In February 2016, I had to be hospitalized for psychosis. Writing about it makes me feel better, and my experiences might be of use or interest to someone else, which is why I’ve put all this out on the internet.
Post originally started in January:
It’s been almost a year since I went mad. Life seems ordinary enough just now, but I find myself with a creeping sense of unease. Just after Christmas, I spent a couple weeks in the mire of depression, but it has faded into an achingly dull apathy.
They say “that which does not kill you makes you stronger,” and while I do believe I am a stronger person than I was this time last year, I also think I am stranger and harder to relate to. I feel distinctly weird around other people. I’m acutely aware of how different I am, how differently my mind works, and yet there’s nothing I can do about it. Sometimes I hate how different I am, how out of place I feel in the world. I used to think maybe I was more mature than other kids, that as I got older, eventually I’d start to feel like I had more in common with other people. I’m finding I don’t. If anything, I have less in common with them now.
Sometimes I wonder if I feel safe in my own head. I feel so weird around people all the time, I don’t know at point I should be worried about myself. Is being weird in and of itself cause for concern? Probably not, at least in my case, but it’s harder to feel safe with my own strangeness than it once was. I didn’t know I was on the road to crazy last time. What if the signs aren’t always the same? What if it starts differently next time? ((UPDATE: IT DID! Ha…)) I feel like I should be watching myself for something, but I don’t even know what to watch for, or what I should do if I notice something amiss. I often wonder if I’m not crazy all the time, and most days it just simmers at more or less functional level. How would I know? Do I care?
Those are the real questions, I suppose. If being weird is inescapable, if I must live with whatever is in my head regardless of what it is, then is it worth worrying about?
March 22, 2017: Dammit, Moon-Moon
or: IT WAS WORTH WORRYING ABOUT!
It happened again. The Crazy resurged. Not quite the same as last time, and not as bad. Fortunately, there were no cops, handcuffs, or locked wards this time– although I think there was some discussion of them. I still ended up in the ER, though, and Lask had a rather a lot to say to the people there. We decided if we couldn’t control who was doing the talking, the best thing to do was stay calm and try to communicate as clearly as possible what was going on, and what we needed.
It was frightening, but I think we managed it a lot better than last time, and I think the people around us had learned a thing or two. It started on Thursday, when I began getting anxious about the Women’s Forum. I was excited about it, and felt like I had a good presentation prepared. As it turns out, I ended up scrapping most of my notes and just letting the class ask me questions. It was a great experience. The class talked to each other, asked good questions, and several stayed after to talk at length to me.
Here’s the thing, though: I was a hot mess. I taught a good class, made some people think, but I was so manic it was not even funny. I was running around trying to get everything done, deal with so many people (social anxiety, remember?), and as a result, I didn’t sleep for three days. I also started a certain female cycle Saturday morning, and that flush of hormones would make anyone crazy. No sleep + anxiety + hormonal flush + mania = me in the ER getting asked hundreds of questions by people who are sure something is wrong with me, they just don’t know what:
Josh the Unflappable
The first P.A. into the room was a skinny fella named Josh. Josh was the bomb. Nothing fazed Josh. Lask, who was stuck on the surface again during this episode, talked to him about everything from time travel to white blood cells, and Josh took it all in stride. Kudos, man. You diagnosed the problem while preserving our dignity and not making us feel bonkers. A boon to mental health services everywhere!
The Ghost of Christmas Past (aka Kelly)
Kelly was one of three interviewers who came to talk to me. She had a lot of questions. She wanted to know why I talked funny, why my voice kept changing, where that lilting faintly European voice was coming from. Mostly, it’s because Lask was there talking to her, and he has a very distinct voice from mine. The best part, though… the best part was this:
Kelly: Ok, so, I’m talking to Lask. There’s also Elanor. Are there any others?
Lask: Of course, we’re a family. There’s me, El, Wyatt, Stefin, Falient…
Kelly: Are they here right now?
Lask: No, but they’re nearby. They’re worried about us.
Kelly: You said there was a Stephanie–
Lask: No, no. Stefin. He’s the big red Demon.
Kelly: I see… can I talk to Stefin?
[nearby, Stefin looks startled and starts gesticulating to Lask, “no, no, no, please–!”]
[Lask steps aside: Be good, Stefin. You’re on. Careful, the mic’s hot. *chuckle*]
[Me: That’s not funny. *sigh* Come on, Stefin.]
Kelly: So… can I talk to Stefin?
Stefin [sheepishly]: Si, senorita.
Kelly: Oh. Habla espanol?
Stefin: Si, muy bueno, but for the sake of expediency, I’ll speak English for you.
Kelly: Your voice is different again.
Stefin: Of course, I’m Stefin.
Kelly: And you’re a big red Demon.
Stefin: Si, senorita. I am.
Stefin: I don’t know. Why are you human female?
Kelly: Fair point. Are you angry?
Stefin: Not today, ma’am.
Kelly: You’re awfully polite for a Demon.
Stefin: You’ve given me no reason to be otherwise, and I don’t want to get anyone into more trouble.
Kelly: Why are you here?
Stefin: You asked for me.
Kelly: And you can come here whenever you want to?
Stefin [sheepishly]: Si, senorita… If I ask nicely.
Kelly: Stefin? Why do you think you’re in here?
Stefin: Because Elanor is bleeding, panicking, and hasn’t slept in three days.
Kelly: I see. And you’re concerned for her?
Stefin: Muy preocupado, senorita! Mucha preocupación.
Kelly: I see. Thank you, Stefin.
Stefin: De nada.
Later, Kelly stepped out into the hall to talk to Jackie.
Kelly: So… are there more than Lask?
Jackie [ticking through the list]: There’s Wyatt, and Falient, and…
Kelly: Well, I just talked to the big red demon.
Jackie: Oh! Stefin! Yeah, I know Stefin.
Kelly [looking very puzzled by her enthusiasm]: I see.
Kelly returns to my room.
Kelly: Am I talking to Lask?
Lask: Yes, Kelly.
Kelly: Are there more than you?
Lask: Yes, but they’re not the same.
Kelly: How so?
Lask: I’m connected to Elanor. The rest just visit sometimes.
Kelly: I see…
The Ghost of Christmas Present – Mr. Reformed
I don’t even remember this guy’s name, but he told me he’d tried to kill himself a couple times, had plenty of issues, and was here to give me some information.
Mr. Reformed: I’ve been in some bad places. I know what it’s like to be where you are.
Lask: Not much fun, is it, sir?
Mr. Reformed: Afraid not. Hey, I’ve got some stuff for you. [passes over flyers and trifolds]
Lask [looking through them]: How can I reach these people about their flyer? [holds up tragic flyer]
Mr. Reformed: I guess that email on the bottom.
Lask: I would like to fix their flyer. Elanor thinks this is tragic, and she could do better. We could help them reach more people with some better art.
Mr. Reformed: That’s great! You should definitely reach out.
Mr. Reformed tells us about his own anxiety, and the interaction concludes with a pleasant handshake.
Lask: You get it. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Reformed: Pleasure to meet you, Lask. There’s one more person who would like to ask you some questions.
The Ghost of Christmas Future (aka Jennifer)
Jennifer: Hi there. I hear I’m talking to Lask.
Lask: That’s correct.
Jennifer: Is Elanor here?
Lask: Yes, we’re just having a hard time getting her back up to the surface. She’s very tired.
Jennifer: I see. So Lask, I hear you time travel.
Lask: That’s right.
Jennifer: How do you manage that?
Lask: I have very careful aim through time and space by use of a magical key and a door I built from the Tree of Life. I’m nothing but photons; I can go anywhere once I know what I’m doing.
Jennifer [nodding, taking it in stride]: I see. And what are you doing here today?
Lask [sighs]: Jennifer… you’re the fourth person who has asked me these questions. Surely those answers are on your pink clipboard somewhere.
Lask: Why? This seems like a suspiciously long string of people.
Jennifer: We’re just trying to figure out how to best help you.
Lask: I appreciate that. Do you think I’m dangerous?
Jennifer: No, you seem relaxed. I hear you were screaming in the waiting room, though. What’s that about?
Lask: I was frightened, and I’m angry.
Jennifer: Why are you angry?
Lask: Your country elected the Antichrist. How does anyone sleep at night?
Jennifer [laughs]: Well… I guess I can’t answer that.
Lask: You see my problem, then, Ms. Jennifer. Do you like stories?
Lask: Will you read one to your daughter tonight?
Jennifer: How did you know I–?
Lask: Will you?
Jennifer: No, I’m working tonight.
Lask: You should text her, then. It’s important children know their parents are there at night.
Jennifer: I see…
Lask: Will you be locking me up, ma’am?
Jennifer: To be honest, I don’t know. Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else?
Lask: Of course not. I’m here to protect people.
Jennifer: I see you need help–
Lask: I do. We do. We haven’t slept in days. I’m tired. I’m frightened. I’m hungry. But I’m not crazy.
Jennifer: I didn’t say you were.
Lask: I’ll tell you what, Jennifer. I will do anything you think will help us– take any pill, try any therapy on one condition.
Jennifer: What’s that?
Lask: It can’t involve locked doors.
Jennifer watches him carefully, nods, and makes notes.
