|Myrna Loy, I'd welcome a chat with her ghost.|
“But I remember seeing a mess of leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek towards the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of 'Oh my God, we're all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do.”
-- From Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
I was really happy for a little while. I’d had a good run after seeing my psychiatrist and been productive all day. It can go like that. Pure joy. Body feels supernatural, energy coursing through veins. Anything possible, the future an open lane two carriages wide, lined with flowers and I can stroll, strut, saunter, amble, sprint, dash down it any way I want. Then — clink — something happens. It’s small. No permanent damages, no hurt feelings. Just an annoyance really. And I’m falling through the trapdoor with the nice, tight noose around my neck. Back in the doldrums. And is there any point even trying to crawl back out. Surrounded by the dire black of inescapable sorrow.
These things happen. Endings come. There is death. There is pain. There is suffering. There is injustice. There is the unyielding burden of living with a brain that sometimes sees only the enveloping storm clouds. Bitter. Hungry for hope. Starved.
Anxiety visits from time to time. Reeling and rollicking and kicking up a storm, making the mind a twisting reckless guidance system. It can overwhelm too. Take over the central nervous system. Oh god please not that lack of control that terror, silently hysterical. But I…I who am nothing…I who for some moments of some days is everything…I hold on and carry on.
I don’t miss work. I show up and I never alter a lesson that I’m about to teach because of “how I’m feeling.” Professionalism. For me its power supersedes “feelings” or pain or discomfort of fear or even that horrible rash — rashes — I’ve suffered and I do mean suffered.
Sidebar: My psychiatrist put me on lamictal which is a mostly effective drug for people with bipolar disorder. We gradually started to increase in hopes of positive results. Instead the increase brought a rash — on the arms, legs, back and feet — that was pervasive and angry and itched like hell. I mean it, like hell because surely if there was such a place it would be home to such mad desire to scratch, a desire so all encompassing that one bled from the scratching. Off the lamictal I went and on to abillify which is known to be equally effective. It proved equally effective at causing the rash from hell. Wonder what’s next.
It’s critical to take care of what’s in front of you. Work has to be done, appointments kept, chores finished, exercising and eating and sleeping must be maintained. Sure the depression will fight you on some of these but you’ve got to push through enemy lines whenever and wherever possible. One thing I have had to do is maintain my work ethic. I have students who expect me not only to show up but to put on my usual show. I need to educate and entertain and be responsive and sensitive and clever and flexible and aware of classroom dynamics. This I do. It is what I am proud of. Depression, you do not stop me from teaching. Period.
I see things now. Oh I know they aren’t real, they’re just visions and they only last a few seconds and I generally don’t interact with them but they’re there as projected by my battered tattered brain. Sometimes I see a deceased relative or friend. It’s actually quite comforting. It gives me the feeling that they’re not completely dead that their live force and influence are still present in the world. I’d actually like to have more visions. Allen Ginsberg saw William Blake. How cool would that be? I’ve felt the presence of Ginsberg himself and of Kerouac and other notables but it’s always been rather vague and short-lived. I’d like an extended visit of an apparition that looked for all the world like a regular living human being and whose voice I could hear loud and clear and whose message was unassailable and clear.
Thomas Wolfe would be nice. Maybe Malcolm X or Bobby Kennedy. I’d welcome Groucho Marx, Thomas Hardy, Christy Mathewson or any of a number of women like Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mryna Loy, Joan of Arc or how about Josephine Baker? Whoever visited could sit right next to me here on the sofa and we could chat. I wouldn’t be freaked out at all. I’d ask some questions, get some advice, share some perspectives. It’d be fun and for me enlightening. If need be I wouldn’t share the visit with anyone. Or if it was acceptable I’d write about on this here blog or publish a piece in Hallucinator’s Monthly.
When I was a teenager I dropped acid a few times. I really like the hallucinations. I loved the way trees would seem to flow and have trails and be different colors and everything was a little off kilter. It was a different way of not just seeing but experiencing the world. I got a lot out of it and have spent much of my life believing that the only way one could achieve true and honest understanding of the world is through having experimented with hallucinogens. Then I had a bad trip. My god that was awful. It was too close to the feeling I got growing up with a schizophrenic mother. Everything was different and everything was bad, very bad, magnified bad. It was like being depressed only the depression was a living force that spoke to you in a maniacal cackle. It was around then that I had my first panic attack and whether my susceptibility to panic influenced my bad trip or the other way around, I cannot say.
A few times subsequent when I smoked some particularly strong marijuana I would get panicky. It was a calm panic. Kind of like receiving sobering news while getting blotto. My brain found booze to be the safest drug although I loved cocaine. Coke was especially good because it kept me awake for more liquor. How I did love to drink. There was never enough. Too much did not exist.
Getting high was like searching for the ultimate. But the ultimate what? The ultimate high? Sure, there was that but that was just part of the picture. I wanted women, the perfect one and the perfect night of sex and I wanted to have great deep conversations with brilliant people and reach profound insights. I wanted to hear the best music and dance and feel the glory of a thousand victories and soar among the clouds and travel the world all in that one night. Usually I just managed to get stinking drunk and wake up the next day with a vicious hangover that I would eventually require a hair of the dog to assuage.
I've been clean for decades. Better to wage the wars against mental illness. Somehow I never despair. Not even when in the worst of depression. There is still a voice somewhere telling me that there is an end to this tunnel and I will reach it. Just hang in there. And so I do. I'm sticking around for when the good days start piling up, dozens upon dozens in a row and I can smile everyday and not just pursue happiness, but be pursued by it. Right on.