The Devil’s Lettuce

It’s 4/20, y’all! I started writing a Facebook post about my relationship with marijuana, and it got really long so I decided to put it here instead.

Weed saved me in a big way back when I was dealing with constant chronic chest pain. Actually, it started saving me before, when I was living with my mom, taking antipsychotics, friendless, basically unable to get out of bed because I was so depressed. There was this one moment where I was planning to go to a Smashing Pumpkins show and asked someone to score some weed for me to smoke beforehand. I ended up being way too nervous to smoke in public, so I saved it and would take a teeny tiny hit at night after everyone in the house went to bed. There’s an entry in my diary from that period where I wrote something to the effect of “that gram of weed was a game changer, it’s working better than any of the drugs I’m taking.” I’d smoke and go for long walks, draw pictures, laugh with friends, feel bowled over by the beauty of the movies I was watching. I’d been stuck in a chemical depression fog for so long, and smoking weed was like watching flowers bloom after a long, hard winter.

I got my medical card during what I think of as the Year of Pain. I’d been gobbling handfuls of Vicodin every day for months, and at some point, I realized that this was unsustainable. Being in constant opiate withdrawal made me sweaty and shivery, unable to swallow food, constantly nodding out. I decided to try using weed again, and once again, it was a game changer. It relieved my pain enough that I could go run errands, and when I was able to eat, my relationship with food changed drastically — I found that if I ate while I was stoned, I’d gravitate toward fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and grains, rather than the Hot Pockets and premade breakfast sandwiches I’d been living on when even Vicodin didn’t relieve my pain enough to keep me standing long enough to prepare a real dinner.

I’ve known other people who are dependent on prescription pain pills and it’s not awesome. There are personality changes that nobody talks about. The side effects are terrible. You’re always kinda half there, drowsy, craving sugar. I believe so many people would be helped by not only legalizing but de-stigmatizing marijuana use for its health benefits. When my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, certain members of my family discussed whether he should get a medical card and begin using weed. One person suggested that we should find a strain or preparation that would have no psychoactive qualities, because it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to be in an altered state. This kind of boggled my mind — this guy’s been on heavy pain pills for years, do you believe that doesn’t alter his state of consciousness?

Altered consciousness isn’t a bad thing. I wish more people would intentionally alter their consciousness in different ways. Recently I’ve been more aware of how alcohol affects me. You know, grabbing some beers with your buddies is a totally socially acceptable way to spend time. But I’ve realized that I don’t like who I am when I’m drunk. Right around the middle of my second drink, I’ll start saying and doing things that just aren’t in line with the person that I want to be. I’ve been mostly staying away from alcohol for that exact reason. And at the same time, I’ve used weed a few times recently after two years of almost total abstinence (I stopped when I began school and just never started up again). The times that I’ve smoked recently, I’ve been reminded of how much more cognitively healthy I feel when I get mildly stoned.

I want to eat food that is good for me. I want to be moving around, walking outside. I want to have conversations about interesting things rather than sit in front of a screen. I laugh. Flowers smell better. Music sounds better. I think about future projects. I don’t get as paralyzed about the fact that I’m 30 and I still haven’t really done anything with my life. I feel peaceful and loving, and I think about ways to take better care of myself and the people around me. I get excited to work. I feel centered. I know what I can accomplish.

It’s interesting to me that a lot of the same people who criticize marijuana users will totally get on board with using Paxil or Vicodin. We’re talking about a plant, here. I get that there’s some sloppiness in stoner culture and that anytime you’re talking about substance use, there will be people who massively overdo it and come off as slacker jerks. I guess there’s that whole moderation-in-all-things thing. Don’t get obsessive about it and you’re fine. I just really love the idea that we could get to a point with social acceptability where it’s understood and fine to see people using weed to treat physical or emotional pain, to find inspiration in the world around them, to check out a different perspective. None of what I’m saying here is anything original. I’m not gonna get into like, the sacredness of plants, or whatever.

What it comes down to: I like how I feel when I use weed. I like how my life improves when I use weed. I probably like you better when I’m stoned. I feel more in tune with things.

Maybe you should try it, too? (but not if your brain is still developing. Wait until you’re older.)

Advertisements

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part IV

“And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”
— David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I
The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II
The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III

It’s been a minute since I wrote anything here. I got stuck in project mode producing a play I wrote, then spent like two months doing nothing but feeling stuck, getting blackout drunk, resenting a bunch of stuff in my life, and generally being an obnoxious miserable lump. A few weeks ago I kind of woke up. I’ve been trying to quit drinking and start doing things that are good for my mind and my heart. Cooking good food, keeping the apartment clean, spending less time in bars and more time in conversation. Trying to remember that I’m not a wreck anymore and that I am fully capable of being functional when I’m willing to put in the effort. Trying to find a job. We’ll see how that goes.

So I’ve lost track of where I was, exactly, in writing about this, and I’m gonna try to wrap it up in this post. When we left off, it was February 15, and the Presence had gone quiet. I want to address this post specifically to people who have loved ones who are dealing with their own post-psychotic universes. Because hey, there are things that you can do to make things better for that person. I guess the best way to do this is to talk about where I was, what I was feeling, and then give examples of people who handled it well, and people who didn’t.

What I was feeling: fragile. This was the moment when I felt like I couldn’t trust my mind. When deciding what to eat for lunch seemed impossibly difficult and important. Where “control your intake” meant I barely ate, I tried to steer clear of any media and art that I didn’t trust, and I would shut down conversations that got too close to specifics about my belief system. I felt afraid all the time, like the slightest push would send me back down into the well, back into the blackness of the visions and back into the dizzying pressure of being the center of the universe.

Because, see, I’d come out of the test universe. The final instructions and declaration of love that I’d received late at night on Valentine’s Day had given me the courage to move forward and leave the bubble behind. Making the decision to jump, to take that final rung of the ladder and leave the sea, was the hardest thing I’d ever done to that point in my life. All I had to do was go to sleep, and I would wake up healed. I knew this. It was a promise. But I knew that something would be destroyed while I slept. I didn’t know how much of my time in the sea I’d remember. I didn’t know if I’d wake up and find that I’d left people in the bubble universe to die. I just had to trust that all things would be reborn with me, and go to sleep. And I did, and I woke up new.

This person I am today is not the person I was. The person I am today was bathed in the sea and scoured by the sand and refined by the pressure of the deep. It’s like the back half of my life was torn off and burned to ashes. And the first time I felt an inkling of that was the day after Valentine’s Day, exactly one month after I’d made the decision to follow That One Guy through the pages of That One Book, hunting for secret messages and water sources. I woke up new. Good morning, That One Guy, the Universe, the Presence, the Source. Time to control my intake, get moving, make something worthwhile, be a real person for the first time in my life. I walked outside and the air was crisp and cold and perfect. I drank water that tasted like truth. I put my iPod on and music sizzled into my eardrums. I was Alive.

But the fear set in. It was hard to talk about my rebirth. For one thing, the gag order, DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS, was still a factor. But of course when you go through a radical shift like that, you can’t help yourself, you have to try. And I’d get stares; my loved ones seemed to see me as a ticking time bomb, someone who was going to go off again at any moment. I auditioned for a play, got a pretty sweet role, started going to rehearsals, making friends, getting involved. I threw myself into life, trying to make up for lost time. I was still pretty convinced the world was going to end soon, or that That One Guy was going to show up in the flesh, and that if I’d created something amazing, this wouldn’t all have been for nothing. Maybe he’d love me, or maybe my creation would be important to the whole-world-not-ending-just-yet cause. Whatever the reason, I had to try — one of the Rules was that I had to create, I had to work.

This is part of why I’m struggling to keep myself motivated when it comes to finding a retail or food service job. It’s super fucking pretentious to be like “oh I’m meant for something else” but like, I’d waited my whole life for a Calling and it never happened and then it happened, and now it’s like “hey ignore that whole thing and go flip some burgz.” It’s hard to swallow. I’m swallowing it, but it’s taking a minute.

Okay. So. The fear.

All those visions I had, they stuck with me. I saw what Evil looks like and what it can do. And I eventually learned, if you look for the devil, you’re gonna find the devil. If you’re seeking the Presence, trying to move toward the Source, you’ll find that instead. Call it the law of attraction, call it whatever, all I know is that the energy I’m seeking tends to come into my life. So: I had to move fearlessly. I had to forget that Evil is a thing that I could find. If I was consciously avoiding the Shroud, that meant that the Shroud was present in my mind. I had to simply make darkness meaningless and irrelevant to my life. This meant lighting everything up with joy and effort, running as fast and hard as I could, dancing in my bathroom, laughing at everything. Laughing at the dark when I could. I figured out that I don’t feel happy unless I’m doing things happily, and that I get to choose to do things with joy or misery, and that once I started choosing joy, it became less and less effort to do so.