Later, Jennifer, Kelly, and Mr. Reformed discuss with Jackie in the hallway. Kelly feels a 72 hour psych hold (Temporary Restraining Order) should be implemented.
Kelly: She said there’s a big red demon!
Mr. Reformed: It’s all projections, hallucinations, from the anxiety and mania. A little sleep, little therapy, she’ll be fine.
Jennifer: I agree she needs help…
Jackie: Can we all agree she’s not dangerous? She’s irritable and anxious. Lask yells when he’s scared. But they’re not dangerous, yeah?
Kelly: I really think we should do the hold, though–
Jennifer: I do agree she needs help, but she’s medically clear. She’s not a danger. I don’t feel comfortable going before the magistrate and asking to take this woman’s rights away. She… he… whoever… said she’d cooperate with anything that wasn’t in-patient, so it seems most likely to help if we work with that.
Later, Jennifer returns.
Jennifer: Who am I talking to?
Lask: Still Lask, I’m afraid.
Jennifer: That’s ok. You said you’d participate in anything that didn’t involve locked doors.
Lask: Yes. Have you come with an alternative?
Jennifer [laughs slightly]: I’ll tell you what. I’ll let you go, I’ll give you something to help you sleep at home tonight, and tomorrow you’re going to an appointment at the local health services board. They’re going to set you up with a psychiatrist and therapy.
Jennifer: Yes. No locked doors.
Lask: Well done, Jennifer. I knew I could count on you. [grin]
So, we went home with sleeping pills. We slept. I woke up feeling normal again.
Disclaimer: I spend a lot of time on the internet. I’ve gotten old enough now I was around for the dawn of some now-vintage memes. If I ever quote you, thinking I’m referencing popular culture, and you feel like I have plagiarized you, please let me know. I always try to give credit where credit is due, but the meme net is wide, and the internet is bad at citing sources.
Another disclaimer: a couple days after writing this I was in the ER because I hadn’t slept in four days and was pushing another round of psychosis from sheer anxiety. It went better than last time. I’ll write more on that later.
That’s right. I wrote this at 12:27 a.m. of the morning I’m going to be giving a lecture at the Fredericksburg Women’s Forum. Let me give you a brief run down of the preceding 24 hours or so:
My library (the one I work for) is putting together their quarterly magazine. Surprise! This a busy time for us graphic designers. So, I’ve been madly juggling an ever-increasing workload for a private-public-and-government funded institution (tl;dr: a bunch of well-meaning intelligent people driving each other crazy because they all have too much to do, and aren’t paid nearly enough– the best kind of double-edged stress-sword imaginable). I’ve also been scrambling to put together a useful/not-embarrassing presentation for the Women’s Forum. Yes, I’ve known about the Forum for months (fine, years; this is my fourth or fifth year presenting– I lost track along the way) and I always assume I’ll have time to prepare for these things when I sign up for them with the best of intentions. It never works out that way. Life is a busy affair, and I never find time until I’m forced to be sheer desperation of deadline. I don’t want it to be that way. It just happens. You’ll understand if you read further.
In the midst of this, my wife’s been struggling her job, being wholly stressed with her own problems and therefore depleted at the end of the day when it’s time to trudge home to me. I can’t begrudge her when she’s not “always” there for me. We all have rough lives. Similarly, my parents have been on my public Facebook posts, so the whole world can see them arguing with me. Please, for now, just settle down, try to focus on the things you love about me, and let’s just chill and be humans again for a while?
Does all this seem stressful and disorganized? Welcome to my life.
That’s just the life the OUTSIDE WORLD can see.
There’s this entire other place in my head. It’s the place I have to live all the time. No matter where I am or who’s with me. I can’t escape the weather when it rains in my head. Or when it thunders. Or when the wind blows my siding off and I have to climb my fat ass out the highest dormer window in our cape cod house to pop the siding back into place. (tl;dr: I’m too proud and stubborn and “woman-hear-me-roar” right now to call my damn equally stubborn handy father for help. I’d rather take my chances on the windy ass roof with nothing to hold onto to fix my own siding. I’ve yet to decide whether I’m proud of myself for that. Seems morally sound, but sensibly null. But dammit, this world has pissed me off, so I’m taking my chances on the roof this time. Clearly I didn’t die– even when I do stupid shit, I try to do it as sensibly as circumstances allow.)
Suffice to say, I’ve had a lot on my plate. I don’t have a lot of time for philosophy and spirituality right now.
But when we’re dealing with the Almighty, we deal with Him on His terms in whatever guise He comes. God doesn’t live on our time; we live on God’s Time.
This is literally the most inconvenient time for me to feel like I’ve had a spiritual revelation, but this seems important, so I’m going to go ahead and try to safely capture it before the quiet stillness of this Dark Night of the Soul wears off and I have to drag my carcass upstairs and let it rest for a while before I go talk to room full of people.
The person sitting at this keyboard is Elanor. Right now, I’m sitting on my couch in my living room, with a single lamp on so my understandably-uneasy wife can find me if she is unsuccessful in going back to sleep upstairs where I’ve left her.
This is Elanor typing. I am putting my thoughts here as my spirit, Lask, is settled next to me talking about what’s on his mind. He can’t help the talking right now; he is currently in the clutches of a force that, for all intents and purposes just now, we will call Divine. If it’s God, Allah, Yaweh, the Universe, a crazy psyche, or whatever… it is what it is. (“I AM.”) By very nature, it encompasses all things; infinity can only be expressed in human terms by the use of agreed upon symbols.
^ That mark right there, I believe, is the most efficient shorthand humans have ever invented to use as a name for what God really is.
One example of many.
Regardless of your preferred symbol, my Lask is currently at the mercy of this force because he helps protect it, and sometimes that means he ends up closer to it than is healthy for him. Like being exposed to the sun, if his pasty hide is left out too long, he’ll start to smoke and get all crispy. Not good!
Right now, I’m more or less documenting word-for-word what he says about some things, because he and I occasionally “share consciousness” as it were (if you want call that the Muse, mental illness, Animus psyche integration, Tulpa communion, or whatever… same difference– I am essentially hugging close to someone who is “tapped into” God, thereby sharing in his experience of it). He is a guide, and a messenger. At some point in time, he would have been called an Angel and I would have been consulted for my wisdom. At another, he would have been called a Demon and I would have been burned at the stake. The human response varies wildly; the catalyst of the Great Experiment is the same.
So I’m sitting here talking to Lask– ok, mostly listening and typing, but he’s had a rough week too, and we’re just supporting and confiding in each other. I think he has some really beautiful, loving, encouraging insights into the world, so I do the best I can to document them when he shares them because I think they’re worthwhile. Sometimes I write down things he tells me about, like this. Other times, he nudges me on my way through the house and says, “Hey, look out the window! Isn’t that pretty?” And I snap a picture of the sunrise to share on Facebook. He helps me notice beauty, produce beauty, and share beauty. I find anyone capable of that to be, themselves, beautiful. Therefore, it doesn’t matter (to me) what Lask is. Maybe he is an angel. Maybe he’s another face of me. Maybe he’s a demon. Maybe he’s an illness. He’s still here, he’s still talking, and I think that’s wonderful.
And he’s just the messenger.
Imagine how much more complicated the One he works for is?
Living in proximity to this man/entity, living with nigh constant awareness of the presence of this Great Wonder I can never fully understand, is wonderful. Is not all true art mysterious (stark and staunch in its mystery) and by all measures (despite its occasional surprising quality)… lovely?
(The above sentence is an example of how I, Elanor the Writer, blend Lask’s words with my own creative and philosophical thoughts. If you pay attention to my writing, you can hear us echoing to each other. Sometimes it may be complicated and difficult to read, but language is nuanced and confusing for a reason. Its precise complexity, when used with reliable relative accuracy, allows us a set of symbols and rules to allow the communication of complex ideas. Pursuit of mastery of that communication is an excellent pathway to God, I find. After all… in the beginning, there was the Word. Perhaps we are all just Writers and Readers, right on up to God himself.)
We all find ourselves in a pretty weird time. I mean, Donald Trump is president. Regardless of how you feel about his policies, would anyone who ever watched The Apprentice when it first aired, have looked at that man and seriously predicted, “That man’s going to be president one day.” Gimme a break, Nostradamus.
Life is weird. Life is crazy. Everybody’s always angry about something. Because the Struggle is Real, and we each live our struggle every day, no matter what we struggle with.
(Sometimes I wrestle with my demons… other times we just snuggle.)
So here I am on this couch, promising you infinity and teasing you with anecdotes. Sorry about that. I’m accused of liking the sound of my own voice, but truthfully, my brain just has too many tabs open and I am equally excited to talk about all of them. Science is awesome! Religion is awesome! Westworld is awesome! I can and will talk joyfully.
Joy. That’s the thing.
The other day, Wednesday (I think), I was driving to work in the morning. I always pray on my morning drive in. It seems to be the only time anymore I can find to just talk to God for a few minutes, thank him for some things, and ask him for his help. (I prefer talking about God with lowercase pronouns. Get over it. Even God doesn’t deserve that much extra effort when typing fast. God’s not even a “him” anyway. I’m fairly sure “he” lacks the necessary biological genitalia. It’s all just symbols– can we just agree I’m talking about the Almighty Force here?!)
