Mo*Con with a guest blog by Doug Warrick. Actually, you probably have Doug to thank for the theme for this year’s Mo*Con. After my blog last year about the possibilities of me being bi-polar, he and I had a series of conversations on the topic. He thought it would be great for other writers to discuss how things like this play out in their lives and art. Doug will also be debuting his amazing collection at this year’s Mo*Con, Plow the Bones (Apex Books, but this isn’t the final cover).
Guest Blog by Doug F. Warrick
Migraine sufferers are touchy about people casually co-opting their malady. It’s why you should be careful about blithely announcing to a room full of people that you have “such a migraine right now.” Because no, you don’t. What you have is called, in the professional parlance of the medical community, a fuckin’ headache. Maybe it’s a bad fuckin’ headache. A real, real bad one, even. But for anyone who has ever nearly or actually crashed their car when their vision whites out on the highway, or whose body has purged itself of the day’s food out of sheer bewilderment at the intensity of the pain in its uppermost extremity, or who has woken up with crescent-shaped nail-marks in their temples from the previous night’s desperate digging, your occasional headache ranks astoundingly low among things about which they feel compelled to give a shit.
Same story with depressives, by the way. Which is more germane, and harder to say.
I have lived with depression and anxiety since I was a kid. I have resolved (and ultimately failed) to kill myself twice in my adult life (a truth not known by even those closest to me, and which I type now knowing cognitively that I am confessing, but feeling emotionally like my secret’s still safe… we’ll get to that…). The first time, I was prepared to toss myself off the top of a building when a custodian decided to take a smoke break at pretty much the exact moment I was perched on the ledge in dramatic cruciform (like, seriously, it was a straight-up homage to that “All for you, Damien,” scene in The Omen… Being suicidal’s one thing, but did I have to be so cliché?). I was so embarrassed that it didn’t even occur to me that had I jumped right then, I wouldn’t have had to worry about feeling embarrassed. I slunk off to my filthy apartment and cried over a sack full of Chalupas I couldn’t really afford. The second time, having never sipped a single drop of alcohol in my life, I attempted to chug a bottle of rum and swallow a bottle of pills. Ultimately, I fucked up the appropriate order of those two, and vastly underestimated my tolerance for alcohol. So all I succeeded in doing was drinking myself sick and throwing up all night. Never did get around to those pills.
There is a very particular, very specific flavor of shame associated with failed suicide attempts in which the word FAILED maintains its literal definition.
All of which is to say, I have some experiential familiarity with crazy-town-banana-pants. As a white heterosexual male writer who suffers from mental illness, nobody could blame me for crowning myself King Cliché of Trite Premise Mountain, presiding over the sovereign kingdom of Boo-Hoo-Ya-Big-Fuckin’-Baby.
Living with depression, with anxiety, with delusions and dementia, with the malfunctioning of the meat that sloshes around in your skull and makes you who you are, is an exercise in constant embarrassment. Your mantra becomes, “I should be able to do this.” You watch yourself, trapped inside your own eyeballs, sabotage every opportunity presented to you, be they professional (anybody remember that anthology I was supposed to be editing?) or romantic (there is a mysterious white stripe of skin on the third finger of my left hand made pale by a ring I no longer wear there) or interpersonal (oh the phone calls I’ve screened, oh the nights I’ve spent with a pillow over my head so I could pretend I didn’t hear my friends knocking on my door). You watch your family and friends transform, watch them go from pounding their fists against the wall and wailing at you to get your shit together, please, please, please, to shaking their head and shrugging at your latest failure, trying not to spend too much time dwelling on the potential they once thought they saw in you, the trust they put in you that you betrayed. The worst part is, you eventually hate yourself for so long that it no longer feels sharp. It no longer hurts to hate yourself. You look at yourself in the mirror, and your reflexive disgust feels familiar and common.
This is why I tend to get angry at the misuse and misattribution of the word “depression.” No, the last episode of The Walking Dead was not “depressing.” No, you don’t listen to The Smiths and pack away a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on days when you are feeling “a little depressed.” No, you are not “so fucking depressed” over the fact that Barack Obama was elected to a second term. I understand intellectually how unfair it is to make this distinction, how casual usage of the term has in some ways redefined it and made it broader and more populist. But emotionally, I can’t help but feel that it marginalizes and trivializes the experience of actual depression. Because those situations are, at worst, fogs through which one drives on the way to clearer conditions. Depression, or at least my experience of it, is a corner into which one is backed. Like the person-shaped holes in Junji Ito’s The Enigma of Amigara Fault, depression is a you-shaped space that contorts and twists and deforms the further you go.
I often tell people that depression forces you to choose between three options. Option one: live with it. Live in misery, in agony (because, yes, depression does physically hurt, deep down in the solar plexus, tugging at you in every direction at once, like some secret organ inside your chest has burst and you are now doomed to hemorrhage to death over the course of seventy years or so), scratching notches in the wall to document your various failures until old age or disease or blessed disaster make your decision for you.
Option two: kill yourself. Nobody wants to die, by the way. Especially not those of us who can’t accept the proposition of an afterlife. I’m reminded of the depressive woman in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest who says, “Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. The terror of falling from a great height is still as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and “Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” Wallace, as he almost always did, said it better than I ever could. Better than I ever will. And incidentally, this was Wallace’s eventual decision. I can’t fault him for it. I don’t subscribe to that bitter axiom exclusive to the living that suicide is the sole dominion of the selfish and the cowardly. How could I? My own Omen moment aside, I’ve seen more than one friend trade the flames for the fall. People I loved. People that loved me.
But then there’s option three. By far the most difficult and the most rewarding. You get help. You do what you must and you fight the motherfucker, because the motherfucker is worth fighting. You stare upon the strange and the miraculous and the unlikely and the gorgeous, those moments of true beauty and joy and wonder, no matter how how rare and infrequent they may be, and you ask yourself if you are really willing to never experience them again. Reading about or witnessing the capricious elegance of evolution and physics and astronomy, or the triumphant elation of watching truly talented live musicians, or the transcendent fun of really good sex, or those moments when your brain stops experiencing temporal conveyance because the piece of food between your molars is so goddamned tasty, or the wonder at discovering a piece of art that does something you didn’t know art could do. The songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life, as Morrissey once sang. Even if you have never experienced those things, other people have. And they aren’t any better or more deserving than you. If you want those things (and you do, trust me), then you need to fight for them.
Get some pills, or some vitamins, or some supplements, or some exercise, or all of those things. Talk to somebody whose job it is to neither love nor hate you. Stop telling yourself that you need it, that your misery is your fuel or your engine, because you don’t, and it isn’t. And make stuff. Before, when I confessed to attempting to end myself, I mentioned feeling like I wasn’t confessing at all. I feel that way because I’m not telling you this. I’m typing it. I’m narrating it. I’m stumbling around grasping at the right combination of words to create something. It’s what I do. I’m not the best at it (I ain’t Gary Braunbeck or Flannery O’Connor or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the aforementioned Wallace). But when I write this stuff down, when I transmute it into narrative, it becomes (for a frozen moment) external. Ta-da. Home surgery. Reach in with gloved hands and extract the offending organ. Call your friends and have them take a look at it, offer their perspectives. Take a few photographs, jot down a few notes. Then set it back down where it belongs and sew yourself back up and remember what you saw when it wasn’t a part of you. Remember what it was when it was fictional, when it was external. Remember that your psychoses and your neuroses are not the same thing as YOU.
May 3 – 5, 2013. Indianapolis, IN
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