(Trigger warning: If you have phobias related to being institutionalized, you may not want to read this.)

There are some topics I may orbit forever. I can hardly stand to land on them, but I can stare for hours from a distance. It’s like using those boxes you made in elementary school to watch a solar eclipse.

For about a year after I got out of the hospital I couldn’t read a book or watch a movie set in a psych ward. They set off some kind of automatic lock in my brain, the uncomfortable sensation of dullness in my chest that means I am refusing to feel something. They made me feel isolated and small.

Gradually the situation reversed. First I was able to tolerate these stories, then I began seeking them out. I read The Last Time I Wore a Dress and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, practically drenching the pages with my highlighter. I watched and re-watched the two episodes of House that the main character spends in a mental hospital. I even saw Girl, Interrupted more than once, even though on multiple levels it is a terrible movie.

Hell, I’m watching American Horror Story: Asylum in a separate window as I write this.

These stories still make me feel isolated and small. Even the outlandish or inaccurate ones can bring back the fear of a door closing and locking behind me. Some of them (usually the movies and TV shows) make me feel like a crazy person – not like someone who is mentally ill, but like an isolated, strange and frightening crazy person.

And I subject myself to it over and over. There’s something underneath the discomfort, an almost pleasant feeling of contact. It helps that none of the stories match mine exactly, which provides the distance I need. These stories are not about me, so I can examine them in ways I could never stare directly at my own past.

I’m not sure what I am looking for. Some kind of insight, some kind of reassurance. We all want to see our reflections in the world, however distorted, right?

Maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe that sensation of touch is all I need, the faint surprise of a familiar face across light-years of truth and fiction.

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