The Artist Unleashed: Psychosis, Denial, Mental Illness and Emotional Support For The Poet

Connecting the dots

The case study Miriam Gelhor did not understand how to use the word bathos in a sentence. Did that make her stupid or ignorant she thought to herself. She thought clowns were laughing at her. Yes, yes. Quite real. Clowns with plastic flowers and red squishy noses riding bicycles that were too small for their big feet were laughing at her. They were somewhere out there, she imagined. Somehow it was real to her. She disliked (intensely) her body and thighs and could be found staring at her orange peel cellulite and stretch marks after a bath. Oh, where had the time gone. She was forty-one but inside, inside her heart she was a teenage sweetheart. Of course she told herself that it was her brain telling her heart this nonsense. Her tired-of-overthinking-everything brain. High school had failed her. Her parents had failed her. She blamed her mother for the molestation, her arrested development, and the fact that she couldn’t achieve an orgasm. Youth, Miriam knew this with certainty, was no longer on her side. All the potential high school boyfriends were now married. They had managed to settle down. Maybe they (like her brother Gordon) smoked pot now and then. She remembered the day her brother handed her the joint. Miriam refused to take it. Do you think that you’re being funny, she said. She was shocked, hurt, embarrassed. She idolised her brother. He had disappointed her repeatedly in the past. That day she felt badly let-down by him. Ha ha, he said in return, turned his back on her and walked away. Innocence always has a bittersweet ending and when that ending comes it comes with a price. What the Gelhor siblings now realised is this. That with every goodbye, farewell and welcome there was a new and fruitful beginning waiting to rise like a phoenix.

Dialogue between a food addict and a substance abuser/sibling rivalry

“Leave the dogs alone. I said, leave my dogs alone.”

“Your dogs are nasty. They look just as ugly as you, Miriam Gelhor. Oh, don’t be sore now. I was only playing with you.”

“You’re sweet this morning. Did you have a fight with your lady? Your lady has muscles. I have to say she is very muscular.”

“She’s buxom and you’re just jealous ’cause you’re flat chested.”

“Ooh, that hurt. Cat got your tongue?”

“Just don’t say anything about her, ok? You virgin queen.” Miriam’s brother muttered under his breath.

“Oh, leave me alone. I am tired of playing this game with you.”

“It’s always the same. With you Mir it’s always the same. You wake up with a chip on your shoulder and you go to bed with a chip on your shoulder day in and day out. Don’t you long for a different scenario?”

“If life had given me a set of different circumstances then maybe I would be singing a different tune.

“You can make having a deplorable mood disorder or having a nervous breakdown singable.”

“Dear Mr Wonderful, you leave much to be desired. Your behaviour is simply magnificent today. Well done buddy. Here, you get the Oscar nom. You’re acting like a real king. Look at Kong Bella.” Bella licked Miriam’s hand. “Bellakins look at the king of the jungle.”

“I want out of here. Out of this house. Out of this town.”

“Then leave.”

“I can’t just leave you here on your own. What about dad? I have certain responsibilities. I have a son who needs me to be around for him and I’m going to do that for as long as I’m breathing. Don’t tell me I should have married his mother. Just don’t give me another lecture. I don’t want to hear it.”

“What about him? What about dad is what I mean. I can manage.” Gordon raised his eyebrows at this.

“It’s clear to me that you’re not managing. It’s clear as the light of day.”

“He’s not a burden to me. He might be a burden to you but not to me. I’m coping.”

“I never said that he was a burden to me and there you go again. Twisting the meaning of what I’m saying and putting words in my mouth. Listen to me. I’m trying to tell you that I’m here for you if you need me.” Gordon almost spat out the words.

“Well, I love you too. Let’s hug it out and play happy families. I think mum’s going mental again.”

“You’ve got half of her genetic code. So do I for that matter. We’ve all got crazy in us today.”

“That’s for sure. So, when is your lady coming over Mr Thirtysomething?” Miriam was pensive, now pressing Gordon for an answer.

“Geez, I’m old. We’re all getting older. She’s coming over tomorrow maybe but in the afternoon though. It’s her day off and she wants to spend time with her family.” Gordon, caught off guard by her line of decisive questioning, stared into the electric blue distance and coolly lit a cigarette.

“You’re still young, boet. And that’s the end of the discussion?” Gordon took a drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke in Miriam’s face. She started to cough and waved her hands wildly in the air as if to erase all traces of the smoke.

“The end. Let’s go inside. Make us coffee? Go on. Be a good girl Saint Miriam. Behave.”

“Why can’t you make your own coffee? Why must I do everything?” Miriam said with what sounded like exasperation in her voice.

“Because you’re the dinosaur.”

“I’m the dinosaur in this equation.” Miriam said virtually with no expression and stared blankly ahead of her.

“You don’t always have to take me so seriously. Don’t make statements like that about yourself. It’s just not right. Respect yourself.” In front of her eyes Miriam’s brother became a boy again. She blinked and was transported back in time to their local swimming pool. They were splashing in the water playing a game of who could hold their breath the longest underwater. Miriam felt numb. Where were the dogs, the garden, the backdrop of trees, her father’s walker, the bench Barry (Miriam’s nephew) and Gordon had painted dove white. Her mother had swiped the bench from a park and got the council to deliver it. Where were the garden tools, the outside toilet that had no plumbing, the drain, the kennel? Miriam was young again and vibrant. She was gorgeous. It was cold. Her feet were bare. She curled her toes around the edge of the swimming pool preparing to jump into the water but she stopped herself. Her brother was full of life. Unlike the broken maladjusted personality standing in front of her from a few seconds before. She blinked back tears and she was back in a yard that smelled of dog poo.

How they were loved

“Hey, snap out of it. You scared me there. Welcome back to reality.” Gordon waved his hand in front of her face.

“Don’t do that. Don’t act like a child. Act your age and not your shoe size.”

“You sound like a brainiac. Hey, sorry. Ok monkey-woman, it’s always whatever you say. When are you going to do your laundry?”

“One day soon.”

“Is it one day or soon?”

“Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never.”

“Living one day at a time I see.”

“Another cigarette? That’s your second one in the time span of a few minutes. Smoking kills.”

“I’m just killing time. Just killing time my sister.” Gordon smiled at Miriam. She turned her head towards an empty plastic bottle lying nearby one of her feet.

“What are you going to do with forty sunflower plants?” She said brightly biting a fingernail.

“Sell them of course.”

Post Traumatic Wisdom

So, she wasn’t made prefect in Grade 11 and she never finished high school or went to the matric dance. When she went to the Model C school the following year and repeated Grade 11 she learned how to play bridge. The art teacher supervised the girls. The classroom smelled like art supplies, chalk. Tension. The tension lay between Ms Hendricks and Miriam. Miriam didn’t see or refused to understand the situation. That she had to gingerly ‘handle’ a teacher’s racist attitude toward her but she coped. She was a survivor. She came from a long line of survivors, warriors, kings. It came from the other half of her genetic code. Her father.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.