The Button

Today marks the 5-year anniversary of my most serious suicide attempt. On February 1, 2009, I poisoned myself with hydrogen cyanide gas. I don’t have much to say about it that I haven’t already said, but I will mention a few things to commemorate the occasion.

First of all, I’m not depressed anymore. Many of the persistent problems I thought would never end have finally ended.

One benefit of not being depressed is my ability to handle day-to-day problems without getting overwhelmed.For me, it takes time to process anything emotional. It’s sort of like bailing water out of a canoe. After a certain amount of time, you can get it all out. If there’s a little water, it won’t take long. If there’s a lot of water, it can take a while.

Depression is like having a hole in the canoe. Until you fix the hole, bailing out water will never stop you from sinking, no matter how much time you spend on it. In other words, in the absence of depression, my emotional problems are surmountable.

Second, I no longer want to die. Oddly enough, this is distinct from depression. There are depressed people who want to live, and there are non-depressed people who want to die. One of the many things I said when I was first committed to a mental institution was this: “Not having a reason to die isn’t the same as having a reason to live.”

It’s hard to explain suicide to people who aren’t suicidal, but I usually start by describing “the button.” The button is instant, painless death. Furthermore, it guarantees that all the people who rely on you will be okay. When you push the button, all of your problems immediately die with you.

Some people would push the button no matter what. I was one of them. Some people would push the button on bad days and leave it alone on good days. Most people only have a few overwhelming moments when they might push the button. Some people would never push the button.

The hardest part of my recovery was getting past the point where I was just “okay” to a point where I wouldn’t push the button. I was rarely “suicidal enough” to develop and execute a true plan, but between ages 11 and 23, I would have pushed the button. I just didn’t have a reason to live.

Finally, I learned from the experience. When I was depressed, I thought improvement meant that I had to become a different person. Once I was no longer depressed, I realized that improvement meant becoming the person I had started out as. I wasn’t starting on a new road, but the same one I had been on before depression forced me to detour.

Having said that, a detour that lasted half my life (so far) definitely had an effect. I’m not afraid of death anymore. I’m more cynical than I used to be. I’m more aware of my bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. I learned the art of getting by and the true meaning of the word “subsist.” I lost a lot of memories from 2009 and 2010. Are those all negative things? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Depression is a part of my life I can never forget. I have to use it.

February 1, 2009 was Super Bowl Sunday. When I was at the hospital, everyone asked if there was a reason I chose that day. I told them it was a coincidence. It happened to be the weekend after I had gotten all my supplies together, but there was one other thing. Super Bowl Sunday is a meaningless, obligation-free holiday. There is no pressure to get organized or take things seriously. You just try to have fun.

Most of the people I knew didn’t have any fun that day. Now that five years have passed, I hope it will be better for everyone. There’s no need to worry about me.

For Fear of Emo

It finally happened: I was truly offended by South Park. I must be getting old or something. This week’s episode about Goth and Emo kids hit me a bit hard because it reminded me of high school, and not in a good way. I guess the basic concepts are still prevalent today, but I’ll explain them for the uninitiated.

Goth subculture has been popular with teenagers since the 80s. It’s all about black and white, particularly when it comes to clothing, make-up, and attitudes. The culture is about despair and futility, coupled with a little bit of resentment for the system. Cynicism abounds. The whole movement is often associated with punk rock, but that part’s kind of optional at this point.

Emo subculture is a little more recent. It has been around for almost as long, but it never gained ground until the late 90s. The name is appropriate, because it’s all about embracing negative emotions, including depression and self-loathing. Much like Goth culture, it started with Emo music, another form of punk rock.

There’s a ton of subjectivity in the definitions, of course, and there isn’t much difference between the two groups. The fashion and attitudes are both quite similar. Of course, black has always been cool (and slimming!), so that explains part of it. Both groups greatly appeal to teenagers. The concept of teenage angst isn’t new, after all. It’s all a reaction to the establishment, which always includes adults. Whether you’re disillusioned with the world or yourself, it doesn’t matter. You wear the clothes and listen to the music and maybe even fit in a little bit.

