Disorder As A Form Of Exercise
Looking back on 2012, I can’t help but think of all of the wasted time. Not wasted per say, more like time spent with myself, amongst my thoughts, alone. It seems that my life is shaping up to be best categorized in three stages: preparing for a panic attack, the actual panic attack, and the crash afterwards. If I had to guess, I would estimate that all three categories shared equal time in the spotlight this year.
I’ve been relatively productive this past year. I’ve published some ebooks that I’m proud of, a few longer stories of mine have been accepted to lit mags, and I’ve been able to write some decent book reviews. But…I feel as though I could be doing more.
Even though I can honestly say that 2012 has been my best (a subjective term at best) year of writing so far, it could’ve been much more. Away from the page, or computer screen, 2012 has been a train wreck. Bouts of panic and anxiety, not just the fleeting feelings but the kind of dread that actually makes my hands shake involuntary and my body to shut down physically, have rendered me useless as a friend or a potential boyfriend (something I haven’t experienced in well over two years.) Staying inside for days at a time, often I find myself struggling just to make it to the bathroom to brush my teeth, take a quick shower, take my meds and then roll back into bed. On good days I’ll go down the street and pick up a pack of smokes, check some books out from the library and hurry back up the hill to my basement apartment.
But I digress. The point of this post is to say that I’ve come to view my disorder, illness (the actual term changes for me almost daily) as a form of exercise. The actual attacks have become so excruciatingly physical, so much tied to the core of my being, that they’ve become like something of a sporting event. The closest analogy I can make is running. On good days the attacks are a 100 meter sprint, minimal time actually spent panicked, and not too much time spent trying to deal with the come down afterwards. But the majority of days feel like a 5k, with some days feeling more like half and full marathons (those are usually the full day attacks that seem to seep through into days, not hours.) These longer ones, aren’t only greater in duration but it seems that the time spent after the attack has subsided, trying to recalibrate myself back to “normal,” is also longer. After these longer sessions ( a nicer term for it, I can’t find) I’m spent, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I need food, a pack of cigarettes to chain smoke, and sleep (lots of it.) So, now my attacks aren’t just about deep breathing, yoga (the very nature of the activity isn’t made for me) or any other type of therapy…they’re more about an internalized pain making it’s way towards the outer layer, pushing through and me having to schedule my entire day around this constant (once it begins) push.
But the sleep, ahh, the sleep. It’s wonderful and horrible at the same time. I get soo tired (when my attacks occur it’s impossible to sleep leaving me in a state of insomnia) after the fact that I feel like a baby, dependent not fully formed, fractured and fragmented, clinging to my pillows and down comforter like some sort of hibernating bear-man. The point? There is no point, just a constant back and forth. Between melancholy and resistance, slumber and hyper attentiveness, scattered thoughts and the kind of attention to detail that I obsess over the most mundane of things (most notably, and recent: I’ve been re-reading books trying to find typos, errors, anomalies - for whom, I don’t know.)
Much like this essay, my brain is cracked like an egg on the side of a skillet, the contents pouring out in every possible direction, my meds serving as the spatula - trying to guide the gooey liquid to some semblance of structure (an omelette.)
Ideas, ideas, IDEAS, i d e a s…come in a wave, a wave in which I’m floating in front of (no board in sight to help me ride.) Just thoughts, like the bubbles at the surface of the water, empty and foaming, both ever present and impossible to contain.
So yeah, ask me how my year has gone…you might get a rational answer but chances are you’ll get some laundry list of half-assed metaphors doubling as representations for my true self, underneath the words and the cloud of cigarette smoke and the stacks of books piled up around my bed waiting to be read through serving as more of a fort to protect myself from the outside world than anything else. See, I did it again…
To Hard To Explain So Why Bother With A Title…
For the past few months my dreams have come to dictate much of my life. I’ve grown to look forward to sleep. I suppose that’s normal enough, to yearn for the comforts of your bed after a long day. But it’s more than that. My dreams, or nightmares, have molded the person I am while awake. My life asleep has become more interesting than while awake. The inability to escape my dreams after they’ve taken place is surreal. I like the lack of control, the amusement park ride feel to a dream, but I’ve been spending the better portion of my days trying to analyze my dreams. Or, at the very least, daydream about my dreams fro the previous night, trying to extend them during slow points in my day. This constant cycle of dream/replaying the dream has taken up the majority of my days. It’s a vacuum, giving me an excuse to remain isolated and withdrawn, expanding further inside of myself. I feel as though I’m a hamster on the wheel. After a while I have to jump off and take a break, right?
