I was a senior in high school, just beginning to explore my artistic potential—writing, composing, acting, painting—when my brain splintered. I started to have bizarre thoughts: What word does God want me to choose? Which note is most holy? What will keep me from being punished by an all-seeing, invisible force?

I sought help, and a psychiatrist explained that I'd had a psychotic break. for months I'd believed that my everyday choices could have dramatic consequences. One misstep and the car would crash. My heart would stop. God would punish me. Though logic had not completely escaped me—I knew, even as I feared them, how unlikely these outcomes were—it took therapy and medication to return me to reality.

Delusion and hallucination are debilitating facets of mental illness, yet seeing our thoughts brought uncannily to life is something we all experience: How often have you thought of a friend, then seen her walk past? Wished to changed jobs, then come across the perfect listing?

After I got past the paralyzing fear of choosing the wrong word and returned to being my thoughtful, analytical self, my intuition went from being a command I'd felt I had to obey one guiding principle among many. I began to see how magical thinking, imagination and coincidence inflected my life. At their most extreme, these phenomena meant living in a false world. At their mildest, they were my greatest tools as an artist. Consider metaphor—the invented relationship between disconnected things. In another context, this was delusion: now it's the meat and bones of my writing.

My view of the world, my art, has been informed by compassion for another way of seeing and by the belief that, as the poet Elizabeth Alexander wrote, "many things are true at once." It's true that I put it back together. Truest of all? Through every one of the resulting cracks, there shines a brilliant light.


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