Towards the end of last year I prefaced one of these pieces with a bold and uncharacteristically optimistic statement regarding plans I have made for the foreseeable future. These are among some of the most exciting moments of my life, at least professionally, and I believe that I owe quite a bit of this to my daily ranting sessions here on Recording Editorial History (how do I make the trademark symbol, or register this title as a copyright? Oh. I own this site already. Never mind–) Sometimes, working through all of our anger and frustration, the misdirected rage, arrogance, wrongheadedness, and frequently unfair judgment, allows us to reach our own singular truth. It helps us to form a true identity, to even accept ourselves, great flaws and all. I hope that this writing/self-therapy career I have established for myself continues to work in such a way. Because no matter how irrational I might seem, in the honed and sharpened language I use to make my points, or to get to the root of an issue (and I will remind you, I do not always personally believe the point-of-view I am arguing from) there is always an effort at clarity. It is all about understanding the belief.
What follows is a (mostly) true story, likely a portion of a chapter from a personal memoir I will never otherwise write (there are far more interesting and healthier subjects to undertake than one’s self, no matter what life you have led). The reason I present this story is private, public, professional and is an experiment in style. Sometimes confessions work as well as a deep exhale in calming your mind. And so I will tell you a version of the story of my life.
Several years ago I lost my mind. I do not use this term in the cheap, cliche-slaked repetition of some everyday stereotype moaning about losing their minds over this or that or something or other, just so long as it makes them feel interesting. No. I was fucking crazy. I was in an out of institutions. I was being heavily and experimentally medicated. Psychiatrists and neurologists were diagnosing and re-diagnosing me with a variety of cataclysmic disorders, sometimes even going so far as to dream about the papers they intended to write on a newly refined mental disorder named after themselves.
The roots of this imbalance are complicated and multi-faceted, and would be developed much better in one of those doctor’s thesis’s, but I will hint that it was mostly the result of the combination of an untreated illness mixed with a traumatic brain injury. What this led to was my one day crawling around, red-eyed, believing myself a divine spider-like king, on the ceiling looking down, hearing voices and believing that the identity of the speakers were no longer my own jumbled thoughts, but were now from invaders, trying to get me to do their bidding.
We talk to ourselves all the time, whether we openly admit this or not. Most of the time it is merely an argument, or a reconsideration of the options of what you should do or say. But in this particular moment of my life all these bantering voices in my head started agreeing with each other, turning the babble into a chant, a divine mantra. These were messages from on high–something that was even more terrifying to me because I have persistently been a non-believer since I was eight years old and I told a rabbi that I was too old for his fairy tales.
This is how I explained the chaos to my wife, this outrageous nonsense that made sense least of all to me. She had been growing increasingly worried, as well as distant, from me, the past three years perhaps even more of a nightmare for her than myself, having the benefit of hallucinations to keep my world fascinating. I turned to her, having no idea what I had been shouting about, froth dribbling in the corners of my lips, and my eyes so red that my tears could have been mistaken for blood, and I screamed “I AM A PROPHET! WOE TO THEE WHO DENY MY WORD!”
. . . Yeah. I actually said this. And I was serious. I said it to the person whom I both loved and depended on the most in the world, and the person who was certainly most dependent on my ability to function in some basically human way. Our children were still very young and they were terrified of their father. He was a gibbering, giggling, shrieking thing who made no sense in anything he did or said. And I did not recognize their fear. It was only natural. I had been touched by whatever secular divinity I had imagined into being, and believed myself far more important to the world than whatever banal responsibilities my former life required. I was there to expose the truth–the truth about everything!
Now we can sit back and see the horror of this insanity from the security of our distance and incomprehension. This is how most of us are forced to cope with madness in whichever form it might overtake our lives. But this same lack of understanding is what makes it so terrifying. When one is trapped in such psychotic mania, in a delusional whirlpool of competing thoughts, they cannot understand what slow-moving, muddled sanity is like either. It is every bit as troubling to the actively insane as insanity is to those on the outside of its recoil. Crazy people wonder why no one but them can see the truth. This is perhaps the most troubling thing of all, and not the alien voices, or spiritual murmurings, nor even the flashing lights and experiences with things otherwise not seen. But why me? That same pitiful shriek in the dark that has illuminated all forms of self-pity and regret is most active in these moments of madness. It is a desperate attempt to alleviate blame from yourself in the most drastic way possible.
And this brings me back around to the current state of our world, with no one accepting responsibility for any of their own flaws. The parallel with insanity between our everyday world, and the manic rants we see and hear day after day on the news, or in person, or engage in ourselves, contrasted against those unforgotten days when I sat shivering in the bed of an asylum, awaiting the release of the next gospel I am being ordered to preach, this is very striking to someone who hopes to pass themselves off as having been ‘temporarily insane.’
We are all after-the-fact prophets to our own lives. We convince ourselves, eventually, that we already knew the outcome. It calls into question–and not in that pretentious, collegiate tone of being incredibly high in a dorm room–what is the meaning to our lives? And what causes insanity? Is it really all chemical imbalances and natural influences that are beyond our control? Is it all nurture, a good or terrible childhood, being loved or unloved, spoiled or consumed with selfish need? Or is it everything? Is sanity merely another reaction to what life brings? And by this definition, are all of us perpetually insane?
And again, of course, people will get immediately emotional and defensive by the mere suggestion of this uncertainty. People take things far too personally to accept the sort of person they truly are. Everything, they believe, is a judgment. Is this not too a very clear form of insanity? So sayeth the prophet. Flock?
©2019 Lance Polin