I say this not as a pity-party, but as an inventory for moving forward among the rest: like many of us, I’ve been through a hell of a rough patch these past six months. Like you, I’ve been a bean in the wicked river of the COVID epidemic, dealing with a backed-up septic tank & an inability to work among financial insecurity, my grandfather’s funeral among the restrictions, & battling a deep depression & a major psychological disorder within the isolation of the moment. My wife left me, lighting a devastating despair that saw me hospitalized five times, attempt suicide twice, & become so debilitated that I lost weeks at a time to delusion, dissociation, & fatigue.
Still here, just happy to be here honestly, I’m also on the precipice of the next six months & hopefully a string of months that leads to years & decades of wellness, both personally & globally. I am regulated with a cocktail of antipsychotics & mood stabilizers. I am empowered by the knowledge of my new diagnosis, bipolar disorder with psychosis. I have halted my pot habit, free of its daily haze & unnecessary crutch. I have dedicated myself to a mindfulness routine, thanks to Sam Harris’ Waking Up course. I have been using this blog as a check-in on my weekly positioning within this in-&-out hellscape & flow, & I am proud of the work I’ve been doing on the FUTURE BARN podcast, exploring what it means to be a good person in a small town like Elwood, Indiana.
I know what a privilege it is to be able to dedicate myself to the journey of being a good person, both from a time / energy / financial perspective & with having the mental capability & new clarity to make my amends, regulate my disorder, & find a future worth living. I was trapped under the weight of a misdiagnosis (dissociative identity disorder) & thus misprescibed (Fluoxetine, which actually causes psychotic episodes in bipolar patients), thanks in large part to a support team I now realize was incapable of listening to my true experience & advocating for me properly. I was trapped under the pressure of being a good husband, of trying to be a normal adult with a steady job, & of others’ perception of me as a functional guy. In short, my own & others’ fear kept me inside such a blur that I couldn’t see myself or others clearly.
Before, I carried around this sense that I was 1% evil because of episodes where I had physically & emotionally abused folks, because of the tormented thoughts that haunted me, & because of the loss of control I sometimes felt my body undergo. Thus, I often overcompensated with my other 99% to be good in intention & intensity, often losing sight of my true values & needs that I can in fact control. Lately I have been free of those constraints, thanks to Sam Harris’s insistence that there are very few evil people, but actually good people doing evil things in large part because of failures of consciousness, be it mental illness, misguided thinking, or other brain-centered misfirings.
No longer afraid of my 1%, I now feel like Jerry Seinfeld’s perception of himself in his grocery store joke, watching what others are buying in the grocery store & being like, “You look healthy, I’ll try that.” Doing the Waking Up app, reading Rob Bell’s moving (even for a secular humanist) What We Talk About When We Talk About God, & doing the FUTURE BARN podcast are just three of the many inspiring acts that have made me lose my default setting, to borrow from another good thinker, David Foster Wallace, of myself as the center of the universe, as a dangerous, evil cog, but rather, revisioning myself as one among the rest. I am taking a non-dualist approach to everyday situations, using breathing techniques & thought redirection to keep my once volatile edges rounded off. I am completely out in the open.
It is important for me here to note, too, that I am not putting my life back together as it was—finding a new wife, trudging through a job, putting a self in opposition to the hurdles of life. I am not interested in building another puzzle with a blurry final image. I am slowly, deliberately, & mindfully allowing an organic being (I have a lot of questions to answer still about a “self”) to form, adjust, & change throughout time. I was driving my mother down to her new trailer in North Carolina, navigating the sharp curves & steep hills (often both) of West Virginia, listening to Rob Bell talk to Pete Holmes about the perils of a Christianity founded on cant’s & don'ts. We stopped for the night in Beckley, both unwinding with our spiritual time—her doing a Bible Study, reading a Mary Oliver Devotion, & journaling, me doing my mindfulness routine, working on this blog post, & reading some Baudelaire.
It was there that I realized how to apply this personal attempt to be one among the rest, that I must look to others—other people, other creatures, other motions in the universe—to step forward in this journey of being a better person. Stepping through the hotel lobby, I was asking myself: how are those two folks on opposite sides of the counter collaborating peacefully; how does the hawk on the highway’s edge survive; how can time be my friend? I am taking each moment, among the rest, as a learning opportunity.
I also realized that we have a problem in poetry with how we talk about pronouns—who is represented by the limited he/she, how a person feels confronted / called out with the usage of you, how a classmate once said she couldn’t clearly see the I in my poem. Neither can I, I tell her now from this great distance. I think that is the point—her illusory self, my multiple personality states, your gelatinous you. As I’ve said before, echoing Dean Young, a poem isn’t a form of communication. Instead, I am convinced it is a transcript of elsewhere given to a reader: to enact, to embody, & to embolden.
Maybe, the self is the same. Walking along in this meat suit bursting at the seams with emotions, reactions, & choices, I must remain in the moment to each moment take on the proper & peaceful situated self. I must ask myself which cloak to put on. I cannot worry about the cloaks that do not fit anymore, the cloaks that sequin the storyline I am attempting to tell myself but not the pattern I’m within, the cloaks that are much too heavy. In this attempt to be my best self, the self cannot be a single, finished construct, but rather a poet, reader, & performer hollering in the creation of a moment all at once.