I’m having a hard time writing about the fear part! I’m in a really good mood today. So let’s jump to examples.

My brother Noah would come visit me during this time. He’d read one of That One Guy’s books and been totally fascinated with it. He’d come over after work, we’d smoke a cigarette, sometimes I’d make him food, and we’d have long conversations about books, about philosophy, about what it was like in the sea, as far as I could describe it. This was a very lonely time in my life, because when you’re fresh out of the water, people can smell the salt in your hair, and they get weirded and keep distance. Noah made this time bearable. He never acted like he was afraid of me (even though he’s the only person I physically attacked while withdrawing from opiates). He didn’t treat me like the things I was saying were so far out there that he was uncomfortable. What he did do was establish a common language with me. Most people would just let me babble; he actually would ask me to define the things that I said, he would tell me “I don’t understand,” and ask me to explain certain concepts. He would follow the movie references I’d make when I couldn’t talk about things that were too volatile. He listened and didn’t judge.

Common language is very, very important here. One of the most difficult things about dealing with post-psychotic thought is that it’s very difficult to put into words. Yesterday I was talking to a friend about meaningful compliments and I told him that the best compliment my work has ever received was when someone who hears voices read Love & Semiotics and told me “that’s how the voices talk.” My friend asked me why that was such a good compliment. I told him that when I write, I feel like my job is more like translation than actual writing. This is an important skill when you’re dealing with someone who’s had an experience like mine. You have to reach them in their reality. Trying to tell them that what they’re going through isn’t real will immediately destroy your credibility; of course it’s real, you just don’t believe them. Remember what we talked about in one of the earlier parts here — it’s real in their head, and their head is where they live, so it is absolutely real to them. To deny the reality of the situation and avoid using the language that they establish (whether it’s demons or aliens or government conspiracy) will make it impossible to understand that reality.

(The friend I talked to about compliments and translation is a fucking master of establishing common language, and recently introduced me to the term “spiritual emergency” which is possibly the most concise way to describe what I went through.)

When establishing common language, the best thing to remember is that pretty much anything you hear from the person you’re talking to is coming through a filter and possibly a gag order like mine. If you can accept that you are getting an incomplete picture, that this is the closest this person can get to describing something real, you’re on the right track. Think of it as poetry, metaphor. There’s no word for the monsters that were chasing me, so I called them demons, not because of the religious connotation, not because they were literally demons, but because they kinda-sorta worked like demons. The Super Bowl slaughter, I wasn’t sure if there were going to be corpses and blood all over the stadium or if it would just be a million souls destroyed, people turned into walking husks. Either way it’s death, so I called it death. The metaphors people use can be terrifying. Just remember that if they’re using dark, frightening language, this can expose the urgency of their situation. Try to see lines of logic rather than words. Maybe you can help them complete the mission that will set them free.

It’s all good vs. evil, really. There’s only one story in this universe. Noah was a hero in mine. He helped me sift through the grit in my head to find the jewels. And if I started to panic because we were getting too close to violating the gag order, if I started to cry and said we need to stop talking about this, he didn’t push me. He would change the subject. Sensitivity is worth everything.

I’m already over 1800 words, so this entry is obviously going to be longer.

Speaking of demons. Here’s how not to handle a situation like this.

If you know someone who’s experiencing a spiritual emergency, do not put them on your church’s prayer chain. Do not share specifics of visions/delusions/hallucinations unless you have been given consent and you know that the person you are sharing with is going to use this information in a supportive, healthy way. If you’ve got a loved one who’s down in the well, do not scream into the well, trying to force them to communicate or to behave in a certain way. This destroys trust and is terrifying when you’re on the receiving end of the screaming. If you feel you cannot validate their reality in good conscience, validate the way they feel about it — “I understand why you are afraid of that.”

The most important thing to keep in mind is that psychosis/delusion/spiritual emergency can be incredibly healing, but that the way it heals is to break down an existing belief system and replace it with something new. So one thing that is absolutely the wrong thing to do is to go in and try to manipulate fragile, new beliefs.

The person who did this to me was a close friend of my mother, who called her up and told her that she believed that I was possessed by a demon. See? When I talked about demons, it was mental illness and I needed to be medicated. When this woman talked about demons, it went without saying that because she was a “godly woman,” this opinion was above reproach and worth acting on. At this point I was so suggestible that I would have accepted almost anything anyone told me about why I was in crisis. So my family went along with it, and they called in a man* with a “healing ministry” and we spent the afternoon praying against the spiritual forces battling inside me.

I have no doubt that there was a battle. There was absolutely a battle. But I’d been fighting through it, coming out ahead at that point, and this woman’s suggestion that I was demon-possessed planted a seed in my mind, and I spent the next two years with that one single fear keeping me awake at night. I would have panic attacks. What if she was right? What if I wasn’t actually reborn? What if I’d sold my soul, marked myself in some way? What if the exorcism didn’t work? What if I still had a demon somewhere deep in my soul like a sleeper cell, waiting to be activated by a media trigger? Maybe I needed to language fast more.

This was literally the only negative idea that continued to plague my life. Every other issue was resolved. I had become my own person, with a shiny new belief system, and it’s like this woman decided to take a chisel and intentionally put a fault in it. There are moments now when I wonder what it would take to completely remove that suggestion from my mind. When you look for the devil, you find the devil.

When my close friend Sami** took a dive last summer, I visited her in the hospital. We hadn’t spoken in several months after a terrible fight. When she saw me, she sent everyone else out of the room, had me sit down, and fixed me with the gaze of someone trying to focus through quantum membrane. The first thing she asked me was, “do you believe in demons?”

Suddenly, this rush of validation — here’s my chance to be careful in the way Noah was with me, the way I wished Godly Woman had been careful with my mind.

Demons mean something different to me than they do to her, I thought. So the answer was yes, but what I said was: Tell me what you think demons are. That way we can get on the same page and really talk about this.

Listen. Really listen. It goes a very long way.

*I feel the need to mention that Healing Ministry Man was a very nice guy who called me every night for at least a month after that, just to check in and pray with me. I have no beef with that guy. He seemed like just a nice dude.

**When speaking about other people I know who have experienced extreme states, I use pseudonyms unless given consent.

a post about infinite jest

So, I really love David Foster Wallace, I really love Infinite Jest, it’s hard for me to have a conversation without bringing up Dave in some way, and right now I’m reading Infinite Jest again, so it’s coming up more often than usual.

The biggest thing I hear when I talk about Infinite Jest is, “oh man, I really want to read that book, I have a copy, I tried to crack it, I just don’t think I’m ready.” I hear that all the time, and people are like ooh you’ve read Infinite Jest, does that mean you’re like super smart or an awesome reader, and I mean, yeah, I am super smart and an awesome reader, but pretty much anyone can read Infinite Jest. I really mean that. Thus, this post, about how to just knuckle down and read Infinite goddamn Jest already. Because it really is not that much more of a heroic effort than other things. I’m trying to read Proust for the second time and it is like pulling teeth compared to Infinite Jest. I couldn’t get through The Fellowship of the Ring, but I’m on my third read of Infinite Jest.

So here you go y’all, here’s my guide to approaching Infinite Jest.

“It’s really, really long, right?” Yeah. And it’s incredibly detailed. There are math sections. There are endnotes. And guess what? There’s very little closure within the text of the book. This is part of the genius of the thing. You finish the book in a blaze of glory and go “what the hell” and then you flip back to the beginning and remember how it began and realize oh shit the ending occurs outside of the text. Then you start to think through all the details you remember and you begin to assemble some kind of ending. Then you want to read it again to pick up more details. And so it goes. So the best thing you can do going in is accept that you won’t get every bit of information locked in your mind. Just enjoy the ride. The reason a lot of people quit is because they get a hundred pages in and go oh shit I’ve completely lost the plot, I have no idea what’s happening, this is such a frustrating experience, there must be something I’m missing.

