Category: Madness

The Great Depression Train

Train (obviously)
Train (obviously)

One night when we were teenagers my friend Jeff jumped in front of a train because he thought it was the best way to handle things at the time. A group of us had gone to the movies and as usual Jeff was out of control drunk. After another argument with his mother, a recovering alcoholic, he made his way to the tracks and waited.

Somehow he didn’t die but only broke his pelvis, and he continued to drink as heavily as before. He had his problems: two alcoholic parents, one who shot himself playing Russian roulette and a couple of missing fingers from a homemade bomb explosion, but which one caused such deep depression? Maybe all of them or maybe something else.

I lost touch with Jeff in my late twenties and watched other friends attempt to handle their depression in various ways. Most drank and did drugs as I did, and as time went by several ended up dead. After a breakup with his girlfriend my friend Cary tied a bayonet to his steering wheel and drove into a bridge. Others overdosed or shot themselves, and a former boss chose hanging.

Forty years later I still continue to struggle with depression and see many in the same boat. A photographer I used to follow, Don Graham, often wrote about his battle with Bipolar disorder and several months ago took his own life. He was in therapy and on several medications.

Depression is a fight we have with ourselves, completely created by our thoughts and we get stuck there. Antidepressants will only take you so far and often the side effects are unbearable. Therapy may help, but unless they’ve been there themselves it can seem like just words they learned from a course in college.

I think of depression like a train: Sometimes you can see it objectively, and despite all the smoke and noise you can distance yourself from it and get through the day. Other times its headed right for you, and like my friend Jeff, you stand there as it runs you over.

My favorite author, Charles Bukowski wrote: Nobody can save you but yourself and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning then this is it. Think about it. Think about saving your self.”

House Arrest

The Dark Horse
The Dark Horse

Where I live it’s not unusual to see horses in the Walmart parking lot, but they’re always tied to a hitching post. I went there to look for some Cogswell cogs this morning and saw two beautiful horses grazing in the tall grass all alone, freer than a jailer, or so I thought.

It seemed odd and I figured maybe they escaped from a local farm or just lived on their own, until I saw the ankle straps. All I could think of was that for some reason they were under house arrest, but what could they have possibly done to deserve this?

Once came up to me to say hello and let me pet him, contrary to myth they don’t all bite your fingers off. They he looked at me with those big brown eyes as if to ask why? I had no idea until a woman walking her dog came up and said that the straps prevent them from running away, and they were taking a break from a long ride in the trailer.

It just goes to show that things that seem crazy at first might be completely normal. The girl at Walmart actually thought I was crazy when I told her if they were out of Cogswell cogs I’d be happy with Spacely sprockets. They didn’t have either; maybe Target has some in stock.

Déjà vu all over again

Horse and buggy parking May
Horse and buggy parking May

It’s been said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity. But it’s also been said that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

So I was at Walmart this morning and I remembered a photo I took of a horse and buggy back in early March (Overexposed at Walmart). I had overexposed it accidentally but decided the result was “more interesting than all the other shots that have histograms like the Himalayas.”

There he was, the exact same horse and buggy in the exact same spot (the horse knows the way) so I shot him. And again I overexposed but purposely this time, converted to black and white and called it art.

I did the same thing slightly differently and expected the same results, so this is either a variation of insanity, madness or a combination of both. According to one definition, insanity is the state of being insane while madness is the state of being mad. Oh.

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker wrote: “The road to creativity passes so close to the madhouse and often detours or ends there.”

I’ve been to the madhouse and although I didn’t bring my camera, the photographic possibilities were endless. Maybe next time.

No Easy Way to be Free

No Easy Way to be Free
No Easy Way to be Free

I wrote this for a creative writing class in 2008, a couple of years after my third rehab. It’s about making new friends in a place known as The Ranch House on the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital. The guests call it what it is, a looney bin.

Peggy, the oldest, forever in her tattered robe, hopscotching down the hall when she’s not talking to herself or crying.

Adrian, the young, spoiled wannabe junkie, whining about not getting strong enough meds.

Stacy, fresh from the pizza shop, smiling and stumbling around on Seroquel.

Steve, the happy criminal, acting like he’s at summer camp.

Victor, a child in a forty year old body, slipping into schizophrenic rants about hidden cameras in the vents.

Donna, the large breasted, healthy looking nurse, explaining her addiction to Vicodin.

Sara, the stuck up prostitute, waltzing through the cafeteria like a queen.

Susan, the tough, freckled, career alcoholic trying to play bouncer.

Carl, his laces taken away, flapping down the hall all night in oversized shoes, driving everyone crazy.

Lucas, the seasoned gang member with the bitten off ear, bragging about his tragic childhood.

Tom, lanky and pale, trying to beat himself to death after a half-assed hanging attempt.

And me, a paragon of sanity, here with my friends.