No.4 “Remember The Love”

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The Manic Manual

AUTHOR'S NOTE: All names in this column have been changed except that of Julien Koster.

Julien Koster is bracing me by the shoulders as I'm standing on my porch in Allston. I'm crying and I'm hyperventilating. I have never met him before tonight but he will be playing Christmas songs in my living room and later he and his band will be sleeping in my house. Conversely, I desperately want to get out of my house. I want to get out of my head. I want to get away from everybody and everything in Allston and in my life. I want to get the fuck away from myself. It is December 2010 but the holidays and the supposed “spirit” of the days feel like a cruel farce to me. My blood family and relatives are a neighborhood away but my relationship with them is partially why I chose to move to Allston: I'm close enough to them (same city) to haunt the familial periphery but far enough to duck into my own world and be forgotten. My relationship with my family isn't “dysfunctional” so much as it is just strained. I am more or less marred with the ungainly warts of being the “crazy one” of the DiSanto family.

After my first psychiatric hospitalization, my family gradually started to drift away. Like glaciers, they floated in coldness and distance until they eventually became ghosts. It was arguably at the time that I needed them the most. Manic depression is a modus–a modus vivendi and a modus operandi. How your family and friends respond to your manic depression from the jump is usually an indication of how things will be. If they accept your weirdnesses and stick around, then you can at least return the favor by channelling your manic depression into something productive; at least something that pays the bills and isn't personally destructive. I've never met a manic depressive person that was not exceptionally intelligent and I don't think that one even exists. Manic depressives are usually the ones in their family that can do really well at school when they want to but usually deal with behavioral/emotional issues that impact their “academic functioning.” It can be difficult and frightening for a manic depressive's family to think those mysterious crazy genes that make you “act that way” could be stirring inside of them. On some deeply hidden and subconscious plane, the manic depressive's family is grateful that they were spared this “illness” (whatever it is). But that doesn't mean that they want to comisserate the family's insanity pinch-hitter.

During an extended stay at the teenage insane asylum, my treatment began to progress and the doctors, mental health counselors (MHCs), and nurses could see that I was really getting well (whatever that means). I had even earned pass privileges to go off the psych unit for several hours at a time. When a patient got a pass it was like the hospital extended the leash. It was still wrapped around my neck but when I was on a pass it wasn't choking me at least. Family members usually came to pick the patient up for a pass and there were two kinds: being able to walk around the hospital campus (“on-grounds pass”) or going into the community (“off-grounds pass”). Passes were litmus tests to determine if the stability, compliance and functionality that the patient showed on the unit could translate once she or he was sent back into the world after their psych stint was over. The possibility of (a return to) the life that we'd sought to escape was right beyond the double-locked doors. Whether we, the masochistic mules, wanted to bite the carrot dangled in front of us was another story. Outside of the unit and outside of our indulgence was sanity–both daunting and tantalizing–but it was out there. And if you played your cards right, you could be spat back into the world that initially threatened to swallow you whole. Passes and attainable sanity did a number to our histrionic comparisons of how being on the unit was the same thing as being in jail. People in prison couldn't go and get sandwiches from Au Bon Pain with their families. They couldn't go catch a movie in the Fenway. We didn't have it so bad.

Besides, on some subconscious level, didn't we choose to be there? The unit being a refuge and entrapment simultaneously was a shimmering paradox: a “both/and” rather than an “either/or.” Obviously a manic depressive, you live for shimmering paradoxes. Your brain goes between two seemingly opposing states so much, it's almost not a surprise when circumstances–ones outside of your mind but inside of your life–start taking manic-depressive turns in their own right. Manic depression manifests as our joie de vivre, our raison d'être and our mise-en-scène. How strangely validating it is when the manic depression living inside of you seems like it's emanating outside of you.

Even making evident treatment progess, my family gradually started taking baby steps until they eventually walked away; everybody except for my father. When he said that he would visit me in the hospital, he visited me in the hospital. I ended up in foster care and placed in an adolescent group home. My lengthy stays and bonds with the MHCs especially amounted to my new family though. I was arguably too crazy to be a DiSanto but too resilient in the eyes of mental health professionals to be a lost cause.

