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