How Stephen King Pulled Me Out of the Deepest Depression of My Life

Well, it’s been a while. Oops. The fact of the matter is that no matter how well I think I have things going – and in general, I think I have things going pretty damned well – the slightest thing can bring me down. In this case it wasn’t particularly slight, if I’m being perfectly honest, but for the first time ever, I don’t want to talk about it in detail on this blog. At least not now.

To sum up the situation, as a much wiser person than myself said, the country seems to be at a cultural breaking point. In the weeks following the suicide of Robin Williams, awful thing after awful thing has struck this country, politically, philosophically, socially. It’s been a very dark time for the country – and the world – and of course, this affects us all. I’m not equipped to handle such stress, so I retreat into my own hobbies and interests in an attempt to avoid the politics and dramas of the real world. This time, they followed me in. I can’t stress enough that I care very very deeply about the issues at hand, or the things that are going on in my own culture and chosen circles, but the fact of the matter is that my only escape from politics is now swarming in them. Add to this the immensely negative event that I spoke of a moment ago, and I feel it’s fairly easy to see how I got knocked out of orbit just when I thought I had reached the perfect trajectory.

It’s slowly dawning on both my psychologist and I that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – with the key word being obsessive – is at the core of many of my major issues. I simply can’t let things go that I feel affect me, attack me, or make me feel strong emotions. Since I care very deeply about political and social things, being involved with them can do immense harm to my head. I just can’t stop obsessing. During the events of this summer and fall, I found myself unable to calm down or exert any level of control. I was in a state of constant near panic. My heart was pounding, and every single little stress signifier erupted all at once. I broke out in hives and acne, I had canker sores and mouth ulcers, I was barely able to sleep and my eyes were bloodshot. All of this exacerbated my big issues. I destabilized in a major way. I became paranoid and angry, lashing out at anyone and everyone, latching on to things more obsessively than ever.

This all culminated in me falling into an incredibly deep depression. It didn’t feel quite like the usual ones. I wasn’t down all the time, or bored by everything. I was, however, deeply, incredibly certain of doom. Utter and complete doom. When I’m feeling myself, I’m a very optimistic man. I believe the world will get better, and humanity will endure, and maybe even reach the stars. However, when things go off the rails, I can – and did – become utterly obsessed with death and doom.

I become obsessed with the facts and science of the situation, and to be frank, the current science says things aren’t looking good. Humanity has pretty well doomed itself through our actions and inactions, and we are not long for this world. I become obsessed with death, and the fact that the worst thing about life is that I will never know how things turn out. I’ll never know if we make it as a species, if we survive this time, the closest we have ever come, perhaps, to extinction.

It’s difficult to believe that that’s the case, when you look around. Humanity is prospering in so many ways. We’ve spread far beyond the numbers we should have been able to, technology is erupting into the realm of science fiction at breakneck pace. Despite the way the world is reported by the news, if you look at the numbers, we’re doing better than we ever have. The only official wars currently active anywhere are civil ones, or ones against groups, as opposed to other countries. Violent crime is dropping in many places, worldwide. Things are getting BETTER.

Yet the world IS in danger. The planet is drowning in our runoff and we’ve pushed the ecosystem just about as far as we can before it tips over and takes us with it. The fact is that the universe is not designed to support life. We are in a magic zone that shouldn’t exist, and it’s far more delicate than we expected. If the people who make the decisions can’t wrap their heads around that, we will be gone within centuries. Perhaps sooner.

Once these thoughts get into my head, if there is even the slightest crack, they seep in like so much oil, slipping deeply into my thoughts and feelings, and gum up the works, slowing the gears that turn my mind. Every thought I have, negative, positive, every feeling, every action, has to fight its way through this tarry sludge first, and nothing comes out the other side clean. At this time, there were not so much cracks as there were fissures, and the constant pressure and feel of attack only added to the damage. To put it simply, I was mired in the deepest pit of foul black sludge I have ever been, and I could find no way out. I felt doomed, and because I felt doomed, I was.

