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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Goodbye, Robin

I’d give anything to have nothing to write about this week.

There are going to be four million blog posts and articles and tributes in the coming weeks, and months, and maybe even years about Robin Williams, and how funny he was, and inspiring, and wonderful. There will be expressions of shock and horror at the fact that such an apparently happy man, a man who by most definitions had everything, took his own life. People will misunderstand. People will call him a coward. He was anything but. My post is sure to get lost in the shuffle, but I just have to post it anyway.

I wish I could say I was shocked, or that I didn’t understand why he did what he did. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Robin Williams was always a man who had problems. His substance abuse problems were talked about openly and often. His choices in dramatic roles were almost always in films centered around mental illness or suicide. He struggled with it all his life. No, I’m not shocked. In fact, that’s why this has hurt me so dearly.

I have contemplated suicide. I have done it many times in my life, in varying degrees of seriousness. In those moments, more than once, I have thought about films he made. What Dreams May Come. Patch Adams. Dead Poets Society. Hell, even Jack, which I never liked very much. It wasn’t the laughs or smiles he brought to my face that helped me. It was seeing that he Knew. This man I had never met not only understood what I lived through. He not only turned that experience around to try and teach others about it and explore it from all angles. More than that, he was making it work. He took those bursts of energy and turned them to his advantage. He took those lows and made them work for him. Everything he did was in open defiance of his mental illness. He seemed so powerful to me. He was a man I could look up to in every way imaginable.

I do not know how I am going to reconcile this fact in my head. How can it be that the man I so often turned to for inspiration and motivation to keep on going has succumbed to the very illness he helped me fight?

This question brings me to the point of my post.

The fact that he took his own life, as far as we know, is an incredibly difficult thing to understand, but it can teach us one more valuable lesson: No one is untouchable. Depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders, all other forms of mental illness, can hit anyone. He was a man with all the support and love in the world. I can think of not one other person so universally loved. Not worshipped from afar. Not adored, or idolized. LOVED. Truly and deeply, like he was a member of the family. Despite all of this, despite his honesty about his problems, despite his supportive friends and family, despite his BILLIONS of loving fans… he felt he had to leave this world. That needs to be understood and accepted, as hard as it may be. Depression is that powerful. It strips you of everything.

If you deal with depression or other mental illness, feel free to skip the next paragraph. If you haven’t please, please read it. It’s going to get rough, but you need to understand.

Those of you who have never suffered from depression, I want you to think for a moment. We all put up a wall to separate the real person we feel we are from those around us. Now imagine that that wall is stripped away. Next, imagine that you have all sense of self-worth torn from you as well, leaving you with nothing but your insecurities. Imagine the world feeling cold, and dark. Imagine being alone in a small, lightless room, with nothing there but the very worst parts of yourself, the very worst things. This is as close as I can come to describing what depression feels like. All joy, all purpose, all sense of meaning and love and support that you have ever known is gone, and there is nothing that can truly make you certain that it will ever return. Now understand that in our society, we have spent our entire lives having it drilled into us that only weaklings feel this. That it’s sick and wrong to feel like you need a way out. That asking for help is laughable, and awful, and people will think less of you if you do it. It’s Hell on Earth. Plain and simple.

Depression is an illness like any other. It’s treatable, like most mental illnesses. It can be lived with, and dealt with. You can live a long, happy life. It’s always there, though. You need to be armed against it, in order to help yourself or any loved ones you know who suffer from it. The most important thing you can do, for a loved one, or for yourself, is to find a way of remembering that it IS only temporary. Depressions end. Staying alive is the most important thing.

It is not weakness to contemplate suicide, any more than it is weakness to be mentally ill to begin with. It’s natural to want a way out. However, it does show incredible strength to ask for help. Of all people on this planet, I know how hard it can be to do so. It took me years to open up enough to admit that I needed help to myself, longer to admit it to friends, and longer still to admit it to my family and doctor. You need to do it, though. You CAN do it. You can be strong.

Those with mentally ill or depressed loved ones, or even just loved ones who always seem to be putting up a front? Just make sure you’re there with them through the tough times. Make sure you’re there to help them see that there is an end to their pain that isn’t an end to their joy as well. They may be hostile. They may be difficult to understand. You may find yourself unable to communicate with them the way they want. You must understand, there are no easy fixes, and patience and understanding and empathy are paramount.

