In Sickness and in Wealth

postmodern, me in nam nyet-no one.

Astutely observed (not by me) was the similarity to the famous Vietnam war image.

It has been a few weeks too long

The extent of seemingly baseless acts I have witnessed in the interim has been shocking and almost beyond pretense of sanity. I would never harm myself or anyone else, so it sits heavily on my at-times-world-weary mind. There was a sizable gap between my last post and this one, and there was a reason for it – the last relationship I had crumbled in one of the worst ways imaginable – gradually, distantly, and with many uncontrollable undermining factors working to not make it work. What ultimately ended it were words, and only words. Hence, I stayed away from writing for a long time.  I also stopped reading as frequently. I dove headfirst and headlong into my art and music – my true, lifelong passions, that I always loved but until only recently could never immerse myself in due to a disabling health problem. I’ll come back to that later.

When I would see her, call her Sheera, at first, there was no barrier; no secrecy. We had been attending the same weekly group for several months, and I knew from the beginning I was attracted to her, and similar vibes vice versa, but the opportunity to approach her never seemed to present itself. She seemed almost preternaturally distant, as if she felt hopelessly stuck in the present circumstances, with a boyfriend she would complain about [early on] frequently. She was around three years older than I was, and had an 11 year-old son from a previous marriage. This, naturally, gave me a lot of pause; not even in my dreams had a child been part of my life. It would be a very challenging thing even if it were to get anywhere, and I was certainly treading on unfamiliar ground with regards to her already having a boyfriend. It took a while for me to tell myself I was ready to take the plunge, to whatever end – after talking for an hour or so we exchanged numbers, and I told her that I wouldn’t be offended if she didn’t call back. It was not entering my mind that there was a possibility of a relationship; I was only hoping to lend an ear if she wanted to talk, because she seemed to have a lot to say and nobody to talk to. I wanted to help, and I was romantically attracted to her, so two good reasons led me to nimbly leap over an extension cord and dash out the door before she could escape. She’d seemed particularly hopeless this time, and I could relate to her unique situation, which was the icebreaker.

Unwittingly, it was the beginning of the end for me, when she texted me back the next day to say that she mostly preferred it to calling back and forth. Naturally we would continue to see each other after meetings once a week. But the texting grew to be quite immersive, and while I enjoyed it (I was recovering from a failed relationship, myself) I was also apprehensive that this was all it would ever amount to. Many times I told her that I couldn’t just text back and forth all day; I had already told her I liked her; she told me twice, with sincerity and on the phone, that she had a crush on me. And to call it a crush – that word itself has a certain feeling of doom about it – was going to make this a heck of a lot more complicated. At the time, though, I was happy that there was some kind of mutual attraction. My history is littered with instances of them that were never able to get off the ground for various reasons, not the least of which was my cool, if chilly, exterior which hid the fact that I’d very little experience in relationships, due to a prolonged, plagued, and hellish adolescence which became the norm; I had accepted by about ninth grade that life was all just pain anyway so I might as well go all-out if there were any possible way to counter or mitigate it. A good relationship could certainly make it easier.

It took me till age twenty six, having spent everything I had saved and even more into credit card debt, to finally confirm that truth for me. Two years earlier I’d found a natural, legal herbal remedy, through the internet, that made the persistent anguish suddenly disappear, so I could be generally happy, open, and spontaneous. The real slog was a period of twelve years or so, starting in 6th grade with the first whiff of responsibility, then solidifying in middle school as girls and putative girlfriends became the reality. There would be blips on the otherwise dull and onerous plane, but it was mostly just empty hopes and dreams, or people not indisposed to exploiting a desperately naïve person for their own gain (or in one case, a prank which didn’t exactly brighten my week.) Work, for me, was ten times what it was for the next person, because there was no inherent reward nor was it ever fun. I didn’t know this until I could actually do it without being ripped into daydreaming every few minutes.  I came to despise any and all authority, to the point where it became impossible to abide by someone else’s rules imposed upon me. This runs… very… deep. It is a serious, moral thing now. To be able to look back on the years of purgatorial ‘never-there-yet’ from this vantage point, it is probable that I endured a lot more than I had to. Not one person I’ve met has ever really fully understood, and so many times it would end in the patronizing “that’s just life”.

No, that’s just your life, buddy. People weren’t going to help; they couldn’t; they never had. I liken it to a mild form of “locked-in” syndrome, in which patients are 100% aware of what’s going on, yet not are not able to communicate this with those around them. So they become treated like vegetables. I was only very marginally capable of focused work; and socially, I could only put up a front for so long. By the last semester of college, I had not a single friend at school. I was certainly ready to call it after my B.A. in psychology. What I did afterwards was anybody’s guess. I had found World of Warcraft, and in it were all my friends. And I’d saved up a lot of money (in serene prayer that it would pay off someday) and could get through the days and take care of myself with very little money. I became frugal by necessity – hope, and only hope, was the fuel.

