I mean it this is an epic – so prepare to read or skip to my review of HOTS that has a picture with lots of breasts in it!
Me vs. my brain an epic struggle
Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go I wanna be sedated
Nothin’ to do and no where to go-o-o I wanna be sedated
I’ve always been considered to be very smart. It hasn’t really garnered me anything useful in the way of long term accomplishment or financial wealth, but I’ve always held to that adjective. As far as I’m concerned it’s been of no use whatsoever to me.
Andy Andrist has a fantastic stand up routine in this regard on his album Dumb It Down for the Masses. “The happiest people around are retarded and that’s the key to happiness right there. Drink yourself retarded. Dumb it down a little. Hug some paint. Do some glue, because shit isn’t going to improve in this country, so get fucking dumb. That’s how you do it. You never see a retarded person having a bad day. Oh sure they may have a bad portion of a day like when they lose their swim trunks and they are raving psychotics, but you won’t hear retarded people getting together and “it’s a war for oil! George Bush is dummy!” No they don’t give a fuck they’re just happy to have Froot Loops.”
I totally concur. I fought it for a while. I didn’t drink as a matter or superiority. I was all into that noble savage from Brave New World, who wanted to be miserable and know the truth rather than take the happiness drug Soma. Eventually, though, life just kicks you in the ass long enough and you are begging for the Soma. That’s really what I think about the explosion of mood enhancing drugs, Soma. I don’t think they’ve really perfected it though. As for me I’d really like to be hooked up to Nitrous Oxide with some cool music in the background for the rest of my life. It’s very good in a “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” way, which I could really use because one of the epic problems in my life has been my inability to turn off my mind.
I’m really good at teaching. I’m some how infinitely patient with others, which is odd because I’m infinitely impatient with myself. The one thing I don’t have any clue how to teach is reading. Usually when you teach something well it’s because you know it inside and out and can break it down. I can’t do that with reading, because I never had to struggle with it. I have no idea what it’s like to go from being a weak reader to a competent reader, because I could just always do it. When I was four I wasn’t sounding out words, I was just reading.
In one of the strangest moments of my life they made me read this book Butternut Bill to a group of first graders. I was in kindergarten. I’m not sure what the point of it was. Were they trying to tell the first graders how smart they were or were they just so frustrated with my bored behavior at school that they were trying to get someone older to kick my ass?
When I was in first grade, they had me come downtown to some genius seminar or something. They had like ten kids there to study. The woman running the thing was my first grade teacher, and, at one point, a bunch of people were watching her interact with the kids. She started to read us a book, and I immediately raised my hand and informed her that I had already read it, which I think produced some kind of gasp from the crowd. Of course I had already read it; she had left it lying around in the classroom. I read everything. I had to because it was the best way I had to turn off my head. Turn on to books!
If you left me in a corner with nothing to do for oh about 6 seconds I would go absolutely insane and that has been true for my entire life. There’s a freak show going on upstairs and I can’t turn the fucking thing off. I’m always reading, it’s all I have. I can’t sit through a meal without reading. I bathe instead of shower because it let’s me read. I’m not joking because I’ve read magazines in locker room showers just to not have that extra three minutes with myself.
I read when I walk, I’ve mastered it. I can read and sort of look ahead at the same time. I can cross streets this way. People think I’m insane. Once, when I was working for Citibank, they had to talk to me about this, because I’d get up to go to the bathroom and read all the way there. I wasn’t sitting in a stall for a half hour, in fact most of the time I was urinating, but I needed those two and a half pages to get through the boredom.
They used to let you bring something to your school photographs. It was suppose to say something about you. Most kids brought a baseball glove or a football. I always brought a book. Was I trying to tell people that I was a reader? Hell no, I needed something to do for all that interminable time they made us sit there and wait in line.
From second to fifth grade, I was in this experimental gifted program, where they let you work at your own speed. Now from a learning aspect this was great for me, but it also pretty much killed any ability I had at being normal in that it infinitely spoiled me. For four magic years I was never bored, because I could either learn or was so far ahead of everyone else that I could screw around. This worked perfectly in school; it doesn’t work so well later on in real life.
Frankly I mastered school. No one alive has ever been as successful at getting good grades and tests scores, and exerted less effort in doing so than me. I just figured it out. I’m not saying that I learned more than everyone else, I just figured out the game and played it better than anyone else ever has. They used to have effort grades when I grew up and I treasured my A4’s. What’s better than the top grade and a note that you got it by doing no work and being a complete pain in the ass? By the time I was a senior in high school I hardly even went to school. I missed 52 days, which although a huge number is deceptively small. Most days my mother would call in and say I’d be late. I’d show up around an hour or two late and spend the day chatting with the teachers in the English office for a while, then I’d eat lunch, then I’d watch the Late Night with David Letterman episode I had videotaped from the previous night in the A.V. room, which was basically a large closet that me and my friends hung out in. Then I’d sign in for the last period of the day, which was usually study hall and get credit for a half day of school.
By college, I had such an understanding of how classes were taught and tests were written that I barely had to study at all. I remember one time my best friend hadn’t studied for an economics test, and was freaked because he had left himself all of an hour to do so. I sat down and wrote out 8 essay type questions for him and told him to learn those 8 things and he would be fine. The test turned out to be nearly identical to what I had written out.
This type of behavior doesn’t really prepare you well for the structures of a regular job. Hell, they not only want you to get things done they want you to look like you’re putting some effort into it as well. They don’t want people reading about Al Capone at the Citibank urinals no matter how industrious you tell them you are spending your time.
