(aprox 35 min read)
I’m still not entirely certain what happened. My mind snapped about a week ago but it was a long time coming. Almost 35 years long, to be honest.
There are still conversations I need to have with my lover (the only one who witnessed it happen as it occurred in the privacy of our home) to fill in the gaps, but one thing I do know is that what happened felt like some higher power was flicking the switch of my awareness/consciousness on and off at ever increasing intervals. I know I didn’t try to hurt myself and I didn’t try to hurt anyone else, but I must have been making less and less sense to Dags (the aforementioned lover) because it eventually got bad enough that he broke one of the only promises I ever made him make to me, which was that he would never call mental health services on me.
I realize now you cannot have ultimatums in a relationship, however well-intentioned. I’ve forgiven him for breaking his promise, and I hope he understands that.
I’d never stayed in a mental health institution before. (I was briefly and voluntarily enrolled in a program back in Newfoundland in my early twenties when I felt I was close to suicide but that just hooked me up with a psychiatrist and some meds that I only stayed on for a very brief time). I realize now it was always my greatest fear, largely because I didn’t believe in myself enough to have faith I could ever get out again once in. Happily, in that as well, I was wrong.
But I’d always struggled with my health; mentally, emotionally, and physically. All my conscious life. Maybe bipolar, maybe cyclothymic, generally unstable moods, generally unstable full stop, racing thoughts, ever increasing a n x I e t y, panic attacks, obsession, frequent depression (of course). . .it manifested physically as well; I’d had a bad bad year of chronic fatigue back in my early twenties that almost did me in, always had a shit stomach, headaches, migraines, chronic muscle fatigue and back pain, off and on pain in my hands that made it hard to work, etc etc etc. . .
IT – this shapeless intangible thing I was battling – would come and go and shift and evolve and always seemed at least one step ahead of me, even on the good days. The good days didn’t ever actually feel like victories against THE BATTLE, they just felt like moments I successfully lied to myself about its apparent immortality.
But I now realize I was never actually insane, despite my fears to the contrary. It was the world all along, which I think I knew somewhere. I mean, I SAW the broken pieces. How can you not?
What broken pieces, you ask? Really??
Broken education systems and broken political systems and broken economic systems and broken legal systems and broken social systems and. . .
Why is nationalism still a thing? Why are we STILL allowing religion to affect human rights issues? Why did we EVER?
Why are there people in the States serving life sentences for having a joint while celebrities can do casual time for hitting someone on a DUI and return back to the limelight after their relatively painless slap on the wrist? Why can Charlie Sheen brag about all the bitches he’s fucked and the eight balls he’s slammed while the rest of us need to send out paranoid mass messages to mates asking them to PLEASE not tag you in any photos from that fetish party last weekend because what if your boss or family see?
Why do banks get to fucking RAPE us on conversion charges AND charge a fee as well when we NEED to move our money around with us to survive? Why can’t women walk around topless? (This is Australia. It gets fucking H O T). Why is it illegal to be naked in public at ALL (our natural state? Something that unites us as one human race? Our inherent weaknesses and vulnerability? Our shared universal anatomy?)?
How can obesity and starvation be simultaneous problems in the world? Why the fuck is paid advertising legal? How can any person think they are of greater worth than another person when we’re all obviously doing the best we can with what we have?
Religion. Addiction. Government. Dogma. Hate. Hate. Hate.
And if you try and talk about it. . .you’re crazy. You’re over-sensitive. You’re paranoid. You’re delusional. YOU are the broken thing. And you WILL be made to believe that.
And meanwhile The World just keeps ticking on like a game of Texas Hold’em that never gets reset. Your ‘mate’ who’s hosting it all is sitting on stacks to the ceiling while the rest of us need to buy in fresh each new time and there’s a max on how much we can buy in with. How could we ever hope to win that game? Who decided that one dude gets a different set of rules just because he’s the host? Who even MADE him the host to begin with? And, perhaps most importantly, why the actual FUCK do we keep coming BACK?
The Truth, of course, is that we NEED to buy in to THE WAYS THINGS ARE if we want to play the game of life in this world. And, once in, there’s no exit button save suicide. Hell, there’s not even really a functioning fucking ‘pause’, unless you can save some coin. Hit the road for a while, maybe.
