No. 2 “Welcome to the Eternal Present”

Lizzy DiSanto

The Manic Manual

“It probably feels really good for guys to pee since urine and semen both come out of the urethra.” It's July 2011 and I am sitting in a Brooklyn diner with Jack Finnely; I am hopelessly drunk. There's no way to minimize it or make it cute. I am not merely tipsy. I spent two hours or so hitting the sauce with such arrant ferocity that one would think that binge drinking was going away. I did this all in the name of “calming my nerves” before I am to meet Jack, or “Finn” as I call him. Calling a celebrated writer and a respected author by their last name seems playful and irreverent, yet simultaneously seems to honor his craft. He is returning home to Brooklyn to after a test screening of the film adaptation of his memoir. The rights to the book were purchased some years ago and the film has been shot. Jack has cleared some time in his schedule to meet me. My “schedule” is as scattered and erratic as my mind is. In both mood and circumstance, I am in a mixed state.

One of the reasons that I prefer the term manic depression over “bipolar disorder” is that the very construction of the word “bipolar” is misleading. The prefix “bi-” means “two” and the “-polar” root means “opposite”, as if mania and depression are opposite states. The term is not at all big enough to encompass what it is actually like to be a manic depressive.

Mania and depression may seem like two opposing states on the surface but if anything, they are twinned. For example, when I am depressed I usually experience insomnia and inevitable hypersomnia (sleeping too much—to compensate for my lack of sleep). When I'm manic, I experience irregular sleep patterns. Eating and taking care of my basic needs seem like impossibly enormous tasks when I'm depressed. It's useless to try and do anything other than letting myself be suffocated in sadness. When I am manic, those same tasks seem impossibly unimportant—almost insultingly so—while I am trying to harbor the fickle flame of my manic mood. I miss being/feeling happy, unwound and alive when I am depressed and I miss the sedentary self-indulgence when I am manic. The term “bipolar” is thus a tricky one. Some days I wonder if I have had a handle on my moods if they actually were so perfectly opposite from one another. If only I could slap an “evil” brunette wig and a scowl on my depression while affixing a “good” blond wig on my mania. These states could be as neatly organized and woefully simplified as a Taylor Swift music video.

Psychiatrically speaking a mixed state is when a manic depressive is experiencing both symptoms of depression and mania concurrently. Though my thoughts are morbid and bleak they are going so fucking fast in my brain I wonder if my head will burst trying to hold them all. The East coast summer air is pulsing with pheromones, humidity, excitement and danger but I hate myself, maybe even more so because I can shake my clammy, awkward skin. My mind is a desperate, asphyxiated ghost. I construct death fantasies in my head when I am deeply depressed, swooning at the thought my bloodied, mangled corpse being discovered by my “loved” ones. I can see it so clearly: the solemn creases in the face of the police officers at the crime scene as they shake their heads. The flash of a camera snaps a white spark and sporadically burns through the grey. My cat curiously sniffs around and nudges my body with his nose. “Eighteen years on the jobs and stuff like this still gets to me. Damn. She was so young.” Death fantasies are what amount to my “happy place” and thinking about being dead, my body gnarled and mangled in rigor mortis, makes my living, feeling body relax.

Meditating on these thoughts bring me solace. The only reason that I don't actually try and kill myself is because if I do, I will not be able to enjoy the fantasy of killing myself. That, and I might miss a manic state that could come in and possibly save me, albeit temporarily. A manic depressive just getting to know their mood tries to manage the extremes and obviously fails. Who could handle the onus of being delegated such an impossible and complicated task? We begin to rely on the oscillations of these extremes while being hopeful that they might level (or cancel) each other out somehow. We count on the manias to bring us up and the depressions to bring us down. Being a manic depressive is arguably something that can be managed or controlled—whatever that means. The episodes are the product of rebellious brain chemistry, yes, but why control it? Another question we grapple with, especially when both mania and depression haunt us enough to become friendly ghosts, or even friends. Like a bleary-eyed addict mixing uppers and downers we try to count on the possible effects and side effects of our states. At least an addict can measure the amount of coke or junk—in milligrams, kilograms, grams and ounces—and the numbers can allot them some kind of concrete, physical comfort. When you're a manic depressive and in a mixed state, how can anyone cout on something so mysterious and temporal?

