My name is Barney Rolfe, and there is something wrong with my brain. I am admitting this to you with the full understanding and acknowledgement that what I am doing is absolutely not going to be fully understood; but perhaps in pieces it can reconcile the most fragmented and deranged parts of my psyche, or at least arrange them in a way that will relieve this incessant pressure that always haunts me. Whatever happens, well, at least I have tried to do something to explain this innate and incessant madness, which is more than most get a chance to do.
Okay, here goes.
Belatedly, I suppose, there were neurons misfiring to account for, some chemical mishap that perforce disengaged my social abilities to adapt and be of use to others. Panic and hysteria have ruled the contours of my experience for longer than this busted-up brain can recall. Looking back, well, I can gauge the horrific aspects of it, in the present. Of course hindsight’s a malignancy at this point. I have become this disease; it as all that I am: a sporadically hebetude-induced corollary on the razor’s edge of sanity’s rusty hook. Saying things like this doesn’t help. I know. It’s just hard to judge oneself from the outer limits of perspective’s gush and flow. Trapped in this insidious circle of discontent and maladjustment, I am oozing the sap of life’s lost lust.
I might have a way to put it, so let me.
Having severe systemic and constant depression and simply “being bummed” are two very distinct and different things. One is a disease; the other is just one of the myriad consequences of being alive. If someone has cancer you don’t tell them to, “buck up and get over it.” We don’t admonish a stroke victim to, “stop lying around, and get up and do something with yourself.” Even our advice for sufferers of the common cold is sympathetic, as cough-and-congestion victims aren’t told they are being “weak” or “soft” and should just “be happy because things could be a lot worse.” But, for some inane reason that is preconditioned into us by years of inhumane pseudoscience, diseases of the mind are linked to some weakness or lassitude of the individual, as if that person who is suffering from a disease such as depression or severe anxiety is somehow inept and is to be blamed for their troubles. As if it is within their control to get better by “just trying a bit harder at it.” It’s really a nonsensical viewpoint to take; but, alas, it is one of many such idiotic theories held by the masses.
Here — there is this too: you’ve got to fight this one alone. Other people can help you, but in the end it comes down to you fighting for your life all by your lonesome. This is a difficult thing to internalize, but once you do, in some wary way, a strand of hope will spring from this, as finagled and shoddy with trepidation as it may be. There will be a surge of selfhood guiding you, a reliance on the one person you can always count on: yourself. It is a scary thing, but like most scary things one finds as obstacles on the wayward path of one’s existence, extremely worthwhile to conquer. Just like any other terminal disease, depression kills; suicide is merely its mechanism.
This shouting in my head, it never seems to cease.
I am nervous and concise around others. I only laugh when it’s expected. Being alone has become my only comfort, though it too is getting to be unendurable. To guide me I take some small salvation in the long history of human endeavor to fight through the gnashing teeth of internal strife. According to Lecky’s History of European Morals, “A melancholy leading to desperation, and known to theologians under the name of ‘acedia,’ was not uncommon in monasteries, and most of the recorded instances of medieval suicides in Catholicism were by monks.” I dream through these trials and tribulations of ancients, attempting to stem the tide of my own demise with less-troubling thoughts than the ones I’ve come to own: I am the angular distance of a star below the horizon; the dusty truth of eons of suffering through a terrible weight’s pressing down; sunken and lost; in old, forgotten times what they once called grevoushede. Grevoushede. Acedia. I breathe the words and balance the syllables on my tongue, unable to savor their taste or texture. I am a weightless pin pricked in the skein of an upside-down world I’ll never get close enough to know.
Who could ever fall in love with this ragged bag of afflictions?
I trek through the ruins of my obsession, draped in sorrow’s mask, leaning on tiny tics and safe places to guide me. The cracking of my toes, one by one. Snapping all of my fingers back and forth. Clicking my tongue on the roof my mouth. Blinking an even number of times with one eye and then an odd number with the other. Popping my ears with my jaw. Smoothing my eyebrows down with my fingertips. An innumerable array of distractions that ease the arrhythmic pulse of thoughts that come but never go, blurring out my sight, and leaving me trembling, all filled-up with static but as empty inside as an ice cream shop in the freezing rain.
Woe is my middle name.
All of these little vacancies in my head surface and fill into the most chronic of all conditions. Possibilities go awry with suspicious and judgmental looks. Maybe I’ll put on some Dolly Parton and fall in love with a bookmark. These are thoughts that calm the deliriousness at it swarms. Exceptional circumstances to bow down to in this glut of terrors, this amassing of torturous routines: the bath mat must be lined up perfectly with the tiles, the showerhead at just the right angle, the curtain stretched just so, and the shower water, the god-damn shower water…always and forever just a touch too hot or too cold. The chores of being me, they never end.
The human senses can somehow even detect whether a television set is off or just on mute without looking. And everyone can tell the difference between boiling and room-temperature water being poured in much the same manner. But it is when these senses go astray, when they slip and frazzle and get pinched, that’s when one comes to know the real intensity of those senses’ powers. A daily trauma that haunts me wherever I go, my brain stuffed with the lint of leftover churning, dizzy and lopsided and playing alive, I ignore the impossibilities of being able to maintain a normal existence for as long as this sapped torpidity allows. The courage I need to muster just to leave my small rented room and walk to get groceries is at most times an insurmountable obstacle, and so I stay in and worry and worry and worry about everything. There’s been an unopened bottle of champagne on my kitchen shelf for over a year now. I’m still waiting for a special occasion to come along and rear its pleasant head. “I’ll just leave it there for a little longer,” I keep thinking, knowing that the longer it waits the harder it will be to ever open it. Every object grows too precious to disturb as I put it on the pedestal of the postponed quenching of my desires. There is nothing I can do or think that will snap this spell of disenchantment that grips me tighter as it deepens this hole I am eternally residing in. Just making it home from the grocery store with a few shopping bags of food sometimes feels like the greatest accomplishment in the world. I should be doing other things with my time, I know: concentrating my efforts on more grand pleasures and goals. But these things of consequence, they are not for me. I lose so much more than I gain in these battles. Small, inconsequential, pyrrhic victories are the only ones I’ve known.
