At school, Finch realizes he’s been staring out the window and doesn’t know how long he’s been staring. He can’t concentrate when the teacher reads aloud in English class, and even when he tries to read by himself in the belltower stairway, he can’t focus. Finch sits with Charlie at lunch and still can’t concentrate. In U.S. Geography, Mr. Black reminds the class not to slack off. Finch writes instead of listening and doesn’t let Violet see what he’s writing. The words seem to disappear as he writes them.
The novel links Finch’s worsening mental state to his inability to comprehend the written or spoken word. So, the fact that Finch can’t read, write, or properly listen at all suggests that he’s truly struggling. But Finch doesn’t want to let anyone know this because of the shame he feels—this even extends to Violet, a person he trusts.
Finch thinks that this must be what it’s like to get sucked into a vortex or quicksand. He feels like a weight is pulling him down. Part of his mind notes that his life is pretty great, but Finch feels the weight getting heavier. He’s so caught up in his thoughts that he jumps when the bell rings. Violet looks concerned, so Finch focuses on smiling as he walks her to class and then heads to his appointment with Mr. Embry.
Finch can’t talk himself out of his worsening mental health with logic and facts. It doesn’t matter that life is going well, since that doesn’t change the fact that he feels like he’s being sucked into a vortex. This makes Finch feel like he has even less control.
Mr. Embry seems to know something is wrong. To give him something, Finch tells Mr. Embry that Finch’s dad wasn’t happy, so he got a new family. Finch stumbles in his story when Mr. Embry reminds Finch that Finch’s dad died, but Mr. Embry offers his condolences to Finch. Finch wants to cry, but he reminds himself to hide his pain. He thinks of the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovski’s suicide note—but seeing the look on Embry’s face, Finch realizes he must’ve recited the note aloud. Embry wants to know if Finch was on the belltower a second time, but Finch says he just needed some quiet to read.
Finch is struggling to keep his story straight—a reflection of how lost he feels in his own mind and in his life. The fact that Finch accidentally recites Vladimir Mayakovski’s suicide note out loud shows one of the consequences of Finch fixating on suicide notes when he’s feeling well. Now that he’s struggling, he can’t call on any other literature to help him make sense of things—all he has are these memorized suicide notes. And this unwittingly reveals to Mr. Embry that Finch is still thinking about suicide.
Mr. Embry asks Finch what he knows about bipolar disorder. Finch smiles a flat smile and makes his voice boring as he asks if it’s the “Jekyll-Hyde thing.” As Mr. Embry talks about bipolar disorder causing extreme mood and energy shifts, Finch stops smiling. His body turns hot and then cold. He knows that bipolar is a label that “crazy people” get; he’s taken psychology classes, and he’s watched Finch’s dad for the last 18 years. Labels like bipolar “explain people away as illnesses.” Finch leaps up when the bell rings, knocking his chair over. Aware that this might look threatening, he holds out his hand. Mr. Embry takes it and pulls Finch close. He tells Finch that he isn’t alone, but Finch knows this isn’t true—everyone is alone, with only their own minds for company.
Finch clearly articulates here why he’s unwilling to have his mental illness diagnosed—whatever the diagnosis might be. He equates a mental health diagnosis with the person being “crazy,” and he also insists that being diagnosed means that a person’s identity then centers entirely around that diagnosis. Essentially, Finch clings tightly to his desire to be normal—and his desire to be himself, whoever that might be. Mr. Embry’s choice to bring up the possibility of bipolar disorder also shows Finch that he can’t trust Mr. Embry. In his mind, Mr. Embry wants to take away his individuality and is looking for an excuse to write Finch off as crazy.
After gym class the next morning, Roamer says “Freak” under his breath as he passes Finch. Finch doesn’t think—he slams Roamer into a locker and starts to choke him. Both Charlie and Mr. Kappel come to help Roamer as Finch watches the veins throb in Roamer’s purple head. Finally, Finch drops him. He thinks that this is all Roamer’s fault, but he tells Roamer to never call him a freak again.
As Finch’s mental health declines, his ability (or willingness) to censor himself and control his behavior also suffers. Roamer calling him a “freak” no doubt makes the possibility that people might try to diagnose him even worse—then, per Finch’s logic, he’d truly be a “freak.”