I like being alive. You ever been asked that question, “Would you die to save 10 strangers?” and you say no, so they keep bumping the number up until you have to pause and think, “Wow, 10 million people is like a small country,” and you have to think about it? My unhesitating answer is always “Not a chance.” I might die to save my brother, but that’s about it. I am the opposite of heroic. Maybe I’d show some bravery in the face of uncertain death, but show me certain death, and I will gun down the strangers myself to avoid it without a second thought.1 The fact is this never comes up; immediate death is rarely certain2 and almost nobody gets choices like these. This unflattering aspect of my personality is a cocktail of ego-preservation, staggering lack of enlightenment, nihilism, amorality, and fear of death. It’s also because I love life, I find everything interesting, and I almost never get bored.
That said, this life sucks. You work through most of it, watch your body and relationships fall apart, your reward for all your patience is slowly losing everything you love, possibly including your mind. In the end, if you’re lucky, you have a few friends or relatives around and the possibility of a quick, painless death. God bless you if you have a god; I don’t, and see no reason or evidence for one, aside from the social phenomenon hamstringing medical research and care for the poor. The universe is cold and empty, lightly sprinkled with friends, booze, and sex.
Whatever. People make do. I’ve had a better run than most, and I have fun. But going from the most important person in the all the infinite universes back to a shy 20-year-old fuck up isn’t easy. Post-psychotic depression is common for just this reason, and I was no exception.
The next few months of my life consisted entirely of this routine: Wake up at seven to drive my brother to school. Drop him off, chain smoke on the way home. Go back to bed. Wake up at noon. Make coffee. Sit on the couch and watch a movie until I fell asleep. Drive back out around three to pick my brother and bring him home. Go back to the couch. Wake up at seven to watch Seinfeld and Frasier, the highlight of my day. Fall asleep. Wake up at midnight to get a snack after everyone was asleep. Drag myself to bed. Some times jerk off half-heartedly, fall asleep in the middle as often as not. Other times, stare at the wall until two in the morning, trying not to think too hard.
My parents treated me with a light touch for a while. They clearly thought I was pathetic, but then, I was. At least I wasn’t crazy, though it was a while before they realized that. Hell, it was a while before I was confident it wasn’t a brief moment of clarity.3
I did nothing. I didn’t even read. I drank alone at night to get my brain to shut up as much as possible. Fortunately, I didn’t go to jail. Here’s my dad:
After you managed to steal the car and get caught,4 there was obviously the issue of “how to avoid having a crazy person’s mistake give them a felony record.” For reasons related entirely to my generally excellent karma, it turns out that the county DA where you stole the car played left field to my center field on my high school baseball team in Philadelphia, so I called him up with one of those “how have you been and let’s make a deal” opening lines. We agreed that it would be good not to have a felony on your record, but also that you should be punished enough so you wouldn’t forget this little episode.5 He suggested a year’s probation and a fine (essentially the deal another first time offender would get, but with perhaps less negotiating time). When this was presented to the judge, with the assistant DA recommending the plea deal and you with no lawyer, the judge was a bit puzzled (he couldn’t figure out this had all come out so “neatly”), but decided to trust the people involved and blessed it.
Another little sideshow was the bill from Acadia: the insurance company hadn’t been notified “in time” (for the simple reason that you didn’t know who you were), and the hospital wanted to stick Barb and me with the bill. We pointed out that since they let you in, and denied your parents access, it was their problem. I think eventually they worked it out with the insurance company after everyone decided to wake up and return to planet earth.
I mentioned before that if I’d been in Brooklyn during this episode, I would have been dead within a week. One of my coworkers on my software development team is black, and he mentioned that I wouldn’t have survived had I been black, either. There’s more luck than location and skin color involved: I got the best available medical care through my mom’s connections, and a quick deal from the DA through of my father’s. Make no mistake, I returned to sanity as a lucky outlier, whether or not I had anything to do with it, and I survived because I was a white, connected, upper middle-class kid in a small town. I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve coming out of this relatively unscathed.
I haven’t done drugs in eight years. If you do the math, you’ll note I did dabble around after all this. I definitely never did a hallucinogen again, and I’m embarrassingly paranoid about leaving my drink unattended. I’ve gotten better, but if I’m not sure I or someone I trust has had an eye on my drink, I’ll dump it and get another one. I’m not worried about being roofied,6 and I’m not to worried that someone’s going to revenge dose me, but I am worried some idiot druggie will try to give a friend a “present” and get the wrong drink. The odds of this are probably worse than winning the lottery, but the consequences are I have a 50/50 shot at losing my mind permanently, so I’m not without cause in my wariness. I won’t even go into a house or apartment with LSD on the premises.
