a friend in high school told me that if you go without sleep for a long time you can bring on hallucinations. We tried it once, but I fell asleep after about a day and a half of that thin, drawn-out feeling. My friend lasted two full days, and he started to see strange things: unreal moving shapes and noises becoming patterns in your head. A sentence condensed down to a single word that repeats over and over even after the sound has gone like a wave that keeps crashing.

That’s not what insomnia is. Some people believe they don’t sleep at all, but that’s not what it is either. You just never sleep enough. Your body runs you on the minimum amount of sleep required to keep you alive. Some nights there is no sleep. Other nights, you can grab maybe two, three hours. Mostly there are no dreams, so you think you haven’t slept. You roll over, and the clock is an hour closer to morning than it was before. The flicker of your eyes is slower for a moment, and that is the closest you get to real rest. Slowly the life drains out of you. The feeling of reality is gone, like you’re looking at everything through a sheet of clear perspex. Watching a movie that wraps all around you and will not let you go.

Sleep. deprivation. SD. Like Standard Deviation. The distance of data from the mean. The average person sleeps about 7 hours a night I think. We are definitely a deviation. The insomniacs. Some can’t sleep until the morning, some wake up too early. Some talk online in late night early morning hazes, wait through the sounds of waking that ripple across the country from East to West each day. I guess it’s a community, but one that none of us really want to be part of.
you can meet someone that way. There are ads on Craigslist: ‘can’t sleep – want some company’; ‘I can’t sleep. Anyone want to chat?’; ‘can’t sleep msn anyone? – w4mw – 19’. Insomniac sex is vague, impersonal, flat. That same feeling pervades all parts of the sleep-deprived life. we watch clocks. Tonight I climbed into bed at 11:17pm. It is now 1:31am. I have watched the digits flick their green bars into place so many times I have lost count, and my mind starts to wander. The green bars are imprinted on the inside of my closed eyes like a neon prison, blinking on and off but a little too fast for me to escape between the blinks. Eventually they slow to something like a heartbeat, but before I can relax too much I have a sudden panic. I sit up quickly in bed… I have left some food out on the kitchen counter. It’s been out there all day. An apple I took out of the fridge at 2am last night, but never ate. I can picture it growing wrinkled and old, attracting cockroaches and worms. Lie down. Now behind my eyes the green bars reform into a hexagonal green apple that starts to run out of the bottom of my view in a vile green mojito slush. After a few minutes of this I have to get up and find the apple. The attempt to sleep is reset as soon as I leave the bed.
there are lots of treatments. Melatonin kept me up even more, 5HTP did nothing, the list of sleeping pills is just another thing to cycle through my brain when I’m lying awake. Seroquel, temazepam, trazodone, zopiclone, remeron – put them in dosage order, alphabetical order, nausea strength order. I tried watching long slow movies like the Seventh Seal or Lawrence of Arabia; listening to slow, soothing music, wearing lavender eye masks. All just items in the cycling lists. Put them in order by director, by release date, by number of academy awards. My Doctor suggested finding the cause rather than treating the symptoms, but I think on some level I feel this torture is shaping me. I may even be encouraging it. The haggard face, the jitters, the unfocused way I watch the computer screen at work. I am letting them define me. I watch movies late at night, sleep with a clock in the room, bake cookies at 2am while listening to early Prodigy tracks. Maybe trying and failing is worse than not trying. Or maybe fixing this would leave me nothing else to blame.

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Mirrors reflecting mirrors

He stares into the mirror, which is cracked underneath; marred and browning at the edges. Breathes deeply three times and looks into the wide eyes. There is some redness there, some puffiness under them. The pores on his nose seem over-large, like wide pits. Where to begin?

He begins by splashing water on his face. It takes several dips of the finger into the stream to get the temperature right. One tap turns anticlockwise, the other clockwise. He growls when, at first, the water is too hot. The tap stays running and slowly begins to fill up the clogged sink.

