I’ve recently been diagnosed with a few different personality disorders. So, guess I’m legit crazy. They got me on three different drugs. Thing is, I know I’m weird, but pretty much always just went with that whole haircut/arty/creative vibe and it felt about right. Now that I’m thirty, though, my husband is like “no more Iggy Pop bootlegs and midnight canvas stretching, you need to see someone.” This therapist had me figured out in two sessions, had me on the pills the third. The pills make me feel mushy and boring. Worse, for sure. My question is, if I don’t feel crazy, just different, but people are telling me I’m crazy, should I believe them? I mean, if I really am crazy, wouldn’t I not buy it? And so the fact that I’ve bought in, at least this far, does that mean I’m actually sane?
Shit, Dust, should I take these drugs or not? I’m leaning toward a cold turkey Fuck You attitude these days, but I need some counsel that’s not going to shove more Zoloft in my mouth the second I open it.
Thanks a million. I mean a milligram!
When I was in my twenties, I went a couple of years without seeing a dentist, even though the top of my mouth was a constant source of pain. Impacted molars had crashed out the sides of my jaw to such an extent that daily life was less a matter of existence than a floating red haze of aches and sharp jabbed reminders. Orally unattended, I began to resemble some sort of lizard, unnatural protrusions jutting like gills from below my ears. It gave me a prehensile grin and a sickly cold-blooded stare that caused even the largest of gangbangers to step gingerly aside as I slunk around town. So I did nothing about it. Over time, the pain became a floating piece of timber to which all my other experiences clung. I started to believe that suffering made me tragic, arty, fueled my creative urges, made the music my band was playing more barbed and slashing. Pain was my muse. Everyone I knew told me–in fact begged me, again and again–to go to a doctor. But I was stubborn. I was a sailor bobbing in a sea of Lavoris, grimly hanging onto shards of discomfort for fear that I might lose my creative buoyancy in the face of a quick relief.
The horrified reaction that various girlfriends and band mates and flatmates had after peeking into my red and swollen mouth made those molars feel like a prize. No one could quite believe that I bore the agony with such toughness (and booze) and stoicism (and booze) and lack of complaint (and booze). My affliction was the talk of our little hipster set. I began to feel like a martyr. Actually, due to the incessant and electric jolts, I felt like I was levitating, glowing, channeling ghosts, throbbing with other-ness. People began asking for my advice, seeking wisdom. They wanted to lay hands on me. They whispered when I walked into a room. Some of my friends began to wear clamps and investigate flagellation. But their attempts were merely pale and amateurish approximations of my original example, and everyone knew it. There was only one question the rockers on the scene wanted to know: just how much discomfort could Angelus actually stand?How much torture was he willing to absorb, like some Manchurian Candidate Nazarene who internalizes all our sins, cures a couple of lepers, turns Pabst Blue Ribbon into Cabernet, and then feeds an army of Danzig fans with a couple of fishes in the parking lot after a show.
During the day–away from my burgeoning cult–I walked around the city, looking imperiously at the comfort and ease in which others lived, pleased that I was willing to go beyond bourgeois values and western convenience. I was a hollowed vessel of Solzhenitsyn-like discomfort, bearing a weight that a weak and consumerist society could not even begin to imagine. I more or less stopped eating, stopped masturbating, reading, writing, fucking, napping or laughing. Who needed those things when I had my own source of power and pleasure, an internal spigot of transcendence? The series of agonizing jolts I could trigger just by touching the tip of my tongue to either tooth was capable of filling my days with tormented prose. To run my tongue even gently over the back of my jaw was to experience black starry bursts of revelation that blotted out the unpleasantness of standing in line at the bank, of crushing up against sweaty women on the bus, of cranking out another boring hour of work. I became like a morphine addict, like the rats with cocaine-sugar in their water that gorge themselves to death in Stanford science labs. I waited for the man, and I was the man. I could score on demand. Soon I developed a scabby, callused stretch along the side of my tongue and inner cheeks, requiring greater pressure and even more elaborate abrasions.
In other words, I had more or less gone insane.
And I knew it.
And I fed on it.
So, maybe I was just Insane Lite.
Jim Morrison on the roof ledge, butchering Rimbaud.
Syd Barrett strumming Moorish chords before that fateful hit of acid.
Sure, it was a pose, but it wasn’t a mask I removed when no one was looking. When the room was empty it stopped being performance art and calcified into bone. When I was empty, it coursed into me like it was poured down my throat. I felt that my discomfort absolved me from my many sins and unethical behaviors, that I most likely deserved to be in pain–that to be miserable was at once cleansing and cathartic.
And others fed on that certainty.
A coterie of followers who thought I was glamorously bent. Who wanted to sleep with me or write songs with me or be called “friend” by me because…I’m not really sure why. They were bored? They were empty? They were genetically without the capacity to manufacture their own delusions, let alone truly embrace them?
