Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sword of Stygma and the Upside-down Crown

entry the 5th

10:23am central time zone
putting the address in regular order now, jammies and an old t-shirt that needs to be washed, sitting on my bed using my mom's laptop, my bedroom, the house, the street, the hood, the town, the state, the country, etc.

Spam Count: 0

Much of this post is going to seem self-indulgent, whiney, bitter, and all-around negative. But it isn't. I want you to accept the idea, right now, that I'm not complaining in anything I say in this post. It's all meant to be informative. If you can keep that in mind and try to reconcile it with the crap you're actually reading, cool. If you're not inclined to believe me, then I recommend just not even reading this post. I mean, I want you to read it, but for your own sake don't waste your time.

End of disclaimer.

I got through my slump and am now working on the book again. I hope to start on the first draft soon. Like I said in my last post, there are always snags and complications and enemies to be found in any undertaking. But sometimes the project wouldn't even be possible without the villains.

If you read the first entry of this blog, you know that my villain is Bipolar Disorder. Well, that's where the recent slump came from. My polarity switched pretty suddenly from manic to depressed, and it took me several days to bounce back from the lethargy and hypersomnia, and several days more to recover my balance. Thing is, I wouldn't be able to write this book I'm working on if it weren't for my experiences with this mood disorder. Mostly because the entire trilogy is an allegory for the special challenges of life as a lunatic, but also because my mania gives me the energy and inspiration I use to get the work done.

Honestly, though? And I don't want to sound like I'm whining. But it isn't worth it.

Mania can be very enjoyable. Euphoric. Literally addicting in some cases. And the energy and creativity do provide definite advantages when they're present. And being crazy makes me special.

Even depression has its up-sides, in some ways. Sadness makes you sensitive to the suffering of others. Lethargy makes you think harder about how you spend what energy you do have, which tends to lead to a kind of minimalistic simplicity of life-style and thought that can be very liberating. Given time and experience, the emotional pain of depression quite often gives way to a sort of flat-line numbness, which is abhorent from the perspective of living life as a human being, but in truth gifts me with a sense of stillness and peace that, frankly, can be wonderful. There's a kind of invulnerability in apathy. It's not healthy, but it is useful.

I was in a writing group my first year in college, and I'll never forget this one essay that one of the girls wrote. She was a senior named Laura. She wrote an essay about the leaning tower of piza. The thesis of the essay was that it leans. Like, it really leans. Yeah, I know it's there in the name, and I'm sure you've seen postcards of the tower. But have you been there? Because this tower actually leans. You think you know what I'm saying, but you don't.

And that was the point of the essay. You have to have been there to really understand. I can describe the experience of being manic or depressed fairly articulately. I know the words to use to get my meaning across accurately. But just because you read that and understand what I'm talking about doesn't mean you know anything about it. Not really.

I'm not trying to be defensive, it's just true. Mania? Delusions? Most people will never experience anything like that, and nobody can really say they know unless they've experienced it. You can't fake being delusional, because by definition the deluded person doesn't believe they are deluded. It probably hasn't even occured to them that they might not actually be the second coming of Jesus, or Count Dracula, or Einstein. The "what if" game doesn't even work in this context. What if I believed something really weird that obviously wasn't true? If it were obvious, you wouldn't believe it. What if something I believe now, something I take for granted, is actually a bizarre delusion? That's getting closer, but in your mind you know you're just pretending. That's not the experience of a psychotic person.

And everybody thinks they know everything about clinical depression. Hell, most people think they've been clinically depressed before. But no, just because you were in a funk from the age of seventeen to the age of twenty-one does not mean you have a brain-chemistry imbalance.

And no, attempting suicide as a teenager does not automatically qualify you either. Average people do think about killing themselves. Accepting the painful nature of our lives as humans is not something we're born with, we have to develop it. It's difficult for just about everyone alive to trudge through some of the crap this world throws at you, and if you're not determined to make the best of things from the get-go, it's not surprising that you might rebel against the whole idea of living life at all.