At this point, paragraphs in to this meandering, stream-of-consciousness post, you may be asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with Stephen King? He’s in the title, he’d better do something.” I’ve spoken before about how fiction and horror are deeply important to my life, and I gave brief mention to King, promising to return to him at a later date for a more thorough discussion, and I suppose that there’s no time like the present.

Stephen King is, in my opinion, the greatest living American writer. Perhaps the greatest American writer, period. Perhaps even the greatest that the world has ever seen. As bizarre as it may sound, when I look at this man and the work he does, I see a man who simply doesn’t get enough credit. “But Kyle,” I hear you protest. “He’s one of the richest authors who has ever lived, and everything he publishes is met with a resounding cry of joy!” I know this, of course, and I’m not arguing that the man isn’t famous enough, or paid enough, or beloved enough. To do so would be absurd. No, I say this because I feel like he is more often than not relegated to the role of “pop fiction writer” or “horror author”, when he is so much more.

I argue that though King does write pop fiction and horror, he more than once delves far beyond such things into genuine literature. I feel that he is contributing to the world of art in ways that are not truly appreciated. He writes of philosophy, addiction, love, sacrifice, darkness and pain. He writes of madness, and the ugly things in the world, and the ugly things in people. Above all, however, he writes of the light.

Almost every one of his major works has some force for good, some force, pushing and prodding the heroes in the right direction. They don’t always realize it. The pushes are subtle and gentle, but there’s something pulling for them. He calls it by many names. The Turtle, the light, Gan. In all cases, it works through these people, compelling them to take the actions that will lead to their salvation. This isn’t anything special, of course. The important thing to note is that someone who is considered one of the darkest storytellers of all time writes so often of the good in people.

Stephen King, more than anyone else I have ever known of, takes his inner demons and fears and tragedies, and somehow externalizes them, using them to weave tales that speak to the very deepest parts of humanity, the good and the evil. Perhaps the most obvious examples of this are DreamcatcherThe Dark Half, and of course, The Shining. I could write for pages on the books individually, but I think I’ll save that for a later date. Suffice it to say that each one of these books has a deep connection to the man and his life, as well as his own experiences and personal fears. Dreamcatcher was written after he was struck by a van, largely while he was in the hospital, on painkillers. The Dark Half reflects events from his own life, spurred by the discovery of his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. The Shining plunges deep into his fears about himself – he was an alcoholic struggling with a writing career at the time of its publication, just like Jack Torrance, the main character.

Again, it’s not that the idea of taking one’s issues and imbuing them with power by writing them into tales is new. Far from it. It’s simply that King explores his own depths in a way that few ever have, and finds ways to shine light on even the darkest parts of himself and even then, to show you the light that will overcome that darkness. It’s not what he does, per se. It’s the way in which he does it. His abilities speak to me, in particular, and always have.

Which brings me around to this fall. I make an attempt to read one of my very favorite King novels, It, every October. There’s no specific reason, of course. The first time I read it was in that month, largely in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my favorite place in the world. This time, I was in the deepest, most virulent depression of my life. I was unstable, I was damaged, and I was on the verge of totally falling apart. Then I finished It.

I ask you now, have you ever read or heard something that struck you to the core? Something that hit you in just the right way at just the right time, and then suddenly, as if from nowhere, you found yourself looking at the world differently, or seeing a new path? I was in the dark, I was lost, and then a quote from It plowed through the sludge that was drowning my mind from the inside out like industrial cleaner.

“Best not to look back. Best to believe that there will be happily ever afters all the way around – and so it may be; who is there to say there will not be such endings? Not all boats which sail away into darkness never find the sun again, or the hand of another child; if life teaches anything at all, it teaches that there are so many happy endings that the man who believes there is no God needs his rationality called into serious question.”

These words… these words struck me. I’ve read them a half dozen times, if not more, but I feel as though I never really read them before. They coursed through me, clearing the sludge from my veins, and suddenly, the wheels were turning again.

