Today The Layered Onion has a guest post from poet and author Charlotte Amelia Poe. Charlotte Amelia Poe (they/them), like many of us with mental and chronic illness, has let life inspire their work, including experience as an autistic and nonbinary person.
I write. It’s how I make sense of the world.Charlotte Amelia Poe
Without further ado, an intro from the writer:
I didn’t used to get migraines. That’s new. Well, not new, but it’s been maybe four years since all of this started and I don’t remember what it was like before. It’s strange how quickly your internal world shifts to accommodate some new horror, a pain you can’t escape from.
I write. It’s how I make sense of the world. I’ve always written, perhaps as an autistic person it always made more sense than the spoken word, writing can be precise and honest and sometimes brutal, sometimes healing. It’s a salve on a wound I don’t know how to close.
For one brilliant month, my migraine medication worked and I didn’t have migraines. But something else happened instead – a lack of sleep and a sudden overstimulation meant that I was writing all the time, poetry, prose, nonfiction, anything and everything. I stayed up for twenty four hours and wrote a book. It’s being published next year.
But the brilliant month ended, and the uncertainty returned. It’s difficult to plan for anything when you don’t know whether or not your head will be trying to kill you. The only thing I could do on the bad days was write on my phone, brightness turned way down low, tapping out every thought I had and trying to make it beautiful even as the darkness of the room seeped in and turned the air sour.
I do, completely, understand why people would drill holes into their skulls. I understand this about depression, I understand this about anxiety, and I understand this about migraines. The primal need for exorcism is something we cannot help but seek out, but it’s not the answer, as much as we would like it to be.
In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.
Creativity, perhaps, is. I write because I have to, because I’m possessed by all the demons of my life and I want to splurge it all onto the page and see if I can make sense of it all. In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.
And maybe, in lieu of medication that doesn’t work and trepanation that can’t be provided, we have to count on that instead. That magic.
So I do.
The migraines may never go away, I can’t find what causes them, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. But the creativity remains. The urge to create remains. It’s a scream into the void, loud against an aching head, but god, it might be the only real thing.
And I think it might be everything.
Charlotte Amelia Poe
Introducing this piece:
Content warning: Strong language.
So I say –
“My head hurts.”
And I grit my teeth and I fold my fingers into my hair and I tug until maybe my scalp loosens a little and I can hear myself think again. I think if I buzzed off my hair then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, like maybe the throbbing above my right eye would dull a little and I could finally sleep.
(It’s been thirty six hours and the caffeine in the painkillers keeps me buzzing like a moth to the light streaming through the holes in my blackout curtains and I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, but I can’t do anything else either and time is treacle slow and my tongue sticks to the inside of my mouth and I breathe in and out and bury myself further under the duvet, legs curled up to my chest and I want to scream but noise makes it worse and – )
I understand why people would take rocks to their skulls and carve a hole into themselves to let the demons out. The pressure release valve option seems so fucking appealing. I cannot touch my own skin, can only press my fist into my eye socket and wish I could scoop everything out and let it drip through my fingers until there was no pain anymore, no nothing, just the blessed emptiness and my head would be empty, and my eyes would be empty, and do you understand?
Try cold compresses, ice from the freezer wrapped in a washcloth and pressed to the side of my head and for a moment I don’t feel anything except the chill of numb and blessed relief. My pillow soaks through and the room is warm, so warm, three days of stuffy air and I’m breathing in my own fumes and I can’t stand up to open a window and my head hurts, I am trying to tell you that it hurts, I am trying to find language to describe the fact that it feels like I’m dying and there is nothing I can do except wait it out.
I think about stepping on broken glass. At least that bleeds. This isn’t red, isn’t liquid, there’s no colour or texture to any of this, just pounding, and I’m inside of myself and outside of myself all at once and I can hear somebody begging to be let out and I think it’s me, but it might be the demons, you know? And I can understand. Because being trapped here with me is a fucking nightmare, I understand that, I hate it too, but I don’t try to self-destruct every other day just to get my own way.
Unless the demons are me, in which case, I guess I do.
I can hear my sister’s children laughing and shrieking in the garden and I’m so happy they’re alive and that they’re not in pain but I also want them to just let me lay curled up in silence. Everything is so, so loud and I am flinching against the shuffle of my sheets as I shift my body from one side of the bed to the other, burying my face into the pillow until the nausea becomes too much and I have to lift my head again, the inside out bruising of my neck an extension of it all and I have googled this and Google says meningitis, and I don’t think I get meningitis every other day, but maybe.
See, you get kind of crazy with it.
You make all kinds of deals with any deity you can think of. You don’t even believe in anything except that time is cyclical and that this will happen again. But you still beg and hope and plead that this will stop and maybe this will be the last time it happens, maybe you won’t have to cancel plans and waste away in this fucking miasma of stale breath and old t-shirts.
So I say –
“My head hurts.”
And my mum says, “go lie down.”
And I do.
And after a while, it goes away. And for a little while I can bear to be in the light again.
But it comes back. The demons eat at me again and it hurts hurts hurts.
And then I must be quiet and still and dark.
And I don’t think people understand the cost of that. I am losing time. I am losing time. I am losing time.
Or check out one of their books – available via links on their website. Charlotte Amelia Poe published How To Be Autistic in 2019, an honest memoir that shares a personal account of autism, mental illness, gender, and sexual identity.
This is a perspective we have to read. Thank you for sharing your story!