I was a half-assed Goth/Punk kid in high school. Amongst the Goths, there were two insults: Poseur and Emo. Poseurs just pretended to be Goth but were really just trying to fit in. Emos were pathetic, weepy, and lame. Goths were supposed to stand tall in a shitty world without getting the least bit affected, so being called Emo was a horrible insult. It also meant that discussing negative emotions could get you labeled Emo. There was a fine line between contemplating futility and succumbing to it.

I remember when Good Charlotte’s song “Hold On” came out. It was an Emo (technically, Screamo) song about teenagers who committed suicide. I remember thinking that it was over the top and only appealed to Emos. I also remember thinking about how I had already attempted suicide at age 13. It struck a weird discord in my brain. The fear of being Emo got mixed in with the many misconceptions I had about depression, and I never talked about it once. Six years later, I attempted suicide in earnest, and the rest is history.

So where does South Park fit into all this? This week’s episode was supposed to show that Goths and Emos are the same: kids affecting sadness to fit in. In the end, it’s all just teenage angst. (Actually, the Goth kids in the show are supposed to be preteens.) Anyway, these Goth kids start becoming Emo for some reason, and their anger at the world turns inward. Now they engage in suicidal thinking and self-harm instead of lashing out at their parents.

I’m a huge fan of South Park. None of the previous 240 episodes have offended me. This one did.

First of all, it wasn’t funny. Where’s the humor in a room full of preteens cutting themselves? When did that become okay? Well, the show is satirical, after all. This is an exaggerated depiction of a subculture for humorous effect. But Molly Ivins said it best: “When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” Second, there was just no reason for it. What is the social ill being skewered here? What are Matt and Trey trying to tell the world? And who gives a fuck if Goth kids and Emo kids really are the same?

On the other hand, I do have a reason for being offended. This might seem hard to believe, but suicidal teenagers are still suicidal. They really do kill themselves. Furthermore, kids never cut themselves to fit in. They do it alone. In fact, all the cutters I knew kept it completely secret, because if other people found out, they’d have to stop. Those teenagers had so much trouble confronting their depression that they literally tore themselves open.

As for me, I remember one of the phrases that stung the worst at that age: “they only do it to get attention.” Whether it was repeated self-harm, a suicide attempt, or even just a suicidal threat, it was always “just for attention.” As for me, I never wanted the slightest bit of attention for my depression, and that’s exactly what I got. Here’s the reality: People who are contemplating suicide or committing acts of self-harm always need attention, but that’s never the real reason.

In short, teenage angst can kill. This is the very first time I’ve watched an episode of South Park and felt worse afterward. Forgive me if that sounds a little Emo.

Losing with Dignity

I have mentioned a few times in recent history that I am excited about an online competition to interview Mark Z. Danielewski, the author of my favorite book, House of Leaves. I have been cautiously optimistic about winning, for various reasons that I convinced myself make sense. I believed that there would be relatively few entries, even fewer of which would stand a significant chance. I believed that I might have produced a sufficiently eloquent contest entry, and that I stood a good chance against most competitors, provided that the judges were not looking for professional interviewing experience.

If you truly believe in something, you are called an adherent, or perhaps a sucker, I forget which. Either way, I have been reminded of the one truism of my life: hope is bullshit. I have a lot of uncharacteristic hope right now, about many things, but knowing that all of my hope is bullshit helps me sleep at night.

The secret that depressed people hide so well is that they are extremely hopeful. It might be more accurate to say that they WERE extremely hopeful. Naturally, The Dark Knight Rises put it best: “… there can be no true despair without hope.” Why is that? It’s because you get used to despair. If depression were just despair, it would become routine, and you would adapt. The occasional injection of real hope is what makes it unbearable.