Now when I was young I was sort of a runt, and fairly athletically incompetent. I’ve always been basically the worst athlete alive that engaged in athletics. I worked at it so I was better than most of the mouth breathers out there, but those dudes just do something else with their time like play Dungeons and Dragons or develop revenge fantasies where they take out all the people who bullied them with semi-automatics machine guns. So if there was voluntary sports going on I was always the worst one there, which I think shows an incredible masochism about myself. It doesn’t matter how much you like playing basketball, you have to be a little sick to do so as badly as I have in my life and to put up with the consequences of your sullen teammates.
In the days that I grew up when you were ten or younger, your cool factor was basically 99% dependant on your athletic ability. Here was my sole youthful cool ability (well other than helping people to cheat at school) – I could stay up late.
Sleepovers were like the first step in youthful interaction, and the kids that fell asleep the earliest would wind up having just horrible things done to them. Nothing sexually devastating, but things involving shaving cream and efforts to get you to wet yourself. In fact, my guess is that my first sleepover invites were solely for this purpose. Kids thought I’d be asleep by eleven PM and then all kinds of fun mayhem would begin. Of course, it never happened. They’d all fall asleep after the late night horror movie and would often wake up six hours later to find me finishing another book. I was the king of staying up late and I wasn’t even trying to stay up, I just couldn’t turn the carnival in my head off.
I’ve had a terrible love hate relationship with sleep. I mean once you fall asleep, it’s just lovely, but getting there has been an agonizing nightmare for me almost from my first days, and it’s left me almost incapable of surviving on a regular schedule. You can get away with this basically until you have to work for a living.
Eventually, aside from this insomnia, I found out that I had sleep apnea, which basically means that even when I did fall asleep, I wasn’t really getting any rest. Ergo, I’ve felt like crap for about 90% of my life. During that 10%, I’m great fun. I’m witty, effervescent and fun to be around. The rest of the time, I could barely carry on a conversation. It’s a great social enhancer to feel like death and have your brain spinning at 100 MPH at the same time. So, if I left your party to go home and watch the Love Boat, I totally apologize, but I couldn’t handle the first hour where everyone just stared at each other, and I’ll take your word for it that after that things got incredibly fun.
So screw Nancy Reagan, who was queen from the time I was 16 to the time I was 22, some people need to abuse drugs and I was one of them. When I think back on all my sober days and realize all the time I could have spent in a drug induced haze, I just want to burn every red dress in America.
So back to my inability to fall asleep, some people can do it instantly, and wow, to me those people are fucking Houdini! Well, done people. You are like those women who never have trouble achieving orgasms, truly blessed.
Look at it this way, I’m pretty much incapable of sitting calmly without a book for 2 minutes without going insane, imagine what happens when you turn the lights off.
My guess is that I was one of the only six year olds in the world lying in bed trying to comprehend the end of the universe and what’s behind it. I know you’ve had those thoughts, but not at six. Lying there in the dark was great fun. “Well, if the universe is infinite that makes me and my pathetic life about as significant as a germ on a medical slide. If I die it’s over. There will be thousands and thousands of years of stuff going on and I’ll just be gone forever forgotten.”
Basically, I started listening to talk radio until I fell asleep. Ask my best friend Dave, who roomed with me in college until he started having sex on a regular basis, how much he enjoyed listening to Larry King with me every night.
I like music, but minus drugs that doesn’t really stop the carnival in my head. I needed words. So next time you hear people put down Larry King, tell them to stop because god bless that motherfucker he got me through my adolescence.
When I was really young I’d listen to this wonderful raving genius lunatic named Pete Franklin until 11:45 and then Larry King would go on at midnight. Those 15 minutes used to be sheer terror for me. God knows why they ended Franklin’s show 15 minutes before midnight, but because of it I was often stuck in the dark losing my mind in abject terror until midnight.
What’s the worst night of the week? Sunday night. There was never anything on the radio to listen to on Sunday night. Sunday nights were just hours of agony for me. Eventually I would just go out into the hallway that my parents kept lit and read until I fall asleep.
This Sunday night thing never went away for me, which is part of the reason I did my best to never go to school. Check this out.
It’s Monday, you’ve just gotten 2 hours of sleep and you’re tired as hell. You barely get through school or work, and you have to decide whether to take a nap or not. A nap would feel good right now, one of the few times you could fall asleep instantly, but if you take it – well if you take it then you’ll be up all night and feel even worse tomorrow. So Monday through Friday suck. Saturday, ahh Saturday. You sleep in until at least noon on Saturday maybe as late as 2 PM. Then of course you don’t fall asleep that night until at least 4 AM, so you in turn sleep until at least noon on Sunday, which means falling asleep Sunday night is impossible and terrifying, which sucks because you can’t sleep in until noon on Monday, unless you are Paris Hilton. Toss in the sleep apnea nonsense, and I’ve rarely felt Bounty fresh.
My life wasn’t great in my school years, but when you are in school you can live that bizarre schedule and take a lot of naps or just stay home. Working for a living is another story and it’s always been a nightmare.
I’ve always called it the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington paradox. To understand the Mr. Smith paradox, you have to remember that I grew up before videotapes and thousands of cable channels made movies omni-present. If you were going to see Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in my day, it was on at 2 AM.
So the following happened to me on a number of nights where an 8 hour workday was staring me in the face on the following day. It’s like 3:30 in the morning. Mr. Smith passes out on the floor of Congress, and I say to myself, “That’s the way I should live my life. I should be nice to everyone, polite at all times, and work to make the world a better place.” Then at 8 the alarm rings and you wake up exhausted, feeling like death warmed over, and you are stuck at work for 8 excruciatingly painful boring hours. Visions of being the next Jefferson Smith disappear at around 9:15. I was never really rude to anyone, but I just always looked and acted like death warmed over. Going through life exhausted, feeling crappy, and having your brain race off into diatribes about how boring it becomes after maybe a 30 second bit of silence – priceless.