Which I did. For about a decade, off and on. Ireland, Egypt, Israel, Bosnia, The Netherlands, Serbia, Spain. . . there were 28 countries (depending on your politics) between my birth in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada, and my present day life here in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. And it caught up with me here too, even when I’d gathered around me all the talismans I thought I’d ever need: Good friends. Beautiful city. Great job under a great boss. Enjoyable sport. Rich social life. Relaxing home life. And, of course, the love of my life: Dags.
But it didn’t change the underlying problem: That all those things still existed inside the broken systems I felt compelled to either fix or escape from. And there is simply no safe escape from this burning fucking inferno we call ‘Capitalism’.
Alright, MAYBE you can find a nice little patch of forest somewhere not important enough to anyone in which you could build a little log cabin (for a while, until they come to take it away from you and build a fucking pipeline under it). . .if you can build log cabins. If you know how to hunt, and to gather, and if you’re not particularly fussed about ever interacting with another human being ever again. If you’re, for whatever reason, not too fearful about the possibility of getting mauled by a fucking bear whenever you stop to take a shit.
But outside of that, our ‘choice’ – if we even have one – is largely between never having enough and being a cunt (and still never feeling like we have enough. Looking at you, Trump). Do you want true anarchy, where you get to live in a state of constant fear and uncertainty, or do you want to operate under the constant watch and rules of Big Brother’s overbearing anxiety-inducing nanny state?
Do you want to exist in a constant state of panicked searching for some Eden in which you belong and are actually wanted, or do you want to be a rusting, grinding gear in a failing money machine?
Which would you most prefer: Death? Or death?
(T’s&C’s: Please fill in appropriate box completely [do NOT use only an x] and follow with a detailed description of why you prefer the option you do without using the words ‘the’ or ‘and’ as they are forbidden on this particular test and be certain to forward this on to at LEAST 10 other people as your answer will not be considered unless you do [those 10 people MUST also forward on to 10 others or they will not be counted in YOUR tally of 10] further terms and conditions can be found written on the underside of a cheetah somewhere on the Serengeti plains you’ll know it when you see it because it has spots please return your answers to us by post ensuring that the address PO BOX 402718649373345892347895984 4783875 has NO errors with the appropriate fee included [fee structures can be located here] to be considered for your application to Life on Earth in the 21st century.)
. . .I’ve gotten side tracked. Let me get back on track: I thought I was insane, but I wasn’t. The world was. I get that now.
But I didn’t then so I snapped and the people came and I got in the ambulance because Dags told me to and I trust him unfailingly and apparently at some point I left the hospital for an hour and I don’t remember where I went but I’m pretty sure I was just walking up and down Victoria Parade looking for Dags because my short term memory was failing me dramatically and the only thing I was certain of was him. I remember wanting to find him. . .to anchor myself to. . .something.
And eventually I plodded back to the hospital and ran into Dags at the entrance (he had of course also been searching frantically for me) and they moved me from the ‘normal’ hospital to the ‘abnormal’ hospital.
You might call it a ‘mental health facility’. I just call it ‘Hell’.
Look, maybe some mental health service has helped you in the past and it’s not my aim to discredit that. Certainly I’ve had wonderful mental health professionals who have helped me tremendously in the past. But that particular hospital, for me in particular, at that particular time, was an actual fucking hell on earth.
Losing my mind was purgatory. Hearing what was essentially a prison door slam behind me – separating me from the man who had been my anchor to reality – made it hell.
The Hospital was made of everything about this world that was driving me mad to begin with, with everything that had kept me sane stripped away. It was a maddening loop of bureaucracy, error, injustice, apathy, and frustration, condensed to a fine poison that was force-fed to me each and every waking moment without option of reprieve.
I remember particularly that the floor was sticky and my left thong would make the most maddening sound with every step. I wasn’t allowed shoes because laces were a strangling hazard. I didn’t want to walk barefoot because I was afraid THEY would take that as further evidence of my insanity. So I would walk around my small new ‘home’ in socked feet, the one pair of socks I had on me when I arrived: a pair of black and blue ankle cut bonds that looked identical at a glance but were actually mismatched; one was slightly smaller than the other, and had a different width of elastic band. One was technically a ‘girl’ sock, the other a ‘boy’ sock. Two inherently different styles, living the stealthy lie that they were a matched pair when I KNEW the truth was otherwise. (. . .I may be going for a bit of an esoteric metaphor there, but it doesn’t make the point it’s entirely factual any less True.)