In the interest of fairness, I will point out that hope makes beautiful promises. On the other hand, hope never accomplishes anything by itself, and it is certainly never held accountable for its false promises. For depressed people, hope is a new medication, a new job, a new friend, a new girlfriend, a new apartment, a new city, a new hobby, a new day.

As for my life, I have shifted to yet another hope. I got a new program for writing in screenplay format, in the interest of approaching my ideas from a new angle. The screenplay format is fairly simple. It makes dialogue a lot easier and lets you paint visuals without lingering too much on every little detail. Because I am still mostly interested in animation, I know a lot of the work is done by the artists, who have real control over how things look. I’d like to have the chance to work with artists to create a better visual representation of my writing.

So I’m writing spec scripts for a cartoon series scheduled to start airing next year. I have ideas that I like and I intend to make at least a few good scripts. Once I finish those, I have to figure out what to do with them and try to make progress in a vicious industry in which thousands of writers fail. Here’s hoping.

Anyway, I didn’t win the competition. Somebody named Trevor will be interviewing Mark Z. Danielewski tomorrow morning. I may decide to watch, but I have no doubt that it will be a terrible interview. I could have done much better. I’m already sure of it.

Deficit Reduction

There’s something wrong with my brain … again. I’m starting to suspect that none of my neurotransmitters are doing what they are supposed to. This time, it’s a little more subtle. When you try to poison yourself, people always assume you have depression. When you steal tiny objects, the call you a kleptomaniac. When you vigorously rub up against people, you get arrested for frotteurism. But when you just float around like a turd in the ether, it could be something even worse. No, I don’t have a brain cloud. I have attention deficit disorder.

ADD is one of those diagnoses that annoys just about everyone. It’s overdiagnosed and oversimplified, which means it’s discredited. In kids, ADD is bad parenting, too much sugar, and a lack of direction. In teens, ADD is rebelliousness, too much caffeine, and a lack of direction. In adults, ADD is irresponsibility, too much alcohol, and a lack of direction. All it takes to fix ADD is a good spanking and plenty of criticism.

If you ever read a list of ADD symptoms, you’ll find that a lot of them apply to almost everyone. Who can say that they are always organized, pay attention to absolutely everything, and never get impatient? Lots of people lose things. Everyone fidgets in boring situations. Daydreaming is perfectly normal.

Like lots of other people, I think most of those statements make sense. I had the common misconception that ADD occurs in hyperactive boys who are have no interest in learning and lack discipline. It’s an easy stereotype, because those are often the times when ADD is diagnosed, right? Actually, even though ADD is often diagnosed in hyperactive kids (usually boys), it is just as common in kids who are not hyperactive, and most sufferers are fairly intelligent. And yes, it occurs in adults, too.

ADD is actually called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, predominantly inattentive. There is also ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and ADHD combined. Historically, the disorder was known as hyperactivity (of course), and minimal brain dysfunction (seriously). Now, I never would have thought I suffered from any of those, but I’ve started to believe otherwise.

It’s hard to think of myself as having ADD for a few reasons. First of all, I never struggled in school. By that, I mean I never struggled with my studies. I was able to pass most classes without too much trouble, especially math classes. I never acted out, although I was known for not showing my work in math (it was always obvious). Second, I never had trouble reading. I spent a large portion of my childhood reading books. Many people with ADD can’t focus on one thing for that amount of time, although there are exceptions. Finally, I have a bunch of other mental issues. Attention deficit disorder is yet another log on the burning pile in my brain, which so far includes social anxiety and bipolar depression. I also have a facial tic.

Earlier this year, a friend mentioned that I might suffer from ADD. I thought briefly about it, but decided not to look into it, because I was so busy. I thought that my problems with focus and completing things were just part of that. Once I reached the end of the summer, I was no longer teaching or traveling to weddings, and I had the same problems. When I ran out of practical things to blame, I looked back into ADD. I bought a book (“Driven to Distraction”), I went over the list of symptoms with my therapist, and I came to the conclusion that this was worth looking into.