This isn’t to say that I suddenly believe in God. The jury is still out on that one, and probably will be right up until the very moment of my death. I don’t think, however, that one needs to be truly religious to see the significance and power of these words. They reminded me of something important: hope is real, hope is powerful, and hope can drive us from our pasts no matter what they may be. It’s time to look forward and to find again the things that I’ve been learning about myself and the world over the past few years, as I turned against my own demons, ready to take them on.

Somehow, some way, though all of his horror, and blood, and inexplicable coincidence, and strange use of parenthesis, and repetition and light, of all the people in the world, it was a horror writer from Maine who reminded me that hope is the light that lets us put the darkness behind us, once and for all. “Best not to look back.” Words to live by.

P.S. Forgive the messiness of this one. I simply woke up with the need to write, and the entire thing sort of stream-of-consciousnessed right out of my head in exactly this way. I feel like I’ve missed a LOT about what King is, and what he means to me, as well as missing out on an opportunity to do his books real justice. I think that you can probably expect me to write more on Stephen King in the future, because I simply feel like I haven’t successfully conveyed my thoughts here. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this, and if you’ve never read any Stephen King, I obviously can’t recommend him enough. Do yourself a favor and go pick up It or The Shining. You won’t regret it.

P.P.S It occurred to me that this sort of glosses over the contributions that my friends and family had to helping me through this garbage. Rest assured, I never would have been functional enough or open enough to see the quote in the way I did had it not been for their support. Thank you all.

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Spontaneous DIA/Coheed and Cambria Adventure Liveblog

Okay! I wasn’t planning on doing a liveblog of this, but given the events of the day do far, I figured it was well worth stopping off to do a sort of half-assed liveblog of my day. Lillian, Louis, Fernando and I have come to Detroit to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts for the afternoon, followed by the Coheed and Cambria show at the Fillmore. The original plan was to talk about it tomorrow, but hooboy this day.

First of all, we came down early because Louis has a job interview in the city, so we figured that rather than taking multiple cars, we would go with him and spend the day at the DIA. Great idea, right?

However, Louis didn’t drop us off at the DIA. We wound up walking around two miles through Detroit to get to there, which would have been fine if we had been prepared.

A quick overview of the events that have transpired so far:

– We saw a guy who may or may not have been The Doctor.
– We saw Albert Einstein.
– Eventually, we got here. It’s very pleasant. However:
– Lillian somehow got locked in the bathroom.

I’ll post more about how I feel about the trip later. For now, I’ll just leave it at this: I’ll update when I can, and when interesting things happen. No promises that it’ll be lengthy, interesting, or comprehensive, especially once the concert starts, but hey, let’s give it a go!

2:34

Oh I almost forgot! Totally walked past part of a set for Batman v Superman! Didn’t see anything interesting, though.

3:23

I absolutely adore that as a species we have collectively decided – in multiple cultures at multiple times all throughout history – to make places where we can go just look at nice things. It’s just really freaking cool.

4:05

The DIA was incredibly lovely, as always. I must remember to come to it more often. Now, in a coffee shop to wait for Louis.

5:47

Had a great dinner. Oh hey look at that:

IMG_0454.JPG

6:03

Now finally in line to get in to Coheed and Cambria. Exciting!

8:34

Holy freaking crap, the opening band was AWESOME. Check out Thank You Scientist. SERIOUSLY DO IT.

11:25

Well, Coheed and Cambria were as good as ever. They did like four encores, and by the last, all my bad mood and nerves had melted away. I’ll talk more of the concert later. My phone is out of juice, so let me leave you for now with this:IMG_0458.JPG

12:06

Well, I just got home. I have blisters, I’m still tense, and I feel very gross. It was worth it all. When we got to the actual concert, I had to stand in a lot of lines, and in a lot of crowds. My reaction to them just goes to show how much difference there can be between two times of the same activity. I just saw the same band last year at the same venue, and it was a far more pleasant experience for me throughout. Today I was on edge basically from moment one, and the events of the day didn’t really help with that. I still don’t really feel safe or okay. However, I’m completely certain that I would feel that way even if I’d stayed home. It’s just one of those days. If anything, I think I can genuinely say that I might be worse if I hadn’t gone.