Hope is a bestial thing with daggers and fangs; I make up a thousand reasons to not have any of it bombard me as this disease attacks relentlessly. There are honestly times when I cannot even bring myself to lift a finger to scratch an itch. I’ve been prescribed a list of medications too long to register properly in the catacombs of my lingering doubt about the chemical cohesion of my wherewithal: Abilify, clomipramine, Lexapro, bupropion, Celexa, Cymbalta, Lithium, Xanax, Paxil, amitriptyline, Lamictal, and that grand old sturdy classic Prozac. Etcetetra. It seems that I am only etceteras: more and more of less and less. It’s all a wash. It was a messy chorus of boos from the cheap seats as I struggled through side effects and listened to the growing drone of a singularly horrible voice that wasn’t quite my own resounding in my skull: “You’re no good. You’re a lost cause. Stop whining; start winning. You’re no good. You are just no good,” over and over; nauseated at all times; woozy, delirious, insomnia-plagued and diarrhea-bound; garbling my words when forced to speak, fumbling through life like a doped-up zombie with no appetites, every little thing so impossibly far away.
The window washers will not sing for me. The faucets around here all look like dead swans. I sweep. I litter. I am unable to know for sure if anyone else ever feels the way I always do. I am ill with this ravenous beast that pesters and claws at and drapes itself over me, leaving me with the gumption of soon-to-be-roadkill sluggishly slouching across a busy highway. I yawn instead of moan. I burst into tears in the dark of crowded movie theaters just before the feature starts. I am normal. Really. I am sane — maybe even too much so. I do wish I could just go insane, but, sadly, I cannot quite contemplate how to accurately achieve this feat. My brain will not assuage nor relent with its ceaseless cracked and mangled disturbances.
The boring by-rote recitation of symptoms rattled off to every doctor who’d listen. They don’t know who I am, what I’ve suffered through, how I came to be this way that I am; and there’s no device by which I can properly explain it to them. It’s not like they can run a test, take some blood, or do a biopsy, and then figure out what’s wrong with me. It’s a hidden thing, deep within the walls of my pain, not on or off any scale they’ve ever invented. I am my own example. There are no answers to any of this. They used to take out parts of people’s brains, thinking it would relieve their suffering. But it just left folks lobotomized to a dull, vegetable state, unable to form words or dress themselves. Perhaps they were happy, though. Perhaps they were thankful for the big, empty space that now occupied what they’d formerly called living. Perhaps there was no person behind those dead eyes left to care. The disease wins yet again, as it always does.
Clinical diagnoses follow me with heavy clomps. “Heavy dysthymia with a robust anxiety level. Somatic cross-cutting, serious signs of high Altman-scale mania, repetitive and troubling thoughts bordering on multiple phobias and generalized panic. Personality Trait Facet Scores high on rigid perfectionism/grandiosity/anhedonia type, though scores lower across board than patient believes. Unusual and abnormal, but not psychotic at all.” As you can see, the weather inside my head is rather frightful, to say the least. I trudge through the murky terrain of my past with great regularity. I am muddy with it, soaked through from the storm of my memories, which are remembering themselves over and over and over again and again and again, until I do not rightly know what has happened or what is happening now. Who am I but this box of disturbing thoughts?
Madness in the family. A quirk in the genes being passed down just like Huntington’s or any other inherited affliction. This one’s just as deep in the bones, though not as noticeable, not as prominent in the makeup of one’s persona. My father was a brazen raver whose depression put the business end of a rifle under his chin to finally wreck its one final havoc on him as pulled the trigger in defeat; his father before him too came to an early funeral, though his disease’s weapons of choice were gasoline and matches, as he lay in immolation by the pumps of an empty gas station in the wee hours of his final night on earth. This dreary thing, it just goes and goes right on down the line. Shelter from it is inconstant at best. It is as if I am in hiding from my inheritance, from my own true self — a hibernation of sorts: falling in and out of a troubled sleep, groggy and drooling through another afternoon, I become obsessed with trifles. I organize the cups and plates on my shelves until they all perfectly line up. I become tempestuous at a single hair being out of place. I talk to myself constantly, mostly demeaning phrases and freshly coined derogatory slurs aimed at myself. I have been parked too long in my heart’s handicap spot. There is very little “me” left here to notice.
So, do not look at me lightly, with deferential judgement or pity’s hidden ire. My sorrows are so much smaller than you’d suppose. My shoes come untied just as much as yours do. I can be as brave and also as craven as most. I eat blackberries and put salted butter on my toast. There are no cures, only temporary stopgaps for relief of symptoms. I am not in control of the way that I feel. I will try. I do try. None of this is less than extremely difficult. I do not need nor crave your sympathy; I just want understanding. Perhaps, even after all this exegesis and other inexplicable explanatory notions are through, this is still too much to ask. In the end, casting aside whatever ideas anyone might get to having about me and my plight, I only return right back to where I began: my name is Barney Rolfe, and there is something wrong with my brain.