In retrospect, I can see several signs that I have ADD. I always enjoyed puzzles, but I also had to be doing something else at the same time. I would watch movies while playing computer or video games. In class, I would do puzzles or read, although I would take notes occasionally. I often said that doing puzzles in class helped me pay attention, despite the fact that it would seem to do the opposite. I have learned a lot about coping, but that can only take me so far.

After discussing the matter with my psychiatrist, I began taking Ritalin. I hoped that medication would improve my ability to focus when I study or write, among other things. Because I am already on 3 psychiatric medications, I had to start at a low dose and see how things went before making any increases. I started at 5mg daily, which is the lowest dose, and moved up to 5mg twice a day, which is still a fairly low dose. In addition to prescribing the medication, my psychiatrist instructed me to get my blood pressure checked every week.

I have been on Ritalin for about 5 weeks. I haven’t noticed much of a change, although I suppose there might be a little improvement. Anyway, I have gotten my blood pressure checked regularly. This week, there was a marked increase, from 122/82 to 138/84. I’m seeing my psychiatrist tomorrow to discuss whether or not I will continue the Ritalin at an increased dose, but I doubt that I will. I will probably have to start a new medication at a very low dose. Although it feels weird to be tired of symptoms I hadn’t exactly identified two months ago, I’m eager to see some improvement.

Fortunately, my ADD diagnosis has done one thing for me: it has given me hope. Funnily enough, the thing I want to pursue most right now is creativity, by working with writing and eventually, visual media (I hope). Unlike depression, medication for ADD is more effective and usually works much more quickly. Even if I have to start a new medication from square effin’ one, I will still be able to monitor my ability to focus, and things could improve in no time. I’ll report back on my progress … unless I get distracted.

My Trillion-Dollar Idea

I have spent some time lately thinking about the world of comic books, and it has stuck me with a nagging thought: the real world is kind of boring. Now, I know that there are many fascinating things in this world, but none of them has that comic-book level awesomeness.

So I thought a bit more about comics. Most of them are about superheroes, because that’s how the medium got started. The superhero genre began with both Marvel and DC, and it has changed throughout the years. Both companies have taken different approaches to the same core ideas, and those ideas have continued to be successful. Each company has inspired a billion-dollar movie, specifically The Dark Knight and The Avengers. People like superheroes, but I just don’t understand why.

Don’t get me wrong, I think She-Hulk is hot just like everyone else. I’m just trying to figure out why she and the rest of her ilk are so damned popular. It’s a weird idea, really. If a person really had exceptional superpowered abilities, why would she use it to fight crime in a big city? Why would that eventually cause world-ending cataclysmic events every other year? No one knows.

There are a few constants, though. The superhero is always, on some level, a normal person. The superpowers almost always come from a random event or an hereditary source (or both). No one really works to become a superhero, it always just happens. Spiderman was bit, Batman was traumatized, Hulk was irradiated, and Superman was launched across the cosmos.

Because they are allegedly normal people, superheroes also have normal people problems. Many are angsty and brooding, most have innumerable romantic entanglements, and some are downright stupid. And why not? All characters have to have some kind of distinct characteristics, no matter how trivial.

So superheroes abound. There are hundreds of them, all with varying degrees of success. There are some serious problems with the comic book industry, though and several have to do with the shallowness of the superhero premise. First of all, comic books have to sell. Since you can’t tell a whole story in one (36-page) issue, the story stretches out between issues. Writers and artists come and go, and with them the story changes radically. If a story, writer, or artist doesn’t work out, he (or she, but usually he) is replaced. They have to sell the next issue, after all. But how does the story stay interesting? There are plenty of options, including long story arcs, crossovers, the end of the world, another end of the world, and sometimes an artsy one-shot story.