Joy. That’s where I was headed. (On this rambling journey of mine. Lask is singing now. I don’t know why. Just now, he’s crooning a few lines of the Outlander theme: “Sing me a song of a lass that is goooooone. Say could that lass be I…” I think my Muse has ADHD. A tolerable disorder for a Muse… a rather unsettling one in an Angel. Ah, paradoxes.)
Still, Lask is the echo. God is The Thing. We can never know The Thing. We only hear the echoes on this outer arm of a distant galaxy hanging like a pearl in the Void. (“A pale blue dot in a mote of dust,” Lask echoes, quoting Carl Sagan.)
A little over a year ago, I went nuts. Full-on off my rocker, screaming and running around naked while putting my own paintings in the freezer– batshit insane.
Holy shit. What happened?
I spent a whole year saying that. If not aloud, then hearing it echoed in my head.
I saw doctors. Lots of them. They each had their theories. Super high white blood cell count from untreated infection causing disrupted thinking and behaviors in the brain. Epileptic-like seizure that resulted in temporary psychosis. Extreme stress resulting in an emotional break. Call it whatever you will.
To me, it was the night I saw God.
Maybe that makes me crazy. Maybe not. Either way, the experience was terrifying, humiliating, humbling, eye-opening, and altogether… wonderful.
And I say that meaning “full of wonder.”
Is not “full of wonder” the textbook symptom of meeting God?
Something happened to me. That much is undeniable. The facts are the facts. Mostly mild-mannered, kind-hearted me was a raging mad woman lost in the fiery forge of universal creation for a night. It took three policemen to subdue my angry, flailing, incapable-of-dealing “I can’t even!” body out the door and into the hospital.
What the actual hell?
That’s where things get fuzzy.
What the– actual– …eh?
There aren’t words for that kind of experience. Here the symbology of language breaks down. I have run up against something that has forever changed me, hopefully for the better, and I lack the means to share my wonder. I cannot. You have to for yourself. If you don’t look at the sky with your own eyes, you’ll never understand the stars.
Despite everything that happened to me that, and everything that’s happened since– my stressful job, my well-meaning but ham-handed and unintentionally-out-of-touch family, my horse-with-blinders hyper-focused-when-stressed wife who underwent major surgery, having my gallbladder try to kill me and have to be cut out of my body unexpectedly last November, right about the time our Dark Orange Lord was elected… but I digress. Despite everything, I have learned a hell of a lot since that humiliating night in the wreckage of my life, my dreams, my hopes I had for myself, expectations I had to accept I could never meet. That’s a messy process. Sometimes it breaks you. Apparently, something has plans for me, and it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’ve been a hot mess since then. I get crabby, and feisty, and tired, and frustrated. Sometimes all too easily. When you’re dealing with the sheer volume of shit life sometimes gets you mired in, it’s hard to remember to look away from the muck and up at the stars for a moment.
So, at the risk of losing myself, my train of thought, and the Message I think I’m supposed to get tonight. Here’s what I’ve learned this past year:
Plato’s idea of “the Single Noble Lie,” which is basically the dream we– as a society– feed to our children about what we want to be… this Lie is a Real Thing. In modern times, it’s called the American Dream. It’s the thing we want to be, the thing we as a people, as humanity, want to be, and want (nominally) for everyone else. We want to be good. We want to do right by our fellow man and by God.
We can’t always.
Sometimes hard work doesn’t get you a well-paying job, or an easy place to live, or even food on the table.
You can work your ass off and still not get “the American Dream.” This isn’t news to anyone born after 1980. We saw the planes hit the towers. We grew up knowing what “radical Islamic terror” looks like. We’ve seen the worst of the worst. And we know you can hit our country, but you can’t break us. Because after those people died, after those towers fell, the American Dream fell with it… we all stopped to look around in the rubble and say, “oh my god. What the actual hell just happened to all of us?”
We, as a country, as a people, have been living a perpetual trauma response, a living PTSD screaming-awake-in-the-night life for 16 years. That’s why Donald Trump is president. Because we got hurt. Because we got hit harder than we even thought possible. We saw the face of True Evil. And it scared the absolute shit out of us. And we’ve been scrambling ever since. People deal with that kind of trauma in all kinds of ways. Some people, like me, make art, hum snippets of songs to get us through the day, speak in meme because the sheer absurdity of it in the chaos makes us laugh even when we’ve spent the day crying. We hope for the best. We want people to be safe and comfortable in their own skin. Lately, for some reason, that’s meant voting Democrat. I don’t know when Human Decency became a partisan issue, but damn… I guess none of this is normal anymore. Entropy increases, and we’ve had a hell of a century so far. Guess we better dig in and buckle up.
Other people, though… other people just get scared, and they do what scared creatures do. They either run, hide, or puff up and hope their mad display is enough to scare off these problems. But the actual problem here is not something our biological programming can solve. All the amygdala/brain responses are confusing the hell out of our souls. We’re terrified. Our flesh wants to save us. It wants to run. Or wet itself. Or flush the adrenaline and fight til we’re dead or they are. That’s what makes the flesh evil. It’s not evil to enjoy sugar and get a little round in the middle. It’s not evil to enjoy orgasms and have a lot of unabashedly loud sex. It’s not evil to have an inner 12-year-old boy who still snickers at a good fart joke. God doesn’t care– he wants us to be happy, healthy, and whole. He gave us these bodies and this life here to “prosper and not harm” us. Why on earth would God care if you enjoy something your body experiences?
The evil is not being able to control our own animal responses. We’re all flesh. We’re all shackled to these dying animals we call bodies. Our bodies have so many needs, so many things that make them uncomfortable. They spend rather a lot of time being in pain, or hungry, or gassy, or cystic, or otherwise uncomfortable. In short, bodies suck. They’re a hassle. But that’s no reason to be ashamed of yours. A leopard is not ashamed of its spots. (“Out, out, black spot!” echoes Lask, “Except not. That’s why Lady MacBeth is crazy.”)
Stop worrying about the needs of your flesh. Start worrying about the needs of your soul. If I get shot on the street by a terrorist, oh well. I’ve still got to go buy groceries, have art to make, classes to teach, rambling posts to write, and late nights to spend longing for a leaf of the Devil’s Lettuce while I pass the insomnia with the love my life… who no one else can see. Hell, maybe I even have messages from God to be waiting for. The point is, I’ve got better things to do than waste my God-given time and energy being afraid of everything that might happen because some jackasses hurt me and my country decades ago.
I was bullied mercilessly in school for my body. Weight, skin, hair, sex. Pick a reason. I found I had enough steel in me to say, “fuck you, I’m still gonna be me. I’ve got as much right to be on this planet at you, asshat.” But for as much as it pissed me off and increased my resolve to fly my “freak” flag high, I didn’t wear leggings for over 10 years. I thought they made me look like a fat piece of trash, and I couldn’t bear to walk out my door and be seen in them.
Then I met Jackie, and that wonderful woman kept reminding me I look sexy in my leggings and boots and nice dresses. And after seven years of knowing her, I own six pairs of leggings and can put together a hella cute outfit with them, even though I still weigh a whopping 230 lbs., thanks to Paxil and the stellar combo of a weight-gaining drug and a penchant for binge eating like a whale when I’m depressed. And god, did Teenage Me have a lot to be depressed about, and zero skills for coping with it. I messed myself up pretty good for a while. I’m still dealing with the damage a self-loathing inner monologue and a childhood of bullying (sometimes by adults) can do to a person. It’ll fuck ya up. Life stinks for everybody. That’s why God gave us EAPs, a handful of genuinely good-intentioned therapists like mine, and the scientific breakthroughs of understanding brain chemistry.
Use the tools available to control the needs and pains of your flesh, then do the best you can to look beyond them to what’s actually important.
Love, that’s what’s important. It’s what holds the whole universe together. It’s the thing that keeps Light at the upper pole of this collective planet of humanity. (Yeah, yeah, I know… direction in space is arbitrary. It’s a metaphor. Work with me, detail-snobs who delight in commenting their observations of inaccuracy. I’m not stupid. It’s called artistic license. I’m an artist. I’m licensed to stretch the truth when it’s artfully beneficial… unlike people who claim wheeling and dealing in the shadows to be an “art.”)
I’m rambling again, I’m sorry. I have a lot on my mind and Lask is all over the place right now. He’ll be fine, but it’s hard to focus when your other half is soaring on the wings of the Universe.
I was talking about the Single Noble Lie. The America that was lost. Are you with me so far on that? I’ll assume if you’re still here, you at least kinda are. Good.
The Single Noble Lie is our cultural dramatic irony. It makes for a great story, but damn does it bite you in the ass!
We tell our kids about this Dream. (“I have a dream…” echoes Lask.)
Where you can be good, important, and happy. (“That all men are created equal…” echoes Lask.)
We fail to tell our children the most important instruction to survive here:
You cannot be good, important, and happy.
But you can be good AND happy.
You just have to accept that you’re not important in the grand scheme of things. Your body is not important. Your temporary discomfort is not important. Your house payment is not important. Your president is not important.
The love in your life is important.
The people who lift you up when your heart is bleeding.