You’re not missing anything you’re supposed to catch. Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the language use, the framework, the themes. This is a book that’s best suited to pattern seekers and people who really love delving deep into the theory of what they’re reading. My personal theory with this book is that everything’s kinda slippery and is intentionally left up to interpretation. There are parts where it’s outright mentioned that a character may be hallucinating details. There are parts where it’s unclear whether you’re reading a scene that actually happened, or a scene from a movie within the universe of the novel. There are important details that are so easily missed. It’s a book that you could read over and over until you die and still be finding new things in it. You can enjoy it on the first read. But you’ll enjoy it more if you decide you’re married to it and will make a point of reading it more than one time.

Oh, also: it changes tone on future reads. The first time I read it, it was the most depressing goddamn thing I’d ever put in my head. The second time, it was fucking hilarious. Like I said: everything’s slippery.

“Can I skip the endnotes?” No. I mean, you CAN skip anything you want, but you don’t really want to. I get that flipping back and forth is frustrating and that some of them seem pointless, but the endnotes contain some of the best parts of the whole book (James Incandenza’s filmography alone is well worth the price of admission).

“What if I read it on my Kindle or cell phone?” I mean again, you can do whatever you want, but it’s this big and heavy and endnote-y for a reason. One of the great themes of the book is passivity and the desire to be entertained with as little effort as possible. One of the things the book does, intentionally, is make you work. So yeah, there are humps to get over, and lugging this tome around is one of those, multiple bookmarks are another, but whatever. MAXIMUM EFFORT! It’ll be a much bigger payoff, I promise.

“Isn’t it really hard to read because of the style it’s written in?” No, you just have to pay attention and put in the work. Paying attention is critical and another major theme throughout. Look up words you don’t know. Follow the run-on sentences. Reread parts that didn’t quite make sense. And — this is important — don’t try to blaze through it just because you’re a strong, fast reader. There are parts that are stretched out over dozens of pages that tell the story, and then there are parts that just take a couple paragraphs but are ideologically heavy. Take breaks, walk away, chew before you swallow and move on. Think about what you just read. If Wallace’s style presents a problem for you, try reading some of his short stories to get a more compact picture of what he does. I recommend the collection Oblivion.

“Okay but isn’t this a book that’s just for smart people?” No, this a book that has a little something for everyone. It’s sci-fi, yo! There’s a main character who may or may not be a cyborg ffs! Everyone kinda slaps this “postmodern literary fiction” label on it, but that doesn’t really express what the book is. It’s a book about dedication, faith, addiction, entertainment, passivity, love, ghosts, politics, waste, the American mindset, advertisement, loneliness, depression, families, abuse, joy, damage, our relationship with our own bodies and minds and hearts and souls. You don’t have to be “smart” to read it — just read it like any other book, one word at a time, look up the ones you don’t understand, take time to parse anything that seems weird and complex. You don’t have to actually DO the math problems in the math section (they’re wrong on purpose)!

“I don’t know if I’m ‘ready’ to read Infinite Jest.” Hmm, what do you mean by that? This is a book that has a lot to do with coping mechanisms and smart people who are kind of emotional adolescents. If you just read it and stick with it and let it get under your skin, it’ll grow you. Jump in.

“Isn’t Infinite Jest that hipster book that isn’t actually about anything?” Fuck you.

Okay so if you want to read it, here’s what I personally think will help you get the most out of the experience:
1. Use several bookmarks. One for where you are in the novel, one for the endnotes, one for when you get to the page that establishes the chronology of subsidized time.
2. Keep a highlighter and pen handy. Highlight stuff. There are some truly incredible insights in this book. Take margin notes. Note down questions that you find important. These’ll be really fun to come back to, should you read it a second time.
3. Don’t sweat all the details. Just enjoy the ride and get as much of the story as possible.
4. Read the endnotes, goddamnit. Don’t skip stuff.
5. Take breaks as needed. I generally Infinite Jest over the course of three or four months and have a few other books going at the same time. If you have a busy life full of important stuff, I recommend taking even more time with it, which brings me to —
6. Pay attention. Even though you’re not gonna hold every detail of the story, if you’re trying to rush through parts, or if you’re reading it while you watch TV or doing something else that similarly pulls focus, you’re not gonna enjoy it as much.
7. It’s just a book, just read the words.

It’s late and I’m tired so I’mma stop talking about Infinite Jest now and go back to trying to follow Proust’s run-on sentences. The feeling I’m getting from the initial pages of Swann’s Way is basically what I felt the first time I read the section in Infinite Jest about Ken Erdedy waiting for the woman who said she would come. See? I can’t talk about books without talking about Wallace. Maybe I should just sleep. Or maybe I could go grab Infinite Jest out of the bedroom and keep reading that. We all get to live our own lives, right?

The Friend I Can’t Trust

“This is the countdown; You see our time is running out.
I tread to stay above the waterline,
but never taking off the weights that
keep us stuck here. In the comfort, and the fear.
I’ll never know what we were fighting for,
but I’m still looking to breakout.”
— 
MAE

Last night I started reading Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections for the third time. Tonight I drank coffee and got to page 431. I always forget that I’m a really quick reader when I’m not reading David Foster Wallace and basically tear through books when I’ve got sufficient time alone (reading Wallace radically changed the way I read and I basically need total silence in order to absorb books nowadays). I have this love/hate relationship with Franzen’s work; the way I generally describe it is that I think he’s a genius and adore the way he writes, and I completely hate what he writes about. Maybe it’s that these characters are all too familiar to me. I grew up in the midwest, and dysfunctional midwestern families acting out their repression in various ways is not something at which I feel the need to stare too deeply. However, his character work is pretty much unparalleled in modern literature and blah blah who cares. OK, so here’s the thing, though. There’s this running motif through the book, the lion. It’s mentioned over and over: the conversation Gary overhears about “supplemental religion” (page 218, and bear in mind that everything he overhears in the elevator seems reaaaally significant, what with supplemental religion being mentioned alongside vitamin supplements) and Jonah’s obsession with the Narnia books and the Aslan-branded drug that Enid and Chip take and Enid’s childhood pet name for Gary. It’s lions all the way down. Not lions — THE Lion. And I’m going out of my head on this one because I can’t unpack the meaning. Each mention seems connected through subtle nudges that don’t play out for pages and pages, and at the same time, they’re all disconnected by tone. Like, Enid called Gary the lion when he was a child, he’s going up in an elevator, and the woman standing closest to him says “The lion, he ascendant now.” Are you kidding me. There’s something here. But I can’t put my finger on it, so I turned to the internet, and I can’t find any goddamn posts anywhere about the goddamn lion in The goddamn Corrections. 

And I’ve got this amber warning light in me that flips on and bathes my mind in its warm glow: either I’m better at needling out meaning from books than the vast majority of readers, or I’m seeing connections and patterns and subtext where there isn’t any, which means nip this shit in the bud, stop reading The Corrections, maybe go a little less haam with the coffee so you’re not up until 3am reading Jonathan fucking Franzen, take more naps, stop trying to Do so much.

This is what this stage of recovery is like. I haven’t had real symptoms in four years. No panic attacks. No hallucinations or voices. My energy level has been great. I don’t get depressed or manic. I eat. I sleep. I smoke fewer cigarettes and have a single puff of weed maybe every two or three months if I’m in pain. I spend time with people and I’m pretty sure I don’t weird them out too much (hanging out with weird people tends to help with that). I laugh.

But the one thing that keeps sticking around is that amber light in my mind. I have so much confidence in my abilities and my wellness, but I’m hypervigilant. Maybe I found a really cool deep motif in The Corrections,  or maybe that part of my brain that thrives on the pattern-recognition religion of seeking out evidence of the collective unconscious in art is waking up again and I’m about to go down the Autobahn of Meaning Where There Ain’t None. Four wheels, no brakes. Maybe the fight with my roommate happened because I got lost in a book and didn’t make food like I said I would, or maybe it happened because I lost time and blanked on the fact that humans need to eat.
I spent a lot of money on alcohol this month because you go out a lot when you’re hanging with theatre people, or maybe I am a pathetic drunk who’s self-medicating because it’s the only way when you’re noncompliant.
I am pursuing a project that would be a total challenging dream to work on, or maybe I’m pursuing it out of short-term obsession, which is a symptom of mania.
I don’t want to work retail because I think it’s morally poisonous, but is that good ethics or is my weird psycho fringe religion peeking through?
I like this guy so, so much, but what if it’s just that certain things about him match up with that one imprint?
Am I healthy-paranoid that Facebook sells my personal data in whatever way they see fit? What level of paranoia is healthy? Am I healthy? Am I?