Besides all the story issues, another big problem is the decay of the monthly comic structure. Each issue will usually cost about 4 dollars, unless you subscribe. Of course, all of us have countless magazine subscriptions, right? Well, maybe not countless. Okay, maybe not any. Even if they were released on the internet, comic book issues would be a flop. No matter how fantastic the writing and art, both of which can actually be quite good, it’s too expensive.

Last, there are the fans. Comic book fans are some of the worst people in the world. I don’t mean people who read comics (I do that, and I’m terrific), but true comic book FANS. They are despicable people who are never satisfied. Here’s something you will never hear a comic book fan say: “Wow, the new <character, idea, story, writer, artist, series, company, etc> is really neat. I am impressed by the change and am sure things will continue to improve.” No. Comic book fans are never satisfied. They are always convinced that things are getting worse. Here is the timeline of comic books: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age. See a pattern.

They do have a point, though. (Hypocrisy, anyone?) Modern comic books are not very good (on average), but the decline is mostly due to the age of the concepts. Superheroes are old, the ideas are old, monthly comics are old, and comic book fans are old. Modern comics tend to rely way too much on continuity with past issues, self reference, and escalation. Here’s a fun challenge: pick up an issue of a modern comic book (if you can find one) and see if you can figure out what the hell is going on. Here’s a bigger challenge: see if you give a shit.

You may have gathered that I am unhappy with the state of the comic book industry. I don’t read them and I tend to avoid the movies, although there are exceptions. So why am I so upset? I’m upset because the comic book industry draws an incredible amount of writing and artistic talent and wastes them. You will almost never be disappointed by the artistic quality of a modern comic book, unless you’re one of those people I mentioned. Comic books are truly a visual medium, and with a better tier of writing, some new ideas, and a modern distribution mechanism, it would be an incredible industry.

Comic books are all about potential. If you sit and read a really good graphic novel, like Watchmen, or a great series, like Sandman, you will see that potential. Contrast it with most of what you see and you probably will be very disappointed. You can see the same thing in the motion picture industry. The Dark Knight is one of the best movies in recent years, and it is based on a 70-year-old character, but try sitting through Green Lantern or Spiderman 3 and you’ll see how comic book concepts can go wrong.

The potential is there, and if I’m being honest, it actually does come out from time to time. I haven’t mentioned the manga industry, which is huge, and the independent/artistic side, which is also quite good.

It all comes down to disappointment. My cynicism about comic books extends to the real world, which also disappoints me in many ways. I was stuck with this question: Why isn’t She-Hulk real? It’s an important question despite the fact that she wouldn’t go out with me if she did exist. If I followed the wisdom of Dr. Seuss’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”, I would not complain about my lot in this life, where there are no superpowers or green women. Given that excellent advice, I think I will have to be satisfied with the human ability to imagine those fantastic worlds.

At that point, the idea hit me. I will take my life and make it fantastic … as a comic book. Before you mention Harvey Pekar or any of the thousands of autobiographical webcomics out there, let me explain further. I want to take my dumb boring life as the inspiration for a fictional story, and make it not dumb and not boring. The idea is perfect. Many of the things that we encounter in the real world actually are amazing, but just don’t LOOK like it. Technology in real life is amazing, but it is fairly ordinary when compared with comic book technology.

I want to show how amazing the real world is by making it truly visual. The central concept in my story is working through my own depression. I want to take what is a fairly common story and make it extraordinary. Something like 10% of the US population deals with depression (or similar illnesses) every year. Those people all have families and friends, and I’m told that depression takes a toll on those folks as well. (Heh.) I want people to see that it is anything but ordinary. I want to demonstrate what it does by visualizing it. One of the biggest complaints of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals is that there are so few diagnostic tools for depression. There are no satisfactory biological tests, so diagnosis relies on the patient realizing the problem and describing it effectively. In other words, depression is nearly impossible to see. That’s why I want to show it.

