Imagine a brain full of pebbles. They’re smooth and round, as if polished in riverbeds. The pebbles circulate in the brain, like blood pumps and lungs breathe. Sometimes they’re clumsy—bumping into each other as they swirl. They say excuse me and move along. More often, they move in syncopation—a miraculous dance.
Now imagine the pebbles transform. They form sharp points and edges, less pebbles and more rough rocks. Water never smoothed them. The rocks move faster than the pebbles. Rather than rhythmic, they collide against the sides of the brain. It intensifies first thoughts, then the body’s senses.
For a while it triggers vivid, drug-free intoxication. Confidence and imagination catapult to exciting, unlikely places. Seemingly brilliant ideas come quick and easy. The body quivers on the edge of climactic arousal. On the outside, it looks like passionate, unstoppable energy.
Then the rocks get too fast. They pound mercilessly. Senses become painfully acute, as if they were lit on fire. Light glares with an intensity sunglasses don’t temper. Noises land in the eardrum and explode.
The jagged rocks, flailing around, overwhelm the body. A touch feels like sandpaper. The frenzy is no longer fun, replaced by agitation. Children who are present become scared. The heart pounds like an irritable drum.
Crying doesn’t relieve it. Clawing at the scalp, trying to grab and slow the rocks doesn’t work. If it goes on too long—the stabs from the rocks too numerous and deep—what is there, is not, and what is not, is there. Reality morphs. Red ants chew the skin from the inside.
Reason and intelligence can’t prevent this.
Other times, something altogether different happens. Imagine that instead of rocks or pebbles in the brain, boulders form. They’re heftier and move slowly. The weight builds gradually, or all at once … like an anvil dropped to the seafloor.
The boulders heap haphazardly at the bottom of the brain. Air cannot squeeze through … every moment a stifling summer day. The head hangs lower.
Despair and relentless pessimism confuse and frustrate others. The boulders don’t get up, shake off, and smooth themselves out. The weight becomes insufferable. The senses blunt rather than ignite … touch a flat pressure, skin numb. Eyes go dark and stare blankly, at they know not what.
The body is a skeleton that can’t hold itself up. The voice is muted, like a boulder spilled out and holds the tongue down.
And then … beyond gray negativity … hopelessness. Nothing matters.
As others start to worry, glimmers of compassion don’t elicit engagement or response. The inability to budge leads to guilt and shame that make the pile of boulders feel even more leaden and punishing. Getting them to move again as they’re meant to feels impossible.
The back and forth is a pendulum, at varying speeds.
Medication and healthy living can steady it—months, years, even decades.
During times when the boulders and rocks aren’t around, when pebbles are choreographed and jovial—times when it’s possible to think something knowingly simplistic like this must be how normal people feel—a merciful calm descends.
But it is always possible those fleeting moments can give way and the dizzying sway will start again.
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