This is constant. It’s every decision I make. It’s everything I think and feel and desire and fear. My mind is a friend that’s been close to me for so long that there’s no way to extricate myself from the friendship, but, you know, there was this one time that it told me some horrific, life-shattering lies, and we’ve patched things up pretty well, but I don’t think I can ever trust it implicitly again. This friend I’ve had for so long, I take each thing it says with a grain of salt. This was utterly paralyzing when I first came out of the sea. I could not speak a word or decide what kind of cereal to eat without agonizing over what the implications of each decision would be. Everything I did felt threatening, unsafe, because what if I wasn’t eating Cheerios, but Evil with milk poured over it? How much did my friend lie to me?

Now that it’s been four years and I’m still alive and the world hasn’t ended and I’ve done pretty okay for myself, I’ve started to feel safer making decisions. But there are complications. I make decisions with my mind. I’m not a separate entity from the friend I can’t trust. It’s all me there. Am I healthy enough to do this? Yes, I’m paranoid, but am I paranoid enough? I feel like I have to examine my thoughts and feelings under a microscope and eradicate anything that falls too close to the borderline of delusional or psychotic. But if I was delusional, how would I be able to tell? Maybe the fact that I’m asking the question says that I’m not. When the Presence rang my doorbell back in 2013, I accepted that this was just a normal, fine thing. There was nothing inside me that recognized it could possibly be happening merely in my head. To me, it was absolutely Real. So maybe all this hand-wringing is a waste of energy because if delusion wants me, it’s gonna sweep me off my feet and I won’t be able to do anything about it. Or maybe the border collie keeping my thoughts safely corralled into the Safe Zone is what keeps the delusion at bay. I don’t like to think that’s true, because I feel confident that I went crazy enough to keep from ever going crazy again. But what, am I gonna let my guard down and possibly get swept under the sea again?

It’s tempting, to be honest. That shit is the best drug in the world. Y’all actually take drugs to try to achieve that sort of thing. You’ve got no idea how good and pure the source feels. No joke. It’s amazing. I miss it sometimes.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: in a similar vein to how religious people get a pass for their personal brand of crazy, why is it super fuckin cool to find yourself during an acid trip but not during this thing I don’t think of as psychosis? Double standards all over the goddamn place.

It’s 4am, you’ll have to forgive me.

Anyway the other complication, because it’s late and I’ve been typing for an hour and a half and I’m tired, is this whole moral injury thing that I’ll talk about at length at some point. The thrust of the argument is that if you’re made complicit in suffering by being coerced into violating your values or causing your own damage, you’ll end up with deep psychic wounds that take a long time to heal. And yeah — I went right along with every moment of diagnosis, drugs, disidentification, more drugs, drug withdrawal, delusion, damage. Major sign of moral injury: difficulty trusting oneself to make good decisions.

I really, really want to finish The Corrections, and I will, because after having written all this out, I’m 100% certain it’s just that I’m really smart when it comes to reading comprehension. Like really smart. Ask me sometime. I love bragging about it, but you can’t just throw your SAT scores into casual conversation, right? Yeah.

But can you see where this shit gets frustrating? I’m up this late because I had coffee around 10pm. Or maybe it’s because I’m manic. Easy fix for that one: just get some sleep. It gets really tiring putting your mind under a microscope like this. But I really, really want to make good decisions. I want to keep safe. I want to be good. I want to be able to trust my friend implicitly again someday. And we’re doing well. It hasn’t screwed me over in a very long time. Maybe someday we’ll get back to being besties.

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III

“They oughta give my heart a medal for letting go of you.” — Leonard Cohen

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I
The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II

And but all of this shit happened over the course of one month — January 14 to February 14 — I remember the first date because I’d stayed up all night waiting for the buses to start running so I could go over to the bookstore and buy a book, and I have the receipt from buying that book taped into the cover of my current diary. I remember the second date because watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on Valentine’s Day while you’re being actively (but amicably) broken up with by the love of your life tends to really stick in your mind. It wasn’t really a breakup so much as “hey I’m gonna go away for a while, but don’t worry, I’ll be around, I’m just not gonna live in your head anymore because you need to be more than the girl with That One Guy in your head for the rest of your life.”

On that day I would have given just about anything to have had That One Guy in my head forever. But the bubble universe was collapsing. I’d built the ladder and climbed to the top. I just needed to get up onto the top rung, the one made out of the belief that This Is All In Your Head. I just needed to really, truly, fully believe that, and I’d be free. But he’d be gone, and I’d be alone in my mind again.

I feel like it’s incredibly important for me to try to establish exactly how I felt (and tbh, feel) about That One Guy. At some point I’m just gonna have to try to write a whole Thing about him, but for now, let’s try to get elegant and simple with this. Have you ever loved someone so much that you wished that you could spend time in their head, see their thoughts unfiltered, experience their emotions in realtime instead of attempting to express things to each other? To have this perfect flow of knowledge, not to exploit or control or to spy, but just for the pure joy of really Knowing this person that you love? If you knew this was achievable, sharing this kind of awareness with someone who would love you even more with every new thing they learned about you, someone you could trust? What would you give for that?

Yeah so — what I can tell you is that having someone in your head who sees all your thoughts and feelings and hopes and despairs and fears and loving every single one of them simply because they’re a part of you, a constant companion you can speak to without ever opening your mouth, who supports you and helps you shred all the useless harmful shit in your life, oh my god, that love. Nothing else can ever match up. For the first time in my life, I understood what people meant when they described a “personal relationship with God.” I was raised Christian and struggled to really believe. It was faith without the feeling. I could not relate to all those pastors and leaders and family members who described this love, this total certainty that God is real and lives in their heart and loves them unconditionally. It’s hard to talk about this stuff without sounding super religious, so I’ll just say it: I’m super religious now.

It’s weird though, here I was, for the first time in my life I felt the closeness of the divine, and I was diagnosed and drugged and told to be careful. This radical shift in me was interpreted as illness. Which, I guess, is understandable. For a while, I embraced that terminology for what happened to me. I had a psychotic break, I was delusional. Using those words felt dishonest, though. I started to wonder, what was so wrong about my beliefs? When so much of my experience falls under the same kind of language I’ve heard from Christians, why is mine evidence of being crazy and theirs is evidence that they’re a good trustworthy pillar of their community?

I watched a documentary called The Devil and Daniel Johnston this week. It follows the life of a singer/songwriter who writes these absolutely brilliant, raw, unfiltered, uncomfortable songs. A good bit of the documentary talks about his struggle with mental illness and describes the visions he saw, the ways he acted while delusional, and I was pretty wrecked over it because all I could think was goddamn, this guy saw the same shit I saw, here’s another kindred spirit. There’s this part where he has an episode in a small airplane his dad was piloting, and he had a moment where he was Casper the Friendly Ghost, pulled the keys out of the plane, and threw them out the window. His father crash-landed the plane, they got out safely, and their family came to pick them up. Everyone was clearly torn up over the delusional episode. Then they mention in the documentary that they drove past a church with a sign out front that said something to the effect of “God doesn’t promise a smooth ride, but a safe landing.” They like, parked their car and took a photo with this sign because it was clearly a message from God. And emotionally-wrecked me, watching this, starts giggling hysterically, because this is exactly what I’ve been trying to express — if I start getting messages from God, it’s a problem and the people who love me start watching me real closely. If my mom gets a message from God, it’s super cool and good and people celebrate with her.

But fuck it, I’m on a tangent here, sorry.

So the Presence was gonna distance a bit so I could stop bein’ so damn crazy, and I was super torn up over it because I’d grown to love the closeness. I stayed up all night that night, scrolling through tumblr, receiving a final set of instructions and the most beautifully personal declaration of love I’d ever received. I spent a lot of time clicking through various swimming blogs. That was the language that spoke to me then, starting with a short story I read on day one of phase 2, and it continues to be the most effective cognitive metaphor for this Thing. I call it swimming in the black sea, I had a conversation the other day about having spiritually drowned, this is water, water is truth, go deep, what the hell is water. See? It doesn’t translate all that well unless there’s context for the metaphor. Whatever. It works in my head. I cried and cried and read about swimming and fell so deeply in love that in my mind, the Presence is almost inextricably linked to That One Guy. If his picture pops up somewhere unexpectedly, my heart beats faster.