It still has a hint of the superpower concept because the main character is chosen at random to have this shitty illness, but in most other ways he will not be a superhero. I can also focus on writing a story that is internally complete without having to worry about continuing it indefinitely, and I can look at distributing it online, thus avoiding all the comic industry issues. (Heh).

Assuming you know me, you will also know that I am no artist. (Feel free to look at my Halloween costume photos, by the way). My next step is going to be writing up some of my ideas, and then I need to find an illustrator. I have no idea how to do that, so I want some advice. If I can work this out well enough in my head, I will be willing to pay (money!) in order to try to get a basic prospectus together. Again, I have no clue where to start, but I need to find someone who is willing to do the work and also work with me. I imagine there are places to do that on the internet.

Anyway, I wanted to write up my complaints and ideas, and that’s what this is. I think this could be a good concept, so I really want to make an effort.

What a Disappointing World

I see trees of brown, dead roses too,

I see them fade, thanks to me and you.

And I think to myself,

What a disappointing world.

I see skies of gray, and clouds of black,

The rain falls down; the lightning cracks.

And I think to myself,

What a disappointing world.

The colors of the pavement, so ugly on the ground,

are also in the hearts of the people all around.

I see them brush shoulders, saying “out of my way”

They’re really saying, “get the fuck out of my way.”

I hear little kids whine and I watch them eat

They’ll never study, but they know how to tweet.

And I think to myself

What a disappointing world.

Yes, I think to myself

What a disappointing world.

Ew.

Still More True Tales of Human Interest

I had a very difficult childhood. Our microwave didn’t have a turntable, so I often had to turn the food once, twice, or even three times during the cooking process. It’s fortunate that I didn’t get some kind of disease from improperly cooked fragments in those food products.

My parents rarely grounded me, however, because I would just read books in my room. It was not much of a punishment. Instead, my mother would frequently lock me outside. My brother and I had no choice but to explore the vacant wooded lot behind the house, often risking life and limb in the pursuit of enjoyment. The owner of the lot was a dick, and always chastised us for being there. Many years later, we threw a jug of spoiled milk into his lot out of spite. It is still there.

Once, we took the hose and made a large mud pit in the middle of the yard. The dog joined us for several minutes of unadulterated happiness. When my mother found us, she was not as happy. The dog had to be hosed off thoroughly, while Mark and I had to be cleaned indoors. I still respect our creativity in having a fun time, though.

We have a half-assed basketball half-court by the side of our house. It is essentially four slabs of concrete and a hoop. At this point, due to root growth and plate tectonics, the playing surface is no longer level. Back in the day, we played a few games of HORSE and such, but I mostly used it for dribbling. I would go out there with a fully-inflated basketball and dribble for hours. I never shot the ball (I would have missed), but I dribbled like a pro. At one point, I dribbled with a kickball. I could dribble just about anything.

As a gifted student, I had many struggles. I could kick the ass of math any day, but when it came to all that other crap, I was no good. We were expected to do a presentation each year of some “creative” project or another. I always stumbled through one, but never had any creative ideas on presenting them. Like most elementary school projects, parental assistance was key. my topics included rocks and crystals, the lungs, lions, and electric motors. The motor was actually quite cool, and fortunately it worked once at home and once during the creative project fair, but never again. It is still here.

The other annual gifted project was a book. We were expected to write, illustrate, and bind a 24-page book. It could be about anything we wanted, but we had to do all the work. The end product was a white bookish thing covered in some kind of hardcore plastic wrap. For me, it was less of a creative project and more of romp through my twisted childish psyche. Whenever I tried to assemble coherent thoughts into book form, I always failed incredibly.

