a letter from the manic depressive dream girl
Names give power and take away power. You’ve heard the name of my predecessor, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She was famous, ubiquitous, but now she’s powerless. It always happens this way. Popular fascination turns to ironic self-awareness, which curdles into derision. Once this happened to the Manic Pixie, all the appeal was stolen right out of her frequently-jeweleried, occasionally-tattooed hands. There might have been henna, too, for no ostensible cultural purpose? Anyway, she’s gone now.
Onward. We have entered my age, the age of the Manic Depressive Dream Girl. You must recognize me, because one of my main features is my recognizability. I’ll often announce to you, male lead, several conversations into our acquaintance, that I’m fucked up. It’s easy this way. You have to know how fucked up I am, I’m not fucking around here, also I often curse because of my grim worldview. I hope this style is accessible to you.
Between the curses are shots of pithy advice, often demonstrating wisdom beyond my age. I enjoy relating metaphors about degrees of light to my stable paramour. It’s always darkest before the / don’t you know the people in the darkest places can most appreciate the / sometimes it’s the deepest night that shows the beauty in the / dawn, light, sunrise. I’ll throw out an occasional abyss, as in, peer into the, and it will also peer into you. Personally, I often peer into the abyss, because — as you might notice — I, Manic Depressive Dream Girl, am always on the edge of the abyss and rarely inside it unless the plot deems such a descent necessary. After all, the difference between the edge of the abyss and the inside of the abyss is often the difference between narrative tension and narrative slack. It may prove challenging to write somebody inside said abyss in an involving way, because those people at the bottom are frequently inert, and relatability is often sacrificed during sections of what might seem to be “wallowing.” I, Manic Depressive Dream Girl, do not wallow, because it would be undignified.
A further note on relatability, which is key: I, Manic Depressive Dream Girl, am often painted to be wrong in the ways that dovetail with societal acceptability. Often, I cannot eat enough; I become fragile or withdrawn; I grow mute. This looks eerily like Victorian consumption, but now we are less antiquated and use other narrative devices, issues of brain chemistry, to create these traditionally feminine strictures. Don’t mistake me: I, Manic Depressive Dream Girl, certainly match up with a swath of the demographic. But isn’t it funny how rarely I eat from anxiety until my body grows fat and wet with sweat? Isn’t it interesting how I never grow so volatile and cruel that I break relationships beyond repair? Isn’t it strange how I never overshare with embarrassing and alienating desperation, talk cyclically and unproductively, and bore the living shit out of the people across from me without ever knowing it? Isn’t it strange how I never scare away those who truly understand, never rip out my hair at the roots or break down publicly in a rage, sobbing and hunched on a sidewalk? That would be inconsiderate, and I’m not ill enough to be inconsiderate. What sort of love interest would that make me?
These are things that do not interest me: The sludgy feeling, the prickle beneath the fingernails, of not having washed in a week. The sour hell of the crash. The swollen heat in the eyelids. The filthy smell of mounting squalor, clothes, dishes, mold, insects. The constant, almost casual considerations of suicide that don’t add tension or plot-relevant information, which exist for no purpose.
More things I’d prefer not to examine: The thin barrier that flexes between genuine need and manipulation, don’t leave me, you know what I’ll do. The flattening guilt of having said or done those things. The certainty that I will someday be as bad again as this, or worse, for the rest of my life. The interminable boredom and meaninglessness. The sight of the underside of my bed when I lie beneath, far from the people who no longer have the energy to coddle me, identifying the bile-thick taste of my own tongue in a crust of old spit. The constant debate as to whether I am inventing my own suffering. The inability to carry a conversation, to read a page, or to watch a tenth of a film without weeping. The betrayal of my better instincts by all my worst aspects. The carousel of medications that do nothing, or pressurize my viscera into a mess of diarrhea, or knock me unconscious like a warm room in red light. The cost of these medications. The pill that works, at last, but turns my vision about on its axis like a twisted swing helplessly unspinning, and after a drive to the restaurant with my family I spend fifteen minutes sniffing toilet water and depositing the contents of my stomach onto sanitized porcelain. Everything still rotates a bit but it’s at least better afterward.
I, Manic Depressive Dream Girl, eschew the grime in favor of beautiful descriptions of slender forearms in various states of disrepair. You can see them printed against photographs on the internet, reposted by twelve-year-old girls who have learned that the inability to smile is something to be chased, a language for a potential suitor to speak and master. A project to complete. This is the unfortunate side effect an open discourse on mental illness has earned us. Me, Manic Depressive Dream Girl, and my preference for dangerously romantic language regurgitated from lips that are artfully bitten but never bleeding.
My fault! I’ve left the narrative. Let’s look back on where we find ourselves. Boy who longs to save me, we need to talk. We’ll have a conversation during which I assure you I cannot be fixed. You might even accept that I cannot be fixed. It’s strange, though, how in the end we’re together, and my life finally seems to contain meaning? It’s an interesting correlation. Still, I must impress on you how broken I am via a confession involving desperation and tears. It’s beautiful, poetic, a tad heartbreaking , but never tense with the terror or fury that issues out of unbridgeable gaps in communication. Rather, it tends to end with me falling into your strong arms, letting myself be feeble but supported. Less frequently will it be documented where I am three hours later: alone, crouched naked and numb under water so hot it burns, hoping to melt myself away for having wasted yet another person’s time.
In any case, it’s good that you’re learning from me, male lead. Good that someone is. But I hope that offscreen, off-page, I am allowed to be something else. Somewhere I hope I am learning to wipe the vomit, to flex my uncooperative mouth back upward, to stop digging my nails into the pores of my oily face as incessant punishment, to leave that chipping backwater bridge because I’ve accepted the somewhat irritating responsibility to stay alive. (A perpetual annoyance, like clearing a drain that insists on catching hair.) I hope somewhere the right medication is allotted to me, no matter if it takes years to find. I hope somewhere there are people who will stare at the lump of unromantic brain that rots inside my head, malfunctioning, the malfunctions of which give me no additional depth, no poetic perfection, no inspirational perspective, and I hope that they’ll see that brain for what it is — a burden — and that they’ll still think me worth the oxygen bleeding into my arteries. I hope somewhere I’ve got a sweaty back and a nasty temper and functions that truly don’t function and there’s still somehow a story that fits me with something other than a premature conclusion.