I quit kiddy crack and all other speed for unrelated reasons.7 I smoked some weed after my probation was up, until one night two years later. I got high, watched some TV, and went to bed. And I couldn’t sleep. No matter what I tried. Then sentences stopped forming properly in my head. Then the paranoia kicked in. I lived near Amy at the time, so I called her and she rushed over and took me back to her place, where I lay on her couch, moaning and scratching at myself, unable to think straight for three hours, until I slept. That was the last time I ingested a psychoactive drug, or any illegal drug. My drug use for the last eight years has been an annual dose of ibuprofen. Oh, and I self-medicate with alcohol to stop myself from thinking, and smoke because I’m addicted to nicotine. Slightly drunk is as altered as I get, aside from the occasional flashback, which so far has just led right back to slightly drunk.
My brain did a couple of weird things during my depression months. Once, I woke up in the middle of the night, and instantly starting falling back asleep like I was going off a cliff. It was like blacking out, but faster, and terrifying, feeling my mind lose consciousness in a second, and I resisted, and snapped awake, but just started falling again. This happened seven or eight times, and eventually I lost, and woke up in the morning, sweating. Less disturbingly, I was semi-sleeping during one of my longer nights, and I felt my awareness collapse into a point in the back of my head. I was aware of my body, but felt like it was a distant surface. I could move this little point around in my body and see how it felt to be various distances from other parts of my body. Neither of these were dreams, and neither of them ever happened again.
The previous year, I’d been deep in some extremely strange but academically viable philosophy research, combining all my -ology classes. The roots of whatever I was working on definitely had something to do with the more positive acid trips I’d had, but there was a small mountain of dogeared books next to my desk for most of the semester. I smoothed out all the folded corners and put them in my parents’ attic. I didn’t read a philosophy book for six years. I didn’t read psychology, or expose myself to anything that remotely questioned reality. Every TV show that runs long enough has that one episode where the main character isn’t sure what’s real, and it’s filmed in such a way to make you doubt right along with them. I couldn’t watch these. I carefully protected my mind from all the patterns of thought related to creative interpretations of existence, any research about how the brain works, and anything else that could awaken the party waiting to start back up in the back of my head. I waited until I was sure most of those synaptic connections were dead, because I didn’t just snap on drugs. The path to madness was 90% organic, and you can get there without chemicals, by accident, at any moment. I’ve spent years training myself to keep my brain in the middle road, whatever it takes. I would like to quit smoking someday, but if I think for a second that the stress of quitting would unbalance me, I’m taking it right back up and I’ll just have to deal with the cancer as it comes. I never, ever stay awake for 24 hours, and if I lose my job because of that one day, so be it. Nothing in my life is more important than keeping my brain quiet, balanced, and reasonable. Writing this story was a slight risk, and it was hard, and it’s as close as I ever intend to come to this experience.
As I’ve said before, I’m not 100% sure I’m not locked in a room somewhere. This isn’t bad; everybody has the “maybe I’m a brain in a jar” moment. In fact, I’m doing better than most people, because I’m 99.999% sure, since the quality of consciousness now is as distinct from madness as waking is from dreaming, but there is enough of a disconnect between how my brain works now and how my brain worked before that I can’t be sure. In fact, because of all this, I can never completely trust my mind again, which means I can never completely trust anything again. There’s no event that could make me wholly believe in something, because I believed virtually everything, and most of it was wrong. Seeing is not believing: believing is believing, and I can no longer do it. The flip side of this is I’m more confident in the mainstream reality than most people, because I know what it’s like to not be in it.
Aside from some average teenage depression and a dash of the ADD most people have, I had no mental illnesses before this. Aside from a mild case of PTSD and some unmedicated anxiety,8 I haven’t had any since. I was not genetically predisposed to psychosis. So far, it’s been a one time event.
Eventually, I recovered enough from my depression to go back to school. It took several months of forcing myself out of my room to meet people and pretend to have fun until it stuck and I started actually having fun. After a year or so, I had a life again.
