the manic road trip of 2004

One of my undiagnosed manic episodes centered around a road trip in May of 2004. I was sent to training course in Las Vegas by my employer at the time, and instead of flying there, I decided to drive our trusty van 2000 miles. Driving has always been therapeutic for me, as have the Sierra Nevada mountains. I had been in a severe funk prior to taking the trip, so I thought a long drive through beautiful scenery would be a great pick-me-up.

I drove through Sacramento to Lake Tahoe in snow, then south to the tufa formations of Mono Lake. I climbed a cinder cone and visited an obsidian formation in the forest near Mammoth Lakes. I couldn’t sleep that night, due to cold and excitement, so I ended up hanging out at an all-night gas station. At first light I headed for the Bristlecone Pine forest in the White Mountains, then continued through the desert to Vegas.

After my last day of training, I won about $250 in the casino, then I couldn’t fall asleep (still slightly manic). I checked out of the hotel and went to the old downtown casinos at 2 in the morning, then took off for home at 4am. I started falling asleep while driving through the Nevada desert; the song “Time” by Pink Floyd probably saved my life by waking me up when the alarm bell sounded. I drove straight through to home in about 21 hours, stopping at Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks, and being dangerously tired on the way.

I didn’t have a crash or a spiral after the trip, more like a slow letdown. After having a great experience, returning to the everyday world was deflating and depressing. I returned to work, wishing I was in the mountains again.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to get away by myself for a few days when I really needed it. I will always have the memories and the photos of that trip, and it reminds me that even in the middle of a chaotic time in my life, I was able to have such an enjoyable experience. However, I made some poor decisions during the trip. Who lets a manic person loose at a casino, and why was I climbing granite outcrops in Yosemite? I could have lost a lot of money, I could have fallen off the rocks and died, and I could have fallen asleep while driving and killed someone else.

At the time, I wrote:

I think the trip was in general the most uplifting and healing time of my life. Right when I really needed it, I got the opportunity to be alone in the landscape I love so much, to take some beautiful pictures to look at later, but more than anything to just let the pressures and demands and negativity just slip away … feeling the beauty in the landscape and in the forest that honestly I think many people can never feel … I was exploring everything – forests, valleys, plants, small furry creatures, large outcrops of basalt and tuff and obsidian, volcanic craters and peaks, joshua trees, lizards and cactus surviving at 10,000 feet, 4,000-year-old trees, earthquake faults, tufa deposits, glacier-carved canyons, alluvial fans, rain shadows, playa lakes, microclimates, glacial erratics. I was so unafraid and content and free, I actually found it safe to let myself talk to people … At those times it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says, you are simply enjoying life in that moment.

[When I arrived in] Las Vegas, I had a little anxiety episode … After the beauty and solitude of the natural world, [it] was quite a shock to me. That feeling passed soon, but it was interesting to me how shocking it was, letting me know that I was totally immersed in the escape mode of my trip. I walked the Strip, looked inside a few places, but really returned to feeling alone, detached, and invisible while I was there. … I could have done stuff with other people attending the class, but I didn’t feel comfortable, I just wanted to be alone.

I will eventually post some photos of the trip so all 3.2 of you readers can see some of my favorite places. [here’s the link.]

Advertisements

love in the friend zone

As I entered high school, in the aftermath of years of emotional abuse, I was a psychological train wreck. I put on a front for everybody, because that’s what I learned as a child: It’s nobody’s business, they don’t need to know, you can’t trust anyone other than your dysfunctional family. I became an actor, playing a role just as well as anyone in the drama class in high school. I had “friends”, but they knew nothing about my life other than what I allowed them to see. Everybody thought of me as the smart guy who had everything going my way; I felt like a fraud. I had the stress of being a teenager, the stress of portraying the overachiever I was expected to be, the stress of undiagnosed early-onset bipolar, and the stress of recovering from an abusive childhood. I was at a breaking point, and I wondered what it would be like to die, though I didn’t have any suicidal plans.

Lisa was the first person I knew I could trust with everything. We had become acquainted over a couple of years of friendly competition in middle school, but when we got to high school we became much closer and started hanging out together most of the time. Rumors flew of course, but at the time we didn’t care, we were just having fun being friends. I realized she wasn’t being superficial, and she wasn’t going to pull the football away at the last second. Even in my confused and fragile state, I understood that she was a true friend.

There was one day when something had triggered me, and I was in one of those mixed depressive states I have come to know too well. I was on the verge of tears all day, but also ready to fight with anyone who crossed my path. At some point I hid myself away in an unused corridor and cried so hard it physically hurt, the sadness and anxiety and anger just pouring out of me uncontrollably. Somehow, Lisa found me, and she sat down and cried with me. It made her sad that I was hurting so badly, and her empathy touched me deeply. No one had ever been there for me in that way before, and it was unbelievable that anyone could care for me so much.

My love for her grew from friends to something more. I was so immature emotionally, and maybe I saw her as a caregiver as well as a friend and a potential romantic partner. Eventually I got the nerve to bring up the topic, and finally I asked her what she thought of being more than friends. She gave me the “it might ruin our friendship” speech, and from anyone else it may have sounded fake, but I believed she was being genuine.