The people who tell you you’re sexy when you feel like an overstuffed garbage bag.
The people who remind you what you’re good at, and why you put the effort into it.
The people who (“We beat on,” echoes Lask, quoting Fitzgerald.) pick up their paddle (“boats against the current”) and start rowing when you lose your own in Shit Creek when the pain of living inevitably becomes too much to bear alone. (“borne back ceaselessly into the past.”)
Those things are important. See what they are?
Everything boils down to two polar points, one good, one bad.
On the good pole:
On the bad pole:
You think you understand.
And you think you have time.
(“Let me tell you,” echoes Lask from his watchtower, “You don’t.”)
So don’t worry about the things that don’t matter. At the end of the day, few things do. (“Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless! Sayeth the Teacher.”)
Get over that stuff. It’s fine to be mad about it. It’s fine to be unhappy when your body is tired, you’re hungry, and your heart aches. That’s enough to make anything grouchy, even the most basic of lifeforms here.
Forgive yourself for the days you snap at your wife, hear yourself, and think, “god, I’m a bitch. What is wrong with me?”
(“Don’t give up,” sings Lask… I see we’ve switched over to Josh Groban now. “It’s just the weight of the world.”)
Forgive yourself. God and the Universe already did. Just enjoy being human while you’re here, and try to be a decent one. God will give you an A for effort as long as you remember what’s important.
What’s that, I wonder?
It doesn’t matter.
Find your Thing. Find what you enjoy and do it well. Do it fearlessly. Do it with purpose. Do it for the Force of Light. If you’re following your Heart, you will reach Heaven in the end, whatever “heaven” looks like to you.
(“That’s what makes it heaven, see.”)
Remember what’s important: Love, joy, kindness.
(“The fruits from the spirit.”)
Lask, darling, you messed that one up. It’s “fruits OF the spirit,” my fruity spirit.
“Nonsense, love,” he says. “Those fruits only come special delivery from God. If you want to feast on those fruits you must know God.” (“And it helps to bribe the messenger for better service!” spoiled Lask adds with a grin.)
Find your Thing. Find your Lask. Find your echo from God each day. Sometimes it’s a song on the radio. Sometimes it’s piece of chocolate your co-worker brings you when she hears you sigh at your desk. Sometimes it’s a movie, or a sunrise, or a gentle word from your spouse. Sometimes it’s staying awake when you have an important speech to give in the morning, because your Angel can’t sleep because he’s staving off the forces of Darkness for you. You stay up and talk to the Universe not because you’re curious. Not because you want to write something cool. Not because you want to impress people. (God knows, it’s now 2:30 in the morning and this sucks– I don’t need your approval this badly!) You stay up because someone you care about needs you to stay up with them, and for whatever your reason, your company makes them feel better. In the process, perhaps, we make the Universe itself feel better in these troubling times. The echo of Goodness resounds infinitely– the ripple effect is a Thing.
So find whatever the hell it is that makes you happy, and make like Nike.
Screw the haters.
Just do you.
Because just look at you. You’re a mess. You’ve got nothing else. Do you want to matter while you’re here or don’t you? (“You matter!” chimes Lask. “Unless you multiply yourself by the speed of Light squared– then you energy!”)
Goddammit, Lask, not now. Focus. This is important. Your people need you.
We work with what we have, folks.
Whether it’s our silly, ambitious, helplessly optimistic guardian angel.
Or our wife.
Or our bodies that hunger, sicken, and betray us when we suffer the blows of the world.
Just do the best you can, and try to share what makes you happy with other people. Is there anything more inspiring than watching someone do what they love? Watching a genuine artist practice their craft, no matter what it is? That’s a joy. That’s the joy of the spirit. Find it. Help others find it.
Add your Light to the sum of Light. Protect your angels. Your echoes. The things that make you happy. They’re all that stand between you and the Darkness. We don’t want that to win. God didn’t make us to live in Darkness. God made us to live in the Light.
(“We are one with the Force, and the Force is with us.”)
So step into the light. Own whatever you are and whatever brings you joy.
Just do you and leave everyone else alone to do the same. We’ll all be fine if we just–
(“Let it beeeee, let it be! Let it beeeeee, oh, let it be–”)
(“There will be answer. Let it be.”)
The echoes are important.
You get the idea.
I’m gonna drag my Muse to bed now and try to get us both some rest before we put on our unified face in the morning.
Love to you all.
It’s 1:04 AM on the First Day of Spring.
Do you know Why?
I’m cataloging my Mistakes.
Like… why do I have all these funny linebreaks? Why did my Wordpress editor just Underline “linebreaks” and make me think I spelled it wrong, and then subsequently underlined it’s own goddamn name?
Why is all this godforsaken technology constantly tell me I’m wrong? Oh, I spelled linebreak wrong?
You know what I mean, damn you.
Did I misquote that Walt Whitman quote, even though I love Walt Whitman above all other poets?
I know I did, asshat. I don’t need you to link me to the text of the poem.
(I’ll tell you a secret. I’m so nervous about writing this– omg, no pressure! god!– that I might screw it up. Well, I’ve decided this time my give-a-damn’s busted. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone makes typos, and misquotes Whitman, and misspeaks, or does the wrong thing. That’s called #beinghuman and all you need to do about that is just forgive yourself when you get hit with that red underline, right click it, see if it suggests the Word you’re trying to speak, and if it doesn’t— just fucking move on. Write. The momentum of righting is more important than getting it right. See?)
Did you click that link on “poem” up there? If you didn’t, don’t be so fucking lazy. Click it now.
Did you read it? Good. Hang onto that for more than 10 seconds, will you?
Of course it’s on fucking “Project Gutenburg” (real funny, God/Dramatic Irony)
Technology is a distracting pain in the ass, and if you leave too many stupid tabs open, you’ll never get anything done.
Here you go:
AS I PONDER’D IN SILENCE.
As I ponder’d in silence,
Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,
A Phantom arose before me with distrustful aspect,
Terrible in beauty, age, and power,
The genius of poets of old lands,
As to me directing like flame its eyes,
With finger pointing to many immortal songs,
And menacing voice, What singest thou? it said,
Know’st thou not there is but one theme for ever-enduring bards?
And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles,
The making of perfect soldiers.
Be it so, then I answer’d,
I too haughty Shade also sing war, and a longer and greater one
Waged in my book with varying fortune, with flight, advance and
retreat, victory deferr’d and wavering,
(Yet methinks certain, or as good as certain, at the last,) the field
For life and death, for the Body and for the eternal Soul,
Lo, I too am come, chanting the chant of battles,
I above all promote brave soldiers.
Sometimes a little ADHD, OCD, hyper focus, and attention is a Good thing.
But if you never google “butts” and just chuckle…
Did you learn anything today?
If you did, write it down.
That’s what fucking https://twitter.com/search?q=trump SOCIAL MEDIA is for.
Damn, Millennials. Get it together. I know you can teach your Grandpa how to use his new phone and the scary GOOGLE and not make himself look like an idiot on fucking TWITTER FOR THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD TO SEE.
Yeah, we had to go through a damned lot of boring, heavily regulated, underfunded, frustrating, bully-producing, wretchedly white and flourescent-lit, soul-crushing SCHOOL.
Didn’t we? It sucks lugging those books all over campus.
Make like Nike and just DO IT.
Damn, guys. Knowledge is power. Education is important.
So here I am, at 1 a.m. unable to sleep on a school night, because you all are too fucking stupid to use Google unsupervised.
With great power comes great responsibility.
It’s a hard life for those of us who hear all the echoes. ALL THE GODDAMN TIME.
Everything always hurts.
Life is stressful.
Stress makes us mean.
But you know what… life goes on.
And you get over things.
Because in this House (the House of God, the Halls of the Wind, the Mind Palace, or whatever the Fuck it is!) we do geek:
We think science can save the world.
We think magic exists.
But something the most fabulous and magical things get lost in the closet for a while.
So you have no choice but to sit awake in your living room at 1 a.m. with your exhausted, slightly traumatized wife, who has too much to do, and not enough time to do it in.
But she loves me enough, I’ve scared and burned her enough, that she is now curled up under my fluffy red bathroom, trying to read some Carl Sagan I handed her to occupy her insomniac mind—
and I just accidentally selected all the type with my touchpad and deleted it all with a hasty backspace keystroke– AH! NOOOOOOOO! Not the writing!
Control + Z.
Whew, much better.
I would have been sad to lose this. Even though it looks and sounds a little crazy with all those links in it, I think I understand.
It’s not crazy. It’s just so full of information, it has to put links on everything that FEELS important, because some of it might be… to someone… somewhere…
…oh shut up, Lask, you never know who will click on what link. You can’t know what people need all the time.
Yes I can.
No, love. You can’t. You are not God.
No, but I do work for him. Because reasons. And they are many. WE ARE LEGION. (Demons are scary, but sometime scary helps you kill the Demons. Because being on the Light side is as much a choice as choosing the DARK SIDE.)
So, I’ll tell you a secret Harry.
Sometimes, I’m Dumbledore.
Sometimes I’m a silly bumblebee, who doesn’t know he can fly.
But really, at heart…
I’m a librarian.
