I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to describe how it works to be psychotic to people who’ve never done good acid. Trippers get it for the most part, I just say “like tripping but you never stop believing.” Belief is a big part of it: all capacity for skepticism and doubt is gone. It’s confirmation bias on crack. It’s like being three years old with no parents to explain things or tell you when you’re wrong. But it’s not just that. When I say I thought I was a fish, a part of me knew that my body had not changed in any specific way, I just believed, absolutely, that it would if I summoned the image strongly enough, and when nothing happened, I found a new story to follow. If a delusion got so out of control that it required supernatural proof that wasn’t coming, I’d adapt the delusion or move on to another one. Evidence and reality were trying to assert themselves the way an amateur pool player might try to make a bank shot with a machine gun.
A lot of the attributes and identities I imbued in the people and things around me required no proof. It wasn’t that a person was growing horns or summoning spirits, it was that I reevaluated what “person” and “spirits” and “summoning” meant, enough to attach them to any individual or object, but not enough to separate them from their roots. Etymology, homonyms, alliteration, fiction and history all became paths for attaching meaning and substance to the signs on my autobahn of thought. It didn’t help that I was particularly well read, and had been studying ontology and semantics over the previous year. My mind was packed with superficial knowledge and tricks for arbitrarily removing and reattaching meaning.
That’s one of the most important lessons I took from this. It’s also the saddest. Few people have ever believed in anything as totally as I believed in a litany of demonstrably false beliefs. I’m left with the doubt about this life, occasionally wondering if I did die at the end of that pier, and this is Leary’s afterlife, or if I’m strapped to a bed somewhere on an IV drip. But I will never believe in anything again, because I’ve seen how easily the mechanism for belief can be tripped.1
There are two works that I’ve read that accurately capture the experience of being crazy. The first is The Invisibles, which I recommend to anybody. The Invisibles is the description of the world where every dream is a gateway and every drug is right, and especially in the beginning, the hazy line between magic and “maybe I just wasn’t looking” is almost perfectly scratched into the mirror.
The other one is Jesus’s inner struggle in The Last Temptation of Christ.
Part 8, or “People Finally Start Catching On”
I managed to dry off. People were after me. Men with shotguns. Because I was an agent of the recreation of the world. Or because I was traveling in an alien galaxy. Whatever. I had to plan my next move.
Around dawn, my next move was to equip myself. Running around naked wouldn’t do, I’d failed in the Regression of the Fish, so I had to seek out the next path. I donned black slacks, my dress shoes, a blue button-down shirt, a belt, yellow tinted shades, and an antique army coat, black, knee length, with red crosses sewn into the cuffs and collar. I also took some totems: a piece of tiger eye, a few coins, some other junk that didn’t do me much good. I also had one of those Nokia brick cell phones that everybody had back then, which had become the most fascinating object in the universe. We’ll never know, but if I’d had an iPhone I probably never would have left my apartment.2
I set off in the foggy morning. A few blocks down the road, I realized I was a vampire, and since I was essentially wearing the uniform for a local restaurant, I knew where the vampire lair was. I cruised in as the waiters were getting ready for the morning shift, headed up to the upstairs bar, and drank the cold drink that was sitting there. I think it was an Irish coffee. Then I sat, waiting for my vampire minions to collect.
Eventually, the owner of the restaurant found me. I got a lot of sympathy during this, because I was pale and gaunt due to barely eating during the last two weeks, and I had a thousand mile stare usually reserved for war veterans. I also rarely said anything that was obviously insane, because I understood that all language was complex code for what was really going on that only the initiated understood, so I had to talk and respond “normally.”
“Hello?” said the manager.
“Hi…” I said.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t think so.”
I was as far from okay as you can really get, but I said it for different reasons. My vampire minions hadn’t come to me, so maybe I wasn’t a vampire, so I had to figure out what I was.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?”
“Okay,” I said, and followed him.
Someday I need to find this human being and thank him for one of the most amazing acts of kindness performed by a total stranger. Here was a possibly dangerous, drugged out nut job who had just cruised into his restaurant, and he took me to the hospital, instead of calling the police or just beating the shit out of me.4 He dropped me off outside the emergency room, and I turned myself in for the first time.