There is a mirror in this room too, although it is smooth, oval and new. The sink is bright turquoise, empty and shining. The eyes looking into it are redder, and tears flow steadily from them. But they seem by the contours and lines to be younger: more restful and more rested. This room looks strange. Not strange in the sense of being unusual, but unfamiliar. Completely unfamiliar. This whole house is unfamiliar. His right hand, held up, seems unfamiliar too. There is only one conclusion possible: insanity. Insanity is creeping up on him. It is this place, this room, this strangeness, this situation. Digging his nails into his palm, he wills the pain to act as a catalyst to burn this all away. ‘A platinum and rhodium catalyst may be used to facilitate the conversion of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide’ he whispers to the mirror. The words survive in condensation for a few seconds. These are words an insane person might say, he chides himself.

A voice calls from the kitchen. He breathes deeply, trying to calm himself; a kaleidoscope trying to turn back to a single cohesive shape. Fail. Fail. Fail. Looking into those red eyes again he pats them dry with two folded pieces of toilet paper. A shaking hand is raised to the level of the face. Nothing is working properly any more. He looks down at his left hand as it clinks against the porcelain. The voice calls again.

He looks up into the ugly brown mirror, willing some change to explode out of it. Nothing happens for several seconds while he holds his breath. He breathes out in a long stream that condenses around the flecks of dirt on the mirror, like electrons clouding around nuclei. His left hand clinks against the porcelain. The circle is something that can be broken, just here where the flux raises slightly from the surface. He carefully rubs his finger with the translucent yellow sliver of soap.

Median Lethal Dose

body

Last night I was having flashbacks again: I see the spokes on bicycle wheels being tightened, each creak of moving metal echoed by a movement in my muscles; hunching, twisting over each other. I see pictures in textbooks of strange diseases, then look in the mirror to see the same picture, my name captioned, anonymously abbreviated. All of my space compacted into the size of a fist. And colours. Green and blue lines coruscating across my eyes like melting plants, the colours running out and making abstract spiral stained glass patterns. A continuous curve traced by a point moving around a fixed point in the same plane while steadily diminishing its distance. Red yellow black white static interference patterns, stopping any other mental activity, truncating the waves. A hand that reached from that space in vision that’s a little in front of you, through my eyelids and into my head.

All this is caused by what that cute French boy in Japanese class called ‘reality overdose’. All things that happen are real, but some are more real than others, although I think he stole that from Orwell. When too many hyper-real things happen at once, reality builds up in the body like a toxin. Given enough time, latency builds up between the thought process and reality. It solidifies.

A girl on the bus asks me if I’m feeling ok. I’m not quite sure where we are, but I’m sure that my eyes are red, because I spent a while staring at them in the chrome reflective bus stop ad. I’m not quite sure where we are. I don’t know why. Reality condensing in the eyes? The input through which most sensory information is channelled, it’s only natural that the problem should start there. I can feel the redness like a slow burn. I realize that several seconds have gone by, and I haven’t answered her. Or was that another time? I have lost the opportunity to respond within a time frame that signifies a normal level of social response to stimuli. I pretend not to have heard, and she asks me again, trying to tilt her head on one side and look up into my eyes, which are focused on a stretched-out piece of gum clinging to the floor. I nod, and get off at the next stop. I remember that I haven’t eaten in four days. Or since Wednesday, whenever that was. The light-headedness makes me stumble as I get off the bus, and I almost knock over an old Asian lady carrying a bag full of empty wine bottles. It has been five days since I’ve eaten.

In pharmacology books, you’ll sometimes see a value for the ‘median lethal dose’, sometimes coded as LD50 to be less morbid. The dose of a medicine, a drug, at which 50% of test subjects will die. The numerical value of Russian Roulette for every substance. From this I learned that less than a millionth of a gram of botox can kill a person half the time, which just proves that there’s no justice in Hollywood. On the other hand, it will take about fourteen grams of caffeine to kill an average adult. That’s 250 espressos. Reality is another substance like these. Less tangible than cocaine, more tangible than feelings. The median, in fact, between emotion and chemistry.