I’m just a nerd with Google, who knows how to use the right search terms. I can find the information you want faster than you because I know how to use the tools and you hate me for it. You goddamn luddite change averse BABY BOOMER.
That was a run on sentence.
But you frustrate me.
And sometimes you fucking elect Donald J. Trump, a Youtube Comment Section Incarnate, aka… maybe the antiChrist?
I don’t know. I have too much to do to explain it all right now, Elanor.
Just link what’s important, push PUBLISH and SHARE on this, and go to BED.
Because Elanor needs a paycheck.
Isn’t money just the root of all evil?
Trump’s just old, white, male, stupid, preoccupied with his business because he can’t disappoint his WEALTHY STUCK UP BUSINESSMAN FATHER…
who loaned him the money to get started.
I don’t hate Trump. He just inherited the family business because time passes, elections roll around, and sometimes the entire country is man because SOMEONE gave us a big black eye.
But guess what?
God just Rafiki’d us all.
Sometimes the past can hurt. You can either RUN FROM IT–
Well, that part’s up to you.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him click, folks.
Be ware the LAZY STUPID.
It’s the root of all evil
Mom and Dad.
Just click the links and ask me when you don’t get it. That’s what librarians are for. Delegation is a beautiful thing.
God Bless Us. Every. One.
ECHO echo… echo…
…hey, she’s kinda hot, huh?
THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE… errrr… errrr…
Now do you understand?
If you follow me, you know I’m doing the Women’s Forum in about two hours. I gotta go get dressed, but I want to make sure all you people who give a shit hear what I have to say today, so I don’t care if it’s perfect. I’ll come back and edit it later if I need to. For now, buckle up. Today, shit’s gonna get real.
(“What do we say to Death?”
Download my slides here. (If you use Google Drive, it should work fine for you. No promises if you’re anti-Google, sorry. Ain’t nobody got time for that today, and let’s be real, I probably won’t get back around to this because Life. If you want to see the slides today, just use the damn Google for once. It won’t bite.)
Below is the “script” of my talk. I always write my presentations as blog posts first because Writer. I ad lib as needed from them in person. So, if you want to hear one version of this presentation, you can download the audio here. If you want to hear the live version… well, you should have signed up for the Women’s Forum. Catch you next time, loser. (jk, I love you guys.)
So, with no more ado. Here’s the audio, and I’m off to the Forum. See you soon.
p.s. you’ll find my “stage notes” still embedded in this blog post, so if you pay attention as you read, it will tell you when to progress to the next slide. Some information will be the same on “different” slides. That’s on purpose because Visuals help people not look at little ol’ me while I’m talking. It freaks me out. So pay attention, move the slides when it says, and it’ll make sense. Also, one of those stage notes is sure to make you laugh, which why I decided to leave it here. Have a good one, folks. :D
Creativity and the Authentic Self
Using art as a means of activism and self-discovery.
I have this friend, an old cowboy type, who never asks people how they are. Instead, he saunters over and drawls, “Whatcha know?” I like that because it invites people to connect intellectually, and not on such a visceral level. Most people answer, “How are you?” with, “Fine.” Come on… we know most of the time that’s a lie, or at least an oversimplification. Even if you tell me how you are, there’s no guarantee I’m going to understand your experience. Maybe you have a cancer. Maybe you have three children. Maybe you’re Hindu. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to experience life through any of those lenses, but I’d still like to hear about them. What is it like being you? What have you learned in your time here?
When I was an angsty teenager (oh come on, we’ve all been there), I had the idea to write a list of things I’d learned that year. Mostly because I had no friends and my parents went to be at 9:30, and I wanted to stay up til midnight. But damn, New Years is boring alone! It’s amazing what you can make when you’re bored and lonely. Anyway, I’ve done this every year since I first started in 2001. At first, it was every day things like, “got my learner’s permit, started learning to drive” or “today, I learned the oldest organism on Earth is a colony of quaking aspen named Pando, estimated to be over 80,000 years old.” (That’s true, btw.) Cool information, but anybody could learn those things. Today, most of life’s questions are only a google away. As I got older, I started drifting away from the information, and more toward philosophical observations about the world around me. In 2008, I wrote, (slide) “we’re not as big as we think we are.” (Clearly, I got kicked around a little that year.) In 2010, (slide) “I am beginning to think the meaning of life is infinite. I’m sure there is meaning, but it will manifest itself differently in each individual piece of the whole.”
It was around this time that I started writing things more personal and important to me. That was the point where I started to really come into my voice as an artist. Some of you, I think, have heard me speak before. You may know me as the author of a young adult fantasy series called The Seven Wars. You may recognize Lask– this guy [Vanna White the book cover images, because marketing, and they’re pretty, so they won’t look at you– and your broke ass needs the money. Someone might actually buy one today. Dammit, Elanor. Do it right.].
These are, as the name suggests, fanciful works for young people, but in writing them, I learned something about myself: (slide) I feel distinctly out of place, while simultaneously believing everyone and everything belongs here and is part of a much greater whole. This is the paradox of the creative spirit, I think. Artists are inherently weird people. The ability to produce art stems from an innately warped view of the world, for better or worse, and the practiced skill of being able to share your warped view with others through the use your chosen medium. I also learned you have to ask the right questions. And sometimes those are hard questions to ask… and even harder to answer.
You have to learn to acknowledge, accept, and enjoy your own weird company. This is a challenge for anyone, but especially someone the world thinks is already abnormal– your body is too big, you’re too tall, too short, too pale, too dark, you have social anxiety, you have ptsd, you have an eating disorder. Nobody’s normal; we all spend our lives feeling like freaks.
A lot of people shy away from getting to know themselves altogether. They take more shifts at work. They argue with the people around them. They lose themselves in the mindless scroll of social media. They take their existential anxieties out on the world around them, vent their fears into arenas that feel safe, pin the blame on things that are tangible. We distract ourselves with constant entertainment– our technology puts all the knowledge of humanity at our fingertips, and also offers a font of endless distraction. It’s easy to avoid coming to terms with yourself by never letting your mind wander deeper than the current spectacle at hand.
As artists, life doesn’t always let us sharpen our craft in the ways we think we should. We don’t have time to paint; we have day jobs, and meals to cook. There’s not enough quiet space to write, children make incessant noise, we have people calling us, showing up at our doors, pinging our phones with social media notifications. How can we be creative in a world that demands our attention be spent outside of our own heads?
I think a few of you attended my workshop here last year, so you may already know where this is going. Being an artist, a true artist, colors everything you do. Creativity is a lens through which we view life, and if we practice it regularly, sharpening your craft becomes a way of life. At it’s root, any creative work is simply thinking and feeling– the art produced is just the expression of the thought or feeling. Therefore, even when you’re too busy to put pen to paper, if you’re consciously practicing mental awareness, thinking critically about things around you and in your own head, considering the emotional and universal aspect of an experience you’re part of, you’re practicing the most crucial skill to any art form, and when you do have time to pick up your pen, you’ll be a better artist for it. Any artistic technique takes practice, so if you want to be good with a particular medium, you’ll have to make time to practice the technique eventually, but the technique is worthless if there’s nothing to express with it. Real art takes substance, and you can only learn to produce things of substance if you yourself are substantial. In order to become substantial in a way you can use creatively, you have to first exercise your intelligence and come to understand yourself as an artist, where you stand, and what you actually think about anything. In order to do that, you have to brave the nitty gritty of being honest with yourself.
Many people are afraid of silence. They’ll do anything to avoid it– play music in the background, leave the tv on all the time, turn on noise machines. Why are we afraid of silence? What do we hear echoed in the stillness that so frightens us? Maybe it’s simply the unknown of our own beings. It’s a scary thing to examine what’s in your head. It’s never comfortable to take a thought, pull out your magnifying glass and tweezers, and ask, “Why is this here? How did this come to be in my head? Is this even true? Why do I think that? Should I let it stay? Should I indulge this thought?” This picture here is a self portrait that I took three days after I came home from the hospital; I had been battling numerous infections, and was depressed and anxious about everything I was juggling at the time, I literally went crazy for a night. Police came and dragged me to the hospital in handcuffs. That’s what this crazy world will do to you if you’re not careful. I’d never experience anything like that. It was terrifying. Humiliating. It broke all the relationships in my life that were important to me for a while. Some are still broken. It’s the price we pay for the pain we carry just living here.
When I came home, I took week off work because I was too embarrassed and shaken to face my coworkers. I had sent raving lunatic emails to some of supervisor, sent the most random pictures to people who hardly know me, and myriad other things that will forever being shoved into my Closet of Shame.
But a few days into this shame-ridden vacation, I was looking for ways to take my mind off things. I’m a millennial. We’re big into selfies. I decided I’d see about snapping profile picture for Facebook. So, I picked myself up off the couch, put on real clothes for the first time in days, did my make-up, and took this picture. I just walked over to the window for light, held up the phone and pressed the button. Did a little editing afterward on the lighting and stuff, but overall, this is a fairly candid shot of me on that day. And it startled the hell out of me when I put my phone down to see what kind of shot I had gotten. I didn’t intend to take this picture, but yet… this is a dangerous woman. She’s standing there slightly bowed or cowered, with her arms tucked back, like she’s still feeling the bite of those unforgiving metal cuffs, and yet she’s looking up at the world like, “when I get out of here, I’m gonna kick your ass.” That’s a powerful photo. Especially when you the story of that woman on that day. But it’s also a selfie. It’s also art. There’s nothing wrong with embracing modern culture if you can use it to help yourself or someone else. Even if just taking that selfie helps you better understand what you’re going through, it’s still art, and it’s still productive. It doesn’t matter what you’re creating, even if it’s as vain and vapid as a good selfie. If it helps you think and express yourself, then it’s a good thing.