I was lost. I wanted to call Dags, but I couldn’t remember his number and I didn’t have my phone. Dags did. Maybe I could call my own number? I asked for a phone and they gave me one but it didn’t work. I was afraid to say it didn’t work because I was so uncertain about everything that maybe I’d just forgotten how to use a phone? I lied, said I couldn’t get through, returned the broken phone to the apathetic nurse or security dude or whatever the fuck he was. Tried again the next day. Needed to hear his voice. Felt more certain. This phone definitely did not work. Told them. They said they’d find another. They didn’t.
I know now what Dr. Seuss meant by ‘The Waiting Place’ when he wrote ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go.’ I had no idea this was the place he meant.
We were made to wait for everything without any sort of definitive timeline or explanation. When would Dags be back? Maybe tomorrow. When would the psychiatrist be by? At some point. When could I leave? No idea. When would whoever was in the next room stop screaming and pounding on the walls? Well, I didn’t even ask that question because I knew that one couldn’t be answered. Could I have something to help me sleep then? The noise was scaring me and that’s how I ended up here to begin with: I just got scared. I just got too scared of the world. It didn’t make sense and suddenly I had no anchor to the present moment so I lost myself in myself and I was trying to find my way back and
I’m sure they did the best they could. We all do. But this was just a Job for them and people don’t care about their Jobs. A Job is something you think you have to do that stops you from being able to do what you want to do so, to them, we the patients were what was stopping them from being able to do what they wanted, which was to pass the time as quickly as possible so they could return home again to their ‘real’ lives. But they all seemed to forget an important truth: that freedom they craved had been stripped from us, against our will. This was now our home until they allowed otherwise. They were actually what stood between us and our ‘real’ homes. Our freedom. Comfort.
It’s an odd dilemma.
There was just one nurse who treated me like an actual human being deserving of respect. We had hardly any interaction because he was assigned to me just before I was able to leave, but he did me the biggest favor anyone did in that place: He admitted it sucked.
Thank you for that, sir. Thank you thank you thank you thank you
See, that echo chamber of insanity, that place of total emptiness had ONE important thing going for it: in contrast, anything of even the remotest beauty shone like a fucking unicorn with a perfect ivory pelt and a rainbow mane that was parted by a horn of pure fucking gold. It shone with a light impossible to ignore and I followed it for the lighthouse it was, I grabbed it, I grabbed anything of truth or beauty I could like it was the fucking Rock of Ages and I used it to anchor myself back in this world until I could find myself again.
It didn’t take so long.
Though I was surprised, upon finding myself, that I looked different than I remembered. Prettier. More confident. More capable. It took me another short while to realize why: I was looking at my true self for perhaps the very first time.
Allow me, for a moment, some arrogance: I am a fucking warrior. I am clever and I am kind. I care. I give so many shits about this world and the people in it that I was willing to set myself on fire to keep others warm. It was wrong to feel that way because it was a flawed equation mathematically, but the intention was pure. I have fought all my life against an ill society, however strategically poorly (I never did get around to reading Sun Tzu).
I have always felt like a slave, and the greatest longing I have ever had was to feel free. Just once. For a moment. To rest. Just for a moment. And I could never get there. I have always desperately wanted to be free from pain and suffering but two truths prevented me:
Truth #1: The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.
Truth #2: If I have been anything consistently in my very mercurial existence, it is a nail that sticks out.
Which left me with a third and final truth: I will never be free of suffering in this life.
And I couldn’t accept that, I didn’t know how. And I couldn’t turn my back on the truth because I didn’t and don’t know how. Or, I suppose, I knew how I could, but I couldn’t and can’t find it in me to actually do so. I don’t want to. I need to be able to make some sense of this reality and how can I ever if I willingly choose to live a lie?
An ostrich can choose to stick its head in the sand if it’s scared, but that’s not going to save it from a hungry hyena pack.*
And I have been stuck in this paradoxical loop of logic my entire conscious life: I felt I needed to feel safe to live well, but to live is to BE inherently unsafe.