I’m a terrible apprentice. If I’m going to lose a job, I’ll do it in like the first week. It’s just a fact, because they have at least a week of training set up for you, and it’s usually paced somewhere between retarded and brain dead. The worst is when you get to sit with someone for two hours. You have the painful introduction, followed by the six minutes that it takes you to learn whatever you’re supposed to be learning from them, usually followed for 114 minutes of incredible awkward silence. In the modern world this is even worse, because the person that’s tutoring you is used to being able to surf the internet and he now resents you because he has to pretend to be busy for 114 minutes too.
You know what I hate about working? Bosses. That’s what I fucking hate…
‘Hicks, how come you’re not working.’
I’d go, ‘There’s nothing to do.’
‘Well, you pretend like you’re working.’
‘Well, why don’t you pretend I’m working? Yeah, you get paid more than me, you fantasize. Pretend I’m mopping. Knock yourself out. I’ll pretend they’re buying stuff; we can close up. I’m the boss now, you’re fired. How’s that?’
I don’t know if I have the right attitude for the workplace.
Yeah me too, I’m the single worst person in the world at pretending to be busy. Remember my mind is going haywire any time I’m not watching television, reading or talking to someone, and I get things done about twice as fast as everyone else.
I’ve had interviews in my later job challenged years that basically went like this. “Look, I’m going to be ten times as efficient as any employee you have, but I’m going to be tired, and I’m going to look like I’m hung over. I have zero ability to look busy when I’m not. Don’t even offer me this job if I’m going to be sitting around doing nothing for long periods of time.”
“Oh, don’t worry; you’ll have plenty to do here!”
Bosses always think that there is plenty to do. Well, there usually isn’t. Sometimes there never is, but usually it’s because you have to wait to get promoted or trusted enough to do something worthwhile. Usually, they’re not going to let you do it for at least two months, and I’m ready to do it in about a week, which means that I’m in severe danger of being fired on like day 8.
This happened to me on my first real job. “Wow, we were really going to fire you. We were sure that we were going to fire you, but we wanted a better reason, so eventually we decided to just throw you into the fire and let you fuck something up, but then you suddenly became really competent.” Well, no actually I was competent like seven weeks ago and you put me through an utter boring mind racing hell of standing around trying to look like I was trying to learn something for 326 hours of agony!
In some jobs, your boss will find you something to do. These tasks usually involve reading something as arcane and boring as law documents. I’m bright, but I’m not that bright. They’ll give you something so convoluted and poorly written to read that you’d have to be a computer scanner to retain any of it, which doesn’t really matter because he’s never read it and there’s nothing in there of any remote importance to your or any other job in there either.
In case you didn’t know, that’s how lawyers and people of high finance make money. They write something 1500 a page long that is boring enough to make a person on ecstasy kill themselves instantly. On page 746 there is some small bit of arcana that allows them to screw you and a million other people out of all of their money. I have a friend named Leon, he made 20 million dollars one month taking advantage of one of these ploys. He can read through that crap, I can’t. I need some characters and some sex and violence in there somewhere.
I’ve had to take a bunch of security tests and the material they give you to study for them just makes you willing to pay at least $100,000 for the NASD series 7 for dummies. There was one test I took where the prep material literally said something like this, “The Securities Act of 1923 is very dense and complex and in a number of places has proven to be contradictory and almost impossible to follow, nevertheless it is still in effect to this day so read it over a number of times and do your best.”
I actually wound up with a horribly high paying impossible to live with job until I was 27. I was an option’s trader in San Francisco. One guy called it the “golden handcuffs” The first four years of this were about as close to hell as I’ve ever been and ever hope to live through.
My work hours were 5:30 AM to 2 PM, just the worst hours for me that were conceivably possible. Not only that, the job was mind numbingly dull. You basically stand around with the same guys all day doing absolutely nothing. For the first fifteen minutes you can discuss the morning news, but for the rest of the day you are just standing there next to a guy that you are so sick of that you literally know how many hours a day he spends in the bathroom.
I have often compared it to manning a trench in World War I. There is absolutely nothing to do but stare off into space, but there’s always the stressful possibility that there will be fifteen minutes of action where you will have to fight someone to the death in order to survive. It wasn’t the best scenario for someone like me who was easily bored and always tired and feeling like a moldy dish rag, but somehow I survived and was good enough at it to look as if I was prospering.
But I was making money and I was off at 2 PM. The problem is what to do with yourself at 2 PM especially if you are exhausted? You can’t take a nap because then you’ll be up all night and tomorrow will be even slower and more painful to get through. You can do something athletic, but that will be tough because you are exhausted. I couldn’t even go to my old fallback, reading, because I was so tired that I would just fall asleep.
I would usually try to fall asleep at 8 PM, and everyone knows that all the cool people in the world are in bed by 8! Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’d fall asleep at 8. I’d get home at 2:30 and literally wrestle with myself to stay awake until a reasonable sleep hour, and then at 8 the carnival would return and I’d be wide awake. So I’d lie there for like 30 minutes of abject torture. Then I’d read for a bit. Then I’d watch television until like 11. Now I realize that even if I feel asleep immediately that I’m now down to about six hours of sleep apnea deprived rest. So I’d lay there. Suddenly, it’s 1 AM, and I’d get up and just punch my fists into the wall at my inability to fall asleep.
