According to my publicist, this is going to be front-page news on every newspaper on planet Earth by this time tomorrow, but I just wanted to let everyone know that I really do think that I really have lost my mind. I’m cracked about the head, and fucked into the ground. Or at any rate nothing is working for me anymore, and let’s face it: there are only so many things in the world, and once you’ve used them all up then what can you do?
Before I continue, let me say also that (maybe) obviously I am not injecting anything intravenously, not dusting my nostrils with white thunder, not smoking opium or crack, or whatever the hell else. I’m talking about garden variety over-the-counter pharmaceuticals sanctioned by a psychiatrist I saw almost seven years ago in a suburb outside of Baltimore, when I was losing my mind for various reasons that my brain has mercifully let fall through some trapdoor. Also, if I’m being honest, I have imbibed cheap wine, eaten chewable melatonin tablets, and maybe, once or twice, smoked a relatively mild psychoactive drug we all know and love.
I don’t mean for this to sound cute. It is not cute. It is horrifying and bad, and while it may not be the end of me yet, it is a great contribution to the unraveling and drain-circling I have been experiencing since my 13th birthday. Anguish and despair till they burn my bones, brothers and sisters . . . and today marks the beginning of yet another dismal chapter in the big bummer of my life, which I never asked for in the first place, and which I am inconsolably sick of through and through.
God knows I hate to use the same classifications employed by the mental health community, all frauds, but here it is: my seven-years-ago-in-a-suburb-of-Baltimore psychiatrist had me take a bunch of tests, and he concluded that I was weighed down eternally with bipolar II disorder, and had been misdiagnosed my entire life. Nothing they’d given me in the many years before had stirred me one bit, he told me, because antidepressants don’t work on bipolar people. You need anti-epileptic medication for that. I don’t understand the cerebral mechanisms behind that, and I don’t think anyone really does. Probably a few decades ago they gave some hopeless twerp the same medication they give to epileptics, maybe by mistake or out of sheer desperation, and concluded that the whole thing was a success when the patient remarked that he had experienced a glorious five-minute window where he didn’t feel like pointing a pistol at his heart.
Back then I was way bad and getting worse, and so this doctor, who was a kind man, he gave me five big white pills in a bottle marked “Zyprexa”, which is an antipsychotic called Olanzapine. I don’t know much about the stuff, but he told me it would buy me a few days until we met again. He described it as a sort of life preserver. “It’ll straighten you out,” he had said. “It will also make you sleep like a corpse. That’s what we want for you right now: to sleep like a corpse, not to be a corpse.” I went back to my apartment in the city where I lived alone and gulped one down. I’ll bet within 20 seconds I was out . . . it worked like an elephant tranquilizer. It was far too powerful for my 125 lb. frame. But then I had no desire to be awake, or be alive, or be anything at all, and so the dark dreamless death-sleep I experienced was a great and wonderful surprise.
I would not know until 14 or 15 hours later that I had collapsed fully-clothed upon my bedroom floor. It was dark when I woke up. I didn’t feel like dying anymore. I regarded this thought indifferently. I was freezing. I put on my jacket and went out into the desolate Dresden-firebombed crater where I lived, which was called Station North. I walked across the rainbow bridge to get to Mt. Vernon—to get to the sandwich shop that was open late, and where I hung out and talked to the two girls behind the counter when I was feeling lonely. We bullshitted for an hour or so and then I asked them for an application. I was living off clinical trial money but was running out. I had about a month and some change left before I was completely insolvent. Feeling bummed out and not wanting to push it on anyone else, I said good-bye to my friends and took a back alley home. I walked past a couple making out beneath a fire escape. They laughed in embarrassment when they saw me. “Sorry man,” the dude had said. “You know how it goes.” I was estranged from my ex-girlfriend and completely friendless in a city I never even liked in the first place. I went home and got drunk and wrote two chapters of a book I trashed a long time ago now. The chapters were called “The Long Way Down” and “The View from Down Here”. That was about the only remotely clever thing about any of it.
As scholars have writ in tomes numbering tens of thousands of pages since, I ended up in a clinical trial where the U.S. government injected me with an experimental malaria vaccine. It ended up working, and I was immune for a whole year. Because of an incident early on in which a lab technician had accidentally crushed or smeared my blood samples, making my white blood cells look like they were screaming with malaria, I was summoned to the hospital and quarantined until doctors flying in from all over the country could convene and clear me to leave. The inconvenience payout they gave me was several thousand dollars, and so I left Baltimore and went to Texas, where I stayed for a few years and dated a girl who I can calmly admit now downright hated me. I felt insane the entire time for reasons otherwise—felt insane because of my defective wiring. It was a manageable sort of insane, if you can call it that. I think that’s the last time I ever really had it under control.
