Cleaning Off the Muck by Casey Cannizzaro

Casey Cannizzaro profile photo
Casey Cannizzaro profile photo
The author, Casey Cannizzaro

I haven’t written a word in over a year.

Today, on a balcony with a cigarette pressed between my lips, is the day it finally happens. I’m thankful that, after a year, my hand is no longer paralyzed and I can pick up a pen. Writing a draft is like throwing up. You always have to clean it up.

I won’t write a sentence that I didn’t agonize over. That’s what readers deserve. My agony.

The decision to share my struggles and triumphs living with an incurable mental illness was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made. If you Google my name the first five search results will be me, stripped away, naked, in my rawest form.

I always thought of my pen as the razor blade that I use to cut myself open and spill my guts. But experience showed me it can also grow wings and become a pigeon delivering the message that saves someone’s life.

Photo by Ahmed Chisty on Unsplash

I’ve told my story. It’s dark. It gets ugly. But then it gets better. The story does. Mostly it’s because an editor wants the light at the end — for the readers. It’s too real if it doesn’t have a happy ending. I can always end it with something about how medications, healthy habits and therapy have completely changed my life.

I’ve had my writing published online and in anthologies. One publication in particular features some of San Diego’s finest essays and poems. In 2016 I was asked to read my story at the anthology’s launch. I was scared; not of reading aloud in front of San Diego’s finest, but because I was telling a story about my suicide attempts and how my big brother saved me from each one. My brother is a funny guy. The dry, sarcastic kind of humor. Telling his story, intertwined with mine, I decided to use humor. Lots of it. Using humor to tell stories about suicide was why I was scared. As I read my final words, I sighed. I had made a crowd of about 50 people laugh and cry within the space of six minutes. I shook hands, nodded and said, “thank you,” to all of those who approached me admiring my story and the way I had told it.

Photo by Leo Nard on Unsplash

A real part of my mental illness — and I can only speak of my own bipolar disorder and the deepest darkest of depressions — is that once I decided that I wanted the life taken from me, it was way too easy to go back there. Always pondering one existential question: “Would I rather live without having a life, or take life away and not live at all?” I’ve never been offered a pill that can take those thoughts away from me. If I were offered that pill, would I take it? Who would I be if I did? I’ve never had a mind free of thoughts like, “the world would be better off without me” or, “I’d be better off without the world.” I call it living in the muck. In the muck I’m never detached from those thoughts.

There are times when I can’t get my mind off my mind. There are times that I want it out of me before I’m out of it. It’s heavy to breathe and I feel sorry for the air. Most of those nights I can’t sleep. Most days I can’t wake up. It’s been hard pushing words out of my mouth, so I’m trying to write again; I’ll spit the words out onto the paper. Writing in the muck was hard even though my body was so full of words. Drunk, I went to the liquor store for a drink. Drunk, I drank it. Addiction is a battle that’s never won. It’s only battled.

I take a pill to go to sleep and then if I wake up before the sun takes over the sky, I take a pill that makes my eyelids fall back down. When things are really bad I’ll take a handful of heavy eyelid pills at midday. I take a pill to control the side effects of the other pills. Weight gain, loss of appetite, tremors, never-ending thirst, drowsiness, insomnia, word-fishing (something I’d never heard of, but one of the most frustrating of all — the inability to speak in complete sentences because my brain just can’t identify the words that I’m fishing for.) There were times that I couldn’t read. The fog between my eyes and my brain was so thick that the words on the page got stuck somewhere in between. I have to take vitamins because most of the pills deplete my body of everything good that can happen in a body.

When I drink, the pills don’t work. They make me forget. I have to apologize to people I don’t remember talking to, for things I don’t remember doing. I delete text messages to pretend they didn’t happen.

Photo by Teddy Österblom on Unsplash

Once I’ve given up the alcohol, I’m proud of the text messages I write. I deliver good news and wish people the best. I feel inspired. I’m excited to write. Grateful that I’m around to do so. I love this moment.

I’ve only just begun to write again about the days — the moments — that are so miserable, so uncomfortable, that I’d trade them for any amount of physical pain. They can last for days, weeks or even longer. I pray they won’t last forever but sometimes part of me, the darkest part, hopes they will. “Living in the muck” I call it. I’m comfortable there. And it’s a place I know I’m not alone.

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