Basically, today was frustrating and difficult, but I made it through with the help of my friends, and it was an unforgettable experience at the end of it all. Go see Coheed and Cambria. Check out Thank You Scientist. I think this about wraps it up. Goodnight, folks.

The One With The Wedding

Contradictory to all of my issues, I’ve always loved to travel. I absolutely adore the simple act of going to a new place. I love nature, I love museums, I love natural beauty, and very little gives me as much of a simple thrill as to simply be somewhere I’ve never been, to smell the air, and to feel new ground beneath my feet. I don’t even care much to do things when I arrive at the destination. Sure, I’ll go to a historical site, or a museum. A tourist spot or two. If I’m near wilderness I’ll take a hike. Mostly, however, I’m content simply to be there, reading a book. I do the same basic things there as I do at home. For me, it’s enough simply to be somewhere else. As a child, I traveled rather extensively with my family. We went to Montana, to Disney World, to Maine and San Francisco, to South Carolina and to the many, many states between here and our various destinations. We went on yearly trips, to places all over the country. In addition, we went up north (That’s the upper peninsula of Michigan, for those who don’t know our terminology. Or as I call it, the mutated flipper hand that goes with our mitten-shaped state.) every fall, and it was consistently my favorite place. Though as an adult – and as my issues have progressed to the crippling point that they’re currently in – it has become nerve wracking and terrifying for me, travelling is still one of my favorite things to do. Hell, I even love just riding around at random in a car at night with my friends, just seeing places I haven’t seen.

Needless to say, these days, it can be incredibly difficult for me to do. It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve been on a plane, and the concept now horrifies me – not so much due to the inherent fear surrounding the concept of hurtling through the sky in a method of transportation invented during the lifetime of people I have met, or due to fear of terrorism, but because there are a whole lot of people in a very small space. I would have to sit next to a stranger. I hate crowds, hate hate hate hate hate crowds, more than almost anything in the world, and an airplane is essentially a mobile crowd in the sky. Similarly, I hate busses. Trains and subways, oddly enough, I enjoy. I suspect that the novelty of the situation overpowers my compulsions and fears, so I don’t know if that would keep up as time passed. Even now, I have to wear gloves and sit upon my gloved hands. This leaves me effectively limited to car travel. I can’t drive. So mostly, I just stay in.

So you can imagine my pleasure and concern when Jess asked me to go with her to her cousin’s wedding in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Of course I jumped at the chance, and of course I was paranoid beyond all reason that it would be an utter disaster. What followed was easily one of the better trips I’ve taken, thanks mostly to Jess. First, however, there was a small issue: finding some nice clothes to wear.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me explain. I tend to dress somewhere between “90s grunge kid” and “shabby homeless ex-professor”. A lot of ripped jeans, beaten up button down shirts, and so very much flannel. That isn’t to say that I don’t LIKE to dress nicely. Quite the opposite, in fact. I find that I’m very comfortable in a jacket and tie. The primary issue is monetary. I love suits and nice clothes, but don’t have the money for them.

Typically, I get around this by wearing a suit jacket I’ve had for a few years and just sort of matching as best I can. It tends to work just fine. However, I’ve recently lost a great deal of weight. The jacket now looks so large that it’s actively hilarious. This led to a scramble to find clothing to wear. I wound up settling on a grey sweater/shirt and tie combo. I just realized how odd it is that I spent two whole paragraphs going on about my clothes. This weird digression into my wardrobe has been funded by viewers like you.

Anyway, style chosen, I went about my usual business of making several mixes for the trip and packing far too much stuff for a three day journey that more than half of would be spent in a car. As prepared as I was ever going to be, I got in Jess’s car and got going. We immediately hit our first snag: Jess got hopelessly lost, and the GPS seemed to be conspiring against us. It took us over an hour to even get going outside my general area.I was in extremely high spirits though. This entire trip was honestly a wonderful proof that given the right circumstances and medication, I can push myself well beyond my limitations and enjoy a fairly functional life. Only two or three years ago, being even slightly behind schedule would have made me angry and paranoid, lashing out indiscriminately. Instead, I laughed it off and relaxed, listening to the music with a smile on my face.