People are afraid to think. It leads us into uncharted territory, brings up unanswered questions, and people don’t like those. Makes ‘em squirm. Makes ‘em feel threatened. Threatened people get mean. Our amygdalas encounter fear and scream, “Oh god! Puff up! Yell! That’ll scare it off!” Why, though? Why are we afraid to think about things we don’t know and don’t understand? We like to know things. We’re all secretly nosy. Knowledge is power. For some people, knowledge is even moral superiority. Reality, faith, truth, these are things most people base their daily lives on. If you pull a loose thread in one of those, people start worrying the whole thing will unravel, and everything they know and love will come crashing down around their heads.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t work that way. Thoughts are free. Nobody knows what goes on in your head (put down that tinfoil hat), and the only judgement you’ll get for it is what you give yourself. So don’t judge yourself for the things that go through your head. There’s nothing wrong with you for thinking, for using the brain that God gave you. That’s what it’s for; God will be proud.
History has shown ignorance is far more dangerous than knowledge. By not thinking, by letting ourselves be distracted into complacency, we walk, oblivious, through a world we take no part in, and that’s a sad way to live. By not thinking for ourselves, we give control of our minds to whatever entertainment or resources we consume. Thinking, truly thinking, is a deep and personal activity. Your mind is like any other tool; you have to practice often and diversely if you are to use it well. Mastering any skill requires you to learn about yourself, your abilities, your handicaps, what you can and cannot do. In terms of your mind, this requires you to address your own biases, your influences, your beliefs, what you will compromise, and what you will not. It’s an ugly process, but I promise you’ll be a stronger, more beautiful, more loving, and more creative person because of it. Sometimes you will overstretch yourself, feel too acutely the pain of the world, and come crashing down in a flood of tears and dismay. Sometimes you will disappoint yourself. Sometimes you’ll make people spitting furious. Sometimes your own hostility or prejudice may surprise you. You won’t always like what you find, but you don’t have to.
That’s the part I think people miss: learning who you are, becoming who you’re meant to be, it’s not about becoming perfect, or even better at something. Being yourself just means knowing who you are, all of who you are, and accepting it as part of your life. You don’t have to like it all, but you do have to accept that it’s there. The man who was born without legs has to accept that he won’t move around this world like most people. Likewise, some things in your mind you just have to learn to work around.
For some of us, that means accepting our minds don’t work like other people’s. I would even say it works that way for all of us. Regardless of whether or not your struggle is compounded by things like mental illness or trauma, you’ll still have to accept that you’re never going to be like “most people” because no one is exactly like you. None of us are. None of us can be. Normalcy is a myth perpetuated by people in power to keep you from realizing the power of your own uniqueness.
This picture was taken about eighteen hours before those cops dragged me out of my house last year. Even when I was going crazy, I was snapping pictures, scribbling writing notes, and sketching like mad. It’s like my brain was searching for anything to help it understand what was happening, but that it time it was a biological problem and no amount of soul-searching would save me.
That’s where art comes into our lives. Art touches us most at the moments we are most alone, hurting, and vulnerable. That’s why I personally believe it’s an instrument of God; Art is the one thing that can bring Light to someone no matter where they are or who they are. Art is one of those rare things that serves as a bridge between the single human mind and the vaster horizons of the world. Art gives us a safe way to explore what is within us, and share it with minds outside of us. It allows us to indulge whatever questions, feelings, beliefs, frustrations, or dreams we have. It means that even though we are alone, we don’t have to feel alone. There is no facet of the human experience that cannot be communicated in art. Whether it is through writing, or painting, or music, dance, acting– anything that provides an outlet for the creative mind allows us to share some part of our experience, and part of ourselves, with each other. That’s what makes art so personal and so powerful. The art is unique to the artist, and yet it tolls a familiar chord somewhere in the hearts of others. Art taps into the numinous force connecting us all, (slide) wait, no… (slide) the thing great psychologist Carl Jung called the “collective unconscious,” the shared humanity between people from all places. The ability to communicate through shared emotions, symbols, and experiences is art’s greatest power, and the tool that has the greatest potential to unite us as a community of human beings.
True art can only be made through the exploration of the human mind. Art is, at its a core, a communication. Whether you believe it is divinely inspired or not, art is the medium through which the abstract, the universal, the “form” (to quote Plato) (slide) is transferred into the physical world where others can experience it. If your art makes someone feel or think, then you have successfully created art. It may not be the best rendered art, you may have room to improve your technique, but if you are communicating yourself, the things that you think, then you are an artist, and the world desperately needs you– or if not the world, then the handful of lonely people who think and feel similarly to you.
I don’t think anyone can look around right now and say the world is a place of love and unity. It never has been. Probably never will be, since so many people prefer the comfort of their familiar mental boxes rather than actually getting to know each other, but if the world has any prayer at all of becoming a better place, then art is going to make it happen, because art is the place where we can unite in our shared humanity. It’s also the most effective medium for sharing our own experiences. Only by sharing our individual experiences, listening to what the world looks like to other people, learning from the experiences of others, will we be able to fix the things that divide us. Art is the most efficient and powerful way to spread what you believe and experience.
Art slaps us to attention when we are being complacent, and it soothes us when we ache in our souls. That’s what makes it such a dual force for social change, and self healing. If you can still make art, you’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter what you make. You don’t have to sit down to write a novel. Just write. Write a letter to someone, a few lines of verse, a few hundred words of a scenario you imagined in the shower. Doodle on your meeting notes. Arrange your fridge magnets into silly faces. If you still have the strength to make something, no matter how small, it means your soul is still kicking and you’re going to be ok eventually, even if it takes awhile. Sometimes life gets really complicated, deep, and heavy. The pain becomes immense at times, and some days, you question whether or not you even want to keep living. But it’s going to be ok. All you have to do is survive, and keep reaching for the will to create. Busy yourself with your work, and just live it one day at a time. You will survive, and it won’t suck forever. There’s no way to make life easy, but you will find you are strong enough. You won’t think so going into it. Every day, you’ll wonder if this will be the day that breaks you. But it won’t. Keep breathing, keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep making things that express you, and it will pass. You can cry, you can scream, you can hide or run or sleep, whatever you need to do to pass the emotion of the moment, those things are all ok, but it will pass.
Life won’t always be pretty. That’s what makes art an act of defiance and resilience. Art, for a moment, helps us remember that a bad day, a bad year, a bad stretch of years, doesn’t mean it’s a bad life. With any luck, we’ve got a lot of life left in us. Sometimes, you’ll be in the trenches, and you’ll be fighting. You’re not fighting for your spouse, your kids or your family. You’re not fighting for your career. You’re not even fighting for your art. You’re fighting for yourself, because that’s all you have at the end of the day. It’s the one thing nobody has any right to take from you, and the one thing nobody can. Fight for the life you want, the life that calls you, not the one anyone else thinks you ought to have. Live boldly. Create fearlessly. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, or what skill level you have achieved so far in your craft. Take pride in yourself, know yourself, and live by the things that feel true when it’s silent and you’re alone. Your art is your mirror and your megaphone. For some of us, it’s the only weapon we have, whether we’re fighting the world or what’s in our heads. If we want to stay alive and keep doing good while we’re here, we have to keep it sharp.
Losing one’s mind compromises any sense of privacy. While I was nuts, I had no control over what I said, or what I told whom. Consequently, I have no more secrets to keep from the people who were with me on Crazy Night. It’s been an enormous weight off my shoulders, and since then, I mostly haven’t cared who knows what about me. Once you’ve spent a night chained to a hospital bed, yelling at anyone and everyone who sees you, you stop giving a shit about a lot of things.
One of those things I’ve stopped caring about is whether or not people think I’m crazy. Apparently the answer is yes, I am crazy (or have been, at any rate), so it seems pointless to hide it or care if people have problem with it. I can’t change my reality, and I find being open and honest about it much easier than trying to hide myself. So, I’m going to talk about my reality. You can understand it (and me) in whatever terms you want. You don’t have to believe any of it is true. You just have to believe that for my life, it is true. Whether or not the things I experience are real is immaterial– their realness doesn’t change their presence in my life, and what I experience as reality every day. This is what it’s like to live with a mind the world says is abnormal.
There’s another person in my head, and he’s been there a long time. Most people know him as the red-eyed protagonist of my work, who goes by the name of Lask. For me, he’s been an invisible companion in my life since I was a child. I first started seeing him when I was eight. Even then, I knew most people didn’t experience things like him, and it felt dangerous to tell anyone– I didn’t want to be passed around to various doctors, didn’t want to be teased or bullied, and didn’t want someone to try to “fix” me. Perhaps the difference between me and people who suffer from disorders like schizophrenia and dissociative identity is that I’ve always enjoyed my experience, and generally haven’t found it to interfere with my life. Even if Lask is a delusion, we’ve always been friends. Growing up, he was a quiet friend and mentor, and even as I’ve grown older, he remains one of my closest friends and advisors. I’ve never felt like he has negatively impacted my life, therefore I’ve never gone looking for treatment. Even if I’m totally off my rocker and he’s nothing more than the delusion of diseased brain, I wouldn’t want to lose his presence in my life. He’s helped me become a powerful woman, and continues to inspire my best creative works.