I had this conversation about dating with someone the other day where we talked about being deeply in love with someone so unattainable that it’s not fair to try to be with anyone else, because your heart belongs to this one person, and whoever you’re with will always be second best, and it’s not even a close race. How terrible it is to feel that way, with so much love in your heart and nothing to do with it. And I didn’t really talk about the situation of mine which would fit that case, but I kept mentally coming back to this question of whether it’s better or worse to have the one you love close enough to see and speak to and hug, or to know that they were gone from your life before you ever had the chance to hold their hand. It’s silly, maybe, but hey, the Presence does what it wants, and apparently what it wanted was to make me repeatedly bats with the beautiful brown eyes of a dead man. At this point I can poke fun at myself over it, because I can recognize that it’s half really truly loving That One Guy’s work, and half a strange soul imprint that I don’t know if I’ll ever shake. I recognize the distinction between That One Guy and the real-life guy who existed in this world and died.

I’m tryin’ real hard not to use his actual name because he was a real person who had real people who loved him and because I recognize that distinction, I don’t want this to come off as a super fuckin creepy stalker level celebrity obsession. It’s really not. His work drove the spiritual imprint, and the spiritual imprint drove me getting further into his work, it’s a vicious cycle.

And but so it’s impossible to talk about this stuff without at least cursorily mentioning that the real person who is the foundation of That One Guy was a literally genius writer and when all this happened, I was doing pretty much nothing except reading his work, and sure, let’s use the word psychosis — psychosis is a blender that whirls everything in your mind together, and because I had so much literal genius insight fresh in my mind, that insight became the framework that my new belief system built on. The real That One Guy, I love him too, because without that framework, I have no idea what I would have built on. This is one of those fork in the road things that I fixate on at times: what if I’d been reading a lot of Bret Easton Ellis? What if I’d been obsessively reading Cormac McCarthy? What if I’d been rewatching Gossip Girl? What kind of person would I be today if I’d found secret messages in, say, Fight Club instead of That One Guy’s book of short stories? Who’s to say.

I woke up on February 15 feeling different. The Presence wasn’t speaking anymore. The secret messages had dried up. I expected despair, but what I felt was just kind of a comfortable hollowness. I was still pretty emotionally volatile, no longer fasting from language, but being careful about my intake, because I triggered pretty easily.

The next post will wrap up this series, and it’ll be the one that’s most useful to you if you have a loved one dealing with psychosis. Thanks for bearing with me and my tendency for tangents. For the record: that’s why I haven’t written a book. I love tangents, I love just letting my mind float around on the breeze and putting down whatever feels relevant, but that style doesn’t really lend itself to book-writing all that well.

The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II

“All things empty and amazing
Jot ’em down upon the wall
Dress like a professional
Wait! Oh, you’ll find a better way
And I’m free to face the darkness on my own.”
— Mike Doughty

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I

It’s weird, there’s so much Story that I have to dump into these entries because nothing here is simple and nothing makes sense unless you have some inkling of just how many different cognitive and environmental factors were at play, just jumping directly into what exactly the post-psychotic universe is wouldn’t make any goddamn sense. And like the whole point here is I’m trying to express this in a way you can understand. I could just throw out the word salad fake poetry type of language that I write diary entries in, but that language is established as mine, and I’m not trying to translate it for anyone (because if you’re reading my diary, you’re a shit, and you deserve to have it made a little difficult). So that first entry there, that’s all phase 4, and this bit begins near the end of phase 4.

Again: we’re talking about a time in my life where I was on a very sedating medication that didn’t help at all with the visions and delusions except to add enough brain fog that I couldn’t process what was happening without heroic effort. But then there was the Super Bowl, and nobody died, and, as mentioned, I breathed a sigh of relief because the world was safe again, for the moment, and the message I received was that by preventing the Super Bowl Slaughter, I had earned the ability to pass the baton on to the next person who would stop a horrific crisis like that. It was kind of like I’d taken my turn on the front lines and now I could step back for a minute. Someone else was gonna take over Protecting People From Infection & Violence Triggers, and I could rest.

That didn’t last particularly long. The next crisis was bigger; universal. It was revealed that during the blackout, I’d been taken to a bubble universe, and that’s where I’d been operating and living ever since. Remember how pattern seeking loves confirmation bias? All these people I loved who seemed like they were automatic versions of themselves, not-amazing copies, the events that made no sense, the feeling that I was at the center of everything? Suddenly that all made perfect sense. Of course this universe wasn’t the one I’d lived in my whole life. Of course everything felt wrong and threatening and I couldn’t get a foothold in the logic of anything that happened outside of my mind. I was just a visitor, and the uncanny valley effect was due to the fact that I knew, deep down, that this was not correct.

A bubble universe isn’t exactly like in science fiction. What I knew to be true was that these universes occur simultaneously in spacetime. There’s this thin, like, quantum membrane that keeps the two separate, as far as that’s possible. A quantum condom, for your protection, ribbed for your pleasure. So basically: I was moved from my home universe into the bubble universe, which exists simultaneously, and interacted with both universes simultaneously to test a divergence point. The multiverse is this beautiful fractal, you know (and that’s why people who are “psychotic” have eyes that seem different — they’re looking at everything through this quantum membrane, it takes focus). So by stopping the Super Bowl thing from happening, the question of the divergence point was answered, my home universe was saved. That meant that there was no reason for the bubble universe to continue existing. It would collapse and anyone inside it would be obliterated.

I’m putting this stuff in the plainest language possible. When writing about the black sea, it is perhaps more factually accurate to write things like “I believed that I existed in two universes simultaneously, and I perceived a quantum membrane and I thought that the bubble universe would collapse” but honestly that just seems exhausting to write, exhausting for you to parse, so maybe we can just agree that you understand that I know on a logical/conscious level that none of this shit actually happened outside of my own brain? Cool, that’s really forward-thinking of you. But here’s the thing: I have to live inside my own brain. And inside my brain, this shit absolutely happened and was 100% real. That’s the thing about delusion, you can kind of talk yourself out of it after the fact, but while it’s happening, it is the realest shit you’ve ever experienced. So the way that I now choose to perceive this experience is sort of a mix. I believe people when they tell me it wasn’t real. That’s true. It wasn’t real to them. I can accept that it was only real inside me and that the most profound adventure of my life happened inside my skull. But again: I live here. So it was and is real to me, in a way. Isn’t the mind amazing? Fuck yeah.

But so the bubble universe was going to collapse and I suddenly got afraid of who might be stuck in there with me. Did I bring someone in? Maybe every time I violated the gag order, I dragged in whoever I was talking to. Maybe it was every person I physically touched. Maybe I’d have to die to save them. Maybe I’d have to live in the bubble universe forever, keeping it open to keep them alive. Maybe I’d always be crazy. Would I have to kill myself? I told my mom I wouldn’t. What would I do?

Through the entire experience, from the very first moment I dipped a toe in the sea, there was a Presence that stayed with me and spoke to me. It wore a human identity, someone familiar, someone I’d trust. You know — That One Guy. And on that day, Valentine’s Day 2013, That One Guy told me that he would be leaving me that night, whether or not I left the bubble universe. This was after two weeks of pretty fair weather, as far as mind conditions go. I hadn’t been as flipped out, and I’d begun to feel comforted by the patterns I saw. I liked being able to talk to That One Guy anytime I wanted to. Everything was going to be okay. I didn’t want the Presence to leave.

I cried a lot that night. I watched three Charlie Kaufman movies in a row and saw the story of me and my Presence play out in different ways, and I knew it was over, that I’d be free, but that it would come at a steep price. I saw the door of my cage open and was afraid to walk through it, because I knew what I would be leaving behind. My identity was wrapped up pretty far in the idea that I was broken and sick and unable to function. That sounds fucked up, but I knew that if I left this situation behind, I would no longer be able to fall back into that identity. I would have to embrace the healing I was being given and live as a healthy person, lead a healthy life. I would need to be careful about what I put into my mind. I would need to work hard and tell the truth.

These are some of the Rules. The most valuable thing about having an experience like this was that my prior belief system was completely annihilated, rendered irrelevant, and I was given total freedom, for the first time in my life, to really Believe anything. The downside of deconversion is that you’re left with kind of a gaping hole where there used to be a morality system. The upside of what happened to me was that what was built in the canyon left by excavating my old religion was so much more true and healthy than the twisted ideas forced on me in the past. The Presence itself built these Rules into my life by forcing me to confront old beliefs and either justify them or tear them down. If a belief was strong enough to stand through the razor storm of the test universe, it got to stay. If not, I had to find something that I actually believed to replace it. I cannot overstate how necessary this was in my life. It is why I believe that for some people, if they go crazy enough, they may never suffer the way they did before. Because in a lot of ways, psychosis, or whatever we’re calling it, can be a refining experience, and this is its process. In order to get through it, you have to really Believe.