Above all else, if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please, please tell someone. If you want to keep it anonymous, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free, it’s anonymous, and it can save your life.

Robin Williams was a wonderful, wonderful man. He brought me joy, and tears, and moved me in ways that so few have. Without even knowing it, this man has been a part of my support system for years, and losing him has left a hole in me that may never heal. I just want to conclude this by saying thank you, Robin. Thank you for all of it.

I know it’s already a cliche, and millions have said it, but what else is left to say? These words, though written by a great poet about another great man, nevertheless sum up my feelings perfectly.

O Captain, my Captain.

I’m afraid we haven’t won the prize, yet. May this tragedy bring us a step closer.

O Captain, my Captain.

I Am Just the Weirdest Person Ever About Food

Anybody who’s been a regular reader of my blog has picked up that I’m really odd about food. My very first post, in fact, centered around it, as did one of my favorite adventures, the time I went to a hibachi grill. My strange compulsions and requirements where food are concerned have been following me from around the time I was ten, and for the most part I can’t explain why. I’ve recently made some good progress, opening up and broadening my horizons a bit, but in general, I’m just as odd on the subject as I’ve ever been.

First and foremost, sauces and condiments of absolutely any kind are a no go. I can barely stand the sight of them. I can’t even type names of the worst ones. On my very worst days, seeing someone else eating something with them can mean I have to leave the table. This doesn’t affect me very much in terms of what I can and can’t eat, since it’s really simple not to put condiments on most foods (though you’d never know it from how often people screw the orders up anyway), but there’s one big headache it causes: pizza. I absolutely love pizza, but I have to get it without sauce and with just pepperoni in order to be able to eat it. I can stretch the limits of my list to include bacon, if it’s good, crispy bacon, but for the most part I stick with what I get. This means, of course, that I have to get my own pizza when in groups, or else everyone else has to eat pizza without sauce too. This particular thing leads to a small pet peeve of mine. People see sauceless pizza as something of a novelty, so they tend to eat it. If I’m at a party with ten people, and we get three pizzas, two regular ones and a sauceless, often time, the others at the party find the sauceless pizza to be something they want to try. What ends up happening far faster than people think is that some or all of the people take pieces of the sauceless pizza, rapidly dwindling the supply, and leaving me hungry with nothing else to eat. Since they are capable of eating both kinds, and I’m only capable of eating one, that seems rude to me, like eating all the vegetarian food at a party where a vegetarian is. I usually get around this these days by either paying for a pizza myself so no one else can eat it anyway, or taking the whole pizza with me and hiding it until I’m full.

I can’t drink milk anymore, which is a shame, because I miss it. There was a time when I liked nothing more than to dunk a chocolate chip cookie in milk, but one day, I drank some and got sick, and every since then, not only does milk reverse direction in my throat, but so does anything with an even vaguely similar texture. I can’t drink shakes or hot chocolate. I can’t drink kahlua, and can only drink coffee black. Too much butter, chocolate, grease, or the wrong kind of cheese will all make me feel sick, and on the very worst of days will immediately set me running away.

Vegetables and fruits are a fascinating thing, because theoretically I like the flavors of many of them. I can manage to eat a few peas, or pieces of cooked carrot, or even one or two small bits of corn, but once I get that far, my brain and body just sort of shut it down. I can’t bring myself to eat another bite, and even if I do, the food just seems to get stuck in my throat. I absolutely love apples, and can eat dried blueberries, but that’s as far as fruit goes with me. It’s a shame, because I remember loving grapes, and the flavor of oranges and other citrus fruit is just incredible, but I just can’t seem to eat them. Oddly, I adore oatmeal raisin cookies, but can’t eat oatmeal or raisins individually.

Seafood is right out.

Basically, the only things I can eat are various combinations of meat, cheese, bread, and potatoes. This limits me pretty strongly. However, I have made a lot of headway lately. I tried a piece of popcorn shrimp. I tried crab. I even managed to try salsa. Neither of them made it onto my “safe foods list”, but still. I’ve been pushing myself farther and farther outside my comfort zone, a little bit at a time. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat like other people, and I’m not even sure I want to, but getting just a little bit more variety in there can’t be a bad thing.

