First Written: May 1, 2021

First Posted: August 23, 2021

Last Edited: October 25, 2021

Fine Art of the Nervous Breakdown

The way that the shadow and light interplay across your face reminds me of my favorite painting. There’s something about this contrast that is quite striking. Oh, just let me stand back a few feet. Just be, and let me look at you. Let me look at you, love. Yes, yes, I know for sure, now. The way that you’re quivering gives it away. Don’t you see? You’re a fine artistic rendering of the human experience of breaking down. How perplexing. I haven’t seen such an authentic work in a long time. Kudos.

But it’s more than simply that, don’t you know? I will never fully summarize how brilliant your expression is in this moment. Humans are multidimensional, with many different planes on which a nervous breakdown may occur, allowing for countless possibilities in how this theme may manifest. Take your eyes, for example. They keep shifting around. Here to there, nervously examining all that moves in the corner of your eye, while simultaneously avoiding contact with my own eyes. You’re looking for an escape, something that could occupy your thoughts and throw out the old ones in a cognitive coup. How poetic of you. It’s hard to do, isn’t it? Quite a feat.

Oh, but there’s something else about your eyes, something even more provoking, and that’s the way that they change shape as landscapes of tears pass across, reflecting light in a swift dance. That’s quite a rapid tempo that you’re maintaining, as these glittering, translucent mounds release and immediately replenish, dropping the smallest of oceans down your cheeks. What a tender, organic fountain. You really are something special, don’t you realize?

Just think of the profound effects your presence would have in public spaces. How thoroughly provoking you’d be! Perhaps we could perch you upon a stone wall outside the library. Think of the significance! Your image forces people to see your humanity, which reflects back to them their very own. Let’s get this in motion! Are you ready for your debut?

…You’re scared? Ah, yes. I see that now in your shaking hands. And your eyes have stopped darting around, and now they’re closed. The glowing globs now cling to your lashes. Oh, that’s perfect. What an artful display… What is that you say?

Don’t judge a book by its cover? What do you mean by that?

You mean that these visual appearances are just the beginning of the fine art that is your breakdown? Are you telling me there’s even more where this all comes from? …By the way, where is this all coming from?

You don’t know? It’s just happening to you? That’s surprising… are you absolutely sure about that? I don’t usually believe that such tears flow with no reason. But I won’t push you about that. It’s okay. You’re so beautiful, don’t you see?

Here’s a pen and paper, why don’t you write down how you’re feeling? I’ll sit beside you until you’re finished. Want some tea? No? You feel like you’re going to vomit? Oh, okay. I didn’t realize you felt that unwell. I was just so focused on the light reflecting on your cheeks. I’ll be quiet now, so that you can think.

Ah, here it is now. Do you mind if I read it aloud? Ahem.

From the top of my chest cavity down into my stomach, there is a perpetual earthquake, looping through the initial breaking of tectonic plates ad infinitum, reverberating throughout my core then through my limbs, an incessantly buzzing dread that turns my flesh to magma and my blood to stone.

Holy shit. That sounds pretty bad.

I don’t feel safe anywhere. I’m constantly afraid that I will die. I don’t have the energy to take care of myself. Last night at dinner, I didn’t have the strength to lift my food up to my mouth. I simply sat there, arms limp by my sides, gazing down at my meal with lukewarm desire, shedding tears over the waste. It was not the waste of food that I was mourning. It was the waste of my own life. I don’t know where to go from here. Even if I did know, I would not have the energy to get there. I fear that things are hopeless.

I am aware of the artistry I have been cursed to embody. I am aware of the reactions I provoke within others. I can see it in the way they move away from me. My suffering scares them. My mere existence makes others uncomfortable – I have been damned to live what most wish to avoid. And I can’t hide this fact anymore. I am too broken down to hide this now. And so, passersby stay at a distance. I do not blame them. I wouldn’t wish to transfer this pain onto any living creature. It is simply too much.

Please, kind soul who sits beside me, help me realize my potential. I have not yet fully collapsed, so there is still time. Who knows how much is left? I wish for my suffering to have a purpose. You seemed to have found beauty in me. Perhaps if I let enough others see, then at least a few more people will be inspired. If this is a purpose I may serve, then at least all this will not have been for nothing at all.

Oh, and one more thing: People keep telling me that I’m weak. I may look weak. I may be physically weak, unable to lift my fork to my mouth, unable to stand without slumping down, unable to carry others in this sad state. But maybe you will believe me, since you seem different from most others. Maybe you will believe me when I say that I am so very strong.

If I am living art, if my existence is fine enough to provoke such a reaction within another soul, then what I want to express, if I have a choice, is my inner strength. It is all I have left. I believe it is the source of the beauty that you perceive within this mess of fragmented humanity.

This whole time I was appreciating you as a sculpture, while I should have been honoring you as an oracle. I wonder if you’ve always had such a way with words, or if the fires of your suffering have forged your tortured mind into that of a soothsayer’s. What beautiful heartbreak you have sewn throughout these words you have penned. Your lucidity is the still, clear waters that so vividly reflect back to me exactly what you desire to convey, that you are a being of great strength. Oh, how much suffering you must have endured to have fallen into this deeply miserable state!

Can I ask you a question, wise stranger? Why is it that droplets flow from your quivering chin, and yet no sound escapes? Your silence intrigues me. Something seems to be stopping the music from flowing through the bellows of your shattered ribs. It’s as if your diaphragm of crumpled lace is frozen in a sheet of ice. Why do you hold hostage your song? I for one wish to hear you. I wish to hear your true voice.

You don’t know where it went? It’s lost in the folds of time? Hmm. I believe you, and still I don’t fully understand. Where do we go from here?

Oh, my friend, I believe I just heard a glacier crack open behind your collar bones. I am amazed by the sound. I have never heard ice creak, hiss, and crack like this within another person before. Do you hear it, too? Did you feel it shift within you? What is the source of such a violent change in the tundra in your chest?

Hmm? What’s that now? I can hear it. I can hear it, now. I can hear your music. You’re singing to me. The sweetest sound I have ever heard, the first waters to rush through your crumbling fortification of ice. Thank you for singing to me. Thank you for sharing your music.

What has just occurred to make this possible? You had just said to me that your music had been lost.

What is that you say? If I made it out correctly between your sonorous sobs, I believe that I might just desire to hug you. Did you say what I think you did? That what cracked your frozen bastion was kindness? The kindness of a stranger? The compassion of a new friend?

Come here, love. Let me hold you. You are a master of the fine arts, that is for sure. There is no need to put you on display. Your music now fills every space within reality. Come, let’s find shelter together. When you grow hungry, I will lift the fork to your lips. It is the least I can do. It is the least I can do after having been washed clean by your oceans of inner strength. For I may have provided you some kindness, but you have provided me deeper awareness. And I will never forget what I have learned today from your trembling space of transformation. I see you through your suffering. You are so beautiful. Come, now. Let’s find shelter. And when your hunger returns, I will lift the fork to your lips.

~ Claire Frances Turner