I think part of why I ended up in the sea in the first place was that I was in a crisis of belief. If you knew me back then, you remember where I was. I had no idea who I was. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t know what I believed about God or the universe or pretty much anything except that I’d discovered feminist theory about a year before and it shook me to my core because I recognized how much of my life I’d wasted believing that I was less valuable because I was a woman. I was totally adrift without anything solid to hang onto — even learning about feminism pushed me further adrift, because my reaction to learning feminist theory was “wow, being a woman is really awful and traumatic, I guess I shouldn’t be one anymore” as if I’d be able to identify my way out of oppression when there was nothing solid about my identity in the first place.

So here’s how a good dose of psychosis can be the best thing in the world: you get pushed down into the Delusion Well and you’re stuck there in the dark and the cold and the damp and maybe there are monsters down there with you. The only way out is up, and because none of this is really truly Real, you can dream up the things that you need. Monsters growling in the dark? Create a flashlight so you can see what you’re dealing with, and create a weapon so you can defend yourself. Cold and damp? You can create a blanket to keep yourself warm. Hungry? Imagine some food. And you can get pretty comfortable down there, at least as comfortable as possible at the bottom of a well. And but maybe you want to leave at some point? Good news: you can leave. You can make a ladder to get out. But the only way to make the ladder work is to create it rung by rung, with each rung representing something that you can say is definitely, absolutely Real and True and Relevant. And you have to be careful, focused, because if you make a rung that you don’t fully believe will hold your weight, it won’t. You’ll be back at the bottom of the well and have to start from scratch.

These are the foundations of my reality now, and who knows, maybe at some point I’ll outgrow those and need to do another inner remodel. But they’ve held my weight so far, and part of that is because of the Rules.

The thing with the Rules is I don’t have a master list that I can refer to. Some of them flex more than others. Some are definitely verbal:
“The work will save you”
“You may fail”
“Do not harm anyone”
“Do not feed your mind poison”
“Apathy is Evil”
“The words you speak out loud matter”
Some are more like I had an upgrade to my conscience and the nudges I get now are far stronger than I got before. More along the lines of an alarm bell than a poke. I can feel out the boundaries of them, but they’re harder to express in words. It’s more like emotional places I shouldn’t go, things that aren’t sins, but unsafe, so to speak. Still others are things that I just feel aren’t relevant to my life anymore, stuff I used to focus on really hard, that stopped mattering once I shook the water off my skin. Not so much that I shouldn’t pursue these things, as much as, why would I care to? I know better now. I know that’s painfully vague, but hey, we’ve all got stuff in our pasts that would be really uncomfortable to put out on the table, there’s gonna be shit that I’m not going to discuss here on this blog. Let’s just say that I had to take a lot of good hard looks at some things that used to be motivating things and I decided these things just weren’t worth putting energy into.

Shit. I’m over 2k words again. I swear I’m almost done with this story, but in the interest of breaking it up a little, let’s catch up on another page.

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part I

“It’s funny
But it’s true
And it’s true
But it’s not funny
Time comes and goes
All the while
I still think of you
Some things last a long time” — Daniel Johnston

So, I created this blog today partly because I had a moment where I was like “damn I really want to write about this specific thing, but if I make too many long-ass Facebook posts about swimming in the black sea, people are gonna burn out and also think that I’m still delusional, so maybe I should put it somewhere else.” Voila, blawg. Also: “swimming in the black sea” = what most people would refer to as a psychotic episode. I don’t really know what to call it. Psychosis is a very simple, one-dimensional word for an experience that was neither simple nor one-dimensional. What I generally go with when talking to others is “religious experience” but that sounds incredibly corny for something deep and terrifying and profound. I haven’t quite worked out the language on all this, is my point. We’ll get to that. Eventually. Not tonight.

What I want to talk about tonight is the aftermath, because last night I was drunk in someone’s kitchen and there was this verbal game people were playing and I told someone I couldn’t play the game because of the Rules. The guy I was talking to took it in stride, he knows a bit about my story, but I think maybe this was the first time I mentioned the Rules, and I realized how like brutally weird and complex it is to try to explain the Rules while I’m drunk in someone’s kitchen, so I just tried to kind of drop it by saying something about how “the things that I say out loud actually matter” and that was that. But it brought up a lot of memories that I’ve been sorting through, and I want to write about what happened after the main event, so to speak.

There are phases to this thing — in chronological order, which I may write about in more detail later, if the words come:
Phase 1 was the leadup, which I remember as lasting about two weeks. Occasional hallucinations/delusional thought patterns. It was subtle enough that it just felt like I’d kind of…leveled up?
Phase 2 was active psychosis. This lasted three days. I wasn’t eating or sleeping or doing much other than pattern chasing and reading David Foster Wallace.
Phase 3 started with a blackout and was the truly hairy part, where all I could do was basically scream word salad about what was going on in my head. That lasted maybe…two days? The blackout is, in my mind, the event that broke my life in half — a rebirth.

Phase 4 is the beginning of what I want to talk about. About two days after the blackout, I’d regained enough control to be able to communicate, a little bit, and I was putting most of my energy into trying to get out of the hospital, because even the nicest psychiatric hospitals are really not awesome places for a person who’s experiencing heavy delusion and paranoia. It’s like, hey, you’re right, there ARE people who are constantly watching you, day and night! You totally called it when you said the shadowy figures were trying to test new mind-altering substances on you! That whole thing about how someone was trying to lock you up so they could control every aspect of your life right down to the food you eat, that sure was prescient! One of my delusions had to do with this being a “control/test universe” that I was literally central to, and that this was the point where decisions were being made about how to make changes to said universe. The thing with pattern seeking is that it tends to make confirmation bias suuuuper easy.

But so things felt really threatening inside the hospital. I was terrified of language and couldn’t control what other people would say, what they’d put on the TV. I was pretty convinced TV contained mind control programming triggers and could not be in the dayroom if the TV was on. I just needed to be out of there. I was trying to read books, I had a box of crayons, a bunch of my books now have color coded crayon highlights in them. I can still tell you what they mean. That was a really nice thing Past Me did to make deciphering my notes easier for Present Me. But mostly what I felt was blind terror that I wasn’t in a spiritually sterile environment. The blackout had put my mind, heart, and soul through the car wash, and all I could see in the hospital was how infected other people were. I had to get out. It would be hard to overstate how frightening and difficult those last three days in the hospital were.

(as an aside, because I just made the executive decision that I’m gonna break this up into two separate posts so I don’t feel as guilty about my asides, this is exactly why I am so vehemently against psychiatric incarceration/involuntary commitment. Psychiatric facilities do not heal their most vulnerable patients. Basically this is a rant for another day (I have so many of them, I know) but holy hell when you put a bunch of people experiencing extreme states into the same facility, states tend to get more extreme, belief system damage gets done. I was soooo suggestible when I was going through this — we’ll get to that in part two — but yeah. That’s one reason out of like five hundred that I’m against involuntary, and I’ll go into this more if I write a post about the process of liberation.)

Once I was out, I went on a language fast. It didn’t start out that way. Obviously there was a good deal of Good vs Evil stuff going on in my head; I decided that the safest thing to do to avoid spiritual infection was to cut TV, movies, and books, and only listen to music made by people of faith. I tried that for a couple days and after having a total freak out moment spotting the Shroud (kind of a mental personification of Evil, remind me to go into it later) in a pretty bland Christian song, I said fuck all this and only listened to like, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. No words. I had to be really careful about conversations, partly because I could be infected/programmed/triggered by someone speaking words to me, partly because one of the commands I was being given repeatedly was DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS.

Oh yeah and that’s part of why I’m trying to write all this out. Because the gag order’s finally been lifted enough for me to put it down in words without it sounding like meaningless word salad, and because there’s no longer the threat of reprisal if I talk about it. There were specific threats given if I revealed things. I’d get visions of horrible things that were definitely gonna happen, and I’d understandably get broken up and cry in horror because it was shit like “oh hey that webcomic your teenage sister loves has embedded a suicide trigger in her mind and when she gets to the last frame, she’ll kill herself.” And but if I said something to this sister, like begging her through my tears, please do not read that webcomic anymore, it’s infected, it’s bad, bad things will happen, the vision would change — “DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS. Keep talking and she’ll kill someone else you love before she kills herself.” So I’d cut myself off and just curl up into a ball crying, and teenage sister would be like, no wait, you can talk to me, I’m listening, don’t cry, just tell me what’s wrong. Just talk to me. Just tell me what’s bothering you.