Harry Potter and the Rejuvenated Life

In the earliest years of my life, I became an avid reader. As I’ve mentioned before, I started reading very early, and never stopped. I read comic books, children’s books, and a few adult novels. When I was in first grade, they put me in the third grade reading classes, and even that bored me to death. There wasn’t much I could find that really held my attention.

When I was in elementary school, I found the Borrowers novels, and I read them hastily in a single night, absolutely enraptured by their fascinating world. I also loved the rats of NIMH series, and read all three books with a great hunger. Though I still feel a deep affection for those novels, as they helped point my path in life, what they have done for me pales in comparison to one single series. If I’m being completely honest, I have a number of obsessions and display a rabid fanaticism over a great many fictions, but they all fall aside in comparison to a single series.

Harry Potter.

What I aim to do in this probably overly massive seven-part blog is describe the feelings that these novels have inspired in me, and how the series grew up with me, and gave me something to believe in and hold onto at the very worst of times, as well as the best. As a child who was just starting down the road into a life that would be marred by mental illness and anxiety, these books were a tether to hold me to myself when the world slipped too far away, as well as an escape for when it became too overwhelming. This is an explanation and a message of thanks to J.K. Rowling, who created a world that has done more for me than any.

Note: Some spoilers are inevitable, but even though this series is far past the expiration date of my personal spoiler policy, I shall do my very best not to ruin too much for prospective readers.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” ~ Albus Dumbledore

I blame it all on Brian Foster. I was a nervous, awkward child, who didn’t really know how to process my emotions. As I’ve mentioned before, I mostly went through my life trying to fake feelings, often at the cost of my own dignity. I didn’t do the best job in the universe of making friends. To put it simply, I was annoying and strange, and even those who I was closest to had long stretches of time where they could barely stand me. Compounded with the fact that I had recently switched to a new school, into a program for the gifted, it was a very unpleasant time in my life. I met Brian the first day in the new school, and although he got annoyed with me a lot, he was one of my first friends.

I would like to say that I saw Harry Potter coming, and that I picked up the first book on the very first day. I didn’t, though. I had heard the name tossed about for a few months here and there, but in the grand scheme of things, it never quite piqued my interest. The exact sequence of events that followed are a bit muddled. The first three books hit here in the United States over a period of about a year, give or take. Sometime between the release of the first book and the third, Brian was reading the books, and suggested that I catch up, and join in on the fun. I recall that I took a little bit of convincing, but before long, I was reading the first.

Of this, I am certain: I was transfixed from the very first sentence. I sat in the lunchroom at the school, reading it while Brian sat nearby. I bombarded him with questions, completely unable to wait to find out more (“So Hagrid is some kind of… magical biker giant?” “Just read the damned book, Kyle!”).

What I read took me away from my hectic, confused, distressing life, and showed me something I had never thought of before: a hero I could relate to. I had of course read many books with great heroes, adventurers galore, everymen and women who climbed in the face of adversity, and became more than they were. The problem was that I didn’t feel like an everyman. I felt like an outsider.  Harry Potter was a skinny kid with glasses and a scar on his face, just like me (The scars covering the right side of my face are from a dog bite when I was a toddler. They’re barely noticeable, but to a 12 year old boy just becoming aware of the fact that looks meant something, I may as well have been the Phantom of the Opera.). This boy was unsure of himself, and though the school he had just entered was a magic school instead of one for the gifted, he shared my fish-not-only-out-of-water-but-straight-up-on-the-moon experience there. This boy could have been me.

Orphaned as a baby, Harry had been raised by his magic-detesting Aunt and Uncle in a cruel, abusive home, forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs while his cousin was doted on so much that he was given two bedrooms. My own home life was nothing so horrific, of course, but I didn’t really identify with my sports-loving, non-reader parents, and my foolish 12 year old mind latched on to this as a similarity anyway. Suddenly, unexpectedly, it is revealed to him that he is a wizard, and will be attending Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he will learn to harness his magical abilities. He is also, as it turns out, quite famous in the Wizarding world already. You see, far from dying in a car crash like his Aunt and Uncle told him, his parents were murdered by a foul and evil wizard so feared that none would even say his name out loud. Lord Voldemort, or He Who Must Not Be Named, as he was most often called, then turned his wand upon young Harry, casting a powerful killing curse. For reasons unknown, the curse didn’t kill baby Harry, but instead obliterated You-Know-Who, who hasn’t been seen since. The Boy Who Lived is looked at as a great hero in the wizarding world. Far from entitled, Harry’s painful upbringing had left the young boy humble and kind, with a firm sense of justice.

Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts was a fantastic, whimsical one. J.K. Rowling was quick with a joke, and brought a smile to my face on every page. The characters felt alive in a way that none ever had before, and I daresay that none ever have since. Don’t misunderstand. There are many, many novels which feel true to me, and which share that kind of power, but there’s something special about Rowling’s. Something I’ve never been able to put a finger on.

From the muggle (The wizard word for non-magical folk) loving, incredibly large Weasley family, to the full range of oddball and fascinating teachers, every single one had a life of their own. We followed Harry as he made friends and enemies, and found something that I had been looking for all my life as well – a mentor. As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks back, I adore my father, and am eternally grateful for the love and guidance he has shown me throughout my life. However, I was just starting to feel the real effects of my misfiring brain, and as I wouldn’t be diagnosed for nearly thirteen more years, I felt quite alone.

The headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore, stood out to me immediately. I found myself drawn to his bizarre appearance and wisdom, and his sense of humor mirrored my own. He’s called both a genius and a bit mad in the same breath. Throughout the challenges Harry faces in that first year, from homework, to Quidditch (a wizard sport played on broomstick that sounds far more complicated than it is), to facing off against the greatest evil that the wizarding world has ever known, Professor Dumbledore is there to guide Harry, and keep him safe.

The book showed me a way to find strength in myself, and that even a strange, scarred, skinny kid could face down his past, and become someone new. I call on this same strength today, as I face down my illness and my anxiety. Perhaps more than ever, I owe my resolve in the face of darkness to these pages.

Not only were the chapters within a source of strength, and deeply entertaining, but they faced me with a level of respect that I had never experienced before in my life. Presented in these pages, beautifully told, and without the slightest bit of condescension toward the children the books are meant for, was my very first lesson about death itself.

Lord Voldemort’s ultimate quest, aside from ruling the wizard world, cleansing the earth of non-pure-blood wizards, and subjugating the blissfully unaware muggles, is immortality. He has gone to great lengths to become undying over many decades, twisting himself into something barely human. He returns, not truly alive, sustained only by the evil actions of a servant who still remains loyal to him, and seeks not only to be restored to life, but to life everlasting.

Harry staves him off, with more than a bit of luck and the help of his best friends at the school. It is in the aftermath of this confrontation that Professor Dumbledore speaks words to Harry that I have never forgotten and never will. “To one as young as you, I’m sure it seems incredible, but… …it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

Mortality haunts us all. The idea that it will all end some day is terrifying and painful. It’s also something we should never shy away from. One of the foremost themes of the Harry Potter series is mortality, and how we should not shy away, but confront it boldly, ready to face what comes next with dignity and hope.

The breaking down and dressing up of such necessary concepts as mortality, finding strength within yourself, turning your weaknesses into strengths, and not just tolerance of those who are different, but acceptance and celebration of them are nothing new. Never before or since have they been discussed so openly, and respectfully, or so beautifully presented to children. This book finds a way to reach deep inside, and plant these seeds in your mind.

That’s not the truly incredible part, though. What’s amazing is what follows. The books continue. More of the story is told. The themes get darker, the tales grow more serious. The books get longer, and deeper, and more elaborate. Characters grow and change. You start out reading children’s books… and end up reading adult novels. The series grows with you, and feeds and nurtures the seeds it planted.

Never has this been more true than with those lucky enough to read these books within my own generation. I picked up the first book a twelve year old boy, unsure of myself and just beginning to seek an identity, and I put down the final book a twenty-one year old man, just becoming sure for the first time of who I wanted to be. I’ll be damned if that wasn’t J.K. Rowling’s intention.