For some, survival is a little like a gift from a former lover. Something to cling to, or discard. It is, logically speaking, a bad idea to kill yourself because of a boy. This is because you only get one go at killing yourself (if you do it properly), whereas you get many attempts to find the right boy. How can you be sure your very own boy is worthy of the ultimate commitment?

I was boiling with the strange thoughts that you get when the internal and externally loaded substances run through your body at time of emotional stress. Condensation accretion accumulation of reality inside my veins was causing toxins to rush to my brain and flick switches at random. How does the body let itself get so out of control? It seems like this particular system is malfunctioning. I see the same girl who was on the bus sitting on a patio at the side of the street. How did she do that? It can’t be the same girl. They all look the same, identical cast-off 80s dresses and slippers, ready to discard those dresses and start wearing flares, tutus, anything else as soon as the marginally more mainstream people start wearing what the hipsters have previously claimed. If you watch very closely you can see it happen.

I’m not sure if it’s easier or harder for you, up on stage. There is a feedback loop that is positive instead of negative. Something like that. For some people there is a vestige of control that allows them to get on a stage, switch something off inside the mind, and channel everything into this controlled explosion, hot line of entropy that distorts the world around it, clears a space in which they can survive. Be alone in a press of bodies like surf, like a bird above the waves. They can’t swim, and the waves want to reach up and drag them under, soak, salt and dry them. Maybe they just stand there and think about the other birds burning in hot entropy.

Single and looking… for a book

It’s Monday night and I’m at home watching QI and writing blog posts. There should be no better indicator that I am indeed a single person. It has now been well over two years since I was in one of those things… I forget the word… they can be glorious emotional and physical enterprises, but at their worst can be a sort of terrible confinement, like prison but without the free food. What are they called? Phone boxes? No… nobody I know has been in a phone box (monogamous or otherwise) in many years. Ah, a relationship. This gives you some idea of how long it’s been: my last girlfriend has had a fairly long term relationship start, end and start all over again in the time since I dated her. Several of my friends have had children who are now in their teens. No no I must stop with the hyperbole lest I be threatened with sanctions by the UN.

It is odd how, despite the ever-increasing amount of cumulative life experience in the world (now that we can write things down, blog them and so forth) people seem to mature in the same ways. To put it another way, there is no website that assists people in skipping ahead to being mentally in their 20s or 30s while they are still teenagers (although there are plenty that can assist with anyone desirous of moving in the opposite direction). I suppose immaturity is imposed by the growing brain, and there are no possible shortcuts. It’s rather a distressing thought that all teenagers will still have to go through the agony of that period despite the great advances of our age. The point of this is that as a teenager, I remember being desperate to have a girlfriend. In fact, when I was about 15 (I think) I had an imaginary girlfriend (feel free to insert whatever joke you feel appropriate here). I don’t think I have shared that with many people (and I suppose I am still not doing so), but it was vaguely comforting at the time. I think her name was Celine, and she was French. I used to go on holiday to France with my family at least once a year, and so this was at least a little plausible. I think I claimed to have met her on the beach, which for anyone that knows me is rather more unlikely (me being on a beach and talking to a stranger).