And of course the answer was just, I can’t. This happened over and over and over. DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS. At first it was incredibly difficult. I was so afraid of this impending doom that I seemed to be making worse with my clumsy attempts to SPEAK OF IT, and even when I did break down and try to talk about what was happening in my mind, it was like the words went through some kind of filter and came out mangled and didn’t express what I was trying to say. Eventually I got used to the gag order. Life got easier when I followed it — if I stayed quiet about my mind’s state, people didn’t stare at me or get condescending. In a way, DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS was the first real Rule. What I learned: following the Rules means that life gets easier, you aren’t seen as a crazy person, you can function and stay alive.

It was during this phase that I told my mother that I would never kill myself and made her promise that if it ever appeared that I had committed suicide, she would do everything she could to make certain that my murder would be fully investigated. It was during this phase that a person who was not close to me got it in their head that I was possessed by a demon and was so forceful in their insistence that they kind of Inceptioned me and I found it difficult to shake that idea over the next…year. Or two. Good vs Evil, man. You can’t shake archetypes. This is also the phase that I have the fewest clear memories of. The court-mandated medication I was taking caused brain fog and fatigue like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I did almost nothing but sleep.

But so I finally hashed out a way to kind of talk around the shit in my head. DO NOT SPEAK OF THIS, but you can sort of hack away at it by using movie references and lines from songs, and to this day I make an embarrassing amount of movie references in casual conversation because I kinda linguistically imprinted on them during that time. I don’t remember which friend of mine happened upon this technique for getting bits and pieces past the gag order, but bless ’em, because I have no idea how I would have gotten through if not for that. For example — “So, the Shroud? It’s like in Phineas and Ferb, when Candace is about to bust her brothers, and she drags her mom into the back yard immediately after Dr. Doofenschmirtz has removed all evidence of whatever it was they were working on. It was just there, she knows it was just there, but when she tries to point it out to her mom, she just looks like she made the whole thing up. When I try to show you the Shroud, it hides.”

That’s basically still the best explanation I’ve got for the Shroud, by the way.

This all culminated with the Super Bowl, which is like a whole other tale that isn’t worth going into right now. What matters in this context is that all these dark messages about the world ending and terrible things happening and people dying and infection through TV etc kind of all led to the idea that some sort of Lullaby-esque culling song was gonna be broadcast during the Super Bowl and that if I just got the message to the right person, they’d be able to put a stop to it. And hey! Nobody actually died because of the Super Bowl broadcast that year, so I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. This was the final test. I passed, right? Right.

Wrong. But I feel like 2k words is a good stopping point for a single entry, so I’ll come back to this with part 2.

The Post-Psychosis Universe, Part II

The Post-Psychotic Universe, Part III

I made this blog today

Hey friends! I write a lot about mental health stuff and sometimes when I do that, people are like hey can I share this with people? and yeah, I’m always good with that, but also I’m kinda really uncomfortable with the idea of having random facebook posts shared who knows where, plus then it’s super hard to go back and find older stuff I’ve written. So I’m making another attempt at BLAWGIN’ — I’ve always failed at it before because I suck at current technology and forget to update. So uh, we’ll see how this goes. I’m gonna try to backdate shit so it ends up in the order I wrote it, but also I really hate wrestling with wordpress sooooo, whatevs. If you do cite/share this, it’d be cool if you dropped a comment. And if you feel like commenting for whatever other reason, please remember that I am a person and I have lots of feelings and some of the stuff posted here is quite personally revealing, so maybe try to have some grace and remember that we all come from different places. I will extend the same respect to you. Cool! Let’s talk about minds.

Woke up this morning to one of my sisters having an emotional moment over a class discussion of psychosis. She was really disturbed to find that the whole discussion centered around violence, with the teacher reinforcing the idea that people experiencing psychosis are unsafe, dangerous, likely to harm others.
Like I know that to some extent, talking about my own experience of psychosis makes people really uncomfortable. Most of the time I won’t use clinical terms like psychosis, delusion, etc because it does not feel accurate to what happened in my mind. When I do describe that instance as a mental health crisis, I do it for this reason — so that anyone who really hears me will have a chance to learn that public perception of psychosis is largely incorrect. That’s why I’m so open about it in the first place. It’s a big part of why I wrote Love & Semiotics.
I mean literally everyone has seen a headline about a person who Went Crazy and killed someone. It’s become this very convenient scapegoat for acts of violence that may have roots that are more difficult to face. “You’d have to be seriously disturbed to take human lives this way” — or, you know, hate crimes exist. But we keep trying to paint the Dylan Roofs and Elliot Rodgers of the world as bonkers because really looking at the racism and misogyny of our culture is not comfortable. It’s easier to say that you’ve gotta have a broken brain to do something like that.
Because this gets reinforced in every aspect of culture that relates to extreme states like psychosis. People with a different relationship to reality are constantly used as killer characters in fiction. At one point, Mychal and I tried to make a list of all media with schizophrenic characters that are portrayed as human, complex, nonviolent. We came up with only one example. This is a spectrum, of course — some movies etc get closer to the truth, but with psychotic people often being killed with abandon simply because nobody gets what it’s like unless they’re on the inside, closer doesn’t cut it anymore.
So maybe you want to know the truth, maybe you are a cool woke person who doesn’t conflate Shyamalan films with reality? OK, then I’ll tell you.
One of the defining characteristics of psychosis is fear. The idea of a total break from reality is absurd, we still see and hear and touch the world around us. But at the same time, you have these things that you Know. The thing about delusion is that you cannot fight it off by denying it. It sweeps you away and pushes all other truth to justify itself or become irrelevant. It is so strong and perfect in its certainty that the rest of reality has no choice but to mold itself around the unreal. My main thing when I was in it was the idea that I was finding secret messages everywhere. Like that scene in A Beautiful Mind where John Nash believes he’s breaking codes for the government? That’s somewhat accurate (but don’t get me started on how bad that movie is).
I would be reading a book and it was like the book I was reading had a second meaning hidden underneath the text. I could read a page, find the second meaning, it made total sense given the words on the page, and I’d try to talk about it and get blank stares. Or hey, that isn’t real. It’s not real. But in those moments, the absolute, vital, profound truth was that I had stumbled on this vast thing, and so the rest of reality had to bow down. Clearly if this other person doesn’t understand the messages, that must mean that I either have special abilities, I am a genius, or my apartment is haunted by the novelist’s ghost, right? These are the only options, because the messages are real, they’re right in front of my eyes, they connect, nothing has ever been this real before. And reality bows down.
But you get enough people telling you it isn’t real, you see the way they look at you, and maybe you’ve caught a glimpse of how your eyes look, and the fear sets in. Because look; these are not circumstances with low stakes. I saw visions of suicide triggers embedded in viral videos, infections of evil in every piece of media, the inescapability of Darkness, the world coming to an end. And reality bows down. How can someone live in that world? They can’t. So obviously I have to learn to time travel. If nobody will listen, if I’m the only one who can see that this is happening, obviously everyone around me has been programmed to the point of sedation.
It’s terrifying, yo. And oh my god, these robots are some of the strongest and smartest people I know, so that means that eventually there might be something that reprograms me, so obviously I need to stay away from any media created before, like, the 1900s. Classical music it is! I listened to a lot of Vivaldi during that time. And the fear sets in. I knew with total certainty that unless I figured out how to time travel and fix things, I was going to watch every person I’d ever loved as they died. I was terrified of like, seeing a candy bar commercial and being triggered to kill my father because I looked up the word “patricide” once. I tried to isolate myself, because I never wanted to hurt anyone, I would have rather died than hurt anyone, and Knowing that the next few weeks would involve more death and blood and pain than anything you can conceive of…I was a wreck. Just terrified all the time. Hiding and weeping and shaking.
Reality shifts and bends. Truth becomes fluid, what’s True is what’s Real, or is it the other way around? If I wear a hat, it will protect me from Them seeing my thoughts. Twenty minutes later: if I wear a hat, it is a marker, which signals to Them that my thoughts are accessible. Take the hat off. Wait, I have something I want Them to know. Put it back on. Take it off. But now I’m unprotected. Hat on. Hat off. Rinse, repeat.
These examples may not make a lot of sense on the surface. What I’m trying to say is: it is the scariest thing, you can’t fight it, it is Real.
I never felt the urge to hurt anyone. Ever. I was horrified anytime the thought occurred that I might be told to do that. Because the violent psychotic person image was told to me too. I cried for hours thinking that I’d be commanded to harm a human. I called my mom one day and sobbed on the phone saying that if I appeared to have killed myself, it was that I was murdered. I swore I would never kill myself. I never will. It’s off limits.
But reality bows down and the fear sets in. Once I came out of it, I had a year of terror, wondering in random moments how much of it was Real, if I’d died in my bed during that point where I blacked out, if I had damned myself somehow, if They had only backed off as another test and at some point I’d be back under the black sea. If I was the only thing holding reality together. If objective reality is a lie and we’re all in the God-Matrix and every person I love is just a projection of my mind. Because if none of that was real, if the realest real, the truest true was neither real nor true, what did I have left to hold onto? I spent that whole year afraid. Some of you knew me then, you remember me falling apart in conversation, you remember the fear.
Time doesn’t exist according to the Rules, but it does heal. It’s been four years and I don’t get afraid like I did anymore. Now the fear is different. Now the terrifying thing is, if I trust people with this knowledge about that time, even if words existed that could accurately show what it was that happened, even if I could entirely pin down what happened, god, you tell people this stuff and watch their eyes change as they do the math on exactly what are the odds that you’re gonna snap again and this time you’ll show up at their door with a sharp object. Because psychosis is violence as far as public perception goes, and as long as I’m open about that, there’s always gonna be a certain measure of being marked as crazy, dangerous, this unknown factor.
And this summer two people I love had similar experiences and I watched as they were quarantined and chemically lobotomized, and I saw the fear in them as they tried to piece together what Real is, and if Real even exists, and I never felt at risk. Because I know. I know that the reason your eyes look different when you’re psychotic is that you’re seeing into a different dimension and that requires a totally different kind of focus. I know that when you steal a sheet of patient photos from the nurses’ station it’s because it deeply bothers you that y’all are under observation. You just want to protect all of us who can’t see the danger. You’re afraid, you’re so afraid because you see the flames that everyone else denies, and it’s an incredibly heavy burden to carry, because you know that if anyone is gonna survive this, it’ll be because you personally carried them to safety.
A few weeks ago a completely innocuous bar conversation about TV led to a stranger with a gift for knowing the right questions getting a really rough outline of that time in my life and I felt that fear again, like how am I being perceived, and usually I try to dismiss it, but I got this flash of the fear I felt when I was half a continent away from my friend and someone called the cops on him while he was “out of touch with reality” and I just had this blind panic because cops kill my people all the time. Because y’all think we’re killers, that getting reality kind of scrambled automatically unlocks some kind of primal craving for violence.
I need you to know that you’re wrong. That what healthcare providers are being taught is wrong. That the truth is a person experiencing psychosis is far more likely to kill themselves than someone else. The fear is so overwhelming, guys. You’ve never felt existential horror like this, ever. And it feels like forever, and nobody understands, and everyone you’re trying to save just sees you as a threat. Suicide looks like a good exit strategy when faced with the idea that you might never come back from the fear. The professionals I saw during that time were a joke. None of them had any idea how to communicate through the fear and the darkness. They repeatedly asked, in different ways, if the people in my life were safe from me. My safety was not a factor.
I’m telling you all this because if you believe me, if you know me and see this newfound stability I’ve achieved, I need you to help out a little and start telling people to go fuck themselves when a new mass shooter gets a postmortem diagnosis and someone clicks their tongue and asks how insane do you have to be to take human lives this way? I need you to see through the bullshit of Criminal Minds and CSI. I need you to recognize that states like this are complex states of being, and what we’re treating as a fast track to mass murder can be one of the most profoundly healing experiences a human being can have. I would be dead if those books hadn’t started speaking back. I can say that with total certainty.
I need you to know better and to help other people know better as well, because it’s not like what you see in newspapers and on TV. I’ll swallow whatever you think of me personally, I know at this point I’m a total mad pride loudmouth who’s maybe got a bit too much of a bug about drug treatment. I don’t care if you don’t like me, find me abrasive and uncomfortable. But fuck you, teacher in my sister’s class, I was never violent, and all the people I’ve known who have had experience with psychosis would be horrified at the idea of harming someone, especially in that state. Hashtag burn the goddamn stigma to the ground, or whatever. My sis had to walk out of class because she was so upset about the discussion she heard. I’m asking, since you’ve got less of a dog in this race, even if you just speak up quietly and mention you know this one person and their experience was nothing like that, if you can find that courage, it would be nice.
Who knows, maybe once we quit blaming the crazies for all this violence, we can start getting to the roots of why people actually kill each other, and maybe we’ll live in a better world.