At this point, his concern had convinced me I’d done something really bad. I decided it was because I had actually killed Jake, which was the only reason I could feel this bad.
This is not totally out of the blue; Jake has a condition which allows him to suck in his chest to the point where there’s a hole in the middle of it in which a medium-sized person could fit his fist. I decided that hole hadn’t been there because it was genetic and had always been there; it was there because I punched through his rib cage and crushed his heart. Why had I done this? Because I was on a crack bender.
Since Jake is still alive, it’s pretty obvious that I did not do this, but this is what I told the doctor when I turned myself in. He was non-plussed. He stuck his finger up my ass to check for something drug-related, I don’t know what, but I distinctly remember the sensation, and it was a little bit like been stabbed in the gut by God. Having had another proctologist root around for more normal medical reasons, I can say proctology is best experienced while sober.5 He told me not to use my cell phone while in the hospital, so of course that was the first thing I did. Here’s my mom:
I was in my office in the garage when Sam came out and said you had called the house. He said you sounded “kinda strange” and told him you were planning to drive your truck (a phantom truck?) to California. I immediately took off for Bar Harbor to find you.
I’m dim on the precise delusion, but I think I was back on the one that involved L.A. Queen. This would not be the last time I needed to get to California. Aside from L.A. Queen, I was actually born in San Francisco, so there was probably some Return to the Scene of the Crime symbolism involved.
The doctor came back in and yelled at me for using my cell phone, but failed to confiscate it. He told me to sit tight and he’d be right back. He was actually calling the police, but they would be frustrated yet again, since as soon as he left, I wandered out the other door and left via the service entrance.
I distinctly remember the next delusion: I was Doctor Who. Since it was still foggy, I took that as a sign that I was wandering back through time, to undo the wrongs wronged and make sure the rights kept on righting. I rearranged my visual experience to place me in the Victorian age, and eventually got back to the middle ages before the morning traffic made that thought untenable. I managed to get back to my apartment.
Back to my mom, since I don’t remember a the details of getting home:
I spent an hour or so looking for you and asking around—picking up rumors of a kid fitting your description and acting weird. Eventually I parked in front of your apartment and waited until you wandered back there. I bundled you into the car and took you home. You wanted to get some stuff from the apartment so we went in for a few minutes. Your cool DJ roommate was there and told me he thought you were really depressed. It would have been more helpful if he’d told me you were stark raving mad but he either didn’t realize that or was trying to spare my feelings.
Anyway, I took you home to Hancock. You were pretty quiet and seemed kind of dazed and not too coherent. At one point you said something like, “I don’t know who I am.” I took this to be existential angst rather than the literal truth it turned out to be. I’ve often wondered how I could have failed to realize that my own son was psychotic. In my defense, my experience with drugs was limited to weed and alcohol and I had no inkling of the potential for the kind of experience you’re describing. Maybe if Tom had been there he’d have recognized what was happening, but he was at work in Augusta. So I put you to bed and went to bed myself. At this point, I demonstrated my total misjudgment of the situation by taking a sleeping pill (dealing with my own insomniac tendencies in those days). Ambien is a pretty benevolent drug that leaves no hangover, but it makes you completely unable to function—or even stand up—until it wears off about six hours after you take it. So when Sam knocked on my door and said you were in your room sobbing I didn’t get up to check on you.
Here are some of the details I do remember. I got home, and spent a good amount of time crying, as I had failed in my mission, and this was clearly some kind of posthumous penance, and I had to get through it to deal with the next stage of my existence. My mom went off to do something in her office, near our house, and I wandered around this strange new place, which was also the place I grew up in for eight years.
I saw my mom’s hormone pills on the kitchen counter, which happened to be spherical. Since there were only two of them in the container, I realized I’d failed in my missions because I’d lost my balls,6 and here they were, so I just had to take them and everything would be alright. I have no idea what the effect of taking female hormones is supposed to be when you’re male and insane, but what it did to me was make me hear voices.