To invent an entire person to have a relationship with is surely a sign of desperation, or perhaps merely a rather pathetic kind of loneliness. Many children have imaginary friends, but that seems rather more endearing than pathetic (as children are designed to). And in most cases they grow out of it. Eventually of course, I acquired a human girlfriend who existed and was real (with boobs and everything)[1]. From the time when I was 16 until a couple of years ago I never went more than a few months without a relationship and/or sex. That is not any kind of boast, merely a statement of fact (bear with me, it’s relevant). In fact, had I been denied either or both of these things for a longer period in my teens or twenties, I would probably have matured a good deal faster…

My first girlfriend was a sort of structural device (this sounds like some sort of odd joke about sex toys and semicolons, but it isn’t), in that having a girlfriend allowed me to attend social events without having to worry about what I was going to do or who I was going to talk to when I was there. If you’ve ever planned a party for a bunch of couples, you’ve probably thought about this phenomenon as well. A partner is a sort of pre-made conversational sounding board. Unless you have a wonderful relationship, they will likely have to stay around you for at least the beginning of a party, even if you’re talking absolute tosh. So you can warm up your conversation on them, and passers-by can intrude or listen as they choose. But when you add a single person to a bunch of couples, suddenly it gets a bit awkward, especially if they don’t know other people that well. It’s probably worse as a teenager, because you don’t have the same social or conversational skills. Being able to stand in the corner at a party holding hands with someone was, if not actually enjoyable, certainly less stressful than holding hands with nobody (which looks quite odd if you’ve ever tried it).

My second (or possibly third, I was never clear on how one counted relationships in the years pre-facebook [2]
) girlfriend was more of a psychological necessity. She prevented me from going absolutely insane when I was about 18, and I think moderated my tendencies to write poems about killing myself (all of which contained the word ‘black’ at least once, and none of which were very good) by being generally wonderful and exposing me to her equally wonderful and dysfunctional family.

Both of these relationships were fairly short-lived (months rather than years), but I think I approached both in the wrong way. I barely considered what I might be able to give to someone else, just that I needed someone to stabilize me through a difficult period of my life. A relationship was a necessity. I suppose it was what I relied on before I had medication.

By the time I hit my 20s, I was already married (although not to either of the girls mentioned above). I moved to Canada in 2001 and was married in December that year to a girl I had first met some 5 months previously. Ah the impetuosity of youth! I do have a tendency to approach life backwards, and I think there was some sort of thinking that being married through university would somehow help focus me. I was still mired in mental health troubles, lonely and unsure about the direction my life should take. I had bounced around from fling to fling over the past few years, including a hedonistic time in Israel over new year 2001, and I felt like some kind of structure was needed. Having a relationship was a way of reassuring myself that I was normal and could do normal things. See, I’m married, just like a normal person. I live in a house with my wife and we do normal things like having rubbish sex. Again though, I was really approaching things from the wrong way. A relationship was still something that I needed: I felt lonely, and I needed someone whose job it was to make me less lonely.

And it worked, after a fashion. I had few mental problems for about three or four years. I stopped writing completely, and instead started doing things like cooking, playing baseball outside with my nephews, and getting obscenely high marks in university (by virtue of the fact that I never went out with my classmates and spent every evening studying). But it couldn’t last. Something never felt quite right, and as I started to meet and talk to more people that seemed to be like me, it felt more and more wrong.

By the time I was 25, I was divorced (aren’t I precocious?). This was probably the first moment of real maturity in my relationship life. I had to break it to my then wife that I was not in love with her, and that I did not want to live together any more. It meant the end of a five year marriage, but for me it also meant putting myself, for the first time ever really, in a situation where I might be single for a while. Now if I’m honest, there was never really much risk of that. C, the girl I still love now, was there waiting for me, although neither of us were at that point prepared to admit that’s what we were doing. It led to one of the most confusing, painful, heartbreaking and unbearably joyful periods of my life. And it was a new development. For the first time, I felt like I was the strong one in a relationship. I was the one who was able to stand up and lead someone through the storm. I felt like I had something to offer. It was the first relationship I had where there was what I would call emotional equality. We were both fairly messed up, and we relied on each other. Progress!

I will not go through every relationship I have had since C and I were first together, partly because there have been a lot, and partly because I don’t remember them all (or, as I mentioned above, really know what constitutes a relationship). I have checked facebook and I don’t recall having a single relationship that was ‘facebook official’. But really, even my last relationship was still something that was emotionally necessary for me. To be honest, I have never before thought myself capable of facing the world alone, and therefore I have needed help at every step of the way.

