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.

Internet Exile

Well, it’s been a while. This is why I tried so hard to write something every week. Once I lose my momentum, it can be next to impossible to get it back. In the days after my last post, I had a moderately sized breakdown. I fell into one hell of a depression, and as a result, I fell out of posting for a lot longer than I meant to. The days stack up pretty quickly, and what’s meant to be a week off for the sake of my sanity becomes instead a month that damages it.

I have a very delicate self-esteem, and one that switches back and forth seemingly at random from absolute narcissism and self-adoration to a self-hatred so complete that I can’t see safely to the other side. I never know what’s going to set this change off, but I often find that it’s tied in to the internet. I wrote before about how important the internet is to me and my social life. In it, I touched on how it can be negative, but I don’t think I really adequately explained just how. I get agitated quickly, and fall into bouts of paranoia and depression. I can get driven into a frenzy by the constant assault of information – of any kind, good or bad – and start seeing everything anyone says as an attack.

A phrase I’ve heard tossed around but only just recently started understanding is “overstimulated”. I used to sort of dismiss it, but I’ve come around recently. The first time I think I really understood the concept – though certainly not the first time I felt it – was when I recently saw the film The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I had a literal panic attack in the theater. There was just too much going on at once, and it caught me on a bad day in the wrong way, and bam, there I went. The color, the sound, the flashy, fast movements. It overwhelmed me.

My constant connection to the internet has a similar effect. It’s a hell of a lot slower and a hell of a lot more pronounced, but the constant influx of information and news, though wonderful and much liked, builds until it pushes me out of my orbit, and I lash out. Explosive, mindless brawls result. Fights that take hours and drive my mood into the ground for days after the fact. I see friends as enemies, and the slightest comment from anyone as a sign that they secretly detest me and are plotting my downfall.

At the advice of a close friend, I pulled back from the internet. I’ve been in a sort of self-mandated internet exile for a while. I’ve stayed away from Twitter and Facebook unless something directly relating to me has come across my e-mail. On the one hand, I’ve been in a vastly better mood. No fights, far less confusion. However, I’ve also missed a lot. My friends tend to invite people to do social activities over social media, so I’ve missed more than one hang out. I’ve been far less able to keep up with gaming and entertainment news. Basically, being less connected to the world means being less connected to the world, and I find that to be just as unpleasant as I do rejuvenating.

In the end, I have to find some kind of line between the two. I feel like for the past week or so, I’ve kept it well in balance. It’s a difficult thing to manage at best, and it seems I have – unfortunately – fallen off the face of the earth again. On the other hand, I feel recharged. For the first time in a long time, I’m bursting with possible posts. A lot of interesting things have happened since the last entry, as so often seems to happen. In fact, I’m currently on a short road trip to a friend’s cousin’s wedding in Kenosha, Wisconsin. If this doesn’t make for a good post, what will? I wish I had been able to drum up the courage to live-blog it, but I couldn’t at the time. Instead, I think I’ll wait until it’s done and post a blog about it.

In any case, I have no intention to let this fall by the wayside again. I want to do this blog, and I intend to resume maintaining it as well as I can. Please, stay tuned, because within the next few days, there’ll be a brand new full-length post on the adventures and mishaps that comprise my adventure to Wisconsin with my dear friend Jess. This one is sure to be good.

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.

Harry Potter and the Rejuvenated Life – Part 2

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” ~ Albus Dumbledore

After I finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I couldn’t have waited more than twenty minutes before starting the next one. In fact, the first three books came out so close together (and came into my hands even faster than that) that, for me, there may as well have been no gap between them at all.

As Harry enters his second year at Hogwarts, a number of new, very important things are established, and both the world and the scope of the story grow larger. Again, the series approaches some very serious subjects in a way that’s accessible and digestible to children. In the same way Sorcerer’s Stone is about life, death, and finding strength to face them, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is about acceptance of people different from ourselves, as well as taking care with who you choose to place your trust in, and how. Right now, however, I’m going to talk about racism.

Now, I’m not going to go off on some rant about racism, its dangers, and the fact that it is still very much alive in the world. Far better thinkers and writers than I have had their say on that subject. What I want to do instead is give credit to this book and the woman who wrote it for approaching it so well, and examining it so closely while still making the book deeply entertaining. The lessons it teaches are some of the most valuable that can be learned, and they’re presented naturally, without feeling forced or preachy.

