“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.” Philip Dick
A couple of weeks ago my friend Alena pointed out that what I thought were Alpacas were really Llamas and vice versa. I’m sure she meant well, but I was worried that if I was wrong about this maybe I was wrong about everything.
I forgot about it for a while until this afternoon when I stopped to visit some old friends. There he was, Big Al, staring me down with bright red eyes and a look that told me I was going insane.
Something snapped inside what was left of my mind and I began to lose touch with reality. I started to wonder if I was a man dreaming that I was an Alpaca or an Alpaca dreaming that I was a man.
When I got home and looked in the mirror I saw that my ears looked different and there was hair growing out of them. I was also noticeably uncomfortable wearing sneakers and had a strange craving for a bowl of grass.
The way I see it I have several choices, one is to go back to the funny farm but last time I gained ten pounds and they have limited smoke breaks. Another is shock treatment, which I think I can do at home with a car battery.
The third is to resume therapy, but my therapist is a goat and I think he may be biased. Or I can simply stop photographing animals and shoot trains, which are relatively safe unless they run you over which rarely happens.
I’ve never read The Metamorphosis by Kafka but found this quote which says it all: “I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.” Thanks Alena.
“It’s remarkable how we go on year after year, doing the same old things. We get tired and bored, and ask when they’ll come for us.” Yasunari Kawabata
“I never felt the urge to jump off a bridge, but there are times I have wanted to jump out of my life, out of my skin.” David Levithan
“Normal people have no idea how beautiful the darkness is.” Unknown
I stood there staring at this sunflower for what seemed like an hour but was probably a minute. Knowing that if I could see the miracle of a single flower my whole life would change was promising but nothing was happening.
Then I heard a tiny voice that said: Take a picture already you dope! Since I was going to do that anyway, I framed the shot but before I could even check my settings the voice said: Get closer you moron!
Now I was starting to get agitated, a word I only use on Tuesday when flowers talk to me. She told me to get the moon in the background, shoot in manual at f/8 and use the monopod in my car.
Realizing that flowers rarely talk to me I figured it was just a vivid imagination and ignored her. I shot at f/5.6, handheld and didn’t get the moon in the frame which was already fading into the day.
There’s an old adage that says if you think you’re insane you’re probably not, but it may be worth getting my meds checked when I see my shrink this week.
Many people think alcohol is the best thing man ever invented. Author Henry Lawson even said: “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer.” And when I started drinking I felt the same way.
I wasn’t really sure if drinking beer was for me, it seemed like it was hard to drink enough, fast enough to be worth the trouble. Then I discovered Vodka and the whole game changed, although I still wasn’t sure I liked the feeling.
But I wanted to give it a fair chance so I drank heavily for the next twenty five years, just to be sure. Simply put, it didn’t work out well and after many tries I quit for good almost fifteen years ago.
Some people can drink a beer or two and stop, something I not only couldn’t do but will never understand. I was the same kind of drinker as the infamous Charles Bukowski who summed it up perfectly: “So where do you go? Back to the bottle And back to a tiny room somewhere. And wait. And wait, and wait. That’s all.”
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.”
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.
“I ask myself: Would I have been any worse off if I had stayed home or lived on a farm instead of shock treatments and medication?” Gene Tierney
“So I went to the doctor, see what he could give me. He said, son, son you’ve gone too far. ‘Cause smokin’ an trippin’ is all that you do, yeah.” Ozzy