I have been diagnosed with a colorful array of mental illnesses. I know myself enough to understand how my thoughts relate to my behaviors.

I have a thought disorder and mood swings. I also experience chronic insomnia. On average, I sleep three hours a night. I can increase this with a potent dose of benzo or a healthy shot of alcohol. Usually, though, I function on a few hours of sleep every night. I am often awake between 3 am and 7 am. I watch the sunrise, I sit and stare, I feed my cat.

I have gone days or weeks without sleeping. This altered state is my most creative time for writing and has given me a new appreciation for Alice in Wonderland and other fantastic literature.

I went away to college. I have no experience with acid, LSD, mescaline, peyote, or other hallucinogens. In a manic state, I would pull all-nighters, reading Paradise Lost from start to finish, as well as several works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the drug-sodden poetry of Coleridge, Shelley, Blake, and Poe.

More often than not, I experience paranoia. I had to leave school because of this fear, and later on, I struggled more. At different phases of life, I had to leave several jobs and apartments because of this uncontrolled fear diagnosed as paranoia.

Passing the milestones of early geriatric aging, I have bouts of paranoia that hit me in the pit of my stomach. Strangers are all watching me. Suddenly the van sporting a logo about “The Golden Age Senior Center” was sent down the block specifically for my line of vision.

I live with my disorder. I deal with paranoia by shutting all but the most innocuous internet devices, retreating into the haven of my room, and waiting for nightfall when the symptoms abate.

There are windows that I fear everywhere in life. When I say window, I mean both literal and figurative ways for people to observe each other. An example is when I go food shopping or drop off the laundry.

During these times, I am visible to other people in the community. When I don’t feel well, I use behavioral coping skills. These skills come in handy when I want to scream or run in the streets and restrain myself because I know it isn’t safe.

There are times when I know my thoughts are just strange. So, I say to myself: no one will be the wiser as long as you act the part. In other words, just because I feel strange doesn’t mean I appear odd to other people. This verbal reassurance helps me be more social and interact in public when I am paranoid.

It is possible to live in the community and be productive while suffering symptoms of mania, paranoia, and scattered thinking. Keep your better self at the forefront. Protecting your safety and freedom will mean taking care of your health. The Cheshire cat smiles, and the caterpillar puffs on his ‘doobie’ while Alice changes from significant to small.

Sometimes I dream in a waking state. Sometimes the old age van follows me down the block. Sometimes, those strangers to the imagination and alternative mind states walk past me, intent on getting to work, oblivious to anything but their cell phones and plans for dinner.

Pause and regroup.  I took my medicine.

A siren wails.  A phone rings.  A child cries.  A dog barks.

And Talking Heads resound through my consciousness-

“Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was…”

What brought it all on?  Must have been the change of seasons.

Somebody gets scared and says, “Are you all right?”

Oh yes, I say.  And smile.  We all have little itty bits of fear.