It is detailed clearly in this volume of Harry Potter’s story that Muggle-born and half-blood witches and wizards are reviled by small, vicious sections of the magical population. This, it seems, was one of the largest motivations behind Voldemort’s grab for power. To put it quite simply, he detests those he finds impure. Pure-blood wizards often consider themselves to be superior. Draco Malfoy (Harry’s nemesis at Hogwarts, and I don’t feel that word is too strong in their case) and his parents are among the ones who consider themselves above the rest. His father, Lucius, was one of Voldemort’s greatest supporters during his rise to power, and only through a combination of trickery, bribery, and threats did he avoid a jail sentence. They would just as soon see all of the “mudbloods” – a nasty name for those who aren’t pure – wiped off the face of wizard society.

Interestingly, Rowling does not approach the subject from a stark “pure-bloods are the bad guys” angle. The temptation to do so for simplicity’s sake is there, but instead, she chooses to be more flexible. The introduction of Arthur Weasley, Ron’s father, is incredibly welcome. He provides the series with a much needed counterpoint to the menacing Lucius. Fun, funny, good-hearted, and absolutely adoring of all things Muggle-related, Arthur and his family are also pure-bloods. Their dismissal of this fact is an incredibly strong point. They simply don’t buy into the concept that anyone is better than anyone else due to the nature of their birth.

The book’s examination of acceptance of other cultures and races goes far beyond that pair of characters and what they stand for. Nearly every aspect of the story touches on the concept that being different is not only okay, but a thing to be celebrated. Rowling introduces an entirely new magical race in house elves, a type of small magical being that has been enslaved by wizards for ages. Harry meets Dobby, an odd little elf who struggles against his orders (at great personal cost) to do whatever he can to protect Harry from harm at the school. Harry and his friends attend a “deathday party” for one of the ghosts that inhabits the castle, where they learn about the morbid culture of the disembodied spirits. They meet an intelligent, giant spider name Aragog, who was accepted and protected by Hagrid, despite his monstrous nature. Around every bend is a new lesson about accepting people for who they are and who they choose to be, rather than who we want them to be.

On a personal note, this book also introduces my favorite character in the entire series, one Gilderoy Lockhart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Good looking, famous, and wildly successful, Lockhart holds the hearts and eyes of many in the palms of his well manicured hands. Known the world over for his great deeds and heroics, he takes to the job with a great gusto… where it is immediately clear that he’s a buffoon with no real skills whatsoever. The man is a smarmy braggart in the extreme, and I find him ENDLESSLY entertaining. I could read about his particular brand of idiocy for hours on end. He lends levity to a book that is a step forward in maturity from the previous entry.

The story itself is more sinister than the first. A new threat faces the school, like none that Harry has seen, and for the first time, his fellow students are in danger. Someone or something is prowling the halls, petrifying people, and all that the students and teachers have to go on is an old legend about a hidden chamber in the school, said to house a terrible creature that will cleanse the school of impure blood. For a number of reasons, the evidence points to Harry himself as the culprit.

The school quickly turns to mistrust and fear of their one-time savior. Danger, real or only perceived, in a place where one used to feel safe can quickly bring paranoia bubbling to the surface. This is something I know all too well. In my adult years, my mental illness has been triggered by many things, and it can be something as simple as an unexpected sound in a place where I usually feel perfectly at home. This story can and has served to remind me that those fears and suspicions I feel toward the people and places I feel most comfortable with need to be taken with a grain of salt, and considered carefully before taking action. This is tempered, however, with a valuable lesson about who you should place that trust in to begin with. Without spoiling the story too much, at the center of the tale is the fact that a main character trusts too quickly and with too little thought, pouring their heart into the hands of someone who wishes to do them harm. Once again, Rowling’s lesson isn’t black and white, but complex and careful.

The book builds swiftly to an absolutely stunning climax, one that throws all of these philosophies together in one incredible scene, reaffirming all of the lessons learned. In the aftermath, Professor Dumbledore again imparts his wisdom to Harry (and the reader), saying a single fantastic sentence that binds it all together. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

It doesn’t matter what you are born with, or who you are born to. You choose how to treat other people. You choose who to trust. You choose who to defend. You, and no one else, choose who you are, and all of your successes and failures are due to that choice. Make the right choice, these pages urge. Be a person you can be proud to be. It is a lesson that all children need to learn. I can’t think of a better way to learn it.

 

P.S.: This entry in my series is a bit shorter than the first. I imagine that Part 3 will be as well. This is because there wasn’t much to add about my own life at the time of release, due to the speed with which I devoured the first three books. When I hit book four, I imagine that the entries will soar in length and content, both because the books are far longer and more complex and because my life began to change far more rapidly as I grew up. I hope you enjoyed this, and stay tuned for part 3!

 

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.