As it turned out, the perilously addictive scourge of WoW in its prime would self-extinguish within one timeless instant of icicle-shock. I could literally write a memoir revolving around that fateful moment, so I won’t go into much detail about what it involved but I’m sure one could take a pretty good guess… but I digress; With WoW went my friends, my sense of belonging, capability, responsibility, and of self-esteem. You might think, “well maybe you put too much into the game.” Of course I did. But I made the choice to dive in, and I knew it could mess up my social life – I made the choice because my own social life, at college, was fast crumbling away from the novel shake n’ bake hysteria of freshman year. It was all in the cards. Once I dove into that beautiful, immersive, endlessly interesting virtual world, the real world actually became easier. My grades improved significantly. My mood and happiness for the duration of my WoW addiction were markedly increased. I could fall asleep because I would look forward to the next day. I had somewhere to go to reliably distract myself from the “RL” problems I’d essentially resigned myself to, or put on indefinite hiatus. The real world became a nuisance. Real people became a nuisance. WoW was new and interesting, full of people from all over the globe that I at least had something in common with, even if it was something so bitterly ironic as collectively inhabiting anonymous avatars in a fictional world, and organizing ourselves into extremely difficult 40-man raids for a shot at some great loot to make our characters stronger – the never-ending component of these games; a timelessness both great in its power and terrible in its swift justice.

But nothing in the game itself made me quit. It was a person in my life. A girl (let’s call her Kira). Naturally. It is a weakness of mine, but at the time, a very serious one for me given that I was the age I was and had not found true love yet. It was a moral choice in that I refused to involve myself with people that I didn’t feel something strongly for. As above, it was one of those examples of a potential thing that never could ignite – we were talking on the phone, video chatting, etc, but were separated in age (she was 18, I, pushing 24) and distance (she lived across the country on a different coast) My life started to improve at twenty-five after a severe, trial-by-fire crucible of persistent, nagging, reliving and hoping and believing and praying that it would work out in the end. I was naïve, but also realistic in believing this could have been the only chance at true love I’d ever get. I did all I could. Never went overboard. It just didn’t work out… the post-traumatic stress went on for months after, with nothing – literally nothing – I could go to as a reliable distraction. WoW had ever-so-insidiously and gradually undermined my life, and a girl getting a boyfriend suddenly shocked the reality into, well, reality. The air conditioner started talking as I attempted to meditate to divest my thoughts of their bludgeoning, unbelievably severe encroachment. As is so rare and, in hindsight, precious in my life, I had to call someone because I actually needed help. And they did, but the damage (some might call experience) was done, and even initial recovery would take a long, seemingly infinite few months. I had mostly gotten over it but had also partly given up on all conventional methods of self-help. I needed to zero in on the problem – or rather, as so happened – the exact place the problem lay – in my mind.

While wandering sketchily through the campus of my elementary school at night, searching for answers in my past, the smell of opium – to me the aroma of the Gods themselves – recalled a couple memories of being pain-free in the past; I knew it was legal to grow poppies, so I tried, failed, but just so happened upon another plant, legal and totally mysterious, that finally “unlocked” my mind from its torment.

The caveats reared themselves one by one. For one thing, It worked too well. It was like hitting a golf ball with a tennis racket; it evened out my moods, was stimulating enough for me to stay attentive, and most importantly eliminated the mental pain which allowed me to smile and hold it for a while, in earnest, for the first time in 12 years.  It made me happy to be happy. So nothing else really mattered that much. I finally found a girlfriend (by pure chance she landed right next door at my apartment) and just enjoyed it to the fullest. My work ethic, though never more than threadbare at best, disappeared. That was also kind of part of the appeal to her, I think, the conviction and carefree attitude, with a candid, full awareness of being dependent on this then-marvelously mysterious legal plant. The other two caveats – it was physically and psychologically addictive, and it was expensive. When I say addictive I mean it; the withdrawals were the worst pains I’ve ever experienced in my life – but it was not dangerous. My time with her was limited only to how long I could last until my resources were gone. And they did go, across the board. But not before I saw a doctor in Sausalito (we’d moved to San Francisco for six months when she got a job there) that ended up giving a glimmer of hope on an otherwise bleak horizon. Even as she left, I felt hope, and even as I drove back from the airport having lugged two guitars and two cats onboard across the country, my father having had to pick me up and drive me to my childhood home – it was terrifying but strangely serene, as I was yet again tasked with rebooting my life.