Yet right now, here in Allston, I don't remember any of that love and compassion from the hospital staff or my father. I've kept up correspondence with Julian Hamburger and I'm trying to discern if he's just a garden-variety eccentric or possibly more insane than I. In an email, he tells me that he sent me something in the mail but not to move from Boston. Julian Hamburger sent a request to President Obama and doesn't want me to move because “Boston is closer to [Washington] D.C.”. Even a person who seems like my crazy kindred spirit is a little too out there for me. There is some part of me that is seeking it out and drawing me to Julien Koster, however. I only know him through his music but in person, there is something so familiar about him. He actually looks like a taller version of my Psychology of Popular Culture professor except he's not as delightfully flustered and doesn't have a lisp. Something inexplicably makes me feel like it's okay to hug him and cry on his festive holiday sweater. I ducked into my bedroom earlier to drink a forty and take some klonopin but the heightened emotions that manic depression lends my brain make me feel like I've found one other person who knows how lonely, trapped and frustrated I feel. At this present moment, Julien Koster is the only compassionate person that I know.

One of my roommates, Jess, organized the show. She is a writer at an alternative weekly in Boston, soon-to-be-graduate of a university, radio DJ and Allston DIY scene queen. She is best friends with Rachel and Adam, the two other college radio DJs and general life-havers that share our house. I have been making zines to sell for cigarette/pot money and barely sleeping at my own house. There have been some minor roommate faux pas (my cooking on Jess' vegan cookware. Twice) that of course seem like the biggest deals in my head. Depressions are vampiric and constantly looking for reasons to exist and perpetuate. Jess probs doesn't think I should go jump into the Charles River because I'm a disgusting red meat eating bitch who should die. That would be absurd. But as long as I think that about myself (or think that I think that about myself), any minor hiccup will just be used to feed my misery.

I find myself having a hard time adjusting to the rules and standards of being a “free-spirited DIY fucking scenester” but I don't even want my spirit to be free. My wayward mind arguably is the culprit behind every terrible thing that happened in my life thus far. I want this thing–whatever it is inside of me–to be bounded, controlled, discipled; stuffed away for safe keeping until it's useful. While I half-pray for a manic episode as decorated and domineering as lights on a Christmas tree, I am scared that my mania will confused and scare my roommates, thus alienating me from them even more than I perceive I am now. One can wash out vegan cookware but one can't wash out the dregs of crazy from inside somebody's head. I'm not about to alienate the new strangers that are staying here tonight. Julien Koster is the strangest of the strangers. He already seems to know why I feel the way I do. He doesn't know the specifics of my situation but maybe he doesn't need to know. He probably sees that I just need a hug.

I'm as big and lonesome as Texas. I'm crying about my roommates. I'm crying about my life. I am a mess.

He tells me,
“Don't think about all that.
Just remember the love, okay?
Remember the love.”

I am momentarily consoled and I snap out of my funk just long enough to walk to the show next door. It will be full of strangers that I know, including myself. But there are people gathering outside and the show is happening. It's happening. Something is happening.

False alarm. There is nothing happening at all. Everything that I am experience now will pass in the cycle of moods. Snow will fall on the Boston ground and then it will melt. The city will get bitterly cold and then the sun will come out. There is a time and place for everything. My depressed mood will pass, just as my manias do but even the fleeting nature of my moods is fleeting. As I write this now, I am in a place of peace, stability and wellness. Manic depression can be a messy, peculiar, harsh, illuminated and inspired way of life but it's my way of life; it's a way of life for many others, too. I've found my ilk: my struggle buddies on the teenage psych ward; the compassionate “normies who saw a light in me and encouraged me to keep it aflame; the strangers who called my house home for a night. I don't regret anything about my life as a manic depressive but it's mostly because in every moment, I remember both the love and purity of spirit that I have to give but mostly, the love that I experienced.

Remember the love.

Lizzy DiSanto is a pseudonym the author gives to both musicians and psychiatrists who ask for her number.