Seven Shades of Sick

© Åse Bjøntegård Oftedal
Now pay attention. The next sentence will be the most important words I write.

I have loved being alive.

I’d like you to pause and remember it as we move through the uncomfortable.

It’s 4:00 AM. The house has gone quiet. I am tucked in bed safe and sound, baby pillow snug against my belly. I am safe, and I am sound.

I wake, startled jolted and delirious. I bolt and sit up head clammy, body tremors like a two-year-old frenzied tantrum. I am frozen tundra ice cold, drenched, wild and dripping panic from my pores. My feet, if my feet could only reach the carpet below maybe the room would stop spiraling. Is that midnight shadow flashing across the wall the devil, an intruder? Oh God, oh no. Have they them come to slice my throat, gut me like a pig, rip out my intestines and rape my soul. No, no, no this is not real. This cannot be real. This D movie Friday night, bad dream horror flick is not happening. But, my eyes are screaming wide open. It is, and it’s happening to me.

My mother is in the adjacent bedroom curled in a fetal position gently snoring from exhaustion. Recovering from excruciating back pain and aching knees disregarding her own miserable discomfort and recuperating from the chaos my endless crazy days have cost her.

Don’t wake her she needs her sleep I repeat, pacing back and forth. What to do, what to do, what to do, I cannot do this alone. DO NOT WAKE HER. I brace myself against the wall, navigating the ten looming feet to the bathroom. Sweet dreams of Lavender calm and a wet washcloth await. I am exploding from both ends. This is not anxiety; this is not depression, this is not mania.

This is no shade of sick I’ve ever been.

I am dead, deep in the dark brothels of insanity; trembling, unsteady and uncertain I will find a way out.

The light. Turn the light on. Come on grounding and comforting tools do not betray me. My face looks distorted under the seven screaming bright white light round bulbs. Seven, I know. I count over and over. The counting helps, rooting me in the here and now. My left eye socket sits miles lower than the right. I reach up to touch my muddled face, my throat shuts and my glands explode. The taunting grotesque image resembles the Elephant man; blown pupils are black caverns of despair. I look insane. My throat swells shut and I can’t breathe, but I must be breathing I don’t pass out. Oxygen, I need air and brain oxygen. Hospital, take me to the hospital. Please God, this can’t be happening. Not again. NO, I can’t survive this. I won’t recover.

I am in the throes of psychosis, the broken point. Balancing on an invisible barbwire tightrope barefoot bloodied and blistered. I am scorching star stuff too far and away floating free fall above solid ground. One foot firmly rooted to the earth while the other tests the waters dipping my toes into the swirling madness.

Suicide. I carry her in my back pocket. She is the obscene joker teasing me like a cruel bitch slap. I am too sick to whip her out. I am too sick to move. Tears, I don’t cry I don’t have the luxury to sob and wretch and purge. My face. It must be mine as I massage my crooked cheekbones, putty skin, and quivering lips, sweat stains swipe dark dew across my clammy forehead.

I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to run. I want the bolts and flashes behind closed eyes to stop. I want my mother. I want my mother to be young and strong enough for the both. She is not; I am not. Time and unfortunate circumstance have beaten us down.

I must stay here. I must stay here, the spirit commands. Head hung defeated over the toilet I must stay put right here in the quiet, safe solitude of the familiar, a sorrowful dimly lit bathroom. Right here on this dirty, smelly, outdated carpet I adore. I must wait. Wait, for morning and the sun to chase the greedy terror monsters away. There is nowhere left to run when the beast dwells inside. Invisible, fragmented figments taunt and torment what’s real or not really there at all. Is the burn mark hole in the rug trustworthy enough as your index finger traces the groove in circular motion? Will the repetition silence the screeching volume and the ringing ear chatterbox sounds.

The break comes hard and fast. I lose days, weeks and pieces of me.

I go quiet, cocoon silent. Go Defcon, Navy Seal warrior determined. I use every dirty desert trick, cracked out crumbling dried up resource to claw my way out. Fingernails shredded and torn off, hands numb from slippage and jaw clenched resolute. There are no crevices to cling to inside the infinite black abyss walls.

I exhaust every wishing well reservoir I can think of.

I will never recover the broken, frazzled, terrified, sad, worthlessness, doubt, self-confidence, funny bits lost waging this war. I am on hollow, eggshell, unstable, shaky ground.

Lithium was my freedom gypsy soul lover, my friend, my confidant, my metallic element, and my Mustang wild spirit tamer, my mood stabilizer. Like most lovers, the honeymoon ends, and sparkly, shiny new new experiences turn dull, bitter and grim. Was it her or was it me, who gave up first? Who’s to blame? I cannot say. I refuse. I am only human. The mysteries of the systematic mind are not mine to question.

I am seven shades of sick on a good day and uncertain, skeptical doubtful most others.

There are no tints to crazy, only varying levels of lucky. I want you to understand I am deeply, mortifyingly regrettably sorry. So very sad and sorry you have to see me like this.