Finally, we found our way through the wonderful area of Michigan where city turns to suburb turns to town turns to corn all in about the space of a minute and a half – which is quite an experience, I might add – and got going onto the highway. The trip would take us down through Indiana, across into Illinois, up through Chicago, and finally into Wisconsin itself. The only area in all of this trip that I have spent any length of time in is Chicago itself, a city that I am wholeheartedly in love with. I was absolutely relishing the concept of spending some time in Wisconsin. As we passed from Michigan to Indiana, I noticed something.

For those of you who live in Indiana, or are from Indiana, or even just LIKE Indiana, I am terribly sorry. Admittedly, I only saw a very small portion of it, all of which was next to a highway, but the difference between the two states was immediate, and to my eyes hilarious. The second we crossed state lines, the lush, beautiful trees of Michigan, only just beginning to change to their brilliant autumn orange, gave way to stark, white dead ones. The wonderfully green grass was replaced by dirt and rocks. To be frank, it was like the difference between the Pridelands in “The Lion King” before and after the reign of Scar.

We spent very little time in the wasteland, as we quickly crossed into Illinois. There, in the vicinity of Chicago, I saw something that I’ve never seen before. Littered around the interstate, there are a number of wonderful places called Oases. An Oasis is apparently a sort of rest stop built on a gigantic overpass that stretches across the highway. You can effectively get lunch and hang out for a bit on an overpass, watching cars go by beneath you. This is something I’ve never experienced before. I have vague memories of something similar when I was VERY young, but I can’t speak as to the authenticity of it, so I don’t count it. In any case, I was hit with a sense of delight and childlike wonder, and insisted that we stop at at least one of them. I took advantage of the situation to use the bathroom, where I couldn’t shake the distinct impression that I was doing so directly on the cars below, even though obviously that’s an absurdity.

We traveled onward, and eventually came to our destination, and small motel in Kenosha. Now, under most circumstances, the idea of staying anywhere less than a high quality hotel is deeply disturbing to me. I don’t like sleeping places other than my own bed. I don’t feel safe or comfortable in them, especially if I have no way to take a bath. Doing so is greatly soothing for me, and part of my nightly ritual. When I can’t take a bath, I have a tendency to sleep very poorly. Motels are not known for their clean bathrooms or roomy tubs. In addition, horror stories from all around the world (As well as a few less than pleasant experiences of my own…) have made the concept of staying in a less than perfect place deeply unsettling to me. In this case, I was so happy simply to be traveling again – and almost entirely for free – that I didn’t object in the slightest. The worst case scenario would simply have been a couple of sleepless nights, and I’ve suffered far worse than that. Much to my surprise, however, the motel was for the most part quite pleasant. A free wifi connection and clean sheets made me feel fairly at home. I slept through the night just fine. The first major issue arose the next morning, when I had to use the shower before we left for the wedding.

I was unable to touch the shower curtain. It was made of the same sort of rubbery plastic that they make rain slickers out of, and the very concept of even brushing against it, especially once it became wet, was appalling. I used a washcloth to draw it closed, but unfortunately, the shower was so enclosed, that to pull the curtain inside would have ensured that I was inadvertently touching it at every turn. I imagined a scenario in which I would keep bumping the curtain, and then turning frantically to scrub the part of my body that had made the unfortunate connection, only to strike it with another part, in an endless cycle that would leave my flesh pruned and scrubbed painfully raw. In an attempt to avoid this, I simply showered with the curtain shut, but not in the tub.

