Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Letter to a Past Experiment Concerning the Failure of its Success

Dear psychotic bastard,

I was in my bedroom the other day. I had gone in there as an escape from something unpleasant happening in the living room. In the course of a civil conversation, where disagreements had been made, something arose in me. Something old and reliably horrid, boiling up from my gut like a crock pot recipe out of Macbeth (they're printed in the back). I walked into the dim room and I stood in front of my door-less closet and I started to take a deep breath. Then I reached in and picked up an empty hanger, tore it in half, threw one half against the wall, shattering it, and then stormed into the kitchen, and disintegrated the rest of it with pure rage. Something, anything, had to die at that moment. It had to die, be destroyed, rendered into the past, to give the poison in my veins, soaked into my muscles, satisfaction. Sacrifice had to make the world right with me again.

The rage drank deep from the preciousness of the poisonous exodus of that moment of my life. Something inside me squealed in delight as the plastic pieces clattered and shattered and battered the walls. And, as my heart slowed, and the light of the fire dimmed so that I could see again, it cackled and ran down the long hall of my mind before slamming the tall, tall door shut with a lingering thunder. After that there was silence. The silence of the dark hall is the awkward situation that always follows the fire. The only thing that hangs in the air is the dust of the impending mending of that tear in time.

I've always been kind of an angry person of sorts. One of those "sleeping giant" kind of angry people that is described by most he knows as "level headed" and "easy going". I'm sure you've met at least one person like me in your life. Someone who seems almost at peace most of the time only to seemingly fly off the handle when certain things come up. A person who can smile in the face of someone screaming at them at the top of their lungs, but, when they drop a fork on the floor while trying to load the dishwasher they start a 30 minute rant about how the entire world is against them.

This phenomenon is most evident if you look back through some of these letters. The early ones were explosions of anger, but, if you look at the subject matter it was always outright asinine. People that don't make more coffee after drinking the last of it. People that can't order off of menus. Poorly manufactured pants. All subjects worthy of my vitriol, apparently. The meaningful things in my life I've always been able to approach calmly and objectively. Debt, unemployment, conflict, loss. These are things that I process on a mental level, rather then an emotional one, and I had always thought that that was a fair trade. Being a drama queen about people getting my order wrong at McDonald's always seemed like a small price to pay for the ability to be cool in the face of real life.

That's not meant to excuse my anger at McDonald's. I mean, I get REALLY angry at them. I scream and rant and toss dishes and slam doors. I curse god and the devil and everything in between, and over what? Mustard? Yeah, pretty much. But, even this anger, this emotional overload that was almost an everyday occurrence, was, in a way, controlled.

Ever since I can remember there's been a point in every mundane frustration of mine where I, inevitably, become enraged, but it was controlled; directed. The rage was extreme, but, I was always aware of how bad it was getting, and where it was pointed. It was like being the pilot of a craft where the accelerator was stuck wide open, but the steering mechanisms still worked. I couldn't control the intensity of the flight, but I could control the trajectory of it. I could avoid deadly obstacles and angle myself away from impact with the things I cared about. I could put the craft on a course towards open space and just let the engines burn on afterburner until I ran out of fuel. In other words, I could feel the rage hit, and rant about how there aren't any right angles in our house, or how they only have strawberry yogurt at the cafeteria at work. I mean, seriously, is this a business or a concentration camp? Americans want banana in their strawberry yogurt, Heir Bossman. The point is that I could keep the rage, for the most part, from burning out of control in areas of my life where it could do some real damage.

Lately, though, this has not been the case. The anger has gotten worse, and even though I think I've been slightly successful in decreasing the amount of times I get angry, the intensity of the anger has increased with each outburst on an ever increasing scale. It starts out familiar. I can feel the heat, I can feel the pressure, I know the engines are stuck on, and I try to ride it out, like I always have. I accept that, at worst, I'm probably about to have to replace a glass or do some minor sheet rock repair in the near future. I'm going to have to buy my wife some chocolate and be on good behavior for a little while. It's not fun to admit that I have to have these cycles in my life, but, I'm realistic, so I know it's coming. But, half way through these routine angry fits lately, something has been kicking in, hard.

I'm in the cockpit, I'm trying to steer with the engines wide open, and suddenly there's a loud crack, and I'm pressed against the seat. First back, then to the side. My vision starts to black, then red out. I reach for the stick, but it's too far, and I can't move. I can't breath. Outside the world is in a dizzying swirl as I roll and spin out of control. I can hear the metal bending with the heat of the engine. I can see the steam in the cockpit from my own sweat. I can smell the flesh on my back cooking as the firewall behind me gives way. Mentally, I over load and fly apart.

In reality, I completely lose my fucking shit. I actually lose all control of what I'm saying. I can't control the speed or volume or content of my speech. It's full of wild and accusatory declarations. It's cynical and suspicious. It's unreasonable and hurtful. Most of all, it's scary. It's scary for everyone involved, including me. When I come down off of these rages, I almost collapse to the ground. I'm exhausted and bewildered. I used to get panic attacks sometimes which, in my case, made me feel like the stress and tension in my muscles were curling my body into a tight death ball. The aftermath of these rages is the opposite. I feel like I'm made of soft rubber afterwards. I feel empty and weak. Not to mention I've just scared the living shit out of my wife and made an already bad situation ten times worse.

With the normal rages I can censure myself. I get angry and I yell, but so does she, so WE yell. It kind of levels the playing field. And, with the regular rages, even though I'm angry, I'm still thinking about what I'm saying. There might be a "bitch" or a "tart" thrown in there for flavor, but like I said, I've gotten good at apologizing. I never used to just unleash this crazed exorcist-style torrent at her. I'm not yelling about which way the hangers are facing, I'm spewing out some real heinous shit about her as a person. Things I would never say if I could help it. And, I used to be able to help it. Something changed.

