Issue 001: Yes, It’s True—I’m Crazy.But Listen: I Was Born Crazy.
16 August 2011
• • •
Friends and neighbors:
You are receiving this email because you had asked to receive it. If, upon reading the previous sentence, you are left feeling wrongfully targeted, or indignant, please first calm down. Breathe. Stretch. You may think, rightly, I don’t know, that you did not ask to receive this email, even though I am here to tell you that you did. “It was all a mistake!” you may think. “I was only commenting on that thread you started on (gulp, shall I utter it’s name?) Facebook because I felt like being a jerk one day.”
Well, too bad! Here we are! Welcome, whoever you are. You commented on that thread, you put in your two cents, and now you have to listen to me ramble on for several thousands of words until I say just what it is I wish to say, which might possibly be nothing of substance or consequence. Well—it isn’t nice of me to say that you have to do anything. You may choose to delete this email. You may choose to walk away from, God’s honest, what just might be literature, if you give it a chance. You may also learn something. Ah! This is an exciting prospect, don’t you see? Please enjoy our symbiotic relationship. Please love me, too. (Just kidding about that last part (actually, I’m deathly serious (so lonely (please love me))).)
My name is Ryan [Starsailor], and chances are we are acquainted. If you have forgotten who I am, then I am truly sorry. You missing out on knowing what critics everywhere have called “a pretty all right guy”. An Englishman once referred to me as a “sound bloke”—so you can do whatever you wish with that information. All I’m saying is that maybe I’m worth knowing. Maybe there is a reason I am here, even if we’re making that reason up together, now, right here, as friends. Though I do not believe any thing to have inherent properties in the sense that something automatically means anything, we can play pretend, if only for a little while, so that maybe, maybe, maybe this is all worthwhile. “This,” of course, being life, for we are alive, and here we are, so help us God, awake and living it. Welcome, friends—welcome! I love you dearly.
• • •
If you cannot recall what it is I look like, I will here make a feeble attempt to remind you: I am 5’7″, which is roughly 68 inches. I have dark-chocolate-brown, almost midnight-black hair. It is wavy and feathery and luxurious. My skin is immaculately clean and ghost-pale (I bathe frequently and use a variety of beauty products). I have murky green eyes that are swirled with flower-like patterns. Ginny Wilson once told me I had a nice butt. (Thanks, Ginny.) I am currently sporting a three-day beard, having neglected to buy any new razors on my last excursion, which took me from Washington, D.C. to Northern Virginia to Baltimore to Northern Virginia and again to Baltimore, my doom-metropolis, my unfortunate home—my casket of misery.
Just last week two friends pulled me out of this hovel I call home, and convinced me to join the sad masses who choose to “go clubbing,” as they say, on a fucking Wednesday night. It was a misstep on my part. I never club, or go to bars, or do any of that sort of thing. I am much too self-aware to enjoy the company of depraved wastrels such as the ones I witnessed. Invariably their faces are fixed with drooping smiles and pathetic bodily movements. They buzz about, hither and tither, until a human of the opposite (or same, if you will) sex enters their orbit, and they gyrate and laugh and say dumb things that are offensive to ears who know anything about anything; and a sort of mating ritual takes place, and there is more laughter, more gyrating . . . more something until eventual loveless sex shows itself, and the world crumbles and caves and heaves and sighs. The sun will rise again the next day, oh boy will it ever, but something is changed, something is set apart; people are terrified of themselves upon waking, upon discovering with whom fluids were exchanged, and then it’s Off To Work. Rise and shine, motherfucker! Your life is a god damned joke!