Like I said, if you can do it more power to you. It’s like my brain telling me that it’s more powerful than my will. “No way in hell I’m going to let you fall asleep now that you have to.” I’ve talked to a lot of smart people throughout the years and none of them have ever been able to tell me how to fall asleep. Face it; it’s not something that you can work harder at. The harder you try, the more impossible it becomes.
So I was just a miserable kid with a lot of money. I never felt sharp or alive except for occasionally brief moments where I found something to amuse myself. I coached little leagues in the afternoon and really enjoyed it. It gave me a chance to give of myself and have fun. Maybe, if I had a job like that I’d be happier, but I haven’t found it yet.
This life of quiet torturous desperation finally came to a head, when I met a girl that I really liked. I finally had someone I enjoyed to combat my loneliness and spend time with, but there was still me vs. my brain. The first night I slept in the same bed with her was Cinco de Mayo 1993. There was a loud party going on somewhere and I wound up lying there next to her restlessly for like 5 painfully sleepless hours.
The big issue for me though was just my natural state of discomfort. I knew that because of my job, my hours, and my sleep problems that there were going to be times that I looked, felt and acted like shit, and that they’d eventually ruin things for me. Things began to get stale and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that with my hours and my condition that I could never be what I needed to be with her, so I made a bold move that led to me having a full out nervous breakdown.
Some friends of mine were starting a business in Chicago and offered me a share of it and the promise that after a year with them that I could move back to Chicago and work for myself in San Francisco. When I quit my job, I was asked what it would take to make me stay, and my request of half the hours for half the pay was deemed too impossible to grant.
I’m not exactly sure how I expected to keep my girlfriend in San Francisco for that year, but I was desperate and there was really no other avenue that I could think of as an alternative.
It turned out to be a disaster. What I wound up with was the same job, a girl friend a million miles away, and the new unimproved possibility of failure. You see I never really had to deal with the day to day profit swings in my first trading job. They didn’t really want us to know how much money we were or weren’t making, and I never really gave it much thought.
Now I could think about nothing else. It was horrible; because once the trading day ended at 3:00 you could do nothing to help yourself other than worry about things until the next morning. It was literally impossible to work harder to be successful. In fact, I probably wasn’t going to know whether this thing would work out for at least six months, and there was just no chance that I was going to last that long.
Now the only thought worse to me than having a job that was ruining my life was the notion of having no job at all, it made me sick with panic. At the end of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I’d enter the job center and just be filled with anxiety. I’d get so crazy that I’d just have to leave. I couldn’t research industries; I couldn’t read about different jobs, the whole thing just made me insane.
I’m great at defined task, but figuring out to do with your life is like this wide infinite chasm of uncertainty that makes me insane and so filled with anxiety that I want to blow my head off. I went to an advisor and he asked me what my number one priority for a job was. I told him that I didn’t want to wear a suit. He said that it was the worst answer he’d ever been given. See casual dressers, I was your messiah!
Every single interview I’d attend they say, “You seem really bright, but we don’t really get the feeling that you really want to do this job for eighty hours a week. When you had lunch with our recent hires you didn’t ask any questions about the job, you just talked about how much you hated the Grateful Dead.” And of course, I’d say, “Yeah, you’re probably right, thanks for your time.”
I got the trading job, because I had spent a summer working for my friends. I never had to prove that I was interested in the job, because I already had enough knowledge to fill up the interview and get hired.
Things just got insanely bad insanely quickly. The moving company turned my move into a complete cluster fuck, the deal my partners had forged with the bank that backed them turned out to be fairly awful, and the daily stress of wondering whether I was ever going to make it back to San Francisco with a job in tact became more and more in doubt. I suddenly started to see a future of selling pencils on a street corner for myself. Now, I probably could have gotten a better job than that, but that was how completely out of my mind I started to become.
Then my girlfriend came for her first visit and things melted down to epic proportions. Essentially, we hadn’t communicated with each other very well. A lot of the mental and physical issues I had were just too embarrassing for me to talk about. She wanted to be in a relationship that was going somewhere and unbeknownst to her I did too, but my job and life situation just seemed so untenable that I couldn’t promise her anything or even explain some of my odder behavior. By the time she left, I was now not only freaked out about my job, I was also terrified of losing her as well.
Things began to deteriorate. I became something akin to a zombie. I couldn’t get my job/girl hassles off my mind. I was getting maybe two hours a sleep a night and the other 22 hours were just filled with constant abject fear of dying alone in a cardboard box. One day I took a forty minute train ride to Evanston to play basketball. Once I got there I realized I was too insane to even do that. I went outside and walked a couple of miles to my friend’s house. They had just had their first child and his wife was going through really serious post partum depression. I could barely talk. Later she told me that she was losing it too and that in her opinion I looked much worse than she did. I couldn’t even read. I’d just sit in a chair with my leg pumping up and down, staring out into space letting my brain race to the ugliest places of human consciousness.
It was an odd situation to be in. Every second of every waking day I was worried about failing at my new job, but the only thing that promised an easing of the panic was actually failing. It got so bad that I realized that this was my only choice. I didn’t want to fail, but failing answered the question once and for all and I completely crashed, my parents had to come and get me. I was a completely licked tearful bundle of nervous energy and I thought my life was completely over.
My parents brought me to this psychiatrist, and my ass was kicked by life, I was ready for my Soma. Unlike other health care professionals I’ve encountered, I really liked this guy.
He told me that I had some form of depression. Truth be told I’m terrible with doctors. They always want to explain things to me and I just want them to tell me what I have to do so I can get out of there – the short attention span thing.
He told me that I didn’t have the ability to turn off my brain. “Wow, you’ve got that right.” He was a cocky son of a bitch too. He told me like 15 symptoms that I had without even talking to me was totally correct. He kept on saying that he could cure Stevie Nicks instantly if she came to him. He said that he dealt with suicidal people every day of his work life and then went home and completely forgot about them.