Not right away, of course. My mom came back and put me to sleep in my brother’s room on the top bunk. Here’s my brother:
I am so innocent of drugs that I was three years out of college before I could pick up the smell of pot on my own. The sixteen year old me had no idea how to take care of someone on a bad acid trip. I basically went from kind of paying attention to Tales of the City to having a Miss Madrigal party in my room.
I can explain the book tape. It seemed like an awesome idea at the time. Some of our earliest childhood memories are of listening to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on these warbly old tapes. I thought the soothing voice of Douglas Adams reading words we’d fallen asleep to a thousand times would bring him back to the real world, or something. I think I began to suspect my plan had gone awry when I looked up at the loft where he was and had the creepy feeling that someone I had never met was looking at me with my brother’s eyes. I must have fallen asleep shortly after that, because when I woke in the morning, Barb was knocking on my door telling me to get up, and Peter was gone.
At least I didn’t play the Ray Bradbury tapes.
My brother had the right idea, but I was way, way past the point where nostalgia could have settled my mind. Just behind the voice on tape I recognized was an extra voice, whispering symbols. It told me the universe had ended around this house. Everything was slowly collapsing, the stars were winking out, and the end of everything was quietly unfolding beyond the skylight.
I got up. I went to the TV and put on the Matrix, and realized this world was a fake, not precisely in the Matrix way, but the Matrix was a code telling me I had to save the universe, and all this paltry physical bullshit wasn’t real. I think I put my head against the screen to better understand the message. I was Neo, lacking only my Trinity.
Fortunately, I had been infatuated with a goth-esque girl who was my neighbor the previous year, so that was my Trinity, and every time my cell phone did anything even slightly out of the ordinary, it was her contacting me. Now, I would love to get her perspective, and believe me, I’ve google-stalked her to Hell and back and can’t find a single mention, and I’m scared to go back and find out she’s dead since she had the nastier of the diabetes. Also, she cut me off because I wrote her a lot of emails while drunk in the following years. Don’t write drunk.7 Since she’s going to show up a lot in the future, we’ll just keep calling her Trinity.
I needed to get a move on. Step one was to restart the universe.8 In order to do that, I had to get my physical essence integrated into the physical world, since I was the nub of Real Reality to which the ashes of the old universe were clinging. I took the keys to my mom’s car, and drove to the shore, where I spit into the ocean. I still think this shows a fair amount of intelligence given the delusional rules I was abiding by. If you have an ice-9 situation relying on your body fluids to save creation, step one is definitely spitting in the ocean.
From there, I drove to Southwest Harbor, and en route decided I was Shannon Scott.
Shannon was a friend of mine who occasionally had okay parties, and, more importantly, rich parents with an amazing house, a sauna, a pool table, and a 36-inch TV with surround sound.9 I had done my job, achieved my mission, and it was time to reap my reward as a former Florida DJ retiring to the woods. He was actually a DJ in Florida for a while, and remember I already had a hard on for world-saving DJs.
I drive to a parking lot in Southwest Harbor, and low and behold, there is my phantom truck. I park my parents’ car, get into the truck, and start rooting around. By the way, I’m only wearing underwear and a pair of shorts. After I put on the shades sitting on the dashboard, I find a lockbox and start trying to open it.
“Hey!” says the woman I assume owned the truck.
“Hello,” I say, without a care in the world.
“Get the hell out of my truck!”
“Oh, okay,” I say, realizing this was not my phantom truck, honest mistake.
She looks at me disbelieving.
“Um. Those are mine.”
“Oh sorry.” I hand her the shades.
“That’s mine too.”
She points at the lockbox.
“Oh, sorry.” I hand her the lockbox.
“Maybe you should turn yourself in to the police.”
“That sound like a good idea,” I say, and now I’m sad again, as I’m picking up on her anger and confusion. “Where are they?”
“Right over there.”
I smile at her, say “Thank you!” and turn myself in. For the second time in 24 hours.
I give the police much the same story I’d given the doctor, except this time, my name is Shannon Scott, I’d killed Jake during a savage bender that I couldn’t remember, and I’d done basically every drug known to man in the last month. You can’t buy that kind of on-the-spot creativity.