I have dealt with one major disability my entire life – and it is quite unknown to almost everyone, owing to its sheer rarity. Three in a thousand people have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (formerly syndrome, shortened to DSPD). Also, there is a strong genetic link between it (DSPD) and ADHD (Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder). At some point very early in my life or perhaps before it, I fell through the first hoop and then the other – both are fairly distanced from mental illness and fall more often in the ‘disability’ category, since they tend to be lifelong and better understood as a simple difference in brain physiology. But the greatest contributor to my sour, often brutal adolescence was the lack of sleep caused by the DSPD. I would have to get up by 7:15 at the latest, then be ‘in bed’ by midnight. The problem was, my body wanted to fall asleep later and wake up later (provided there are no stressors, I naturally fall asleep around 5-6 and wake up around 2-3.) So, night after night I would get five or six hours of sleep, for literally ten years. On weekends, I would still be wrenched out of bed at 11 by the piercing yell from downstairs, but given the chance I could sleep till 2, 3, even 4:45 once. The sleep deprivation, and the anxiety at bedtime, had a cumulative effect on literally every aspect of my life. My interests, emotions, friendliness, and sociability all dulled. My motivation went to zero (probably had something to do with hating and fearing every morning of every day) and the challenge in school was never the work – it was summoning the focus, the desire, the… well, it ended up just being waiting until crunch time, every time. I did it because the alternative seemed far worse. With this attitude I stayed in B+’good enough’ territory, though it was extremely difficult, for all the wrong reasons. I was distracted, daydreaming, nodding off but never falling asleep. At home I was constantly needing to do something enjoyable to distract my mind – video games, computer games, things with a lot of things going on at once. For lack of a better term, ADHDers don’t work serially, i.e. step-by-step; it makes our brains switch off. Some fidget; others daydream – I was the latter to a tee. A day-dreamer in wake and a never-dreamer at night. In short, zombie incarnate, with a masterful ability to blend in the background, because I could not show that there was something really wrong with me. Not especially as an adolescent, but not especially, ever. Something had to give, and give it did – its name was Kratom.

Kratom, in the same category of ‘I bet you’ve never even heard of this’ is an extremely powerful plant, if you can swallow it, literally. Many can’t even swallow it due to the bitterness of the leaf. Most people vomit. I never did. I think it was partly my being a vegetarian for nearly ten years beforehand. For me it was perfect, bliss, the solution to all and all within all, whatever… There was always that dreamless sleep or 12-hour Star Trek binge on the horizon. It’s a stimulant-narcotic-opioid, or to put it bluntly a natural speedball. A mood for every occasion. In other words, don’t start, please ;). Since there’s so little actual danger caused by the addiction, it makes sense that it’s legal. If you get seriously hooked you are as screwed as the heroin junkie; both end in rock bottom, and it varies by life and circumstance; I hit mine and I snapped a photograph around it time-wise:

the nadir of me?

the AWJ is for A-junk e-perfect-whatever, water world.

I went to treatment, and the treatment helped. People often seem mystified by how willing I was to commit to it, but the fact was, I knew my life could not plummet much further, plus, I had a strangely strong faith that buprenorphine (an opioid replacement therapy, overall far less risky than methadone) would be a crucial key to getting off kratom. And it was. It cleared my head and stabilized me. I stopped taking kratom immediately, as well as everything else (never far beyond gray market legality, but potent things nonetheless).

I was invigorated. My hope was renewed. I tapered down to a very low dose of buprenorphine, and as I did that nearly every aspect of my life gradually improved – finally, after 28 years, I could be a focused, productive person actually reaching for and realizing what I knew I was, at some level, capable of. Still, my money couldn’t ever catch up to the debt, though it got closer and closer. Sheera never obviously needed my money, but like Kira her sudden bitter departure took an emotional and spiritual toll, such that I literally had to do my artwork and my music; they were my twin passions throughout life, and they really helped me get through the moratorium with relative grace this time around. It didn’t make me too pleasant to be around, but, I was at least dealing with it in a healthy way. For once I could say it for real. Then crappy things started happening, and they got crappier, and now it’s come to a head. The feeling of injustice runs as deep as my mistrust in authority – it’s rooted in the hard, cold fact that I feel like I’m FINALLY living my life and now it’s being taken away! Oh, the humanity… Woe is me for now, and how! That was a long one folks. But, I think it’s good and worth telling (otherwise why would I post it? :) Peace.

Just because I have to, now, all images and text posted here will be ©Andrew W. Jagger (mean face)