If your depression is clinical rather than situational, you'll be able to tell. A normal person can be grumpy and discontent even if their life is easy and comfortable. Usually the unhappiness is existential. You're not really in pain, you're just constantly disappointed that your life isn't both meaningful and effortless. Whereas a clinically depressed person can feel happiness, can feel everything a normal person can feel, but they're very aware that they can't access those real emotions. When Plath created the metaphor of the bell-jar, she knew what she was talking about. But the glass cage isn't just social or functional, it's internal. Outside the bell-jar are your real feelings and thoughts. You can see them through the glass, you know they're there, but you can't have them.

A clinically depressed person doesn't have to plot or fantasize about suicide, or even think about it. It's there with them physically all the time. It's a lot like the urge to urinate. You might strongly believe peeing is a sin against God, but is that really going to stop you?

Some people come to suicide because they're tortured. For some of us, resisting suicide is torture.

And that's the nature of truly clinical mental illness. The person I really am isn't in pain. I'm not special or different. I'm not quixotic or eccentric. I don't need unrealistically grandiose ambitions to compensate for anything. I don't actually have Asperger's disease. But that's all outside the bell-jar. On a good day, I don't feel frustrated that I can't live the life that is, objectively, well within my reach. On a bad day--especially in the quiet, still, dark parts of the day, like lying in bed before you fall asleep--I wish for oblivion. On an average day, I fantasize about having a wife and kids. A nice little house. A college degree. A job where I sit at a desk. God, I want kids. Always have.

That's why it's not worth it. Even if I succeed beyond my wildest imaginings, even if I turn out to be the next Rowling or Tokien or Lucas, even if I could snap my fingers and be blissfully manic for a whole month, I would trade all of it if I could have that other life. The life I see everywhere I look.

How hard is it to just buckle down and get my degree? How hard is it to just get out there and meet a girl and fall in love and get married and produce offspring? Not hard at all. I'm pretty confident I could achieve those things with less effort than most people. I'm actually really good at school. I have a high IQ. As far as getting a girl? Ha. I'm kind, funny, intelligent, attentive, and--I'm told--reasonably good-looking, too. At least I would be if I shaved, ha ha.

My problem has nothing to do with difficulty. I'm not challenged. The problem is, I'm in a bell-jar, and in here I don't want any of those things. I do not want them. Don't care. Somebody throw me a rat's ass, and I'm good.

Okay, now comes the real point I want to make. I could choose to go after those goals anyway. I mean, I could make myself. It's not like it would hurt. But I don't think it would be right. Can you sort of see what I mean? If I can't give my 100% as a parent, I don't want to be a parent. And that feeling is here with me, inside the bell-jar. That's the bitter but healthy thought that the dementors here at Azkaban won't eat.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm going to become a fantasy novelist. Because fantasy doesn't matter enough to avoid, yet is valued enough by society that I might actually be able to get off the ground with it as a career. Plus, books are much more forgiving than people. People see you all the time, on your good days and your bad. But you only have to come to the book when you're ready. And even if you come to it when you're messed up, you can go back and edit it later, when you're healthy again. That doesn't work with kids so much. Probably not with wives either, unless I met a really really patient and understanding girl, in which case I wouldn't ever marry her because a saint like that deserves someone better than a sick freak.

Yes, I am a sick freak. That's the inscription on the side of the Sword of Stygma. "Sick freak" written over and over all down the length of the blade. You can't wield her unless you're willing to say it and mean it, and even then no one would want to wield that sword unless they were stuck with it in the first place. But a sword is a tool, and a tool can destroy or create, and I've got some things I intend to create because I think they might mean something to some people, and because I'm one of the only people who can.

And that, ultimately, is what I'm living for at this point. It's my crown, and it's upside-down because it's a crown absolutely no one wants. Most people wouldn't recognize it as a crown in the first place. But it's completely mine, and it's the most and best that I have, and hey, if I can't be a dad, I might was well be a king.

only very slightly self-pityingly,
fiasco joe

"Build me an army worthy of Mordor."
-Princess Leah

1 comment:

Amy said...

Ah, the bell jar. Beautiful, beautiful Sylvia.

I still want both for you--not that it matters what *I* want for the life *you* live--but, yes, I envision you as a fabulous dad. You deserve to experience that love, both from your child and from that saintly woman.

And, no doubt, you are an amazing writer. After all, 'somebody throw me a rat's ass, and I'm good' is my new mantra.