The Never Ending Pursuit Of Reading Them All
Sure, it’s not possible, and I’m a bit pretentious when it comes to certain genres of literature, but this past year I feel as though I’ve really grown as a reader, which has helped me as a writer.
I’m reading, for the most part, whatever I can get my hands, devouring five or six books a week (the joys of unemployment,) and have found that the correlation between reading and writing is, duh, so intertwined.
I used to only finish books whose story, or plot, gripped me but now I’ve matured (I hope) to the point where I can look beyond superficial aesthetic tastes and delve deeper into the tools employed by a certain author. Enjoying the book for it’s parts rather than the whole has taught me more than some of my favorite books have, even if for nothing else than to snap me out of adolescent urge to mimic those I idolize.
Turning Reality Into Fiction: Blurring The Lines Of What Really Happened
Lately I’ve been obsessed with turning fact into fiction. I’ve begun to assemble childhood memories, mostly fragments of moments, and drafted stories from them. I find the blurring of the fact/fiction line to be empowering, something I just can’t do in real life. It brings me back to why I started to write in the first place: to lose myself in my writing while also exploring some inner truths/secrets.
“My work comprises one vast book like Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed. Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same personae names in each work. On The Road, The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy, Tristessa, Desolation Angels, and the others are just chapters in the whole work which I call The Duluoz Legend. In my old age I intend to collect all my work and reinsert my pantheon of uniform names, leave the long shelf full of books there, and die happy. The whole thing forms one enormous comedy, seen through the eyes of poor Ti Jean (me), otherwise known as Jack Duluoz, the world of raging action and folly and also of gentle sweetness seen through the keyhole of his eye,” Jack Kerouac
This quote is one of my favorites by Kerouac and one of his most introspective concerning his own work. I especially like the sections in bold. This quote, in a round about way, brought me to an unknown French writer.
I recently stumbled upon Artamène, or Cyrus the Great by Madeleine de Scudéry and became deeply intrigued. It’s a novel in ten volumes by siblings Madeleine and Georges de Scudéry. At over 2,100,000 words, it is considered one of the longest novel ever written. It’s also one of the earliest examples of a Roman à clef work, something I’ve been playing around with, or at least thinking a great deal about, in conjunction with my own work.
Now throwing around names like Kerouac, Proust, and de Scudéry isn’t meant to imply any correlation to the quality of my own work rather it’s a starting point, an inspiration of sorts.
I must confess that I’m excited, but also terribly nervous about this undertaking (nothing as grand as the greats mentioned above.) Stepping back from the project, I can’t help but wonder how much of this need to skew the facts, to tightrope reality and the make believe, is my own way of trying to maintain ownership, and some semblance of control over my mental illness? Taking pills, talk therapy, all of that is just something I’ve been forced into doing and while I realize a lot of “sick” people don’t/can’t/won’t take these steps I’m left wanting more. Something that I can possess and hold onto, tightly when times get rough.
Taking these remembrances, of which I have already written at least twenty and have another twenty short stories partially started, not to mention a few chapters of several novels begun, and asserting my creative control over them is more than just simply a therapeutic trick. It, in a way, gives me the upper hand over my illness. At least in retrospect. My hope is that by writing about past events I will strike a balance between my creative self and my sick self, therefore molding the two into something that is whole, and not just another fragmented piece of myself. For me that’s a big deal, a huge undertaking. Finding something in me that is complete, even if that means having to cobble together things, is crucial because the result will be all mine and no amount of outside influences can take it away from me. I suppose that’s another reason why I began writing: to create things wholly my own, to leave something behind.
It’s also, I’ve already come to learn, a great way to examine the way in which I remember things. It seems like a trivial, and outright obvious statement, but molding a story to my memory of an actual event is a sort of intellectual exercise that I enjoy. Reading the final product or, better yet, having friends and family read them is a surreal experience. To see how someone else that was involved in an event remembers, and processes what happened and why, in comparison to how I saw it is one of the strangest experiences I’ve had in my adult life. To learn from my creation, to break down the walls of repression and delusion, and to not have to pay a therapist to do so is an empowering feeling.
