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.