I am a mirror of my moods: flighty and wayward, travelling between couches in Allston and pavements in New York City. In the previous months I have lost a writing job in New York, moved back to Boston, been hospitalized, crashed at a show house, crashed with friends, crashed with family. It seems like it has just been an endless stream of crashing. I had enough money for a Megabus ticket and thanks to Patti Smith's tales in Just Kids, arriving unannounced and unprepared in New York City seems deliciously romantic to me. Am I asking for my death fantasies to be realized? Maybe my death fantasies will be realized. I feel like I am the spectral author of very own version of a (potential) Law and Order: SVU episode. Something made me feel like I had to go to NYC. Don't think, just go. There is a strange element of urgency that underpins whatever a manic does. We talk so much, so fast and so passionately because we are working on a rhythm that even we can't explain. New York in the summer of 1967 is obviously much different than New York in the summer of 2011 yet the element of risk and whimsy feeds both the depressed and manic tones of my mixed state. A concrete sense of time and the glacial patience that one needs when operating in a logical, thoughtful way—these are not things in the manic's perceptive vernacular.

Even if it's a willful and welcome immolation can you blame somebody for the way they behave when they're on fire?

I end up meeting a young NYU film student, David, who offers me a place to crash until I go back to Boston. David lives in midtown Manhattan. He is into guys, not girls, so accepting a stranger's offer to crash at his place is not as precarious as it seems. David's apartment is small but spacious at the same. He has shiny hardwood floors and he gets his groceries delivered courtesy of his parents' credit card. I sense a loneliness about David. Perhaps his willingness to share and help out a young stranger can ward off the potential asphyxiation in having everything you need but nothing you want. David is also a pot smoker and binge drinker so I have at least two of my vices covered. I am in between filling my klonopin script which proves another reason to get away from Boston for a little bit. Mixing klonopin and whiskey makes me particular in my road to oblivion—without the whiskey, klonopin is just “therapeutic” and boring; without the klonopin, hard alcohol is “common” and really a waste of time. I have some time to kill before I refill my pill, so now I will just have to make do with the tools of destruction I have.

As it turns out David lives one block, right around the corner, from Jamie, a friend I went to high school with in Boston. Jamie and I first became friends after I sold her a copy of my manifesto, which was an homage to my hero Valerie Solanas. I wrote it when I was seventeen after deciding that (most) men were (mostly) useless. Jamie lives in Olympia but she is visiting her mother in Manhattan. My new and old worlds conspire and collide—courting each other in some strange way, at least. Having new interesting people to hang out with seems to make David glad. When I make plans to meet up with Jack, I am excited. Or, I feel like I should be excited and try to make my emotions align to an accepted affect. Really, I am scared; terrified even. I don't want Jack to see/know how fucked up I really am so I get I fucked up. Making being really drunk will make me what feels so real in me feel unreal, and vice versa. This is all in the spirit of celebration but mostly (indulging) in the spirit of warding off unknown spirits—the strange, uncooperative, mixed up ones. Denial through invocation is what my drinking has amounted to these days. Jamie, David and I listen to Fever To Tell by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in its entirety. We drink, dance, sing, laugh and yell around David's apartment. I air guitar to Nick Zinner's terse, ringing guitar riffs in “Y Control” (He's a Boston boy, you know) and shake around to Brian Chase's indomitable drums while Karen O croons, “I wish I could buy back the woman you stole.” There is no reasoning with my mixed state. I cannot fully commit to the role of unruly manic mournful, sluggish depressive because both parts of me are hopelessly enmeshed; these elements already containing elements of each other, taunting me like two cataclysmic yin yangs.

Like any good manic depressive I attach abstracts and figurations to my thoughts, emotions, behaviors, sensations and perceptions. But my mind's mixed state is feeding me questions and ambiguities as fast I can settle on an “answer” to anything. It doesn't make sense to be so nervous about somebody I just met. But if I'm not nervous, does that mean that something is wrong with me? You have to make an impression. Does it have to be a good impression? It will be a bad impression if don't try to make a good impression. Why are you getting so drunk beforehand? Are you trying to meet somebody else or trying to escape yourself?

I head out from David's apartment to return later, pouring some whiskey into a Dasani water bottle for “road sauce.” Why am I so drunk? I am obviously in a perilous mental state and now I am taking the subway at night in NYC to a place that I've never been before. I'm not wearing my glasses and without them the world is a hopeless blur. I can't see or read anything that is more than two inches from my face. For a manic depressive, sometimes the only way to cope with chaos (both internal and external) is to stir up more chaos in the hopes that the conceived chaos will somehow “outchaos” the “present chaos.” It doesn't add up to anything but more chaos. My father always says, “Out of chaos cometh order” but I don't think that this is what he had in mind. A negative plus a negative equals a positive, right? I don't know why I think of this. I hate math. In the report from a psychological testing I had when I was 18 the evaluator wrote, “Elizabeth states that 'math sucks' and 'there are no grey areas or discussions about it'…” While manic depression and related conditions can illuminate the mathematical ability of some minds (John Nash Jr. stated that he wouldn't have been such a brilliant mathematician if he was not schizophrenic), I don't do numbers. Maybe it's some cosmic sleight of fate because I am in the greyest area that I could ever imagine.

