From my in-progress book on mental illness …
It’s always a close call. Last night. Another night of a mania, with some psychosis and paranoia thrown in for good measure. Sometimes I wonder, what is the point of trying to control your mind, if it clearly wants to do its own thing? Is it even worth the struggle?
I don’t know.
But it’s always too close, always a close call.
Let’s face it: I know my mind wants something, I know my mind is after something, whether Truth or Love or Hunger, who can really say. Whether I want to engage in Socratic dialogue or figure out Wittgenstein’s Tractatus … do I even know what I want? Do I even know why the drive is so strong, why the drive is so overwhelming, why it permeates my existence?
So, let’s talk. Buckle up, you’re in for a ride.
Me, Phoenix, the guy that’s always too close to call, or too close to it. Too close to the chest.
Last night, it started simple enough. I’d gotten in an argument with someone who I had reason to believe was backstabbing me by talking smack, and I had good reason to believe this, evidence, and I confronted them. Or should I back up a little bit, and say why I felt so angry in the first place? Maybe because, to make a long story short, I unintentionally pissed off some neighbors at my apartment complex in the recent past, because they didn’t want me to be around their children, I guess because they assumed I was a mentally strung out psycho, which was fine, I did what they asked me to do, not expecting that it was going to lead to segregation and ostracism and rejection. How adults could be so clever as to use their children as a justification to ostracize someone, just because I try to be nice to others, friendly and community-oriented … who knew? How stupid, then, it was, when I walked outside and there was one of the kids, playing with a few other kids, and him, upon seeing me, immediately saying to a kid chasing after a Frisbee coming towards me, “Don’t go that far,” and me in shock when the kid looked up at me in fear, me hurt by the comment, strung out and stung. Great. Exactly what I needed. Kids fearing me for no fucking reason.
And so, I was mad, and wanted some answers. Part of me, the Buddhist, told me to wait. Buddhism is all about patience and cultivating a sense of enlightenment and understanding with the way things are in the world, not being fooled by appearances. But the existentialist in me, that’s full of anxiety and dread and despair, with sometimes an atheistic bent (though you’ll see the irony in all that later), feels conviction and a resolved spirit is the way to get things done, feels radical freedom is the way to confront painful situations. And I wanted answers, and I opted for the fiery phoenix route, and I started trying to intimidate the guy I confronted into giving me some answers.
He tried to play it cool. He mentioned the kid’s name, who in contrast to me, said, “Hey, what’s up?” because that’s how it is around here, apparently. People like me that try to look out for others, and devotes his life to honest reflection via writing and service work by helping the homeless, is an outcast and threat, while someone who is into drugs and alcohol and excess sex and pornographic music is the ideal standard that the children should aspire to.
Well. As if that didn’t piss me off enough. The segregation part. So, I tried to get some answers. I tried to outsmart them with my philosophy, though it was hard. It was hard because I suck at philosophy, and I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am. Nor as good of a person apparently. But regardless, I kept trying to one-up them with difficult philosophical arguments, calling out their fallacious reasoning upon discussion … really letting the anger flow.
So after talking about the simulation argument and some deeply cherished values of mine that I hope to employ more often in my life (because they are peaceful and productive and soothing), and showing them my work and that I’m not a threat and if anything, I just want to be kind to others, the one who I thought was talking smack just kept ignoring me, with his nose turned up. Passive-aggressive? Pretending I’m not there? So I sideswiped him, by ambiguously referring to “it being like the guy on the couch that doesn’t talk to you.”
He took this the wrong way, poor bastard. He told me he didn’t “appreciate subliminal shots,” and, being at my apartment, decided to leave. Pissed off at being bullied for six fucking months, I called him a coward. And I meant it.
We argued. I tried to stay rational, because I want to be calm, I don’t want to be paranoid and neurotic, but I was pissed because I couldn’t stand the way in which he was lying to my face, taking swipes at me too and pretending they weren’t, being passive-aggressive in his own way.
I wasn’t even aware of it happening. And this guy’s poor friend was just trying to keep the peace, but he was just getting in the way.
Anyway. Long-winded, I know, and I’m not even manic yet, but hold on and you’ll see …
Time passed. I called my mother. She gave me some good advice, told me I finally stood up for myself, which was appropriate given the toxic circumstances. I had thought I’d overreacted, but after her reasoning and explanation, I realized that yes, I did the best I could given the circumstances. The best possible outcome given the situation happened.
But all of this wasn’t over, apparently. Time continued to pass, it got dark, raining, I went to a thrift store, bought some books, got pissed when someone cut me off as I was walking, trying to run me over with their car, but kept going. I found a book called You Don’t Know Me, and I was struck at the rebellious voice and tone of the narrator, unlike anything I’d ever heard before, and I was struck at the theme of how yeah, you don’t really know anyone, because you don’t know what they’re going through. But how, indeed, appearances are deceptive.
And thus began my spiral downwards.
I went back to the apartment, and said in the front of the building, to the bastards that had ripped me off and stabbed me in the back, “Let’s see if this works: I’m just going to talk, express myself honestly, and let’s see if anyone hears me.” Knowing they wouldn’t hear me, because they were safe in their little houses, but experimenting with my psychosis nonetheless.
So, I started talking (after I asked a guy without his permission why everyone was such an asshole around here, him included). I started saying, “There is something … something sinister going on around here. Something I can’t explain, but something that I feel. Something that I know exists. And I intend to find out what it is.”
I started talking about my book I’m editing, In the Garden of Evil, where God is wicked and corrupts everything, wants degradation and pain and suffering and Hell. And then, lo and behold, out comes the father of the child who undercut me and dug at me and sideswiped me earlier with his comment about how I’m such a fucking threat, when I’m just checking the goddamn mail.