But now, as I approach the final paragraph, things are different. For the first time I feel that I have made some progress in understanding myself. For the first time, I am ok with being single. A relationship is not something I need to maintain my own stability any longer. And I am increasingly concerned, when I think of relationships, with what I could potentially offer to the relationshippee (which is a real word). I think I am finally ready to contribute to a relationship, rather than simply ‘having’ one like a balloon or a hamster. And I know who I want to be in a relationship with. Even weirder, I am actually going to be patient about it. If she is not interested, I shall continue to grow, to think about myself and attempt (if possible) to strive for self-improvement while I wait. And in the meantime, I think I shall devote my time to finding more worthwhile books to read.

1.
Incidentally, I have never been comfortable with the phrase ‘got a girlfriend/boyfriend’. It makes it sound as if you went to some sort of market or ordered them online… now I am being Stewart Lee and making you finish the joke for yourself.

2.
If it has done nothing else (which I’m fairly sure is the case), Facebook has at least given people a way of officially declaring that they are in a relationship without having to go through the ridiculous process of getting engaged or married.

I’m off my meds!

Image

I find that so often with blogs, the personal intertwines with the creative. I’m not sure if creative personalities are that much more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of mental health, or if it’s just that poetry or writing itself is more closely linked to the mental realm than other things one could be doing. For example, I find that my work performance is not really affected by depression or my mental health (positive or otherwise) as much as my writing is. I suppose that’s good because it means I haven’t missed nearly as much work as I could have as a result of my various brain troubles, but I digress. A few weeks ago I stopped taking my medication. All at once. For those of you looking away in disapproval or tut-tutting at me, I would not recommend this to anyone. As usual in my life, it’s a case of do what I say, not what I do. However, I do have a reasonable excuse. Let me expound. Or expand. Expostulate?

About a month ago I realized that I had lost my prescription from my doctor. Amazingly this is the second time this has happened. One would have thought that doctors would have come up with a better system than a scribbled bit of paper for getting access to potentially dangerous substances, but it seems not. Perhaps Canada is just lagging behind and the rest of the world is happily emailing their prescriptions directly to the pharmacy of their choice, or better still posting them onto some shared website for any pharmacist to access. Anyway. As a responsible patient, I did nothing for about a week. Work has been very busy, and I kept forgetting to call them during business hours. And I still had some pills left, so I wasn’t worried. Eventually I got round to calling, and of course there was nobody there. I left a detailed message explaining the situation (as this is what I had to do last time to get it fixed). I never received a call back. A few days later I went to the chemist/pharmacist just to check if my prescription had been delivered, but nothing was there. Now, being the somewhat lackadaisical individual that I am, I did nothing again. Part of this was because I was sure they would eventually call me back, but also on some level I saw this as an opportunity. Circumstance is good motivation for me, and I saw this as ideal timing. At my last appointment, my doctor and I had agreed that I was to taper off my medication gradually (one drug at a time), and in fact I had already tapered off one of my three meds. So what with one thing and another, this seemed like a good time to stop the others.

I was prepared for withdrawal symptoms (although Wellbutrin is notoriously nice in that respect) or some dramatic change in my mood or emotions. In fact, the results were rather boring. It’s now about four weeks later, and I feel essentially the same. I have a little less energy to do things, but it’s not a huge change, and frankly I would rather be unmedicated and slightly slothful than constantly questioning my own autonomy. I have also been working up to 10 hour days, which may explain why I have no energy in the evenings. I am trying to force myself to do things like reading and writing, with limited success. I went swimming today, which I am quite proud of. But overall, very little change. In fact, this experience has me questioning the usefulness of medication at all for someone in my position. I think that I am largely stable right now, and accordingly, medication doesn’t really help me. Of course it’s the first thing any psychiatrist would suggest, but perhaps some sort of talk therapy would be more useful. A revelation! 