Anyway: I looked downright terrible last week. My hair was uncharacteristically uncombed, and I then had a five-day beard, which is just plain unacceptable in the eyes of anyone who has the slightest notion of what taste and decency are. And my eyes were small and empty, and my mouth was closed up like a tomb; and my clothes were rumpled and unloved. One of the girls I was with was quick to point out that how I had presented myself that night was “totally in right now” and that “all the girls love that grungy indie look”. I told her that I was simply a sad and miserable person, and personal hygiene had taken a backseat, and that I was having trouble performing even the simplest human functions, such as grocery shopping, or going to the bank, or properly operating a motor vehicle. This explanation went right through her. It was too complicated. I had said something other than, “Let’s get fucked up, yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh!”—which confused her. How could someone want to do anything else but get a DUI on a Wednesday night? she thought. They, the two of them this time, asked me what I had been up to recently. I said I had been considering killing myself, because I didn’t have much to live for, and because I was draining everyone I knew, and because I had grown tired of the world, and didn’t see my circumstances getting any better. They laughed. They thought that was a cute thing to say. “You’re always saying these crazy things, Ryan,” said the other girl. “You’re just so silly.”
So silly, she says!
One of the girls, the one I like better than the other, or the one I find less annoying, told me that I should “loosen up” and have a drink. I said no, no, no. I don’t want anything to do with that, I said. I told her I had a mild allergic reaction to straight liquor, and then it made me sneeze, and even the thought of, say, an ounce of vodka or whiskey or what have you makes my head hurt. This obviously meant nothing to her, because ten minutes later I was given a small glass which contained, among a lot of other sad fluids, whiskey and Coca-Cola. She plucked a lime from the rim of my glass and squeezed it into the sorry mixture I was expected to swill down. She dropped the deflated lime on top of a few ice cubes which had floated to the surface of my drink, which now screamed for air, for life, for anything at all besides a cocktail bath: Let us out! Let us out! Let us be freeeeeeeeee.
Drink up, she says. I take a small sip. It tastes just as I expected it to taste, which is awful. It is the devil’s kerosene. I walk to a part of the club where the two girls can’t see me, and I pour it into the trashcan. So much for that!
“Really,” I say to the two of them, after we left the club, “I’m right on the edge. You don’t understand. I’m teetering between life and death. This is it. This is serious.”
I was still sore from paying a $10 cover charge to experience a club for 10 minutes—which works out to $1 a minute! What a premium! They thought I was referring to that—to the money I’d frittered away for no good god damn reason.
“Relax,” says one of them, I don’t care which. “We’ll do something else.”
Something else was this: We went to another club! The bouncer said the music inside was “bumping”—whatever the fuck that means! We went inside. Everything was painted black. There were six people dancing to music that was unintelligible and louder than God. The two girls I was with started dancing with each other in a provocative manner, which made me uneasy. It screamed, “Look at us! We require your attention to function!”
I slipped out quietly. I went home. I was sad. I’m still sad.
• • •
I had been complaining to a close friend recently that no one ever takes me seriously; they just assume I am joking because I joke so much. She said that with me it was often difficult to discern between reality and joking. Which is to say that even when I’m joking, there is truth inside—even if it is but a small kernel of truth. That is, yes, the basis for any good joke, I have found. Who wants to hear an empty joke? Aren’t jokes supposed to say something meaningful while softening the blow? That’s an honest joke, anyway—the ones I like the best. But I will admit here that yes, it is often difficult to know the truth when I’m the one at the helm. I sometimes wonder how much people even want the truth when they’re so happy with pretty fiction. My life is not pure fiction—at least I don’t think so—but there are some exaggerated properties that people seem to enjoy anyhow. I am sorry to do this, but I have come here to deflate some of that fiction, if only just a little bit. I am doing this to be honest, and to help explain where I am and, for God’s sake, what I am, because so much has changed for me in such a small amount of time. I had warned everyone before that whatever it is I’m about to say, including what I have already said, might come off as self-indulgent or just plain selfish. I am, after all, talking about myself, for I know no one better than myself, and because . . . well, who else am I going to talk about at 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning? I am alone in my apartment, much as I am every day, and so I am alone with my thoughts, and here they are. Please accept me, friends. Please love me also.