Sure this experience has been, and will continue to be, a partially narcissistic one but isn’t all art a form of narcissism?
Halfway There But Never Really A Finish Line In Sight
So, I made it through Thanksgiving. Barely. And I’m not being dramatic. We went around the table and said what we were grateful for and I went first and said things like my health, my friends, my family, a roof over my head, and not needing of anything etc… and was actually laughed at by my younger cousins (expected/okay) and my older relatives (pathetic/horrible example.) We continued around the table and people said they were thankful for “great food,” “football,” and the best was a friend of my younger cousins said that she was thankful for “not having to get a job quite yet.” Yeah, so that was depressing. But at least the Redskins won on Thanksgiving, no one else saw the irony of a scalped Native American logo beating “America’s team” on the day in which we celebrate “trading” with the Native Americans. More to come on tomorrow’s trip to see my college buddy, for the first time in almost a year. Oh, and the anxiety was there, everywhere in fact, in the yes of the train conductor on the way to Thanksgiving, in the laughter of the groups of teenagers standing outside the train station, in the fake smiles of family members when I got to Thanksgiving dinner.
On the train ride home I popped a handful of Ativan and read DFW’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, particularly “The Depressed Person.” The beginning stuck out, “The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.” Yes I though, that’s it, that’s the feeling, the moment, the…everything as the train rumbled southward back home.
The Anxiety Of Over Thinking Possible Future Conversations With People You’re Not Sure Are Interested In What You Have To Say In The First Place
With the holiday season officially underway, I’m preparing myself for the dreaded Thanksgiving day full of family. Doing so with agoraphobia and anxiety issues only makes it worse. Having to take a train up to Albany triples this anxiety. Just thinking of the two hour train ride where there won’t be an empty seat, I’ve already checked and re-checked Amtrak’s website and saw that my train is sold out, has left me bitting my nails until they bleed. Watching the little pools of blood expand and trickle down my index finger feels good, calms me, soothes me. Then there’s the nightmares, if I even get to sleep, that have begun a few days ago. I began picturing where I might be placed at the table for dinner, how long I’d have to sit there, dressed up, with a nice face on. The questions, the silent nods by family members based on my answers. (I have a tendency to answer my family’s inquiries into my private life: school, jobs, girlfriends etc… with a bluntness that I learned from the elder generations black sheep, my uncle. It seemed to serve him well over the years, keeping people at a distance, stopping them from their usual impulse to follow a question up with a barrage of more questions before you could even finish answering the first.)
Making it out of upstate alive, and in one piece will be a relief. The train ride home being the best part of a holiday is something that I’ve relegated myself to. It’s a part of my baggage, what I have to lug around. I’ve shaped my life around my quirks (my family’s term for my problems) but I still haven’t completely accepted my issues.
But it’s not just the Thanksgiving trip that has me worried. A few days ago a really good college friend of mine contacted me for the first time in over six months. We stopped speaking for reasons related more to both of our individual mental illnesses (he refused to take his medication for his schizophrenia and my bi-polar was in an upward, manic swing where I found myself making dramatic announcements that I couldn’t live up to) than to anything either of us did specifically. Well, he texted me the other night saying that he’d be home for the weekend of Thanksgiving and would really like to see me. He was getting a home pass from the residential living place he has been at for the past few months. I would love to say that getting a text like this disorientated me but I have grown accustomed to these sort of messages.
So within a 72 hour period I will have made two social appearances outside of my house. This may not sound like much but for given the fact that the number, prior to this upcoming weekend, was three such occasions for the calendar year, than you can see my trepidation with what’s ahead of me.
There will be no shopping spree on Black Friday as a form of therapy for surviving Thanksgiving with the family like so many people will do, there will be no enjoying second helpings of turkey and mashed potatoes because I won’t be able to stand sitting in a room full of people for a moment longer than I have to, there will be none of that.
Instead, this holiday weekend will be clenched fists, chain smoking cigarettes, avoiding eye contact, and waiting, patiently quickly turning to anxiously, as I look at any clock in my view to calculate how much longer until I can get home and slide back into my bed. Then the nervousness will cease, if only for a moment, as I begin the countdown to Christmas and New Year’s.