Those of you with even a rudimentary understanding of how water works, which I apparently lack, have beaten me to the results. You see, the water from the shower struck the curtain, and where otherwise there may have been a fine mist that simply got the bathroom wet, there instead condensed a whole hell of a lot of water, which ran down the curtain, effectively flooding the place. It was a fairly easy fix, of course. Towels are incredibly useful. However, it put me on edge mere moments before I had to go to a Hispanic Catholic wedding for people I’d never met before. I took an Ativan (my emergency anti-anxiety drug), took a few deep breaths, and we went on our way.

The church was small and beautiful, and the ceremony was incredibly simple and equally beautiful. However, I was a little loopy from the Ativan. My anxiety was gone, but I was a little… out of sorts, shall we say? Here’s a brief list of thoughts that entered my head during the ceremony:

  • Is the priest wearing crocs?
  • Is… is that Robert Downey Jr?
  • Nahhh. There is no way he’s wearing crocs. Priests wear like… priest shoes, right?
  • Man, Jesus looks sad.
  • Did he fall asleep? I think the priest is asleep!
  • This is the WORST violinist I have ever heard.
  • Oh my god the priest IS wearing crocs!

Something that absolutely shocked me was that when the priest and the musicians asked everyone to sing along with the hymns there was an epic and resounding… nothing. Not one person did. I’ve never not heard anything like it. Rimshot.

In any case, the wedding was absolutely beautiful. The reception was where things got interesting. As I mentioned earlier, it was a Hispanic Catholic wedding. A large portion of the ceremony, some of the toasts and speeches, had been in Spanish. Other than that, there wasn’t really any nods to the fact. We arrived at the reception, grabbed a couple beers, and sat back, making ourselves comfortable. That’s when the Mariachi band suddenly appeared, playing exactly the song you think they were. Seriously. Whatever song pops into your head when you hear the word “Mariachi”, they were playing that song. It was incredible.

After I got past the automatic need to laugh, I actually greatly enjoyed them. They were very talented, and once they got the couple Mariachi songs that everyone knows out of the way, they played a lot of music I’d never heard before, and it was all quite good. We returned to the motel, and I slept just as well the second night as I had the first.

I woke fairly early the next day to get ready to head back. We popped by Mars’ Cheese Castle, where we spent quite a while perusing various cheeses. We popped by a restaurant, spent a few minutes with Jess’ parents, and got on the road by about 1 o’clock. It’s a five hour drive, but we made it back in about nine. We got lost, and wound up in Chicago itself, much to my joy, but traffic kept us there for at least an hour and a half. It was just one of those trips where a thousand little things conspire to make you run just a little bit late. This worked out in our favor, though. By the time we returned to Michigan, we were starving, so we stopped off in Kalamazoo, where we discovered Bilbo’s. Bilbo’s is a The Hobbit themed pizza place, and it was absolutely delicious.

A brief list of other highlights that I would love to talk about but don’t have the time:

  • I ate cake other than yellow cake with chocolate frosting for the first time in years, and I liked it!
  • I ordered my own food, alone, at McDonald’s TWICE. Regular readers will know why that’s a huge deal.
  • We had to stop and use the bathroom in Gary Indiana, and it was AWFUL. The interior of the urine-soaked bathroom I was using smelled better than the air outside. God, Indiana, when are you going to get your life together?
  • I drank the best freaking root beer I have ever had in my entire life.

At the end of it all, I got home with a smile on my face. It was wonderful to be able to take a bath and correctly complete my night-time ritual. Above all else, though, it was a wonderful weekend. I pushed myself. I went very far outside my wheelhouse and my usual limits, and it paid off. I broke through a lot of barriers. It’s not that I wasn’t afraid, or wasn’t anxious. It’s that for the first time in a very long time, I was ready to push.  All thanks to Jess, one of the best friends I have ever had. During the entirety of the weekend, she was supportive, understanding, and helped me keep my head on straight. Her excellent and surprisingly soothing ukulele playing didn’t hurt either. This wonderful weekend served as a very important reminder to me that sometimes, when you push your limits, it can pay off. It’s all a matter of finding that balance of stability that makes it feel worth it to take the risk, and I’m getting closer every day.