To this day, I’m haunted by the summer of 2009. How close did I come to true desperation? True poverty? True homelessness? True starvation? Every screwup in my life until that moment was preparation for that mother of all screwups. All the staring into the abyss, the inability to wrest oneself from the everyday humiliations of a mental handicap had lead to the inevitable moment I feared – that people like me end up on the street with no way to get off it. But most people who ended up on the street have far fewer starting advantages than I did – how much more then should I have felt humiliated for having so little excuse for falling into that level of ignominy?…
I was living in DC, had $50 to my name. I was very nearly homeless and lived on the couch of friends. I wasn’t speaking to family members whom at the time still thought all this misery and fear and organizational discombobulation was merely a function of attitude. Because, as I’ve heard all my life, surely someone that smart can’t also be that dumb….
I’d applied to 100 jobs just as the Great Recession hit its worst strides – cashier, short order cook, selling shoes, janitorial work, I would get off at a subway stop and just go in and ask to fill out applications. I heard back from exactly two, one of which I went to work for one day, and it was immediately clear that it was a pyramid scheme, the other was teaching Yiddish at Temple Micah – practically the blind leading the blind for a paycheck that was hardly enough to pay a month’s rent in DC. I know I should have applied for a thousand jobs rather than a hundred, but try doing that as a person who gets a panic attack every time he sees a chart.
But at that moment, I was far from the most depressed I’d ever get. There’s an Eric Hoffer quote I can’t find at the moment in which he writes that we feel much worse when we have much and want everything than we do when we have nothing and want something. At that moment, I was too close to the brink of absolute and forever humiliation to not summon that well of olympian self-belief that might justify everything one has been through. Everybody who feels that desperate needs an idea to keep them alive, no matter how stupid. But they are ideas forged in fear, not reality. Once the fog lifts and you are no longer breakfasting the day-to-day terror of rock bottom, the real shell sock begins. I look at the trajectory of my life’s first 40-60% and it often seems as though it’s been shell-shock piled atop shell-shock in layers of infinite recursion. How has anyone lived for so many years with as many emotional and mental and organizational and even psychotic entanglements while still preserving some relatively normal part of himself?
To such people as me with a permanent address in gehenna, if the music, if the art itself, communicates with anything less than metaphysical urgency that shakes the tectonic plates and the Throne of Heaven, I might as well be looking at wallpaper. Ordinary people with ordinary experiences, ordinary expectations, ordinary emotions, ordinary encephalons, can afford the luxury of bad music and books and art and learning. But in my experience, if it isn’t strong enough, if the catharsis does not give its relief, the inner horror takes over. The stories of what happens in my life when it does, both in how I’m treated and how I treat others, are legion. And I worry that I am now overdue for the truly major breakdown that seems to attack me once every decade. Ever since the first breakdown, many people have commented on how much older than my age I’ve looked. I somehow doubt you can live through even a fraction of what I have without being aged.
The last truly major one began in late 2006 – gaining 50 pounds in a year (the second time), screaming incoherently at the top of my lungs in the yard of my parents house, constant voices in my head accompanied by mental diagnoses which seemed at the time like a death sentence, constant shouting matches, friendships ended, the omnipresent threat that my verbal altercations would become physical as they had when I was a teenager. The mental state got worse, then better, then worse again, over and over, until the breakdown wasn’t truly well and over until roughly the new year of 2012. Even in the good years, like during college, the inner voices were stronger than ever, and threatened me with every decision I tried to make that countermanded their judgement. The way in which they’ve altered my sense of reality is probably permanent, telling me at every juncture that every chance happenstance is in fact a presentimation of fate, a judgement meted out by my obedience at a previous juncture. I therefore wonder if I have made even one or two hundred petty decisions that could truly be called my own since I was seventeen years old, and I frankly wonder further if I will later be punished for writing all this. Even now, as always, my brain is telling me to strive to fit as many words as possible that start with ‘A’ and as few as possible as start with ‘F.’ And particularly to make sure that as many words as possible end the right column or begin the left begin with an ‘A’ as possible and as few the same that begin with ‘F.’
I’ve written about all this before to certain extents on my own blog, but I’ve never quite stated the basic problem so baldly. It is impossible to write this all without feeling as though a significant part of the mask has been unfastened, and that I can never go back to convincing anyone that there is a semblance of normalcy within me. It feels utterly absurd to admit to the page the basic mental process that has been going on within me for more than half my life now, knowing that allowing the information to float in the neither regions of the internet, read by no one until the moment it matters most – a potential job, a potential long-term partner, God alone knows what else.
The reason to tell of all this is to convey at least just a bit of the stacked deck with which I’m playing my entire life, and why such a plan to triumph over all that handicaps was both such lunacy and the only way to keep myself sane.