In my first year, I was probably 5 or 6. I wrote an alphabet book of all the stuffed animals in my bedroom. It was adorable. I remember another gifted student reading it to me sweetly, but I also remember being teased about it. Either way, it’s probably the most earnest thing I’ve ever written, and the pictures are decent, too. Once I started reading more complicated books, I tried to assemble a narrative. The results are frankly embarrassing. One was a blatant (horrible!) take on a book series I liked. One other has slipped my memory (thank god). The final book was written in fifth grade, and I labored over it for quite a while. My innovative story idea was this: take two natural disasters and combine them. It couldn’t fail!

After thinking for ages about which two disasters to combine, I decided on a tornado and a volcano. Naturally, the book was entitled “Torcano”. In my head, it was spectacular. A horrifying wind tunnel pulling boiling lava out of the mountain and into the sky, where it would partially harden and land, crushing humans, vehicles, and abodes with abandon. The concept did not translate so well to the 24-page plastic-wrapped mini-book form. I wrote the text and illustrated it, which consisted mostly of two triangles (one reddish-brown volcano and one gray, swirly cyclone) in various positions. I bound it and everything.

On presentation day, we were supposed to read the book to our gifted peers. I was already embarrassed. After all, my previous works had been met with derision and accusations of childishness. When it was my turn, I read the book aloud. When I finished, I remember looking up to about ten bewildered faces and absolute silence. The stunned silence lasted for several seconds before things moved on. It’s fair to say that a worse work of fiction has never been produced. Of course, all of my books from elementary school are still here.

When I was about 13, my brother started dating a girl. I didn’t like her very much, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. In any case, I lacked the emotional maturity to express those concerns, so at a church function, that frustration expressed itself. I threw a green gummi bear at the couple from across the room, and hit the girl directly in the right eye. My aim was spectacular. Her contact lens was knocked back over her eyeball and she had to go to the bathroom to remove it. She patted me on the shoulder in forgiveness, which was good, because Mark was pissed.

The next day she saw an optometrist and had to have her eyes dilated. I apologized profusely throughout the whole process. Later on, her dad said, “it would be fine had it just been an inch off the mark.” Months later, after the inevitable break-up, I felt a bit vindicated about the gummi bear situation. That’s what she got for dating my brother.

(I felt that I should at least present at least one true tale of human interest about my asylum experiences.)

When I was first committed to the Lancaster County Crisis Center, it was a brand new experience. My urine was still purple from the medication I’d been given, and I was checked on every 10 minutes “just in case.” There was not much to do, either. They had a library of about 30 books and a different library of about 80 VHS tapes. The patients could choose any of the films on tape, which the attendants would then play on the sealed-up TV/VCR. I did read one book, but most of the time, I had to watch the movies.

Because most patients stayed about 3 days (I was there for 30), every retinue of new ones wanted to watch the same damned films. Of all 80 films, I probably saw about 12. The two I saw the most were Happy Gilmore and Meet the Parents. The process worked as follows: a new patient would come in and read the list of tapes and say, “Oh, Happy Gilmore. I haven’t seen that movie in forever.” All of the other patients (except me) would then say, “Wow, I remember that from high school. Let’s watch that.” The process would continue a few days later. I probably saw that film 8 times that month, if not 10.

The most interesting patient there was Jeff, the psychotic. Most of us were just everyday insane, but Josh was actually certifiable. He shook and twitched and couldn’t quite converse properly. We talked once or twice, but each time he would spin off on very interesting topics of his own. We were both long-term patients, so we knew each other a bit, but after a week, Josh made an escape attempt.

There was a short, narrow hallway that ended in a door to the staircase. It was hard to see from the main desk. The ceiling was composed of the typical crumbly, white, rectangular panels. He thought that there was a way out over the doorway, so he climbed up the sides of the hallway (I didn’t get to see this, but I’m sure it was acrobatic) and got above the ceiling panels and light. Naturally, the whole thing collapsed. Not only that, the wall over the door extended past the ceiling panels to the real ceiling. The escape attempt failed, and they didn’t clean up the light and ceiling fragments for days. Josh was subsequently sent elsewhere.