Yes, and I see no real point in getting into the specifics. That is to say: A lot of awful things have happened, but I’m not sure if it matters what those awful things are. All that matters are the feelings. If you must know, you may ask me personally, perhaps over tea, and I will be happy to share with you anything you might want to know. And I will want to ask you questions, too, because you and I are friends—yes, you!—and because I want to know everything there is to know about you that doesn’t involve fetishes or people you’ve killed or whatever. Keep that to yourself, please, for Heaven’s sake!
Basically, to reiterate: A lot of truly horrible things have befallen me in the last six months or so—since I turned twenty-three years old. 2011 has very easily been the worst year of my life, and it’s only halfway over! Let’s see if I can’t turn it around. I . . . I hope that is possible. (Dear God, please let it be possible!)
[Full disclosure: In between the preceding paragraph and the following, I took a 45-minute bath while reading the latest issue of Wired magazine. I used tea tree shampoo and a conditioner composed of a citrus medley (grapefruit, orange and lemon peel). The soap I used is made of oatmeal. As a result I now look and smell terrific and am blessed with enough energy to see this thing through until the end.]
Look: A lot of people don’t understand mental illnesses because they’ve never had to deal with them. That’s perfectly acceptable. In fact I envy you, if I may be honest. But I have never been able to escape them: My mother has severe depression; my brother is bipolar; my uncle is a schizophrenic; my other uncle suffers from severe depression; my grandfather, whom I never met, also had a deep and pervasive depression, and his mother and father killed themselves! He was an orphan by the time he was 13 years old. I’m from a nutty family, ladies and gentlemen. How’s that for mental illness!
So it seemed inevitable, at least to my mother, that one day her happy little baby boy would end up with all sorts of bad chemicals in his little baby boy brain. When I began to show signs of depression in my teens—probably around 14—I was taken to a psychiatrist and put on a variety of magical pharmaceutical products that did very little to alleviate the toll Being Alive was taking on me. My mother tried to do her best, tried to find me the right doctors who would give me the right stuff, but nothing ever really worked. I’ve seen maybe a half-dozen psychiatrists and twice as many therapists. I would feel momentary relief and then it was back to being sad and having low self-esteem and wanting to die virtually every waking hour. Maybe this is surprising to you! I do a good job of playing along—of joking around, really—and so maybe it’s not really all that obvious how miserable I am and have been for nearly a decade.
My mother has tried very hard to “save” me. She’s done an admirable job. But she couldn’t, and can’t, and recently I have watched my life become something of a horror story, have watched people and things I have loved so dearly depart from me, which has torn my heart in half. Thanks anyway, Mom.
If you will allow me to quote a passage from Slaughterhouse-Five: “Billy covered his head with his blanket again. He always covered his head with his blanket when his mother came to see him in the mental ward—always got much sicker until she went away. It wasn’t that she was ugly, or had bad breath or a bad personality. She was a perfectly nice, standard-issue, brown-haired white woman with a high-school education. She upset Billy simply by being his mother. She made him feel embarrassed and ungrateful and weak because she had gone to so much trouble to give him life, and to keep that life going, and Billy didn’t really like life at all.”
No, I don’t really like life all that much, and I have not been able to be convinced otherwise. It’s just plain miserable here, as far as I’m concerned. They say that if you’re not at least a little depressed, then you’re not paying attention. Well, I’ve paid too much attention, and have felt ferociously awful for nearly half my life. So, yeah!
Part of the reason I don’t like it here so much, other than just plain paying attention, has to do with what I am. What am I? Well, well! I visited an out-of-network specialist just the other day. His name is Dr. Hyman (laugh if you must!). Dr. Hyman is a really nice guy. He’s also the best psychiatrist I’ve ever seen. He had me take six or seven tests to determine just what I am. It turns out that I’m bipolar II, which isn’t as bad as just plain old bipolar. It turns out that people who are bipolar II are sad most of the time—really sad, even—punctuated with brief, fleeting moments of manic highs. That’s when I get especially creative; that’s when I sit down to write. It’s a sort of nervous energy that envelopes me, takes over. It isn’t scary. I don’t feel like throwing furniture out the window or anything like that. I don’t have a gambling addiction, or require fast cars and pretty women (these were actual questions on the test, e.g. “Do you feel the need to be around attractive men or women?”). That’s my brother, though—he’s that kind of bipolar.