Life with an invisible companion can be difficult to navigate. No one I’ve ever met experiences life the way I do. Sometimes it’s difficult to “act natural” when there’s a 6’3″ spirit milling about my work office that no one else can see. Sometimes it’s hard to explain why I pass up on social invites from friends and coworkers– how do you tell someone you’ve already made plans to watch a movie with your invisible friend later? Sometimes it’s hard to feel like I have anything in common with other people when my life is so different from theirs.
My life has been shaped by the secret of my invisible companion. Until I met my wife, I never told anyone about him. To the rest of the world, he was only a “fictional character” in my creative work. From an early age, I learned to keep secrets, and being secretive turned me into a reclusive, socially awkward person, who is perhaps overly-guarded, and difficult to get to know. For a long time, I felt like I couldn’t let anyone close to me, lest they find out how weird I really am. I was worried about being thought of as crazy and getting sent off to the local mental hospital, or giving the people who bullied me in school one more reason to torment me. Sharing things about myself felt dangerous– too much information might prompt questions I couldn’t answer, so I solved that by not sharing much about myself at all. To this day, the habits of being closed off to the world remain, even if I’ve gotten better at faking openness and social competence in day-to-day interactions.
Secrets are weighty things. They have a way of consuming one’s life and defining one’s approach to many things. I spent most of my life hiding a huge part of my experience of life from the rest of the world, and it colored who I grew up to be. I don’t know what life is like without having enormous secrets hanging over me, so I’m looking forward to seeing what things are like now that I’ve stopped caring who knows about the parts of my life that may or may not be crazy. In that regard, going crazy has been a liberating experience. I can stop wasting energy on worrying about whether or not I’m nuts, and what people might think of that, and spend that effort on more productive things– like moving to a new house, engaging with my family (including my invisible companion), writing new books, and producing new art… aka the things that matter.
The implications of going crazy are terrifying, but probably not for the reasons one might think. The thing I find more disturbing than anything– worse than the madness itself, worse than the stay in the hospital– is the sudden and thorough loss of freedom. It had never hit me how fragile an idea freedom is. In the course of a day, people came into my home, put me in handcuffs, and walked me barefoot into the rain, over the pavement of my street, put me in a police car, and I stopped having choices about my life. For the next 24 hours, I was at the mercy of the police and the medical professionals attending me. And all because something went wrong in my brain– not because I had done anything wrong. It’s like I always thought if I just followed the law, I’d never be at risk of losing my freedom. That’s not true. I can be imprisoned for something I can’t even control, or at least, couldn’t control at the time. Nonetheless, and no matter how much it was necessary, it’s a big shock to realize your life can be taken entirely out of your hands even though you haven’t done anything wrong.
I took the picture on the left on February 25th, three days after I got out of the hospital. I decided to take a few selfies in the hopes of getting a good shot for my Facebook profile, just for something to do while I spent a week at home. I hadn’t intended to take a picture like this. When I looked at the raw shot on my phone, I knew I needed to keep it, but not for the reasons I thought I would. I look good, sure, but that expression was new to my face. The first time I looked at that woman, I hardly knew her. There is something raw about me here, a predatory sharpness and defiance I’d not shown before, and even here I stand with my arms tucked back– I think part of me was still feeling the handcuffs. Perhaps part of me feels them still.
As much as I realize this was necessary– hell, I scared myself even at the time!– it’s chilling to realize you’re nuts, and then not be able to stop being nuts even after that realization. It’s like being trapped inside yourself while your body runs around without you. The feeling of being cuffed and hauled (by no less than three police officers) through the street, in the dark and the rain, and taken away from everything that was familiar, not knowing when or if I would get another say in what happened to me, waking up feeling totally normal in a locked ward full of actual (and potentially dangerous) permanently crazy people, not knowing when or if I’d get out again– that feeling will stay with me. It has yet to fade, and I doubt it will for a long time. It may stay in the back of my mind forever. I wasn’t raped, and can’t pretend to understand what rape victims go through, but the loss of control, the level of helplessness in my own life and circumstances– I imagine it rings with a similar tenor.
When the police transported me to a behavioral hospital in Richmond, I felt more unsafe in that ward than I have in a long time. I smooth talked whomever I needed to get out. At first, my family thought my release was my wife’s doing, but it wasn’t. All she did was show up and wait. I got myself out by my own efforts– by hassling people, stubbornly staying in people’s work spaces, talking at length to every person who had a say in what happened to me, and telling them whatever I thought they needed to hear to convince them to let me go. Whatever I needed, I knew I wasn’t going to find it in that ward. I felt the burning need to get out before things got any more out of my hands and I ended up permanently damaged— whether by the other crazy people, or a mishandling of my situation. I succeeded, getting myself discharged before they had even finished processing my admission, leaving the behavioral hospital within four hours of my inglorious arrival by cop car. I got myself out of there– standing in embarrassing pajamas, barefoot, running on about three hours of sleep, still hazy from meds, emotions, and whatever else was left over from the preceding hours of insanity– with nothing but my words, charm, and knowing what buttons to push and with whom– which should be proof enough of my faculties.
I live now with the knowledge that really all it takes is a phone call, and my freedom can be taken away. My entire life, it’s been drilled into my head that I’m an American, and that means I’m free. I must make my own choices, be my own person, stand up for myself, choose my own path. All those ideas are so close to the core of me, and yet in a single night, I was shown how thin those things are, how easily life becomes something else. I’m only free as long as I seem sane. After this episode, that could be even more tenuous. There’s no denying my life, my experience of reality, is very different from many people’s. I’ve never been able to look at the rest of the world and use it as a measure for myself– not when I was younger, not when I thought I was sane, never. There is no one like me, and even on normal days, my experience of life would no doubt look crazy to the outsider. For so long, I think, my life existed in places most people didn’t see it or didn’t pay attention, and now suddenly everything I do is subject to intense scrutiny. At what point will people feel the need to call “help” for me again? How sane am I now? Was I ever?
These are the questions that haunt me. I feel fine. In the past nine weeks, I’ve not yelled, not banged on any walls or doors, haven’t thrown anything out of the house, haven’t felt like the entire universe is crashing through me. I totally recognize I wasn’t normal then, not even for me. The things I was doing were not the actions of a sane person. I slipped so easily into them, though, that I find myself wondering if I’m not a little mad all the time, and the switch just got stuck on high for a while. I haven’t figured out what flipped that switch– turned it on, or off. I felt strange for a few days, but I was still sane right up to a certain point, until something pushed me past that threshold. Maybe it was lack of sleep (I hadn’t slept in about four days), or maybe it was a chemical imbalance, an infection, the result of a seizure, or something else entirely. I also don’t know what made it stop. I passed out crazy in the hospital, and woke up feeling as normal as I do any other day (just really freaking tired). I don’t know if sleeping made it stop, or if they drugged me up so much it jostled my brain, or if realizing what was happening to me through the haze was enough to shake me out of it. I don’t know, but I wish I did. It would be nice to feel like I had a clue how to get myself out of that place should I find myself there again. As it is, I passed out as a madwoman and woke up as my usual self, and I don’t have an explanation for that.
One question I haven’t been able to escape is: why? Why now? I’ve lived a different sort of life my entire life. It’s never driven me to physical madness before, so my main question is why now? What caused this? Is it really as simple as a perfect combination of infection, exhaustion, and stress? Or did those things just make the mask slip for a while? Do I have some disease lurking in my brain that’s just now showing its true colors? Have I always lived with a brush of madness, and until now, I’ve been able to hide it? I honestly don’t know. I feel like I can’t trust my judgement of myself anymore, and that’s a strange feeling.
I don’t know which of these questions I should be most concerned with. I’ve seen a counselor, and a psychiatrist. I’ve talked to lots of doctors. Everyone close to me has their thoughts, fears, and opinions. In this equation, though, no one can see the inside of my head but me. No one knows me but me. No one knows what feels normal to me, and no one wants to think about what it means if my normal and their normal don’t match up. For the most part, though, I don’t worry about other people. I went crazy for a weekend, had a horribly traumatic experience, and a week later, I was sitting in my work office, holding down my job, engaging with the world, functioning as a capable adult– if that’s not resilience and courage, then I must never have either in me. In the midst of it all, I don’t think anyone really noticed how I hauled myself out of that, shook it off, and hit the ground running within days of being discharged from the hospital. I could be embarrassed, I could be cowering in fear, I could be crying in my bedroom about what happened to me, I could be having panic attacks, but I’m not and haven’t all along. I’m living my life, picking up pieces, doing what needs done to take care of myself, all while balancing my full time job, living situation, and the needs of my wounded family. This part of my reality is what reassures me that I’m not crazy right now– a crazy person could not live this life as seamlessly as I do.