So, having had that loop collapse in on itself I was presented with a choice that needed to be made. As Shakespeare so succinctly phrased the question:
To be. . .or not to be?
I of course choose option be. I have always chosen option be (obviously, as I’m still here. I breathe. My heart beats.) but doing so caused me endless pain because I mistakenly believed I was climbing toward some plateau in which life would someday be kinder to me.
I missed the obvious: It’s much easier to change yourself than the world. This was what I learned from and took back with me from Hell: Self-Love.
For me, self love starts with self care and that means I need to work on building a safe space for myself to retreat to in hard times. And that space can’t be physical.
I’m still building that non-physical space but, until I do, my sanctuary is the bed I share with Dags, the only man I ever loved that loved me back well. On it I have a stuffed shark named Bart that Dags bought me on a day I was feeling dogshit. I came home to find the tail of a great white shark poking out from under our sheets. I’d pointed it out to him at Ikea weeks back and he must have picked up from my texts I was feeling down so he brought Bart home for me to lift me up. I cried like a little bitch when I saw that shark and Dags couldn’t understand why.
The very first thing I asked Dags to bring in to the hospital was Bart. When I finally got to leave, and had to pack all my things into a giant brown paper bag marked PATIENTS BELONGINGS, Bart’s head poked up out of the bag like he was posing for the cover of ‘Jaws’.
I’m working on fostering my inner Jaws. A Great White Shark of self-esteem that can live in the depths of my heart and mind, ready at any moment to rise above the break and bare its sharp, jagged teeth at any perceived threat to my sanity. We can co-exist, this shark and I. In my unstable little boat I can keep watch for would-be finners while Bart silently circles below me in a seemingly infinite blue, ensuring no krakens are rising from the deep to topple my vessel into the unforgiving ocean.
We are a good team, Bart and I.
I recall a talk from David Foster Wallace (a kindred spirit who, sadly, did not locate his inner Bart in time) in which he touched on the concept of worship; an unfamiliar or even uncomfortable concept I’m guessing for many of you (my friends, who are largely agnostic or atheist). At one point he states:
“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”
I have worshipped many things throughout my life but the two most predominant have likely been Love and Knowledge. Good things to worship, really, if you do it well.
I didn’t. In worshipping Love I made myself believe I was incomplete without it. I thought of Love as Hollywood presented it to us: head-over-heels, soulmate, we’ll save the fucking world together, never leave me sort of ‘love’. In worshipping Knowledge I hated every piece of ignorance within myself, and was constantly embarrassed about anything I didn’t KNOW, for CERTAIN, and I’m a pretty bloody uncertain person by nature, leading a very uncertain life.
You want to feel as certain as you possibly can? Never change. Stay where you are. Venture nowhere. Learn nothing. Create echo chambers. Stagnate. Definitely don’t leave your sheltered little fishing island with a backpack of belongings for a new continent and life. Don’t take a train from Cairo to Luxor and walk through the Valley of the Kings. That will give you more questions (How did they build this? What did that guy say? Do I need to bribe that cop to get my bike back?) and questions fuel uncertainty. Ignore all the questions presented to you each and every day and focus instead on the answers you think you know, and convince yourself that everyone else should accept your answers as well. That will make you feel certain.
It’ll also make you a bit of a fucking cunt but, hey. . .means to an end, right?
Perhaps the biggest thing I worshipped was THE IDEA. A feeling I’ve had since I was a wee little Krys and have never been able to shake nor sit comfortably with. This idea has in turns kept me alive and caused me great discomfort. Because it’s unrealistic and arrogant, but also noble and great: I always felt like I could save the world. Nay, that I MUST save the world.
But. . .how?
So many ideas, so few ways to implement them. My other paradox. My other albatross.
You can’t worship a solution you don’t have. It’s empty, and you know it on some level no matter how hard you try to lie to yourself. You can’t worship what you have never seen.
But I have seen myself, now. I’ve taken a good long hard fucking look and decided, you know what, I can worship this. I can worship the journey I am on.