These books have been especially useful for me as I grow older and find myself becoming further and further hindered by my mental illness. I reach out for them in times of trouble, and call on the strength they give me to find my way. No matter how lost or broken I feel, I can always reach out for these truly magical tales, and find myself rejuvenated, stronger than when I picked them up.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be re-reading them again, and starting today, I’ll be posting a blog of this nature for every book, exploring why it’s so powerful and important, and connecting it with the time in my life that I first came upon it. I hope to take those of you who love the books already on my own personal journey, exploring how powerful they’ve been to me specifically. For those of you who haven’t read them, I hope to show you why these books have become a phenomenon, and why I recommend them to everyone, of all ages.

Above all else, I want these blogs to say one thing: Thank you, J.K. Rowling. These books have changed my life for the better in so many ways that I can barely find the words. Thank you.

 

P.S.: Hooboy, this one got away from me. The idea was to do a fairly quick overview of the books, and why they mean so much to me. When I started writing, though… well… it just kinda kept going. The plan from here on out is to make this a kind of a recurring series. I won’t post them all in a row, and I’m not sure how long there will be between parts. I’m just going to keep working on them, and I’ll post them whenever the time feels right. I hope you all enjoyed this.

Sometimes I See, Hear, and Feel Stuff That Isn’t Real, and That’s Okay

This one isn’t going to be easy to write. It might not be easy to read, either. Since I started this blog, I’ve been simultaneously eager for and dreading this blog, and I think it’s time. I’m going to talk about the hallucinations and delusions that strike me.

I remember being a child and assuming that my parents were poisoning me. It wasn’t a suspicion, but nor was it some panicked concern. I was just calmly certain that it was happening. I ate the food anyway, because I was far more concerned about them finding out that I had those kinds of thoughts than I was about the poison. The way I figured it was that if I was right, I might survive the poisoning, but if I told them about it they might kill me directly. If I was wrong, I would embarrass and hurt them. It was a strange situation to be in. I now marvel at how lucid and intelligent the thoughts were. This is typical of my delusions. No matter how awful the belief is, I have never to my knowledge let go of the possibility that I’m wrong, and as such have never acted on them.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had a lot of experience with things like this. When I start dating someone, it takes weeks, or even months to stop thinking that they’re going to kill me or turn out to be some kind of demon. I’ve lain awake more than one night, convinced that if I look at the woman next to me, she’ll be something utterly inhuman. My mind takes that fear of the dark and the unknown that so many of us live with and amplifies it by thousands, until all I can do at night for days in a row is lie there trembling and wait for the dawn. I once became certain that my roommate was the devil himself, literally, because of the shape and length of his fingernails. I believed it for weeks. I constantly guard my thoughts because I find that for long stretches I am completely convinced that people are reading my mind. I was certain once that something was inexplicably wrong with the moon, and the feelings of dread that accompanied with it destroyed my sleep for a week.

Twice I’ve woken from dreams in the depths of sleep paralysis and brought the dreams out with me. This experience is actually fairly commonplace, but the way my mind coped with it after the fact isn’t. The first time, a large, hairy beast tackled me and I awoke to find it pinning me to the bed, breathing in my face. Afterward, I became convinced that the creature was stalking me in the waking world. I was certain I could feel it behind me, and that if I saw it in a reflection, it would pounce. I’m still afraid of mirrors quite often. The feeling of unease accompanying looking into them has never ceased, though the object of the fear changes.

The second time I had the experience reported so often where one awakes to find they can’t move, or speak, or breathe, and are taken by tall, thin creatures and have experiments performed on them. For weeks thereafter, I was certain that I was no longer myself. I KNEW that I was a replacement, something inhuman made to feel and think and act exactly like myself, but not to know that I was. I was certain that something had gone wrong, that I was supposed to believe I was the real me. I even started to believe that I could feel the seams in my artificial body. One day I woke up and the delusion was simply gone. I rarely think about it now. It makes me deeply uncomfortable to do so.

The big one, the one I’ve been dreading talking about, is the things that watch me at night. I’ll sit there, perfectly happy, and suddenly I’ll feel them. I’ll be aware of a presence, aware of the fact that something is observing me, close to me. I will become absolutely convinced that if I change my behavior in the slightest way, give any indication that I know they’re there, it will trigger something awful. I sit there for hours, staring at a computer screen or playing a game, long after I’m exhausted and want to sleep. I just know, with every fiber of my being, that the slightest wrong move could spell disaster. Sometimes, on the most extreme of nights, I am compelled to self-harm, completely convinced that if I just hurt myself enough, they’ll go away.