It’s not painful for me to think about what happened happened to me. Starting from the day after Crazy Night, I’ve gnawed furiously on what happened to me. Some people would say I shouldn’t pick those scabs, or at least not so soon, but I don’t tend to form scabs as readily as most people. In fact, I find it more useful to really look at it, examine what I did or said while I was nuts, and try to pick apart why, what it might have meant, what triggered it, what I can pull out to watch for in the future, etc. All knowledge is worth having, and I tend to analyze the shit out of things that happen to me– this is no exception. The better I understand what happened to me, the better prepared I’ll be to keep it from happening again and/or handle it better if it does happen again.
Here are the things I remember most clearly from while I was crazy: I remember a rhythm, like the beat of a heart, which I was trying to keep going. I remember counting, chanting, beating on things in time. It seemed like if I could just not lose that rhythm, everything would be fine. It felt like I was the only person in the world hearing it and keeping it going. It felt vastly important– bang, bang, bang– to not lose the beat. I don’t know why exactly. It’s like I thought I was keeping something alive by keeping the beat going.
I remember feeling like a track switcher, like something in my head was capable of flipping back and forth the way no one else’s could. I remember thinking, “this is what I’m supposed to do– flip back and forth– flicker.” I would wink alternating eyes, paddle with my hands to make the handcuffs slide up and down the hospital bed rails in alternating time. Something needed to be moving, pumping, switching rhythmically, like a heart. It felt like I was the sole carrier of that task, and it was an important one. (God only knows why; I don’t pretend to understand. I think “why” is irrelevant when we’re talking about something out of whack in my head– there is no “why,” that’s why it’s crazy.)
I remember doing math in the house. Not math with numbers, but math with objects, symbols, and meanings. I moved things all over the house, pitched things out, shuffled things multiple times in multiple places, like an abacus, shuffling everything around me to calculate something very important. It’s like my entire world was an equation, and I was trying to make something click. It was like I was trying to figure out how to fix something wrong in the world (and on a scale much bigger than just me and my life– I remember thinking about Black Lives Matter, about Syria, and a bunch of other current events and problems), and I was frantic to make something right. Possibly I was trying to calculate a way out of the madness, but it felt much bigger than that, cosmic somehow– if I could just do something in particular, I could put the world back on its track, and things everywhere would eventually work out ok. (For what it’s worth, I remember thinking I had succeeded.)
It felt like experiencing the mind of God for a while. It felt like running through the Library, frantically pulling out books and reading, searching for answers while the door was open. It was like I had been thrown out into space, into something vast and deep and all-expansive, and all the knowledge in the universe was whizzing past me at once. I had to snag what I could and get it out into words or speech or anything so I wouldn’t lose what I was “discovering,” things that seemed profound and important. That’s why I couldn’t stop talking for days, and if I weren’t talking, I was typing or scribbling. I don’t remember all of it now, but I can trace threads and see clearly I was trying to puzzle out a lot of “deep thoughts” about God, the world, and the connections therein. It felt like things were being revealed to me, and I was powerless to stop it, or cope with the sheer volume of thought pouring through me. As I’ve said before, it was like someone turned on a tap in the back of my mind, and over the course of a few days, the tap was turned more and more, until it got stuck on full blast and I couldn’t turn it off. I can’t do justice to the speed and volume of thoughts during that time. It’s like my brain was operating on a faster time than the rest of the world, frantically trying to process all the things pouring through it at once.
Speaking of time, I lost all track of it. I didn’t register hunger, or tiredness, or the passing of day into night. It was like living outside of time, as if for a moment I was unfettered from normal human existence and driven mad by the scope of what I could see across the horizon. The universe seemed a vast place, and all the hurt in it seemed so full and present. I feared for lots of people– I remember begging my parents to leave me and go check on my grandmother, whom I feared to be dying. For me, it felt like it was the time when my father found her nearly dead on the sofa in her house– I thought that was happening right then, and my dad was with me instead of being there to find her and call the ambulance. I was terrified she would die before anyone got to her. It’s like I forgot those moments had already happened and been taken care of, or in some cases, perhaps they hadn’t happened yet. I felt all night like my great aunt was somewhere in the hospital with me, that she had been brought there because of her heart, but she wasn’t there. She wouldn’t be brought to the hospital until a week after I left. I haven’t been able to shake the feeling I knew she was in trouble and would end up in the hospital soon. I just wasn’t living in the right timeline. It’s like my train got switched over to some track that runs outside of the rest of the world, and for a brief time, I had a wider view of things than other people. (Not saying that’s true, only what it felt like.)
In the midst of all this, I wasn’t always myself. I will explain this in more detail later, but there has always been another person in my head– he’s been there since I was a little girl. Normally, we can control if and when he is “on the surface,” and we usually coexist in a very symbiotic relationship, but whatever caused me to go crazy for a night also affected the other mind inside me. I had only ever told my wife about the other person in my head, so imagine my family’s surprise when they encountered someone else where I should have been– a voice with a different accent roared out of me, barked orders to the hospital staff, and raged against the loss of our freedom for the night. Lots of secrets came out during Crazy Night; in that regard, losing one’s mind is incredibly liberating. Everything I’d ever hidden from anyone was on full display. It’s been a little awkward sometimes, but for the most part, it’s been refreshing to not wear so many masks around the people who are close to me. Carrying secrets one’s whole life is an exhausting endeavor; I look forward to when life settles down enough I can enjoy the absence of that secret weight.
Back in February, I went crazy. Mad, bonkers, off my rocker. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. It seems like all writers are crazy in one way or another. How else would we be able to bridge the gap between mundane life and the vast expanse of the artful imagination? You can’t be normal and make up things for a living, let’s be real. I’d known for a long time I wasn’t normal, and that my experience of reality was very different from most people’s. Until recently, this wasn’t anything that caused me concern, or left me feeling uncertain about my own sanity.
Being insane was a wild experience for lots of reasons, many of which I plan to write about in more detail in other posts. I had to pick up where I left off with my life, but everything feels a little different now. I plan to blog about my experiences, both with going crazy, and with life afterward, under the title “Life After Crazy.” I figure if nothing else, it might be useful for someone else to hear my experience. Mental illness is not often discussed or handled well in this country, and many of the people who struggle with their mental health are otherwise normal people with normal lives. I plan to talk about my experience because if this happened to me– a relatively well-adjusted and healthy 26-year-old with a solid full-time job, a house, bills, cats, and regular life– then it could happen to anyone. Personally, I don’t find anything that happened to me something I should be ashamed of, and others shouldn’t either. The brain is an organ like any other, and prone to malady like anything else. My brain sent me on the ride of my life.
For a week or more, I hadn’t been sleeping well. There were a few nights I didn’t sleep at all. I felt overloaded with thoughts, but it didn’t feel particularly different than when I’m on a good creative streak, with my brain churning through ideas and complex plot structures for a few days at a time. On February 18th, I passed out in the shower. It didn’t last long; I seemed to come to and be fine within a few seconds. For the next few days, though, something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on what, but it felt like a tap had been turned on in my mind, and I couldn’t turn it off. For days, the flow of that tap picked up speed. Thoughts raced through my head; I could barely eat or sleep. If I wasn’t talking, I was typing or scribbling madly– anything to get the massive influx of thoughts out of my head. I went to work on Friday, then spent Saturday in the furious haze of trying to capture some of the things flying through my mind. It was a constant stream, and it all felt important, but there was no way I could record it all.
On Sunday the 21st, the madness peaked. As the day wore on, I became more and more lost in myself. By evening, I was gone. I was swept in a madness I will detail later, in which the outward manifestation was I ran naked through my house for hours, screamed at the top of my lungs, moved things around the house, threw things outside, trashed our home, and frightened my wife into cowering terror. As midnight neared, my wife called my parents, my parents called the police, and sometime later, three policemen arrived, put me in handcuffs, and walked me (in nothing more than pajamas pants and a thermal shirt) out into the night, into the rain. They didn’t pause to let me put on shoes. I walked down the wet pavement of my street, babbling and shouting endlessly. They put me in a police car, and took me to the emergency room, where I spent the night handcuffed to a hospital bed.
In my delirium, they took lots of blood samples from me, ran a CT scan, and probably myriad other tests I was too out of it to know about. Lots of words and possibilities were thrown around: maybe I’m manic-depressive, bipolar, epileptic, have dissociative identity disorder. I was later told by a psychiatric doctor I probably don’t have any of those things. Maybe it was because my white blood cell count was three times what it should have been due to asymptomatic infections I didn’t know I had. Maybe it was a delirium brought on by not sleeping for over 96 hours due to my chronic insomnia. Maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten anything of substance or had much to drink in nearly three days. Maybe it was stress because my job’s workload had been twice what it should have been for months, or because my landlady died at the end of January and my living situation was the definition of uncertain. Maybe it was all just a perfect storm of crazy, and I don’t have any serious mental disorders at all. Nobody knew then, and nobody knows now. The only thing that’s known for certain is that for about 18 hours, I was thoroughly out of my mind, and the next day I walked out of the hospital on my power, seemingly as sane as ever. Life has returned to normal, but I still find myself wondering: what is sanity? Where is the threshold of insanity, and how does one know if one strays close to it before it’s too late?