I understand. I can barely see me through the reflecting pools. The Carnival mirror’s distorted and the jagged edge glass point too close to dangerous.

When you break, when you are broken at the core you must be patient, very very tippy toe patient and kind. You must be kind to yourself. You must self-soothe, self-care, and rock like a baby. You must remember the wonder and miraculous beauty of how lovely living feels on your skin.

I am trying.

I have written the seven shades of sick blame and shame before, I AM ADAM LANZA.

It’s the unpleasant, necessary vital discourse. My story means less than nothing today unless I share it with you the best I can. My grandfather died mad in a stale acrid avocado room locked away. Willard was his final resting place, alone, cruel and inhumane. My gorgeous, glorious, loving luminous father carried his own lunacy burden. The two-ton crucifix was not supported alone. He had seven shades of luck and an ever-present, determined, hopeful devoted wife.

Me, I must learn to carry mine. Gracefully. I pray to my own personal Jesus. I call on Buddhas, Zen minutes, the sky and the stars often. I fall to my knees weak and defeated. I do that, sometimes. I do. I pray the Angels keep me here as long as they’d like, and I can manage.

I implore them to remind me exactly how miraculous living is. How happy, healthy, safe, curious and sound as the heart beats and the skin quivers with delight.

Because, please remember what I asked of you at the beginning. Crazy does not discriminate; there are only varying shades of sick. Varying shades of heaven and hell. Please use the word thoughtfully and with compassion, no one in their right mind asks for this plight.

Not one mysterious, naked, perfectly, imperfect humane being.

I eliminate triggers, eat healthy, exercise, I do every single thing right.

I walk carefully, mindfully. I walk light.

It does not matter.

The fissures and cracks break free sometimes.

My preferred weapon of choice, my words.

They are the truest, ugliest, hardest truths to hear; and the purest, cathartic beauty I leave behind.

I am relearning to swallow, one breath at a time.

Now remember. I’d like you to be mindful as we move along.

I have loved being beautiful chaos alive.

Crazy and/or not at times.


Jacqueline Cioffa

Jacqueline Cioffa was an international model for 17 years and celebrity makeup artist. She is a dog lover, crystal collector and Stone Crab enthusiast. Her work has been featured in “Brainstorms, the Anthology” and numerous literary magazines. Living with manic depression, Jacqueline is an advocate for mental health awareness. She's a storyteller, observer, essayist, potty mouth and film lover who's traveled the world. Her poignant, literary fiction debut THE VAST LANDSCAPE gives new meaning to intense, raw and heartfelt. Fans of the emotional, soul stirring first novel will not be able to put GEORGIA PINE the exciting sequel down. “The essence continues because you do. Harrison leaves the door open a crack. I seize the opportunity to revisit my whole, healthy self a bit longer, live in the mystic beach home I adore, dream eyes open. Hope is our greatest asset. To choose hope against the worst possible odds is the true measure of life.” The Vast Landscape by Jacqueline Cioffa

11 thoughts on “Seven Shades of Sick

  1. Nicole Lyons

    This is extraordinary. I don’t know how many times I have read this piece now, but I always come back to it. I love it, and I love you Jackie, you fierce and beautiful soul. I wish you love and peace and light.


  2. Jackie CioffaJackie Cioffa

    Dear Kimmie,

    Your words here, and your support mean so much.
    You have my understanding, respect and empathy as well.

    Thank you for the kindred words.
    Xx Jackie

  3. Kimmie

    Oh Jackie, I read this with beating heart and breath-sucked-in. Relating…recognizing…empathizing.
    Bless you for sharing this. Thank you. And so beautifully expressed (as always). An outstanding awareness piece! x

  4. Jackie CioffaJackie Cioffa

    Dear Julie,

    I thank the stars, kismet and happy coincidence for the day I stumbled upon your fantastic site.
    Feminine Collective is the perfect mix of eclectic talent, grit, authenticity and a sprinkling dust of magic. Sometimes, not very often if we’re very lucky we find a place, people who support and relate. Thank you, for inviting me to be a small part of a bigger picture.

    You, Julie Anderson, are a uniquely beautiful light in a sometimes dark world.
    Shine on.


  5. Julie AndersonJulie Anderson

    Your words speak to my soul. How you have found just the right ones to articulate the brilliance of your fractured mind, I will never know. The fact that you found them, have shared them, owned them and carried them on your long lonely journey – is testimony of your amazing heart.

    I am glad that you are here. The world is all the more beautiful with you in it. Crazy or not.
    Big Love-

  6. Jackie CioffaJackie Cioffa

    Dear Krista,

    Thank you for taking the time to read my essay and posting such a thoughtful comment. I didn’t feel strong at the time, only distance brings perspective.
    Wishing you joy and abundance.

    I’m grateful to Feminine Collective, Julie Anderson and Marla Carlton for supporting mental illness and so many important, raw stories.

  7. Krista-lee-Pfeiffer

    Wow. You write beautifully. Your experience sounds terrifying. How strong you were to manage on your own, rather than waking your mother. That must have been beyond difficult. Thank you for sharing it.


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