I should disclaim again at this point that I don’t advocate stopping meds without consulting one’s physician, or stopping taking things cold turkey. I am very resistant to most side effects of most medications, and the ones I take (or rather was taking) don’t have any severe side effects anyway. When dealing with the brain, caution is best I feel. Don’t try this at home, kids!

Is it possible for me?

To write about depression. I once wrote somewhere… and I’m paraphrasing myself… ‘The problem with writing a book about depression is that when you’re depressed, something like writing seems impossible’. This is as true for me now as it was then. Not that I’m writing a book any more. Remember that? Once upon a time I was able to work on my book. That seems far out of sight now. For me personally, I find that when I’m super depressed, I just lie there in bed looking at the ceiling, virtually unable to move. So I figured I’d write about the things that are preventing me from writing, possibly before that leaden depression closes in again and I’m unable to write anything.

1. Drugs – no not the fun ‘blue monkeys coming out of your nostrils’ kind. This is the psychiatric kind. I am now up to taking six pills a day. They are all white, which I find sort of pleasing on an aesthetic level. They are also different shapes, which is interesting. I’m not sure if they help me or not. I wish I could travel into a parallel world where I’m not on medication to find out if I’m more or less depressed. I may stop taking my meds in a month or so (after I get back from the UK). I do keep saying that and putting it off. i have been on at least some form of medication now for over a year. In fact it’s getting close to a year and a half. And I cannot face the idea of being someone who has to be medicated for their whole life. I would rather be dead. Much rather. Anyway, one of the side effects of the drugs is a sort of… general plateauing of mood. And this means that I can’t feel the emotions that I usually use to write. It really takes a lot to make me laugh or cry.

2. Depression – despite what I said earlier, I have had some of my most productive times when I was depressed. No it’s not a contradiction! Let me exasperate… extrapolate… explicate? Just non-depressed enough to write, but just sad enough to appreciate the dreadful poetry of the world. But recently my depression has been the even lower kind. The kind where you’re ‘too depressed to kill yourself’ as a friend of mine put it.

3. Inspiration – living in a new city is full of challenges. For me, meeting people has been the biggest challenge. I’ve now been here just over seven months, and haven’t made a single friend. I used to write a lot about observations of the world and situations that arose in my life. But my life right now is lacking experience. If my life were a colour, right now it would be a kind of grey. If my life were a food, it would be spam. If my life were a bird, it would be a grey grey pigeon. You get the idea.

So what has been depressing you so much, I hear you fail to ask? Well let me tell you. I hate my job. I don’t care if anyone I work with gets to read this. I hate it. It doesn’t challenge me, and yet there’s so much information to remember and my depressed brain keeps forgetting things, which makes me feel like I’m useless.

So why don’t you get a new job, you ask? Well I have been looking for a job on and off for two years, but I have yet to get a single job offer. Yes my qualifications are that impressive. I am overqualified to start at the bottom, and underqualified to start anywhere else. For the most part, I haven’t even got call backs. Nope, nobody even thinks highly enough to bother rejecting me!

To make matters worse, I recently got passed over for a promotion at work. This prompted the worst episode of depression I’ve had since the last time I went to the hospital, which was January 2012. They wanted to admit me to the psych ward this time, but there were no beds in the city available (thank god for health cuts). I have been sorely tempted to try and drink my troubles away, but so far I am resisting. I would make the worst alcoholic ever. I have two bottles of wine in my fridge. They call to me, so they do.

Absent with out leave…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. That sentence wasn’t really necessary, but I’m leaving it in anyway… I’ve been dealing with an extended episode of depression (as has so often happened in the last few years), and I haven’t really had the energy to write anything. With the amount of meds I’m now taking, I expect to either be feeling better soon or to dissolve into a puddle of chemicals. Meanwhile I hope everyone is doing well out there, and perhaps I will return soon with posts aplenty and writing to share.