As for me: I’m always waiting for the pendulum to go up, for it is usually in its resting position at the bottom—the deep dark bottom, where sadness and bad feelings fester. Put succinctly: I feel like shit 85% of the day. I feel like absolute garbage. Cosmic waste! I can’t stand the sight of myself, or the sound of my voice, or the sounds of any voices, for that matter. I lie in bed and cry. I collapse in the shower and let water fall on me. I ask my cats for help. (They sympathize but never have any clear-cut solutions. “Lap up a saucer of milk” or “Satisfy your hunting instincts with this toy mouse” seldom work for me.)
And so: Every night before I go to sleep, I take a little white pill to make keep the nightmares at bay. I then enter a dreamless, stark-blank sleep that lasts anywhere from 10 to 18 hours. Lately I have been cutting the pills in half, giving me a 5 mg. dose of Zyprexa. Any more than that and I go into a sort of artificial coma. When I wake up from a 10 mg. dose, I’m still tired, still lethargic, still listless and moody. Cutting it in half does the trick! Wow! Way to go, modern science.
It’s strange, though, because no one can really explain depression. The best answer we’ve come up with is that it has something to do with a chemical imbalance in the brain. Not enough serotonin, they say. Supposedly Zyprexa fixes that very quickly. Indeed, it is a rapid-release drug; I feel its effects instantly. Within minutes I become drowsy and must sleep. When I wake up in the morning, the same old things still bother me, but I don’t feel quite as bad I used to. Hooray!
Dr. Hyman was quick to tell me that the reason I’ve never had a solution to this sickness, this insufferable malady, this terrifying affliction, is because I’ve been misdiagnosed my entire life. I have mentioned that I took half a dozen tests. Yes, it was the results of those tests that lead Dr. Hyman to this conclusion. “Hot dog!” he said. “Boy, you’re about as bipolar II as it gets!” Dr. Hyman is funny like that.
What kinds of questions were on the test? Well, some of them were pretty standard, such as, “Do you find that you dislike yourself?” or “Do you find yourself dreading the future?” or “Do you have thoughts of hopelessness?” A “0” meant “Never”; a “1” meant “Some of the day”; a “2” meant “Half of the day”; and the big scary one, the circle I darkened more than any other, was “3”, which meant “Most of the day”. Ruh oh!
Ding ding ding! You’re bipolar II!
I had long suspected that was the case. When I gave Dr. Hyman a full breakdown of all of the mental illnesses in my family, he furrowed his brow and looked exhausted. He put his pen down and looked at me directly in the eyes with a distressed expression on his face. “Hell of a soup to be born out of,” he said. “No wonder you’ve never felt okay.” You can get away with saying all sorts of cool shit, I wager, when your last name is “Hyman”.
So, Zyprexa. I’ll be off of it by the end of the week. Then he’s going to put me on one of four medications: Lithium (oh no!), Abilify, Seroquel, and one other . . . though I have forgotten the name. And I don’t often forget things, so maybe he never told me what it was in the first place. “Seroquel” is such a terrific name for a drug, don’t you think? It has a pleasing shape in my mind. (I love words.) It has such a soothing effect on me, which is, yes, the point of it. It’s all marketing. If they just called it Quetiapine, I’d never take the stuff. “Abilify” is nice, too. It’s science fiction; all I hear is “able”—like able to go to the bank, or able to do the dishes, or able to smile, or able to have fun. Abilify me, for God’s sake! But, yeah: it’s all just good marketing. And it works. Good for them.
• • •
I hear you, back there. I hear you thinking, “Why even put him on Zyprexa in the first place?” That’s an excellent question. Thank you for thinking that. Thank you for asking.
I’m on Zyprexa so that I don’t explode into a fine powder. I’m on Zyprexa so that I’m still alive.
