Friday, January 13, 2012

Love and Death on Facebook

[In February of 2009, when I was expecting my child, the first child to be born to our generation of the family, I joined Facebook. I was soon followed by my brother Conor, my sister Gaby, and our mother, Colette.]

I’m reading the diary of a madwoman. The entries are the last notes my sister wrote and posted on Facebook in the weeks before she took her own life.

I’m oddly comforted by these notes, although they disturb, and portend the terrible and final thing that was to come. First, I am able to read the comments of the friends that were still willing to reach out to her publicly. It is truly heartwarming to see that people cared, that they tried to get through to her, to pull her back to sanity. But there is also a transparency to the notes that I find satisfying, as well as a freedom and boldness to her expression that seems wholly new.

Sistah’ could write, man. In the midst of her mania, she was also experiencing a liberating creative freedom. And in many ways her Facebook page became the outlet for that freedom of expression. In that sense, Facebook may have fueled her mania. To this day I find myself wondering about the role Facebook played, quite innocently, in fanning the flames of her sickness. She was someone who had always used boundaries to protect her illness, and Facebook, by design, broke those boundaries down. It loosened the boundaries she kept between people, as well as the close, protective guard she had kept on her expressive, creative self. Creative expression had a way of unleashing her illness. That’s perhaps why she preferred to apply her mind to science. Science was strict, controlled, cautious. It would keep those darker demons under wraps.

I am only able to access two of the notes, but it’s more than FB’s administrative powers that be allowed heretofore. She had blocked me and I couldn’t read them at the time she was writing them. I did get to skim them from my mother’s account, on her apartment computer, when we had convened there in the days after she died. But in many ways being blocked got me off the hook with having to muster some kind of adequate response. I have saved them on my hard drive. I get to press my face up to the glass window of her mind and get a good gander. I get to take my time, notice the nuances, close the notes and open them again later. From her last note, entitled Today Really Fucking Sucked.

The subway ride over there was really interesting because David started doing his jumping around in other people's bodies trip and started picking his nose rather thoroughly (rooting around in the nostril would be a more apt description) when he was in this Asian guy's body. I was laughing out loud and had to try really hard to stifle myself because, you know, people really think you're crazy when you laugh out loud all by yourself but really because I thought if I let it rip I might explode or spontaneously combust or something equally inappropriate in a sensible world and you know we can't have that.

At the hospital she’d received a bipolar diagnosis which she staunchly refused, along with any medication. While there she played the savior of her ward mates, who, according to her, were being mistreated. Her rational mind took over. Or a brilliantly conceived duplication of a rational mind, which was in fact the ruse of an exceedingly irrational and sick mind, created to protect itself the same way any disease of the body produces antibodies to fight the antigens, the medicines, that try to kill it. It is that scientific, that cunning, that brilliant.

And that is how my sister, at forty-seven, and as unwell as unwell could be, managed to convince the psychiatrist, the nurses on the ward, and even her own mother, who is a psychologist, that she was exactly the opposite. Even Steven. Good as gold.

Gaby was released after a three week stay at the Elmurst General Hospital psyche ward in Queens, where she had remained unmedicated, and without access to alcohol. She had pulled down tight the lid of her pressure cooker to form an airless, impenetrable seal. Once she got back home, she logged back on, and the lid flew right off, its contents exploded on Facebook.

She didn’t have Facebook in the hospital. She didn’t join Facebook, or any other social network, until the last year and a half of her life.

As Sylvia Plath wrote in her book of poems Ariel, in the weeks before she took her own life:

There is a charge.
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart-----
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.


Matt Hall said...

Great post. I have thought often of Gaby on that subway, watching her boyfriend jump from body to body. Poor dear-- you just want to hold her, and she just didn't want to be held.

Rachel Dowling said...
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