“I can’t even imagine being able to do that,” I said. “I know,” he responded “that’s your problem.” Hell, I couldn’t even figure out why he wasn’t on the coast trying to cure Stevie Nicks.
Nevertheless, a whole lifetime of physical horror and embarrassment started to make sense to me. I used to say to myself that I was either the weakest person in the world or there was something seriously wrong with me and I had to be superhuman to have lasted this long and I think to a large extent that it really was the latter.
He then went on to promise Nirvana in a pill. He was 100% convinced that he was going to turn my life around. He told me that the pills that he would give me were so guaranteed to work that I couldn’t even stop them from working if I wanted to. I heard this promise and assurances that he could cure Stevie Nicks , about twelve more times, I didn’t really even know that Stevie Nicks had a problem actually and then he started me off on some Zoloft.
I then went out to San Francisco to see my girlfriend and had probably the best week of my life. It culminated in this teary session between us while we were lying on the floor, holding on to each other. We both admitted everything to each other. She told me that she loved me and I told her that I wanted to come back to town and be near her and try to start a serious relationship. I couldn’t even look at her the entire time, but it was amazingly cathartic.
Oddly enough our new state of commitment began in an extremely weird way. My girlfriend had promised an acquaintance of hers to attend a speed dating night, and I told her that it was alright if she kept the appointment. So the first day of my more serious relationship entailed her meeting a bunch of prospective suitors.
While she was doing this, I wandered around the streets of San Francisco. I’d done this a lot in the past but it was usually in dire straights of desperation and loneliness. This time I was as happy as I’d ever been in my life. Eventually, I actually encountered my friend Adam Port on the street, which was a huge coincidence because it was at his party that I had met my love. He invited me back to his house where he was actually having another party.
At his party, I met this girl, who was kind of vacuous but one of those chicks who is probably an expert in dating, that was her life’s work. I told her a brief summary of my breakthrough with my girlfriend and she instantly said, “Oh, you guys went to the next level.” I never even knew that there was such a thing. See those girls that spend all their time applying make up do know some stuff!
Eventually, I quit my job and went back to Cleveland to give the pills a chance to instantly solve all my ills, with the goal of returning healed and finding something to do with my life and my true love.
Here’s the text of a card she sent me November 5th, 1993.
“Hi Brad!!! Hello Hello Hello!
Hope you’re feeling better. I’ve felt great all day! I’m just really happy that things look workable and that this Doctor might truly understand you and will be able to help. God, it all seems so absurd – how can he make something so complex seem so simple – how can he have one solution? I don’t get it, but I just have to believe that he knows his stuff. I keep imagining a Doctor voice saying “I bet you do this too … I knew that … I can fix that … You don’t even have to believe it will work …” I guess I do believe that Doctor Confidence knows what he’s talking about – it all fits too well with your self observation and what you’ve been saying all along. You’re so right – I miss you – want to walk with you & talk with you.”
It wasn’t that easy. My brain was no where near the pushover that my new psychiatrist thought it was. I was still a mess. I was a happy energetic mess, but I was still a mess.
The first tough issue was again trying to fall asleep. My psychiatrist gave me a ton of different sleeping pills, but they did absolutely nothing for me. In fact, they were counterproductive. Sleeping pills make you drowsy, at this point most people fall asleep, but for me they just made me sluggishly awake. Now whatever comes down has to come up so eventually the drowsiness subsided and the pills actually wired me up and made it even harder to fall asleep. I tried a whole pharmacological cocktail of various drugs, but nothing seemed to do the trick.
The most comical two days surrounded my taking of these two huge green gelatinous pills called Chloral Hydrate. I was up for like 50 hours on those things. Eventually my mother called a hospital and told them about my problem and the woman she talked to was astounded. “Chloral Hydrate? We call those knock out drops. They should have put him to sleep instantly.”
I was still a mess, but each night I had these incredibly long wonderful conversations with my girlfriend that at least showed me the payoff at the end of the sooty, grimy, dark tunnel. It was the beginning of December and she told me that she wanted me to come to Connecticut in three weeks to meet her parents. I was excited about the possibility of seeing her, but I was worried about the parents. She told me that she adored her parents and that she really wanted them to like me and for me to like them. I was willing, but worried. “Are you sure they’ll like me, I did after all just have a nervous breakdown and I don’t have a job.” She assured me that they’d be pushovers and I took her word for it.
At some point, I told my parents that I finally wanted to write for a living. I’d always sort of wanted to do this, but I’d always been too scared to try. I’d thought about studying it in college, but I was too filled with panic to take on such a dicey proposition. Now that I’d messed my life up about as intensely as humanly possible it seemed like a possibility. It was a big moment for me.
On December 17th I turned 28 and got the best gift I’ve ever gotten in my life. I’d spent hours bending my girlfriend’s ear with my notions and history, and amazingly enough she actually listened. It’s not a skill I’m really adept at so I found it quite miraculous.
During one of my marathon chats, I told her about the cover of my favorite comic book. It was the cover of Frank Miller’s Daredevil 187. Daredevil was this superhero whose senses were heightened after being struck by radiation. In number 187, he’s hit by even more and his senses become 1000 times as acute and he starts to go mad. He can hear and feel everything. He can tell that a radio is stuck between channels three blocks away. The cover shows Daredevil on his knees cringing in pain in front of an all white background saying, “Stop it! Please … stop it …”
I told her that it completely embodied how I felt all the time. I tried to show her the cover in a comic book store but the issue was over ten years old and rare. For my birthday, she, based only on that brief description from months before, had found a copy, taken a picture of it, blown it up and framed it for me. She had listened to me and understood me. You see, she really was a Saint. I was totally in love, and she was too. She was constantly telling me how much she missed me. Once she hung up from a conversation with me and called right back saying that she had to hear my voice and that she was pining for me. It was actually a little scary as the whole thing depended on my recovery.