They say the depression-to-hypomania is especially skewed when it comes to bipolar II . . . something like 30:1. I would say that for every three months of absolute bottom of the well loneliness and anguish and intense self-loathing I experience, I get maybe 12 hours of the pendulum upswing, which is hypomania. Hypomania can be fun and I usually like it when it comes around. It is a sort of high, but not dangerously so. I am usually productive and feel pretty all right compared to every other miserable day of my life. It gets scary and nauseating when it sticks around for way too long and and blends with the eternal sadness like candy cane stripes. Talk about a chocolate-peanut butter nightmare!
This is the full-moon werewolf’ing catastrophe I am dealing with at this present moment. It is the feared Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde scenario. During the day I am relatively OK, mostly because I have to be around people and pretend, in the name of common decency, that I’m not living in the god damn seventh circle of hell. Around 10 or 11 p.m., when it looks like I won’t have anything to occupy myself with for the rest of the night, and when all of my friends go dark and there is no hope of seeing them, I start to lose my definitions, and along with them my mind. A medical professional might call this “cycling”—on and off, black and white, ping-pong’ing between one end of the spectrum to the other. Deep, deep sadness and a sort of delusional euphoria. I don’t hear voices or see things that aren’t there . . . that is reserved for mania, which my bipolar I brothers and sisters are straddled with, bless their hearts.
The thing about cycling is that it is debilitating and sickening. It is the worst feeling I have ever experienced and I hate it. I’ll think and say one thing and then, maybe 10 minutes later, I’ll think and say another thing, sometimes the complete opposite thing of the thing I had thought or said before. I don’t actually know how I feel about something when I get to be like that. It is confusing to me and it is confusing to other people. It is also exhausting and annoying for everyone as well . . . which then fills me with guilt and shame, and causes me to alienate other people and hurt myself in any number of ways both real and imagined.
All of this is to say that I am on the dark shores of a major depressive episode. You can expect at least one of these a year and they have different levels of severity. This is gonna be a bad one. What happens is that I’m going to end up between two dimensions more or less. There is the shared tenuous reality where we all live most of the time, and then there is the bad bad kingdom of craziness inside my head. I have one foot in each dimension. How am I supposed to know what’s real? And get along with it all? . . . and not end up in straightjacket, or a hole in the ground. I do not get to be myself. I will not be myself. It makes me very sad to not be able to be Ryan.
My sister told me recently that the tragedy of my life is that I am so eager to help everyone but I can’t help myself. Hmm!
I would tell her the real tragedy is that, when I really think about it, I don’t want to help myself. I lack the low, enjoying power. Bipolar or not, I am predisposed to hate myself, and to think the world is built on poisonous lies, and to become obsessed with death itself. Being me, and also having this thing, is just about the worst combination I could ever imagine. I suppose also it would be bad if I were a quadriplegic or a mass murderer or something, but yes, let’s face it: it could always be worse.
Finally: Please send roses to my P.O. box, which I don’t have yet, but which I should probably get in the next few days. Tomorrow is a holiday I couldn’t possibly care less about, but the post office remains closed just the same. Maybe on Tuesday I’ll skulk down San Pablo and get one. And then! And then you can send me presents, and drawings of ghosts and skeletons, and any other strange little things you’ve got orbiting the black hole of your mind.
I just looked in this cigar box I keep next to my bed, and apparently the bottle of life-saving Zyprexa my psychiatrist gave me over half a decade ago is still in there. There are four pills left. The bottle says they expired in February 2011. Even if they retained 10% of their effectiveness they would save me from the jaws of suicide. It’s true: that’s what they do. There are also a few condoms, $200 in cash, and my passport, which expires in a month. I’ve got all I need to ride out the end of the world.
Well . . . see ya later ☆彡
(P.S. Pretty frequently I get emails from strangers who say they suffer from bipolar II, or suspect that they do, or whatever. If y’all need someone to talk to: just fire away, man. It is a poorly understood thing and mostly you will scare people by talking about it. I guess I stopped caring a long time ago if it scares people to say that I am a thing I can’t help but be. You should too. But if you haven’t gotten there yet, hey, I’m waiting for you in the abyss.)