I can try and save the world and be ok with every failure. I can walk with an open heart and accept that doing so means some people will take advantage of that opportunity to take a shit in my aorta. I can love unconditionally and be ok with those that don’t love me back. I can pursue knowledge and not only sit with but revel in the staggering number of unanswered questions in my mind. Because learning is exciting and there is always something new to learn. I can simultaneously hate the broken systems of this world, and love every fucking soul that populates it. Myself included.
So now I can sit with this childhood dream of becoming some sort of modern day Robin Hood. I’m not so arrogant as to believe I can fix every broken thing but I have at least enough self esteem to believe that I can fix some things somehow before I leave this life. Or at least help. Some kind word I give may keep some great mind alive that has some stunning answer to some BIG question. If I can walk with an open heart and show people doing so doesn’t actually kill you maybe more will try to do the same. Maybe more will choose the path of love over hate because if there’s one thing I’m certain of in this life besides my own existence it is this:
LOVE > hate.
Love is greater than hate. Always.
I will fight anyone who argues otherwise.
This world is broken as fuck but I’m not the only one trying to fix it. And now that the scales have fallen from my eyes I can see clearly the path ahead; I can see the footprints of all the giants that walked before me. Even as the tide laps over them the tracks remain because their steps were deep, SO deep, their path was true, their footfalls score the sand with a depth greater even than the ocean. Their hearts were heavy not with grief but some kind of altered gravitational state – a Quantum Love – a mass seemingly disproportional to size that cannot be committed to any path so trivial as power or wealth or vanity.
I don’t know exactly what comes next for me but I have an idea. I know some things I need, and now I know how to ask for them.
This may sound callous but it’s the simplest phrasing I (with my potty mouth) know: I truly don’t give a fuck if anyone has any problem with this post. I mean, I do. . .but I can’t. I’m learning how to hoard some fucks. Because what happened last weekend was proof positive of what happens when I give all of my fucks aways, and keep none for myself. Happily, I had a Dags who gave me some of his, to plant and care for and nurture, and to grow into a happy healthy. . .fuck. . .garden?
. . .That metaphor ran away from me. You get what I mean.
I need to care less about shit I can’t change so I can better focus my energy on what really matters to me. I may lose friendships over that. That’s ok. I can sit with that loss. There is much I thought I wanted to do that now won’t get done. That’s ok too. There are more important things I wish to devote my time to.
I don’t meant to imply I’ve become an Ego island. If I wrong you, tell me. I will say sorry if I am. If you need me, ask for me. But understand I may not be able to be there for you every time. I will try to stand by you, when I can. I hope you will forgive me when I cannot. If you disagree with me, tell me. Let’s debate. But don’t you dare just tell me to shut the fuck up. I won’t. You don’t want to hear what I have to say? Walk away.
If you haven’t walked away yet (about four and a half thousand words later) I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am going to try and show my thanks by devoting the rest of my life to becoming the best possible version of myself, and I can only do that if I stop worrying about what you all think the best version of me was. I can no longer allow myself to think less of myself just because others might. I need to love and believe in myself because the alternative is quite literally death. And I made a promise to myself a long time ago I wouldn’t take that way out and it’s a promise I intend to keep. It’s the only path I’m not interested in travelling.
I aim to find a way to fight bad systems. I’m working on how I best can. I hope you are too. It’s ok if you’re not. We’re not all fighters and that’s ok. It doesn’t make you of any less worth. Maybe you’re a lover. Maybe you’re a dancer. Maybe you’re a healer. Maybe you’re simply a survivor. These are all worthy things.
You do you. Be the best you you can be. And fuck anyone who ever tells you to do otherwise.
Thank you for being in my life. I hope you’re all well. I’m sorry if I worried anyone with my absence. Please take care, and stay strong.
Illegitimi Non Carborundum.**
I love you all.
*Yes I know that ostriches don’t actually ‘bury’ their heads in the sand (they dig holes in the dirt to use as nests for their eggs and ‘bury’ their heads several times a day to turn the eggs). But one, it was an easy metaphor and two, I don’t want kids, so I have no business ever having my head in the sand to begin with.
**Yes I know that saying is ‘fake’ Latin, but it doesn’t make the sentiment any less important or True.
Note: The three female images used in this piece are all of Delirium, the youngest of The Endless, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.