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.”

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.


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