The recovery was sort of odd. I was so happy that I became a bit manic and cocky, and I would fall asleep at odd times.
Finally, the trip to Connecticut came around and it was an epic disaster. I’ve recounted it in detail elsewhere, but here is the ugly gist.
My girlfriend and I had mostly spent time together or with one or two others. We had never really done hugely social things. As it turns out, she has a dying to please attitude, and worries intensely about what others think about her. Me, I’m a total flake. When I meet new people, I either bottle up or perform. I’m an extremely likable guy, but first impressions aren’t my strong suit.
So here I was post nervous breakdown, no job, no tangible plans for the future, I’m a horrible eater and I’m sustaining myself on salami, which I can tell you is really impressive at mealtimes when everyone else is eating the Veal Scaloppini that you are unwilling to try. Meanwhile, she was extremely worried about whether they would like me or not.
Oddly enough, the first time I met her I brought up the movie Say Anything and it was sort of our movie. Well, that whole two weeks was just like the dinner scene where Lloyd Dobler meets Diane Cort’s father and friends.
“A career? I’ve thought about this quite a bit sir and I would have to say considering what’s waiting out there for me, I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed or buy anything sold or processed or repair anything sold, bought or processed as a career. I don’t want to do that. My father’s in the army. He wants me to join, but I can’t work for that corporation, so what I’ve been doing lately is kick-boxing, which is a new sport…as far as career longevity, I don’t really know. I can’t figure it all out tonight, sir, so I’m just gonna hang with your daughter.”
Oddly enough, Lloyd Dobler has become the romantic ideal of the last 20 years. I was way ahead of my time, but nevertheless let me assure you it doesn’t often work in real life.
Whether or not her parents liked me or not, they were pretty sure that they didn’t want me marrying their daughter and told her so on New Year’s Eve. She was crushed. There was much crying.
Eventually, I got to discuss my short comings with her parents.
Her mother wasn’t sympathetic. “What’s the big deal? My parents didn’t like my husband and his parents didn’t like me.”
“No, you don’t understand, it means everything to her that you guys like me.”
“That’s just ridiculous.”
Her main point of contention besides my flakiness was that her daughter who was usually tremendously easy going and filled with sunshine had seemed stressed out all week. I tried to explain that she was insane with panic hoping for a boyfriend-parents love match, but her mother wasn’t buying it.
Eventually, the conversation ended with her father saying, “We’ll just have to live with the fact that she’s in love with you,” which was a less than encouraging development.
At first, my girlfriend took my side, but she was extremely shaken by the whole thing and it was essentially the beginning of the end.
My plan was to spend another month at home recovering and then move out to San Francisco and be Lloyd Dobler. “What I really want to do – what I want to do for a living – is I want to be with your daughter. I’m good at it.”
The next month was less than perfect. I had a writing project that I worked on, but the pills continued to make me act sort of manic and odd. Most days I’d go to the library and immediately fall asleep reading something. It wasn’t a good omen.
A month later, I returned for my friend Ed’s wedding with planes of being near her forever. Things were different and strained. She was on edge and filled with panic trying to decide whether her parents were right about me. When we were alone things were great, but social occasions continued to be a problem. At one point, we were on the dance floor and I was turning my head back and forth trying to amuse her, but she had become really needy and even more insecure. She complained that I wasn’t looking at her while we danced.
As it turned out, she was incredible insecure socially and my flakiness only increased her anxiety. My attitude was always one of screw everyone else, us against the world. They’ll like me once they get to know me better. Her method was to be the nicest most accommodating person in the world. I would have tried to change my ways for her. I was willing to let her civilize me after years of hermit like behavior, but I never really got the chance and I didn’t know what to do with her anxiety. I wish I had pulled her aside and told her how much I loved her and how much I wished that we could have a similarly fabulous wedding, but I was sort of mystified by the whole thing.
In private, she was a wonderfully eccentric girl, but in public she had this incredible need to please. My mother is a lot like that and I appreciate it, but it soon became apparent that other people needed a lot of help being pleased about me. I’m not a bad guy. Some people get me and love me. Some eventually get me and love me. Most, if they have the chance, just think I’m insane and write me off. There’s apparently an awful lot of worthless conversation to survive in life, and I’ve never had much of a skill for it.
We had this dinner party with a friend of hers and his new girlfriend. I was in one of my manic pill induced performing moods and I don’t think I went over very well. She was horrified by the whole night, but never really told me until it was too late.
Meanwhile, I was still an odd mess. The pills were making me lose time. I was falling asleep in odd places at odd times, I was so happy I got a little cocky and arrogant, and the realization that my life needed a lot of un-Lloyd Dobler-ing became pretty apparent to her. I was content to drift forward slowly, but she had a bar exam coming up and her anxiety built and built. I was doing my best to jump through hoops to please her, but if anyone knows what a panic attack is like it is me.
I don’t know if she really wanted to break up with me. I don’t know if she knew whether she really wanted to break up with me, but again often times chucking it in and accepting failure is the only way to relieve anxiety. Breaking up with me would resolve things and end her panic.
I had a brief trip to Chicago planned to do some research for a book I wanted to write. The day before I planned to leave she drove me to a travel agency to get my tickets. On the way, the Beatles song We Can Work It Out came on the radio and I tried to tell her about how Paul had written the optimistic verses and John had written the pessimistic bridge. Only, now she wasn’t so interested in listening anymore, she was really stressed out about something and I was about to find out what.