These incidents have all lessened considerably since I began therapy and taking medication. I don’t know if the meds are doing it or if it’s some kind of placebo effect, but either way, there’s been a lot of improvement. The hallucinations are a whole other ballgame. They can be shocking, but a number of them are actually quite funny in retrospect. They don’t force themselves into my mind the way the delusions do, and I can almost always shake them off.

I used to hear ethereal music come echoing up the stairs when I was a kid. It scared me so much that I began sleeping with music playing, and later in life with the TV on, something I still do. The visual stuff didn’t really kick in until much later in life. I frequently see shadows and faces of spindly, unpleasant things darting just out of my line of sight. On a few memorable occasions, I’ve seen small grey things with bulbous heads peering around corners at me. I see bugs a lot, or feel them on me when there are none there. However, these things all usually feel quite unreal to me, so I’m able to brush them off and go about my day. What really bothers me is the voices.

My voices are annoying and boring. I hear the voices of people I know who aren’t anywhere around me saying things like “Hi!” or calling my name. They never make suggestions or demands, they never try to get me to do things. They just annoy me slightly with simple greetings. It’s gotten to a point where I almost wish they WOULD demand that I assassinate someone, just to break up the monotony.

One time a couch growled at me. That one was so funny that I laughed out loud then and there. I knew it had to be a hallucination, because it was the dumbest thing that had ever happened to me. I laughed, tweeted a joke about it ( “There is no couch, only Zuul!”) and went on with my day. That night, as I slept on the couch, it began whispering to me inaudibly. I told it to shut the hell up and let me sleep. It did.

I’m telling you guys this stuff for one very simple reason: I am sick and tired of the stigma associated with mental illness. If I hadn’t been so afraid to come forward with this stuff twenty years ago, when I feared I was being poisoned, I might be a different and better off person today. The United States is a horrible, horrible place to be mentally ill, and I’m not going to be afraid anymore. None of us should have to be. I am Kyle Fulton, sometimes I see, hear, and feel things that aren’t there, and that’s okay! I didn’t choose to be this way, and I’m getting help.

Anyone out there like me, share your stories, admit your pain, own your fear, and get the help you need. Take back your life. Keep a sense of humor. Laugh at the absurdity of it, but don’t let the world push you down anymore.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think the chair would like to go for a walk.

The Figurative Voice in My Head Didn’t Want This Blog to Exist

This is a pretty consistent problem with me. I get all geared up, I start actually working on something regularly, be it this blog, or working on writing fiction, or poetry, or exercising. Things chug along for a while there, and I’m pretty happy with what I’m turning out. Slowly though, ever so slowly, stuff starts to creep in at the edges. My obsessive, worrying nature latches on to my enthusiasm and productivity like a cat on curtains and rides them all the way down, shredding them as it goes.

It’s a pretty consistent, discouraging blast of self-discouragement. The thoughts range from legitimate self-criticism like Why did you yak on about Space Camp for like ten paragraphs, what is this, middle school English class? to complete absurdities like What would Hugh Jackman think if he read this? I bet he would be embarrassed, Kyle. He would be ashamed. You would disappoint Wolverine, how does THAT sit with you? Not very well, figurative voice in my head. Not very well at all.

This causes me to quickly lose interest out of self-defense. It’s far easier to happily live my life if I’m not too busy worrying about whether or not famous actors approve of my choices. However, in doing so, I give up a pretty good opportunity to seek more and push farther than I usually do. This time around, I’m not going to let it happen. There’s absolutely no way.

Tonight, I suddenly remembered that it had been Wednesday, and that I hadn’t yet written a blog. Ah well. You can just write one tomorrow. It’s not like anyone is waiting with baited breath to read your inane rantings on, like, vampires or whatever. No one’ll care. It started out sort of friendly. Like the figurative voice in my head was trying to be supportive by saying I was allowed to take a break. That’s how figurative voices in your head get you, though! They’re tricky.

It soon moved on to another tactic. Okay, fine. You really want to feel bad about not writing today, huh? Fine, why not read some of your more recent ones! Oh, yeah, remember that Zelda one? Boy, I bet you feel dumb about that now. All cryin’ and shit. My figurative head-voice is kind of a bully. I pushed past the attitude, trying to find a reason to write, a focus, something to spark some vague interest in writing tonight’s blog.