Here’s my mom, upon discovering her car was missing:
All I could do at that point was call the police. I dialed 911 and was routed to the Sheriff’s Department. I told them you’d taken my car and I was afraid you were suicidal (still not understanding what was going on with you). The dispatcher sent out an APB (or whatever they call it these days) and kept me on the phone for a few minutes. While we were talking he got a response from a cop in Southwest Harbor. The cop was standing outside the police station leaning against a car to take down the information about my car when he suddenly realized that it was my car he was leaning on. He’d just returned from the hospital in Bar Harbor, where he’d taken a kid he’d found wandering around the parking lot in his underwear acting crazy. My baby. I got a ride to Southwest Harbor, picked up the car and headed for the hospital.
The people at the hospital were happy to find out who you were, since you had been unable to tell them. The was the moment I finally realized how crazy you were. You didn’t know who you were, who I was, where you were, what year it was—possibly what century it was.
They took me back to the same hospital I’d turned myself in to the first time, where the very same doctor saw me, and he was not happy.
“I told you to stay put!”
They brought in somebody from some emergency mental outreach program in Bar Harbor, who recognized my state of mind immediately. She was very nice and helpful, and had a tattoo of a rose on her arm, so obviously Rose had come to my aid in a new body.
I spent about an hour sobbing, because at this point I’d gotten enough negative reenforcement to convince I had in fact died on the pier and was now in Hell. I felt nothing but fear, disappointment, and helplessness. I was doomed to spend the ret of eternity in this room, alone, with the occasional person stopping in to tell me there was nothing they could do.
Fortunately, there was something people could do. Back to my mom:
They were trying to find a bed in a mental health hospital for you and so far were having no luck. I called Norm and asked for help. Occasionally it turns out to be helpful when one’s Old Boyfriend Network includes a local emergency room director. He spoke to the ER liaison with Acadia Hospital in Bangor, which had claimed not to have any beds available. Turned out they could scare up a bed as a favor to Norm. I went to the Army/Navy store and bought you some clothes and they put you in an ambulance and sent you off to Bangor.
Odd little vignette here: What with all the phone calls to Tom, Sam and Norm passing on information and trying to sort things out, my cell phone had died. So I switched to using yours. You had changed the settings in your phone so everything was in French—and odd choice since you didn’t speak a word of French. You had also turned off the ringer. My limited command of the language and general stress level meant I couldn’t figure out how to turn the ringer back on. So I had to stand outside the hospital staring at the phone while I waited for people to call me back. Theatre of the Absurd.
I still don’t speak a word of French. I know there was a very good reason for changing the language on my phone, but I don’t remember what it was. The ringer was off because the cell phone was in fact my means of moving through all these strange universes, and I had to do it on silently.
All that mattered now was that I was going to the institution.
They strapped me down in the ambulance. It was very red. After my stint in Hell, this was my rebirth. The ambulance was the afterlife metaphor for taking me to another womb. The EMTs were angels or devils or spirits, coaxing me back to pre-consciousness, lulling me to the form of a fetus, taking me to my next life, where I could try it all again, because I’d failed so miserably in this one. I was about to be reincarnated.
In a mental institution.
This is where things got weird.
My admission report.
1 This is also why I try to patiently explain to conspiracy theorists and Mormons that their beliefs are a mild form of psychosis.
2 This may not be true. I’m sure I could have imbued all my iPhone apps with infinitely complex purpose, but I’ve found that when tripping, media rich experiences are the most boring. The Matrix has so much going on, your brain focuses on sorting out the sensory input, and has less time to fuck around with it. The most interesting thing when tripping is low lighting and wood grain.
3 Which is stronger than most people’s and stayed strong throughout the whole episode.
4 Which wouldn’t have been wise. Never fight crazy people. It’s one step short of fighting the Terminator; they won’t interpret the pain the receive or the damage they do correctly, so unless you make it physically impossible for them to go on, they won’t stop, and they may not know when they’re killing you.
5 Though still not on my top ten list of things to do.
6 Had I taken a logical leap to “marbles,” much of the following might have been averted.
7 Unless you’re relating your psychotic episode story to the public. Then it’s necessary.
9 Remember this is 2000. That shit was badass. Especially in Maine.