I call Jack to let him know that I am on the way. “Where are you, DiSanto? I'm fading” (Hold on if you cannot hold on). I finally get to the designated meeting place, a Dominos, and I have enough time to drink the rest of the whiskey in my Dasani bottle. I reasoned it too “trashy” to drink it on the train. A figure turns the corner as I am spitting on the sidewalk. My mouth burns and feel numb and metallic. I look up and ask, “Finn?” while a stubborn line of saliva takes forever to drop on the gray cement. Jack is like a shark in the dark, turning the corner while I am dribbling like a teething infant at my most vulnerable. We get inside the diner and Jack orders a tea. He asks me if I'd like a coffee. “Oh no, I'll have a hot chocolate. Coffee's a stimulant. No good for my moods.” We talk a little about his writing, the test screening of the film, our family. I am honestly too drunk to pay attention to Jack or myself . I'm not depressed enough to solicit pity or manic enough to command attention. I notice that Jack's eyes are bluish-gray. They look like tiny maps of the world. He is ruggedly handsome and has a respected-writer-paternal-yet-zen vibe about him. He is sober so his ability to make and maintain eye contact makes me feel self-conscious and nervous (I'm present with you). I feel numb to our whole interaction. I am under the fog trying to prop myself upright to a more coherent plane (If only for a few small moments/of glassed eyes). I share some inappropriate stories of sexual escapades. My flirting is sloppy. Mania makes me hyper and wild but it at least refines my seduction skills. Manic girls are highly fuckable, mostly because we hijack the tonality and words of the flirting. To men, both young and old, we are brimming with energy combined with our intrinsic feminine mystery. Guys want to pin us down, literally and figuratively, while a part of them hopes that we will be as domineering in the bedroom as we are in conversation. Sadly, depressive girls are bummers. We are angry at the world and turn that energy toward ourselves. Sadness is our lover. Depression is our boyfriend. Sorry, guys, but there's no space in the hole.

I don't even really want to sleep with Jack. He definitely doesn't want to sleep with me. But I want him to remember me, maybe even regard me as somebody important. I need Jack to be my mirror because I don't even know who I am right now or what to do with myself. He's a poet, a writer, a memoirist. Is this too much to ask of him? I cling to a scene from the film I Shot Andy Warhol, one of my favorite films. Lili Taylor plays Valerie Solanas and there's a scene in which she talks to Maurice Gioridias in a cafe about her life and adventures. She's really funny and her barbs cut through the fog of strangers making small talk. Being present makes me so damn nervous. Solanas said in her manifesto that “SCUM would strike like a dagger in the dark” but nothing cuts or smarts in my mixed and intoxicated state. Everything just hovers like the smell of booze from my pores wafting in the air of the summer night. I ready myself to take the train back to David's apartment but Jack intervenes, “I can't let you do that.” He insists I take a taxi and gives me some money for cab fare. “Thanks”, I manage. I can probably use what I don't spend on the cab ride to get some more booze. Before I go I give him a copy of my zine, which has some poems and pages of a transcribed interview that I conducted with Julian Hamburger and his mother earlier in March. It's crumpled and one of the stapled pages is missing. I seem to have forgotten that I am a writer and that's why I initially wanted to meet Jack. All I know of who I am is that I am a mess.

I meet up with Jack Finnely again on Valentine's Day 2013 in Portland, Oregon where he is reading from his newest memoir. Although it is my first time ever in the City of Roses, I am able to navigate my way to the bookstore and explore Portland in sobriety and confidence. Jack's reading goes wonderfully. Afterwards, we grab something to eat with his friend, Sean, who conducted a talk after Jack read some passages from his book. Sean orders a beer but Jack and I don't drink; we just order waters. He recommends the steamers to me and I playfully rib him in an exaggerated Boston accent about his not just calling them “clams.” He uses his author's discount at the bookstore to buy me a copy of his book. I urge him to write me some original poetry. “You're Mr. Big Shot, huh? Mr. Cawl-lahed (“collared”) shirt, huh? You're a poet? PROVE IT.” The next day I meet up with an old acquaintance from Boston and have lunch with Julian's sister, Rosalyn. I don't read Jack's inscription in my book until I get home. I wanted to save it like a present for myself to be opened some time in the future.

Jack Finnely has written: “Lizzy; who has walked a lifetime to get here. Welcome to the eternal present.”

Lizzy DiSanto is a pseudonym that the author uses because it makes her feel like Karen O.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Portions of this column contain lyrics from the song “Magik True” by Penny Dreadfuls/Tha Pajama Party. © 2012 Miles Rozatti. Used with kind permission.]

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