I think I've been extremely sleep deprived lately. I had a schedule for about a month that caused me to work for three days in the afternoon, over the weekend, and then switch to working nights on Monday and Tuesday. This caused me to have to switch my sleep schedule from days to nights and back again each week. This wreaked havoc on my mind. I never new what time it was or what day it was. I was staying up from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday night just to squeeze a little bit more time out of a week where I only had one day off.

I recently "negotiated" a slightly better schedule (meaning I told my manager I was officially burnt out), but sometimes I think the damage is already done. I still have a week where I have to work during the day some days and at night others. But, so far, I'm holding the mental dam in place. Feeling the cold, dead weight of the water behind it. I never imagined I would be like this, mentally. Making conscious efforts everyday to keep my sanity together, instead of just letting the dam break, like I thought I had been doing my whole life up to this point.

When I was younger, a teenager, I wanted to become insane. The idea of it was one that seemed to fit me just fine. I was different, smart, creative, so insanity seemed like the next logical step. So, I started trying to break myself. I would stay up for days (my record was 72 hours with a one hour nap each day) so that I could bring about auditory and visual hallucinations. I would go into the bathroom and turn the lights off at night, and submerse myself in the tub, my head underwater with just a straw to breath through, to try and deprive myself of stimuli. I would just listen to my breathing. I would put myself into painful scenarios, like, ice water on my hot skin or put the end of a knife in a lighter and then touch it to my arm, and try to convince myself that it didn't hurt. In other words I tried a cocktail of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, and pain to try and irrevocably crack the foundation of my conscious mind.

I thought of my mind as a wall that needed to be torn down so I could have all the precious, pure, unfiltered thought behind it. I wanted the good stuff. I wanted the world that lived and breathed behind the one that I perceived as real. I thought if I could get there, and bring it back with me, I would have something new and wonderful that not many people get to experience. A life without false, self imposed limits.

Needless to say, my attempts failed. I ended up completing a grocery list of crazy shit, but without actually being crazy, which, I guess just makes me an idiot. And, to extend that ignorance even further, I determined through my reckless experimenting that I could not, in fact, go insane. I decided that I was too smart, but also too practical, to lose my mind, so I stopped trying.

Fast forward ten years. I'm standing on my front porch, taking a long, long time trying to decide why I was out there. I remember I was going to get the mail, then I forget again, so I stand some more and try to remember. At some point I take a step, which stirs up some of the pollen that has coated everything in the entire city. The pollen makes a cloud at my feet and starts to drift up, and from the cloud, I see (I SEE) the wisps of yellow powder twist into little flying bugs. They rise in the direction the cloud was going, and spread across my vision. There must have been hundreds. Swarming up from my foot.

I know the bugs were real. And, I know that they were in the grass of my yard, and the same step that caused the cloud of pollen disturbed them and they took off. I know that, now. But, at the time, there was a moment, when, I don't know. The cause and the effect seemed perfectly logical to me. I had kicked some dust and it had turned into bugs and they had flown away. It didn't seem strange to me, just like the logical conclusion I came to later doesn't seem strange to me. There was no shock, no wonder, no question, that the pollen had turned into bugs. I had seen it so I just accepted it. I didn't even watch them that long. I just stood there, trying to remember why I had come outside.

This is after, more than once, on those days where I'd try to stay up for sometimes 30+ hours on a stretch to get personal things done, even if those things were having lunch with my wife or watching my little sister go horseback riding, saying wild things to my wife at night. Things like telling her it wasn't right that she was breaking into people's houses to administer polio vaccines with bent paper clips, or something a little more vague like asking her if she had gotten everyone on her list, because it was important that people be on her list. You know what I mean? That's what crazy is right? Believing something that was fabricated by your mind and acting accordingly. The fact that these quick episodes were temporary doesn't make it any less worrisome.

To make a bad joke, I've slept since then. But, the memories of how I've been lately are still fresh. I was acting like a crazy person, and I'm not so sure that it's totally in the past. Something is different inside me. It's like something has been torn and I can't sew it back up. I just have to try and move carefully so that I don't end up tearing it more. I had always thought of my sane state of mind as a wall made of rock and cement, and maybe that's how it used to be. Maybe, the act of trying to break through it strengthened it to be that wall. That the more I hammered the harder it became to break. And, so, maybe now, after so much time has passed without hammering, maybe now it's just a thin sheet. Maybe all it took was one bad storm too many to tear it open, and now I can't figure out how to mend it.

Ten years ago I would have welcomed the tear. I would have ripped the sheet to the ground and jumped, head first, into whatever the hell it was holding back. But now, now I need the sheet. I need to keep my head together. I need to get a hold of my shit. But, the only point of reference I have for complete mental stability, was the very time in my life that I was trying to become insane.

Is that what I have to do, again? Do I have to start testing the boundaries; rattling the cage I'm in? What if I'm wrong, and it does the opposite? What if I'm right and just staying the course takes me right off the edge of the world? Either way I have to make a decision. Or, I guess I had to, I should say. I've already made it. I've become too accustomed to my own mental health. I need to start questioning it again. Questioning everything, again.

I'll start small, but I'll still start. I'll take all that rage and fear and confusion that has been building up inside of me, and I throw it all into whatever is still keeping me rooted in reality. If I'm right, I'll reflexively fortify myself against losing my mind. If I'm wrong, well, shit, I've always wanted to be insane anyway, right?

Chiggie Von Richthofen
Walking down the street shooting people that I meet with my rubber tommy water gun

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Wow. This is the only one of your posts that has not made me laugh, but just wonder. I prefer the laughter though I cannot deny you of your thoughts.