I have a strange relationship with mental illness. At once, how magnificent it is: let’s call this Jack Kerouac syndrome: this thing people like me do, romanticize the mad ones. Yeah, my friends who fascinate me the most are normally the crazy ones, the ones who burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
There was Mark, the bipolar math whiz, who would charm you to death and be the most amiable guy in the world one day, and turn incredibly violent the next. Once, he put one of his best friends in the hospital (and himself in jail) in a fit. Was really good at math though.
The front man of a cult punk rock band, who, every time he came would punch his partner in the face. He couldn’t come otherwise. And who suffered his whole life with depression and opiate addiction – still to this day I believe… (We don’t keep in touch. From a simple Google search, it looks like he’s doing alright. But surfaces are always just one, typically misleading, part of the story.)
There was “Rainbow”, an alcoholic escort, who destroyed everything she touched and got kicked out of every restaurant, club, and hotel she went into for causing such a ruckus. And who somehow still managed to be able to converse with you while spitting geysers of the cleverest, most sparkling wordplay and philosophical insight.
Cheers, to the drug addicts, the prostitutes, the sexually deviant, the martyrs, the autistic, the ill, the deformed, the pirates, the murders, the street rats, those who can’t process the readymade reality of our existence so they tune out so far and become freaks. Those truly outside the realm of society, the real outlaws; there is something so inspiring about how uncomfortable these people make us, how far they push our sense of the aesthetic, moral, sexual, religious, whatever sensibility.
You, on the edge, you inspire me more than anybody.
But do they really?
All these people I love deeply. What else can we do but love others?
Yet, I must confess, I remember myself as a teenager not wanting to opt into life – I wanted to turn my back on it, to leave the planet and kill myself. Or do something equally extreme. But I never had the guts to do it. Then a good friend of mine tried (and failed) to kill himself; I remember at the hospital the next day wishing I could be more like him, wishing I were someone who could bring my thoughts and actions to the extreme. Wishing I could pass the Rubicon of sanity and fuck everything.
As we got older, maybe I was eighteen, I started to notice something about my suicidal friend. He didn’t really have guts. He didn’t really have a rich understanding of what he was doing.
I wanted to kill myself, perhaps, because I wanted to give the middle finger to the creator of the universe! Dear Creator, how could you create a place where even one child must suffer from starvation? I refuse to participate in this world. My friend, on the other hand, perhaps opted into my rhetoric – but his suicide attempts (there were a few) were really nothing more than chemical malfunctions – a brain unable to cope with the world. I began to see that watching him wasn’t watching someone radical, someone fearless, but someone completely lost in a chemical prison.
He didn’t even really know what life was, let alone death, he was a zombie, a slave to this misconfiguration.
And it’s so difficult: because if we don’t have souls, then all we have are these chemicals in the brain – and you shake these crazy people – like physically shake them, crying: “PLEASE WAKE UP, PLEASE WAKE UP. PLEASE SAVE YOURSELF BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.”
But they remain in their robotic haze, unable to grow, unable to change their ways, just continually hitting their head against this immaterial chemical wall. Then going to prison or an asylum, or just getting killed.
It’s so terribly tragic… Especially when they get older… When they’re forty… Fifty… Their faces… You see them with their expressions of unbearable, helpless anguish. And there is nothing you can do but invest… more time… more money… more resources put into asylums, drugs, doctors, therapists… Or we become co-dependent, stabilize their life by giving into them, funding their miserable existence, keeping them an arm’s length away and living on their own, often solipsistic, terms.
It’s so sad to watch someone be a victim of these terrible diseases.
Yet, there is still something so beautiful about the malfunctioning. For the “malfunction” itself is just contextual. They malfunction in this regular, everyday environment; but give them a keyboard or a paintbrush or a math equation or a guitar and this malfunctioning becomes a miraculous functioning. And it’s true, the history of innovators is mainly the history of the insane.
So, everyday I try to embrace the insanity – which most (but not all) of the time I have to induce with DMT, acid, weed, and even non-psychedelics like meth and alcohol. But also I balance reality: to be able to cross the Rubicon at the right times for the right reasons. To be able to be this bridge between the explosive groundless ground of insanity, and the stability/clarity of sanity: a link between normalcy and innovation.
People like to talk about good and evil, moral and immoral, correct and incorrect. I don’t like that rhetoric. It seems too old, we’re beyond all that now. I like to put this way…
You have people suffering from trauma (chemical, environmental, etc.) and you have people without trauma.
People without trauma are drones.
People with trauma are the interesting ones.
Then you have two different types of people with trauma.
You have the people who make trauma their bitch. You have the people who use the trauma for fuel, who get aggressive and violent and do life-changing (if not world-historical) things with it.
Then you have people who become victims of trauma and are crushed by it.
The victims of trauma… Instead of making skyscrapers, like a snail, they coil and start to swirl into a dark hole. Down instead of high, lines of death they create instead of fireworks of beauty.
Only the luckiest among us can overcome and translate trauma into great works. Those who can are blessed.
And those miraculous beings who still overcome it against all odds… Those people aren’t blessed with luck. They’re gods among men.