But finally, after having passed out halfway through an excruciatingly tedious poetry reading in which I was jamming my tongue into my wounds with every iambic pause, I knew the teeth had to go.Like an AA veteran who talks lovingly of a “moment of clarity” in which he first glimpsed the grail of sobriety, so too did I finally come to accept the crutch my pain had become, as I came to on the floor of a dirty cafe, looking up into the faces of half a dozen concerned post-modern bards. Or at least a Gethsemane of shitty grad student Cummings and Tzara thieves. I knew I had finally gone too far, but could I let go of the albatross that had come to define me?
The next day I awoke without having slept, intent upon locating a true professional. Someone who’d experienced a loss of his own, who had an innate understanding of desperation and ultimately, renewal. I asked around if anyone knew a dentist who’d had a lover killed in a car accident, whose wife was ripped apart by a wheat thresher, who’d given a finger or limb for their gang or religion. In turn, I was thrown out of offices, hung up on, and escorted to the sidewalk by overzealous security.
Finally, I thought I’d found the man to do the job. He was recommended by a Pantera-loving Vacaville parolee who claimed “the doc” had done some time for “elective and unnecessary” drilling. I took a bus across town and did a quick walk-by the building. It was dirty, dark, and fetid. The corner was electric with potential violence, teeming with junkies and psychotics.
In other words, perfect.
I rang the bell, was buzzed through a series of security gates. It was four floors up. A steel door was flung open. Dr. Tom Szell of Dr. Tom’s Family Dentistry looked like he’d been doing a speedball in the neck every morning for the last sixteen years. He had white Prokofiev-ian hair, sported the telltale weathered grin, flashed a rack of sunburned teeth, and had a forehead lined like a relief map of Belize. He took my arm and told me he’d been trained in the Navy. He said he could tell I was in deep pain. He said it was clear I was an old soul and a very special person. He said it would only cost fifty a tooth. I began to have a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach as Dr. Tom strapped me into his red leather chair. Mistake flashed, like Reno neon, across on the back of my eyelids. I was reclined at an impossible angle, with a fine view of his bosomy Asian assistant, who was busy sharpening a pair of needle-nose pliers on a butcher’s block.
Dr. Tom pried open my mouth.
A sickly odor filled the room.
His assistant slouched noticeably, stifling a gag.
“Jesus, buddy, smells like a gut-wound filled with Certs in there.”
Dr. Tom reached in and touched my left molar with a metal probe. The pain was staggering. I screamed. I hallucinated cartoons. A laughing Kamikaze mouse flew strafing runs across my forehead, dropping loads of red ACME anvils out his bomb bay door that exploded to the tune of “My Sharona” across my chest.
“Nurse? The anesthesia, please.”
The assistant jabbed me with a needle. I tried to protest, but the second syllable of the first word was already coming from the bottom of a dark blue hole filled with dark blue people on the dream nod, and I realized in very, very slow motion that no one in that narcotic purgatory could hear me, and wouldn’t have cared even if they did.
I woke up a couple of hours later, the room empty, my pockets turned inside out. I tucked them back in and stumbled into the lobby.
“I had to get my fee,” Dr. Tom explained sheepishly at the desk. “We thought you might be one of those who doesn’t…you know…want to come back. And that would…you know… have made it impossible to collect.”
His assistant handed me my harvested teeth, a mason jar full of antibiotics, and a receipt.
Out in the street, the beauty of a painless cityscape opened before me like a Dutch canvas.
Trees swayed. Birds chirped. The sky hung like a blue mist.
On the far corner, three transvestites argued over a pair of sweatpants being sold by a homeless vendor.
“Oh, let her have them ugly fucking things” one of them said, and the others nodded, while a massive redhead held the pants aloft in victory.
See? I thought. Everything could be worked out. Concessions could be made. Understandings could be found. Pain was an existential concept.
And, also, I’d been acting like an arty dick.
The redhead, pulling on her sweatpants, saw me looking.
“What you want, motherfucker?”
I opened my mouth wide, showed her the gauze and the bloody sockets. Then I shook my stigmatic teeth like a pair of dice, opening my hand and letting them roll across the sidewalk, where they bounced against brick and spun.
The redhead screamed.
“I don’t want anything,” I told her, but she was already running away. A high heel snapped, causing her to stumble, but she didn’t stop, steaming around the corner.
And the truth is that I really didn’t want anything. It was in that moment that I realized being detached from my madness–in this case having it physically removed from my being, yanked with malice from my jaw–was the only way I that I was able to finally see.
Anya, I think you should stay on the pills. Stay on them long enough to find out if they provide you with some distance from your “legit crazy.” The pills are not there to hand you sanity, or change your personality, they’re there to give you space and perspective. Stick with it and wait for clarity. If it doesn’t come, go off them and see what, if anything, shifts.
We are notoriously unable to see ourselves, even in glimpses. The therapy and the pills might just be a mirror, one that you can use to quickly turn your head and see a fraction of what others do. There are other doctors, other medications, other diagnoses, other treatments. Stick with this one until you can embrace it or discard it.
I know that for one year of my life I was truly certifiable.
And then I found a way not to be.
I hope you do too.
Ask Me Anything.
Talk Shit. Be Vulnerable.
Go ahead, I know it hurts.
All contact info is entirely confidential.
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