It is, yes, a very potent drug; a very, very potent drug, in fact. A week ago I was staring Death in the face. What an unpleasant creature! You see, my mind is wired all wrong, and it’s defective and unbalanced and weird. Some people are born with chronic illnesses, or are handicapped, or whatever, and I’m no different. I do not say this to arouse any pity; I say it simply because it is true. As Dr. Hyman said: “This ain’t no hocus pocus we’re talking about!” (I love it when people with medical degrees say “ain’t”. It’s so cute and folksy.)
See: My father doesn’t understand depression. He thinks that everything can be solved with a cold shower and sixty-hour workweek. Bless his heart for that—and I mean it. He really does try to understand, but it’s useless. My describing depression to my father is like trying to explain what the color purple is to a blind person. He just can’t grasp the concept. And that’s okay! I have no idea what it’s like to have only one leg, for instance, or to walk around with cancerous tumors growing inside of my body, turning me into sawdust. I can try to understand, but I’ll never really understand (unless, of course, those afflictions show themselves at a later point in my life—but I digress!).
So for all the well intentioned shows of support, from “Cheer up!” to “Life isn’t so bad!” to “It’s all about your attitude!”—well, no, it isn’t that simple, but really, I thank you for trying. I was born a sadsack. I’ll probably die a sadsack. But I certainly don’t want to feel meaningless and suicidal and stupid during that long intervening period. Hopefully, God help me, I can feel at least a little bit all right for a little bit of time. That would be truly wonderful.
And just so we’re straight, I don’t want you to think that I necessarily feel that pharmaceutical products of this nature—the little colorful pills with fancy names—are the answer to depression. They are not. I also regularly see a licensed professional therapist, which helps me . . . do something, I’m sure, but it does certainly help. And that is where I get to cry my eyes out and talk about how depressing all of this is, how sad the world can be, and how my upbringing was fraught with bad circumstances and poor decision-making on my parents’ part. None of this is my fault. That’s an important thing I’ve learned. I didn’t ask to be born any more than you did. In fact if given the opportunity, I would have said, “No thanks!” before cavorting off to my celestial home made out of gigantic golden seashells (there would also be a fountain filled with strawberry ice cream).
However: That does not excuse my behavior, nor change the fact that I have sucked the life out of my closest friends (one friend in particular (sorry, M.))—nor does it mean I should not take care of myself! That’s what I’m doing, everyone! I’m taking care of myself. At least, I sure hope I am . . .
So: I am truly sorry if I scared any of you, or if you were unhappy to be awoken at 4 a.m. by me, or annoyed at the ten-minute-long voicemail I left when you didn’t pick up. I’m sorry! I’m weaker than you may think I am. I am large in heart; I require love! I sought out your love because I love you, too.
• • •
I could, of course, go on for several thousand more words. I have at least one-hundred more paragraphs in me. But I shall stop here, because I understand you and your finicky generation—and your social networking and your thousands of songs in a little compact device, and your vanity and me-me-me mentality! I get it! Reading is boring, you say. I get it, all right? I’ll go now.
If you wish to reply, you may. I would be thrilled to receive any words of encouragement, or simply something along the lines of, “Way to go, Ryan! You’re great!” I am of course being silly now, but really: send me a reply! I could use the encouragement. Commiserate, if that’s what you feel like doing. I will accept you unconditionally. I love you all. Be well. Call me sometime. Leave me a ten-minute-long voicemail. I love you. I love, I love, I love you. Go in peace. Touch my hand. Ah—ah. Yes! Go now!—Off with you!
P.S. Virgil, my little tiger-striped cat, is currently howling at me. I think he’s trying to say “Hello” to all of you. So, from Virgil: “Hello! Mrrroooww! Mow-wow!”
P.P.S. Should I keep writing a weekly (or maybe bi-weekly) newsletter about my adventures with my two cats? Is that interesting to anyone? (Probably not.) I don’t know, just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. OK?