(My mother, by the way, told everyone at this shitty apartment complex that they could go fuck themselves, which made me chuckle.)
Anyway, we start talking. He asks me if I’m okay, because I’m talking to myself, and I must sound pissed. I say, “Sure, yeah, I’m fine. Just damages.” And he’s like, “What do you mean?” And I’m like, “Damage control. You know how it goes.”
And then I just become myself.
Unadulterated passion, unmediated by what society expects from me when their cultural determinism.
I tell him things like, “Yeah, I called our friend a coward, or your friend,” and he said, “Wow, that’s harsh,” but we talked, and I expressed my anger in a passive-aggressive way.
I told him, the devil’s deal, when he offered to shoot pictures of me (as he’s a photographer). I wasn’t calling him the Devil, no way, the Devil is the good guy … the Devil is way too cool to be some random neighbor that’s damaged things. So I said, no, he wasn’t the Devil, but the devil’s deal … it’s when you think you’re getting one thing, but you’re getting another thing. I sideswiped him, told him that I didn’t want to be ripped off and charged, when he said it was going to be free.
And we continued to talk. He told me he would have loved to take pictures of me with my hair all bushy and wild with the long-ass sideburns, though I’d long since gotten a new haircut. I told him it was because, believe it or not folks, people thought my wild hair meant I was going to mug someone.
Undercut, undercut, undercut. But I was going to play the game, damn it, if it was the last thing I did. I found out that the landlord of the place encourages destruction among the residents, for a high turnover rate, to get more money. Hence why everyone is such an asshole around these parts, apparently.
But the night wasn’t over. The mania was just getting started. I went home, tried to eat, wasn’t hungry, didn’t really want to eat because I’d feel like I was ingesting poison or something, though finally settled on chocolate, a small Kit Kat bar, and reading passages from The Chocolate War of all things.
And then, he entered me. The Devil. Lucifer. Or who, at least, I presume to be evil.
I said in the mirror, “You always know, don’t you?” Meaning, me, Phoenix, or the Devil talking through me, knows that, it’s always crueler than it looks on the surface. Deep down it’s rotted, though it may not look so. But yes, I always know, don’t I?
But I tried to calm down. So I let the playful aspects of my mental illness get the best of me.
I turned on Where the Wild Things Are, the movie, and just let it play some of my favorite scenes, like when Max admits he hates frozen corn. And I listened to music. And then just let my dissociative personality work through me, work through me, guide me, even, if you want to go that far, the metaphysics of understanding.
So, I kept playing around, speaking Spanish. Esta nuevo? Este noche? And I kept trying. I told a person selling baked goods at a bakery that I know things are sinister. It’s like when you think the real evil is the man with the two piercing red eyes, but he slowly rips off his mask to reveal his red Cyclops eye, which watches everything, with frightful omniscience.
A nightmare, huh? All of this destruction, huh, and fear, and anxiety?
I told you I’m an existentialist at heart.
But I kept trying, trying and trying, and I ended up buying a painfully overpriced milkless chocolate bar, to crash my Subway diet, my too heavily intense focus on vegetables, even though I wasn’t even hungry.
And then my parents came over, but not immediately. I had time. To try to unwind.
So, I ended up getting a free book by a local writer, which hit home because I’m a local writer myself, much to my surprise, the book of this guy of which I promoted on Facebook. (Even when you’re insane, you can still do nice things for others and be rational, it would seem, apparently.)
But then I went home, and knew I needed to take a shower, which I didn’t want to do, it was getting late, I was getting tired and frustrated, couldn’t it just be over? So I drew a bath, and accidently sucked up a bunch of water in my nose when trying to wash my hair, and then I dried off and got ready for another anxious night like a knife, and then my parents came.
We talked. I gave my mother a sheet on advice of training dogs, which she didn’t want, it seemed, but it was okay, she’d talked to me, so we were good. But anyway, my Dad was there too, and we chatted, I told them about my bizarre day, how crazy it all was … but I was amazingly calm. I was myself, it seemed like, if a little exhausted. We talked for about twenty minutes, then they left to go fend for themselves in the snowing weather.
And then I tried to sleep. Knowing sleep is probably my bread and butter for how I stay sane. I thought about stuff. I thought. I looked up things. I watched a music video by Incubus about bursting into flames, just like the phoenix, because they’ve had enough of the world. I watched a video about a kid giving a speech because he finally learned how to ride his bike and was proud and wanted to be inspiration. Ah, if only things were as simple as riding a bike, no? But anyway, I looked up an experiment apparently going on in Sweden (I can neither confirm nor deny this as fact), where people were getting brain implants to modify their behavior, this including the mentally ill. To modify behavior.
Yes, because society is really just a big eugenics experiment.
So the shots that this neighbor that’s given me hell … what fun we might have? I might go for a Lord of the Flies look in the photo shoot, all dirty and ragged and vulnerable and savage, or I might go for the tortured artist look, grabbing his head in agony and despair like Alan Strang from Equus, or I might just be in pain. Pain and suffering. That’s what I told this guy I wanted to emerge. The pain and suffering. I wanted that to come out.
Now, I’m mostly done, but a couple of final thoughts.
Yes, I’m stuck alone inside my chaotic and troubling mind.
I probably seem like such a jerk, but a man can only take so much, right? It’s not like the kids are taking over the picture, or anything, where there is just laughter and sunshine and the colorful butterflies. No, there’s pain and suffering and darkness.
But truth be told, I was just trying to keep it together. And I was shocked that admitting my vulnerability to this neighbor, who struggles with an illness himself, probably why he got so paranoid about me in the first place and backstabbed me so hatefully, made me more sympathetic. Because indeed, I’m a fucked up person. But I do my best, and I think that should count for something … even if trying your best is too close to the chest.