What Does Hell Look Like?

My senior year of high school, my literature class read a play called, “No Exit,” by Jean-Paul Sartre (sidenote: I cannot believe I remember who wrote that play–it made a deeper impression than I thought). The main character of the play is welcomed to Hell, which initially seems to be a pretty decent place, albeit a little strange.

The main character (Garcin) is locked into a room with two ladies, Inez (whose identifying trait is her homosexuality) and Estelle, who’s just a miserable person all the way around. Through the course of the play, the three characters drive each other mad, until Garcin realizes that this is Hell. He’s damned to spend his eternity with these two miserable bats, his own regrets from his human life, and no toothbrush.

The concept of Hell being customized to one’s own worst fear/mental state/etc. resonated with me. Recently, I’ve taken to calling the depressive state of my bipolar disorder “my own personal Hell.” However, it’s not my own, not really.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (http://www.nimh.nih.gov) approximately 2.4% of the known population suffers from some form of bipolar disorder. That’s nearly 173 million people worldwide suffering from the same manic and depressive phases, fighting the same panic and anxiety disorders. 173 million people who can relate. So why do we feel so goddamn alone all the time?

Here’s the way I see it: the Earth is freaking gigantic. According to the University of Texas, approximately 25 million sq miles of Earth are habitable. That’s roughly a crap-ton of square feet. Now, imagine that 25 million miles is a giant, flat room that is pitch black, with a sound level of -13 decibels (the current world record). You can’t see your hand in front of your face, but your heartbeat sounds like a gunshot and your thoughts. . . . Your thoughts are loud enough to drive you mad in seconds.

Divide said 25 million square miles by the 173 million bipolar sufferers in the world, and (using some sketchy math techniques) you get 1 bipolar person every 3.9 million square feet. For our visual people, that’s roughly the equivalent of being the only person in the Merch Mart in Chicago.

Imagine 173 million duplicates of this building, each pitch black with negative sound profiles and a single resident, and you’ll get an idea of what I think Hell looks like.

Is it any wonder we feel isolated? Is it any wonder that I’m starting to realize that some of the people around me really have no idea what I’m dealing with?

To me, medicine is like finding a wall with a light switch. I turn on the light, and suddenly it’s not pitch black anymore. I can see there’s some sort of shimmer in the flooring. I can see my hand and my feet. Maybe I also see that the ceiling is 30 feet tall, but I can see a little piece of my 3.9 million square feet of isolation.

In the same respect, therapy is like finding an area where the silence isn’t so damning. My thoughts aren’t the only thing I can hear. Maybe I don’t have to go crazy. Maybe there’s another option.

Finally, the internet is an unprecedented conqueror of this isolation. It allows us to reach out to one another through this darkness, through this maddening silence, and offer support. Empathy. Advice. Stories. Solidarity.

What does your personal Hell look like?

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Now that you've read my thoughts, what are yours?

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