I accepted what she said, for the time being, and our friendship was fine, but I was always looking for an opportunity to convince her she was wrong. That opportunity never arrived, for various reasons. We both had relationships come and go, and we remained friends, but she was who I wanted to be with. I would have followed her anywhere if she had given me any kind of indication that she loved me in the same way I loved her. Anywhere.

====

Part of me still misses what we had at the time, and I have thought a lot about what a life with Lisa might have been. I used to IM her and write her manic e-mails in the pre-Fakebook days, but she eventually stopped replying (probably because my messages were bizarre and obsessive). I still dream about her, and I’ve written poems and blog posts about her. I’m friends with her on Fakebook, but we never chat or message each other; if she wanted to communicate with me, she would have by now. I could never tell her the million thoughts I have had about her, because it would be too disruptive to both our lives. It would be unfair to her to drag her into my messed-up mind.

I know that between us, I am the only one who is still obsessed with our ancient history. I’m not a perfect person, and I know hanging on to memories like this is unhealthy to me and potentially damaging to my current relationship. I know I should forget those days, but I don’t know how to let some things go. I love some of those memories, but sometimes they fuck with my brain. Maybe other people forget their memories from those days, and they are better off for it. Maybe it helps them move on.

tidepools

I saw your picture on Fakebook, loooking slightly windblown in a sweatshirt and jeans, braving the Mendocino weather. You were leaning on a smooth bleached log in the sand, surrounded by friends, enjoying the moment.

That was supposed to be my picture.

I took you and our friends camping on the beach. I showed you the creatures in the tidepools; you got pinched by a crab, and I kissed your hand to make it feel better. We walked up the beach for an hour, and returned closer than before. The group drank and played games by the fire, and I told you this had been the best day we ever spent together. Your deep brown eyes hinted at something more, and later that night we broke through the “friend barrier”. I cooked everyone breakfast, and you surprised the group by giving me a long, full tender kiss; in response to everyone’s stares, you smiled and said “thanks for breakfast.” Best campout ever.

I saw your picture on Fakebook, and but for a twist of fate, I would have been the one behind the lens.

Of course the world moved on, as did our lives, and here we are years later in separate worlds. As tidepools are abandoned by the receding tide, so do the feelings of love, sadness, and missed opportunity become more isolated over time … until one photo brings the flood of memories back again.

karma and punishment

My daughter Nicole and I were talking about karma, revenge, and punishment the other day. She thinks it is wrong that our society’s need for “justice” revolves around revenge for the aggrieved or their family. I told her this concept has been around for thousands of years. Some Eastern cultures specified revenge punishments for certain crimes, and that carried over into the biblical/Western society as well.

She thinks that the purpose of prison should be to keep dangerous people away from society, and that non-violent criminals should not have to go to prison. I tend to agree with this, but right or wrong, I have been indoctrinated in a culture that says crimes must be punished. It would be difficult for me to advocate forgiveness for non-violent crimes, but perhaps there are better ways for punishment to be given: halfway houses, extended probation, and monetary fines for those who can afford it.

I don’t really believe in the concept of karma and the universe taking care of itself. I constantly see bad things happen to good people, and bad people (i.e. those who offend my value system) seem to get ahead in life. Whatever karma is, it doesn’t have the ability to right the wrongs in the world. If there were justice in the universe, I would be there to see vile, disgusting people get what they deserve.

Maybe this is wrong, but I wish bad things to happen to distasteful people. [The subject of the “yearbook” post comes to mind.] I want punishment for bad deeds and offensive behavior. But Nicole asks if I would be happy to see something truly tragic happen, like the death of a loved one, or a debilitating disease, or being paralyzed in a crash. That’s not what I want; it’s apples and oranges. For me, justice is proportionate to the crime being committed. When someone cuts me off on a snowy freeway, I would love to see them spin out and slide into a ditch, but I don’t want them to be injured. Likewise, when someone is a bully, I want to see them get bullied or humiliated, but I don’t wish them bodily harm.

======

Twenty years ago I was badly injured in a car crash caused by a habitual drunk driver with a revoked license. He had several prior convictions, but this charge of aggravated vehicular assault was the most serious. It was a slam dunk case, and he was quickly convicted. Under Oregon law the penalty was a mandatory 6 years in prison. The judge asked his family to speak, and they said something to the effect that he was a good person who made mistakes, and that sending him to prison would be a loss for their family. I was asked to speak, and I said something like: my family almost lost me for good, and he should be punished, but I hoped he could get treatment while in prison.

I still have a bad taste in my mouth from what happened at the time. I think the driver deserved to be punished, but was it a violent offense? Maybe the sentence was just in that society was protected from his drunk driving for 6 years, but hard time in prison may be too much when a low-security residential institution may have been more appropriate. I thought at the time I wanted him to get treatment for his alcoholism, but I have seen cases where treatment didn’t work, and the drunk slips back into the same behavior. Maybe this was his last chance, and I was the unlucky one. I know this event changed my life forever, and I’m sure it changed his life forever as well.

yearbook

At the end of the high school year, there was always the ritual of signing other people’s yearbooks. Mostly these were pithy little notes like “it’s been awesome knowing you” and “hope you have a great life”. Here’s what I wish I had written in one particular yearbook:

Congratulations, you lumbering dolt, for escaping high school at the bottom of the class. You’ve been a dick to me for the past 12 years, so go fuck yourself. Sincerely, Fishrobber. P.S. I made your mother squeal last night.