I wanted to eat light bulbs. I wanted to hear my teeth crunch the little pieces. I wanted to swallow them. I wanted to feel them cutting the insides of my throat.
On some days, light bulbs scared me. There is a light directly above my treadmill. When I ran, I was afraid that the light bulb would burst and some pieces would pierce my skin. Maybe one would even make its way into my eye, blinding me. During my exercise, I would unscrew the light bulb and put it on the dryer, and then get back on. Everything would be fine for a few minutes until I realized that there was the possibility the light bulb would roll onto the floor and then crack. My husband Phil would hear the noise, and then yell at me, I imagined, for not keeping the light bulb in a safe space. “Why are you down here in the dark,” he’d say, “You’re going to trip and break your neck.”
I told my psychiatrist about my run-ins with light bulbs. She wasn’t as amused as I pretended to be. “Why do you think you’re having these thoughts about light bulbs? What’s a light bulb standing in for?”
That’s when I knew I hated her. I needed to find a new psychiatrist. I humored her and offered some possibilities. I felt bad for her. If she failed me, no doubt she had failed a lot of other people. It’s not like I was anything special.
I told her that I’m afraid of the dark. When I was a child, I would curl up in bed, my blanket over my head, and no matter how hot it got, I would not come up for air. I’d sweat. I’d anticipate the morning when my mother would turn on the lights.
I told her that my dad worked for Commonwealth Edison. He was a meter reader. Perhaps the light bulb was a stand-in for my father. I was sad. I was processing our relationship which had been estranged for a number of years. (Happily, it’s now better than it has ever been.)
I told her that when I was young I used to burn myself. I liked the way the skin peeled back.
I told her a lot of things. I can’t remember a lot of them. All I remember is the resentment in trying to find a metaphor for her. Perhaps madness is when you can’t control what you’re substituting things for. Everything becomes something else and you lose track of the literal, the real. Or you believe that the real was never there to begin with, and that begins the descent into paranoia and anxiety.
I don’t know. After I started to rehabilitate myself, I began to grow resentful towards metaphor. The Universe, I made myself believe, is a beautiful and troubled thing. And no matter how troubled, metaphors are a lie; the people who feel the need to use them are weak. To use metaphor is to sin against The Universe. God has made everything so unique you can’t replace something with something else.
Maybe I believe that. Maybe I don’t. All I know is that metaphor lurks in places that I never willingly want to go again.