I doubt she planned it this way, but I went into the travel agency and ordered a round trip ticket, when she suddenly said, “You shouldn’t come back to San Francisco on my account.” “Huh?” I was totally shocked; I’d never even seen it coming.
Later that night she tried to explain it, but it didn’t make much sense. She couldn’t put it into words and just started to cry. I’ve told myself a lot of times that I should have just reacted like a man and gotten insanely mad about it and yelled at her. Yelled at her for sleeping with me for a couple days knowing that she was going to break my heart; yelled at her for not sharing her feelings with me earlier; yelled at her for not believing in me enough to wait for me to work my life out, but I couldn’t I loved her and she was crying and I just wanted to make her stop. Who knows becoming angry might have piqued her need to please, but I didn’t have it in me.
The next six months were filled with more Lloyd Dobler behavior. The pleading; the desperation; the huge beat box stalking, but unlike the movies she’d made her decision, and her father never got indicted for tax evasion and she never came back. “You don’t understand how I could love you and not want to be with you,” she said. I didn’t. It was a mess, especially since I was obsessed with getting her back and sure that my life was over without her. I was probably zoned out in that part of my psychiatric evaluation, but I guess I have a lot of obsession in me as well.
Back in Ohio, Doctor Confidence tried to uphold a brave front. “She really should have stuck with you until you were better,” he said. “Fabulous! Do you want to give her a call for me?” His challenge had now gotten infinitely tougher. You see, now in addition to depression I now actually had something to be depressed about, and I was beginning a bender of psychotic depression from which I have yet to recover.
You see I had believed all those movies and songs about a soul affirming life changing love. The one that John Lennon was always singing about, the one that he prays won’t desert him once he’s found it in Don’t Let Me Down. Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows indeed. God had shown me how happy I could be and than yanked it away from me forever. It was the ultimate tease, the ultimate high that I could never replicate.
Soon Doctor Confidence started to panic. He kept changing my pills. Lexipro, Prozac, Wellbutrin. “Still depressed, fuck!” He even sent me to Windsor, Ontario for some pills that weren’t legal in the United States. Nothing worked; I just slunk deeper and deeper into a depressed fog. I moved back to San Francisco and tried to write, but I was too down to get anything done. I would try to win back my girlfriend, pretending I was happy to just be her friend, but that situation slowly, but surely deteriorated. Every once in a while, I’d see a crack of the old her, but she’d made up her mind, and she was very businesslike in following through on things once her mind was made up. “It’s just not going to happen for us,” she said.
Soon, it’s almost impossible to even be friends. I was amazed at how quickly she had seemingly gotten over me, and you can’t really be just friends with someone your heart is aching for 24 hours a day. I got more and more pathetic and put her through a ton of horrible conversations. Some where she couldn’t explain why she had let me go, and some where I just sobbed like some beaten puppy.
Doctor Confidence gave up, and my parents sent me to another guy. He was far less of a psychic fix for me. He was all pie charts and statistics.
He’d sit in front of a lap top computer and ask me the same questions every single appointment. “When was the last time we met?” “What medications are you on?”
Dude you have it right there on your lap top why are you fucking asking me?
“How have you been?”
”Miserable, I want to slit my wrists.”
”So in the last 14 days, how many have you felt depression? In the last 14 days, how often have you had trouble sleeping?”
“Dude, I always have trouble sleeping, I just told you that I want to slit my wrists!”
“So on a scale of 1-4 with four being the worst, how would you rate your depression?”
I’d sit there disgusted and worry about Stevie Nicks.
Eventually, I just gave up and took the pills he gave me. I went back to San Francisco and started to trade again. For the next three years, I made a ton of money, but I was miserable. I ached for love. I was always exhausted; I was always stressed out of my mind about the market, I started smoking just because it seemed like a perfectly horrible way to deal with the stress. I saw a number of psychologists, who did me no good. I saw a couple of women who didn’t measure up. Mostly, I just wandered around town morosely smoking and worrying about whether I’d see tomorrow.
I had all my old problems, plus the devastation of heartache. Eventually, the job went bad too. The business was changing, I was qualified for basically nothing else and I was basically incapable of living the day to day life of a normal person.
During one weekend in Los Angeles, my Aunt noticed that I constantly woke up for short periods of time when I was asleep. I went to a doctor and he told me I had sleep apnea.
It was an ugly diagnosis. Depression, panic disorder, obsession, insomnia, and oh by the way, you’ve never experienced the REM sleep that makes the rest of us sane.
The only real cure they have for sleep apnea is this machine called a CPAP that keeps your passages open so you don’t constantly wake up in your sleep. They did a sleep study on me and found that on average I woke up like 90 times an hour, while I slept.
Sadly, my brain wasn’t having any of this cure, if sleep was a problem before it was impossible with this machine. I just couldn’t fall asleep with it. I’d lie there for like seven hours and not fall asleep. If you think REM sleep is limited with sleep apnea try it with no sleep at all.
I had an operation that took out my tonsils and small palette, which supposedly helped, but basically I was doomed unless I could fall asleep with the machine.
Eventually, my job fell apart, and I moved to Los Angeles. I had a ton of money and wrote a lot. I still missed my girlfriend, but I didn’t really have a schedule. For the most part I enjoyed myself, but I couldn’t figure my life out. I had no idea what I wanted to or even could do for a living, and the thought of it all filled me with insane panic. I had no idea how to market myself or my writing and even the thought of it made me crazy.
