by the time you notice the all-enveloping warmth of the diseases, their bitter enzymes burning through you.