I told my friend Jess, she of acting and japanese steakhouse fame, that I had forgotten. She encouraged me to write like the wind. I opened the site, and sat there staring. What to write? What could I possibly write with no planning? I turned again to Jess. “Minecraft!” It’s not a bad suggestion, actually. I went so far as to type the word Minecraft in the title line before FHV popped up again. Minecraft? Seriously? MINECRAFT? You’re going to slap out a blog about a literally plotless video game where you move blocks around? I considered this. Though I believe that there’s a blog in that game, I didn’t think I could possibly write it in one sitting with no thought. Though the game is simple, the feelings it inspires are complex.

So what to write? I was deeply discouraged. FHV had almost won. We both knew that I hadn’t forgotten so much as I had pushed it under some stuff in the corner of my mind to give myself an excuse to fail. Suddenly, I noticed something. The stat bar on my page had moved. Someone actually read my blog today. I took a look, and lo and behold, several people have read it this week. Suddenly, I felt invigorated. I felt energized.

I dove deep into the recesses of my mind, and I found FHV in the old moors. We stared at each other across a dark, foggy field. He was tall and broad of build, with dark hair and eyes. His face was fairly handsome beneath the beard, and somehow… familiar. I smiled. Why are you smiling? he asked, his eyes full of malice. His voice was powerful and melodic, with an Australian accent. My eyes widened in shock. Of course! How had I not seen it before!? My lips moved to form the name I dared not speak aloud. Hugh Jackman.

Seriously, he destroys sinks in a weridly high number of his movies, keep an eye out for it.

The sink-hating bastard in the flesh.

He gave a subtle nod, indicating that he knew I’d recognized him. I was confident in my own power this time, though. I stood my ground. “I have what I need to defeat you,” I said, softly, with a smirk. You can’t beat me! You’ve never beaten me, and you don’t even have a topic! I didn’t look away for a moment. The fog swirled around us as I spoke. “Don’t be so sure, you bastard of a literary device/triple threat! I have you right where I want you!” FHV/Hugh Jackman looked at me, his dark eyes wide with fear for the first time. What? No! “Oh yes,” came my reply. Suddenly, I raised my voice, calling into the mists, “I’M GOING TO WRITE A BLOG ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE A BLOG!” It can’t be done! NO ONE can escape that level of pretentious meta! You’ll never survive! The fear in FHV’s voice was as thick as maple syrup and even sweeter. My face split wide into a laugh as I showed him the computer monitor. “I already have.” FHV/Hugh Jackman screamed in agony. A brilliant white light poured forth, tearing him to shreds. He melted away like a candle, leaving only a greasy black residue in the moors of my mind.

He’ll be back. He always comes back. He doesn’t always look like Hugh Jackman, though. That got weird fast. For now, I can kick back and take pleasure in the fact that I just wrote an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman so that I could write an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman. I sat down with the goal of finishing something to post tonight, to keep my momentum and make sure that I didn’t lose this blog too, and I have done that. I may only be able to get away with something this absurd once, so at least I can say I did it in style.

Suck on that, Hugh Jackman.

My Dad Could Beat Up Your Dad

This isn’t going to be a long post at all. I can honestly say I know for certain that it’ll be the shortest post I’ve ever done, because there’s no beating around the bush on this topic. My dad is pretty damned awesome, and that’s all there is to it. He’s always been supportive of me, helping me deal with my issues however he can, even when he doesn’t understand them. He works around the country, traveling far and wide to make money for our family, to keep us happy and healthy. In the years since I turned 18, he’s never once made me feel like a drain or a bum.

He’s gone to great lengths to teach me what it means to put your family first, and to make sacrifices for the ones you love the most. I’m not very good at following his advice or learning the lessons, but the fact that he got through to me at all, considering how deeply dysfunctional my mind is, is a miracle.

When my dad is around, I can tell because I hear him playing “Crazy Train” on his electric guitar with the amp cranked up to 11. My dad plays a damned electric ukulele. I’m going to say that again for emphasis. ELECTRIC UKULELE.

I’m proud of my father. I’m grateful to my father. I love my father.

Electric ukulele.