I’d tell people I wanted to get an entertainment job, and they’d say doing what exactly. I’d say, hell I’d do anything. They told me to do some research, but again that was such a wide undefined chasm that I had too much anxiety to do it. In a lot of cases you need to be an apprentice for a few years, and as I’ve told you. Me not good apprentice no matter how hard I try.
I took some jobs that were beneath me and eventually got fired or quit them all after a week or two mostly to hilarious effect. No one needs a guy around who looks half dead with exhaustion, no matter how efficient and quick he is. It just looked like I was doing nothing most of the time.
I had fun, but little prospects for a life or true love. I had no job, and little confidence that I could even hold one that required me to live any kind of day to day schedule.
Eventually, I got a job in New York, but I couldn’t manage. I was exhausted all of the time. Every day was a painful sluggish affair. I decided to quit and go back to Cleveland and work on the CPAP thing again, but almost immediately I was actually lucky enough to find a good trading job, something that had seemed nearly impossible anymore despite my stellar resume, the market for trader had just become miserable.
Eventually, that went bad too. This job wasn’t like the old days where you stood in a pit all day and waited for things to happen. They wanted drones to sit in front of a computer and actively search for trades every second of the day, whether they were there or not.
Personally, I think my efforts were as good as the other traders, but of course it didn’t look that way. I was always exhausted. I was often noticeably bored, and I hated my days so much that I couldn’t bear to be there any longer than I absolutely had to be. One day I had some interaction with the co-head of the firm a women, who dug me socially, because I had actually become a pretty fun guy at parties, mostly due to THC consumption, but pretty fun none the less. I was of course carrying a book. She asked me what I was reading.
What I was reading was a biography of Fidel Castro, which instantly tells you how well I’ve interacted with other capitalistic financial types. She asked me whether I was enjoying it, and I replied that I had already read about 400 pages and Fidel had yet to take over Cuba, and I was waiting to see whether he had a lot of people killed when he eventually took over to decide whether I thought him to be a good or bad guy.
Later that day, I got an email requesting a visit with the new human resources woman. We had never met. She asked me about the Fidel encounter, and laughed that the co-CEO, had totally misunderstood me. She apparently came away from the conversation that I wanted to kill some people or start a coup. Hell, maybe I did, but I’m not sure how any sane person could have inferred that from that conversation. There was just something about me that ticked people off there.
You can get away with this as long as you’re making money, but when the tough times come you are the first to go. Because of my appearance and demeanor I was epically underutilized, which of course made things worse. For a second it looked like things were turning around for me, but literally a month later the entire market crashed, I lost some money, and I was back to square one again. I couldn’t take it. I gave up, and asked for a sabbatical to work on falling asleep with my CPAP again.
Here life played another incredibly rude trick on me. I had resolved to make myself fall asleep with this damn machine even if it meant that I would be up for weeks at a time. Occasionally, I did fall asleep with it, but here’s the joke. After a night with this miracle sleep machine, I’d wake up even more tired than before! It wasn’t the burned out tired I was used it, it was a soul drenching complete exhaustion that I’d never felt before. I’d try to do something and would literally be unable to keep my eyes open. The magic machine just like the magic pills was yet another let down.
The latest sleep doctor I went to did another study, which supported this fact. His solution was pills to fall asleep, and then pills to wake up. That’s where I am now, I’m a month from 41 and I’m just like Elvis a year before he died. The sense that I was doomed built steadily and made me that much crazier. I was sure that I could write, but writing doesn’t pay by itself. You have to market yourself. You have to send out millions of queries. You have to find nothing jobs to get your foot in the door.
I’m not really a novelist by nature. I’m more of a columnist. An op-ed humorist guy and those are the toughest gigs to get. No one really cares how good you are. No one is blown away by one great column. People get those gigs based on sweat and legwork, and despite my best intentions I’m usually too panicked to even begin the process.
So here I am, old, alone, completely bewildered by my future. I just saw yet another psychologist, she thinks I’ve been on the wrong pills and need tons of therapy. I’m doing the best I can. She told me that I can’t conform to the strictures of society. Maybe she’s right. Frankly, I’m not now and never have been sure that I even want to.
Sometimes people can avoid the drudgery of every day life. They find something that they have a passion for and they are lucky enough to succeed at it. They live magical lives. So far I haven’t been so lucky. I’m just a scared, mentally unbalanced piece of flotsam, unwilling to live my day to day life in an exhausted exercise of drudgery.
Doug Stanhope has a wonderful routine about mood enhancing drugs. He talks about someone stuck in a dead end job filing for 60 hours a week and going mad. They deal with their insanity, by taking the meds, which makes them boring, sane and productive. To him, going insane at a boring dead end job is the proper mental response. The person taking the pills that makes them happy to endlessly file is the pawn, the slave, the one that is insane.
Really, it’s the Brave New World conundrum all over again. Drugs or misery. For a while, I had the cash to flit around and avoid my issues, but the well has gone dry. Life right now is a dreary game and my head makes it almost unbearable. Once again, I sit on a chair, my heart racing, with my leg pumping up and down unable to read or progress. The dreams of greatness I had shattered and looking improbable. The thoughts of love I once had and lost aching at my firmaments, all I can do is soldier on the best I can and see what happens next.
I really don’t know what to think about me and my all powerful brain. My pie chart psychiatrist has a ton of books about the legendarily mad Vincent Van Gough in his office. One day, I asked him whether it was because he was interested in Van Gough’s mental illness. He denied this. Actually, he said he just liked the way Van Gough painted the world. I asked him if he thought that Van Gough would be helped by medication, and he posited that he thought that old Vincent would be even more effective and productive.
“I doubt it,” I said, “He might have been happier, but I bet he’d become Norman Rockwell.”