My brother had his own fallout:
Every step you took towards LSD, I became more The Dutiful Son who never does anything dangerous. I was doing what any little brother looking for an identity would have done, but my “rebellion” was a pretty boring one. The most interesting insight I got out of all this was how I could see and understand what caused my own personality to develop as it did. I had reacted just exactly the way any social behavior model would have predicted; I was not special and so was everyone else. On this account, all my friends in college thought I was super wise until I blew it and did something wonderfully stupid and predictable.
One day in high school, probably 2001, I was at ease in the student lounge when Hendrick made some off-hand reference to LSD, and I lost my shit and tackled him. I’ve never been in a fight. That moment, when I threw someone into a chair and sternly explained that drugs are bad and can fuck you up was as close as I’ve ever come to one. I really hate LSD, and eleven years later, I’m still uncomfortable when people talk about it.
Trinity must have known how madly infatuated Crow and I were with her. We rarely said anything overt, we just showered her with gifts and attention and dragged her out of her room, and eventually she started actually partying with us. Crow hated me for being talented at a bunch of media-related things, culminating in the evening Trinity got trashed and started calling me a god. Wonderful as this was for my ego, I waved it off because that was definitely Not Okay Thinking. I resented Crow because he could draw and she loved his gifts so much more than mine, and his and her real names essentially marked them as soul mates. One night we were all in my room, having a pretty good time, and I blame Crow for feeding her such strong drinks, but it was all our faults. Trinity was often suicidal, and neither Crow nor I stopped and thought about what feeding a shitload of vodka and orange juice to a hundred pound girl with type II diabetes might do to her. She eventually collapsed at the door, puking up some viscous orange gunk. We rushed her to the shower, where I tried to keep her awake but she was becoming unresponsive so we called an ambulance. We stayed until five in the morning, while they pumped her stomach and stabilized her blood sugar. When I discovered she would recover, I went home, so of course Crow got to be the one who she woke up to.
She apologized profusely for this incident, but never actually thanked me for keeping her awake and getting the dorm RD to call the ambulance. She was only 20, and I could have gone to jail, but the police and the administration gave me a pass on it for doing the right thing when it came to the point. I think she never thanked me because she wasn’t all that grateful to be alive. We all drifted apart after that. Crow and I tried to keep in touch, but there was a permanent underlying resentment in our relationship.9
I wrote drunken emails to Trinity for years after that, and she got back to me sometimes. She eventually graduated and became a cop, and, if she’s still alive, is a forensic scientist by now. And she has a gun. I haven’t been able to find her since 2004, so I don’t know. Crow might, be he hasn’t responded to my IMs since 2003.
I called the number TheWrestler gave me and got his roommate. He tried to kill himself again and was back in the hospital.
Pocahontas picked up. She’d been released before me. She just said “I’m sorry, I only made it to a level three… I gotta go. Goodbye.”
I saw OtherThinGuy pass me on the road once while I was driving. I didn’t have his contact information, so that was the last I saw of him.
A year later I saw Morning Sirius in a parking lot. She said we couldn’t be friends because it caused too many problems between her and her boyfriend, maybe husband by then. I guess I was creepier than I thought, but I think it’s more because she was a bitch and her hubby was a jealous git.
I never saw EarthMother again, though I expect she’s alright. She went back to New Orleans after that week. Come think of it, maybe she’s not alright, but I haven’t heard otherwise.
JD stopped having roommates after me. He still DJs around Downeast Maine, and I run into him now and then when I’m up there. Still chill as they come, and getting a few gray hairs in his dreads.
Jake’s doing fine, living in Brooklyn not far from me. He gave up on the hallucinogens too. We’re heterosexual life mates, so we argue a lot, but are basically family. His real family eventually forgave me, so I still keep in touch with them when I’m visiting Maine.
I lost touch with Duke, but Jun’s a social worker in Maine, and we still hang out. I owe him a lot for how he helped me deal with all this over the next few years, though I’ve probably paid that back in whiskey by now.
And that’s that.
Conclusions and answers.
1 If it was certain death either way, I might take a second to make a speech or kill some bad guys. But the nuke would have to be thirty seconds from t-zero with no engineers in site.
2 Except that once.
3 Four years, to be exact.
4 I love this. It takes a lawyer to realize the getting caught part was the real problem.
5 Not likely.
6 Not that I’m not a roofiable piece of ass, but men are sexually useless when unconscious.
7 Namely that doing speed is fucking stupid.
8 Largely due to the fear of going crazy again.
9 Though this may have passed by now. Trying to get him up on Facebook, so maybe I can relate his insights later.