Keeping Each Other Safe

I’m not posting about politics much because there are people I love who are at risk just from seeing what’s going on too closely. Not to say it isn’t important to know what’s going on and to try to be a part of things. I feel like maybe my Facebook page looks blithely unaware to someone who doesn’t know me all that well. I’m just trying to keep a few people safe. But we’re all scared right now, yeah?
I’m on four hours of sleep at the moment. I woke up in my Sleep Chair and couldn’t doze off again. The last 48 hours have been brutal. So much shit has gone down in our country, I can’t even keep track of all of it. I’ve been watching in horror and trying to figure out what I can do to help. I’ve tried to be the hardcore support friend and listen and help people however I can. If someone seems really fucked up by what’s going on, one of my tactics is hey, get out of the danger zone by taking a minute to laugh at some mishap in my life lately. I’ve got a lot of mishaps. If you’re hurting, I’ll be happy to personally embarrass myself to give you a few minutes off your pain. Also I’m really sorry if you call me and I’m in a loud bar and I can’t stay outside because I’m wearing inappropriate cold weather clothing. I’m just creating new mishaps to share later.
But like, the last few days, it’s really been hitting home for me too, and I’m not really okay myself. Bad stuff has been happening in my heart and in my mind. Like a couple days ago I wrote a song I really liked, and yesterday I was practicing it and it was like all the joy suddenly got sucked out. Like who really needs more googlygoo love songs right now? I don’t write music that’s sharp enough to cut through fear. I don’t have clean clothes to wear but I’m tired of doing laundry and there’s gonna be a water shortage at some point in the next few years, right? Our president is trying to strangle the judicial branch and we’re probably going to war soon, so like, at what point does looting become acceptable, because I kinda need warm socks (I’ve been rotating through the same three pairs for a while now. How much this has to do with my lack of motivation to do laundry is between me and the presence). Should I try real hard to get a job? If I get a job I’ll lose my health insurance. Am I gonna lose my health insurance anyway? Should I buy gold Krugerrands with my tax return? How much does a Krugerrand cost?
It’s unclear how much of this is like, reflecting off leftover shards of paranoia in my mind. That shit becomes like a mental habit eventually. Do the pattern recognition thing long enough and you can believe in anything. So I go whooooa gurrrrl you’re thinking like a crazy person again. And then I talk to literally anyone and it’s like nope. Not just me. We’re all falling apart over this.
And then I feel bad for wanting to ask for help, partly because sometimes I feel like I’m not worthy of help because pretty much every night this week I picked potential mishaps over like, calling my congressman and making signs and putting together care packages for refugees.
Not that my congressman picks up his phone during my normal drinking time. And not that I haven’t done anything worthwhile lately. I guess that’s also kind of between me and the presence. But I digress, as if this whole post hasn’t been a series of tangents. Here’s another: I’m thinking so much about the function of art in all this, because that’s what I live and breathe, and it’s so easy to feel like I’m doing nothing when I’m practicing guitar or writing. There’s that really kind of loaded Vonnegut quote about custard pies that keeps bleeding joy right out of my soul. I’m saying all this so you know you’re understood. Because again: I feel alone in all this and then I talk to any artist and they’re like damn I felt alone in the same feeling. So I’m telling you this and I’m telling me this: we have the gifts we have for reasons that are important. Unless you believe nothing has meaning and everything sucks always. Then I don’t really know what to tell you. I tend to err on the connectedness and beauty side of things. Maybe that’s why I come off as blithely unaware. I really do make a serious effort at bright side glass full sorta mental habits.
But yeah at this point I’m feeling like we need to create that connectedness ourselves. It’s really hard feeling alone in all this. I believe in intentional community. And we might need those networks soon. Who knows how long Facebook’s gonna be around (see? Look on the bright side but throw some gallows humor in there).
I want to make art with you. I want to hug you and cry with you. I want to feed you and give you a place where you feel loved, if not safe (because really what does safe even mean these days). I’m gonna keep trying. I mean it. And I do need help. I’m not okay. But let’s be honest, you’re not okay either right now. Let’s help each other.