Last night I had another dream. It wasn’t a bad one. I was young. Just a boy. No one had hurt me yet. A plane was dropping flyers announcing an upcoming Jack Veneno match, and all of us kids in Villa Juana were racing about in great excitement, gathering the flyers in our arms.
I barely remember that boy anymore, but for a brief moment I am him again, and he is me.
Junot Diaz is an author and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His book, “A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is a beautiful and engaging work about the history of a Dominican family from New Jersey, and is written in such an engaging way that you want to become friends with the narrator and hear much, much more than is on the page.
The book won the Pulitzer. It’s one of my favorites.
In a much-needed piece published in the New Yorker Magazine just the other day, Diaz revealed he was raped as a child. Twice. The above quote constitute the last words of that article.
Now, I can say I know nothing of what’s like to experience something similar to what Diaz did. I never, ever had anything similar come about in my life.
But, in coping mechanisms Diaz described in his article, in the angry distancing of people who want to help, in the drinking and the bottling yourself up, and, especially in the feeling of tranquility he describes as he finally gets back to who he wants to be, I cannot relate more.
I, like many others out there, am dealing with a mental health disorder. I struggle with a common mood disorder, one that has caused major disruptions in my life three separate times, and one that is an inherent part of my personality.
I suffer from bipolar 1, which makes me excitable and energetic and over the top pretty much all the time. On several occasions, it has caused me to go with little to no sleep for four or five days (and one time six weeks or so). Each of these occasions ended with me babbling up my spinning, incoherent thoughts like a baby spits up mashed peas, all-the-while thinking I’m coming up dramatic solutions to problems that no one else sees.
Left unchecked and not properly coped with, I experience dramatic mood swings and “end of days,” thinking, in which whatever issue identify is the one that will do me in, or, conversely, save the world.
All of this likely stems from a moderately hectic childhood and taking care of a dying parent as a teenager. I identify things as world ending problems, because, given a certain set of missteps from when I was sixteen to when I was twenty, my world could have ended and my dad could have died.
But that’s enough about me and the negatives. Let’s talk about the positives.
Recently, someone I care about in one fashion or another told me, “You’re honest about everything you say and I feel and should never apologize for any of that.”
Whoa. Wait? What?
Honest? About my feelings? That, for me, has not always been in the case. In fact, I worry that I’ve somehow tricked the unnamed complimenter into saying such a thing. I don’t feel honest about my feelings. In fact, I feel as though I hide large portions of myself from everyone close to me. And that’s okay.
But like Diaz above, hearing something like that gives me pause, makes me dream of the days before any diagnosis (that of my own mental health or that of my father’s liver), before I put on any masks to make people like me, before any screaming matches or repeated drunken destructive nights.
I’ve recently replaced excessive drinking with distance running (again)… or at least I added distance running to my routine to tire myself out before drinking too much. I will be completing a half marathon soon. I just finished my third ten mile practice run. It’s going to make people jealous to say this, but training was easy.
Wanna know why training was easy? I’ve prepared for dying parents, for the immigrant experience in America, for the worst possible thing, all. of. my. life.
So when you put the obstacle in front of me, my “disorder,” my disease makes me hurdle it like it wasn’t there.
The devil is in the details; not the things that require massive amounts of effort, which I can complete easily, but the nuance of a conversation or the simplicity of a feeling.
But, after much work, the feeling made clear by Diaz at the beginning of the article: that is slowly returning. It’s there, in small bits and pieces.
It’s there when you receive a well-worded compliment about something you didn’t see in yourself. It’s there when you come around the corner at North Avenue beach, jogging in the ninth mile of a training run, and you don’t even feel fucking tired, but you do feel goddamn happy to see your shadow getting long in the setting sun. It’s there in the change in music you listen to.
So when I’ve blogged consistently in the past, a lot of my writing has incorporated music to capture what I couldn’t say. In fact, I do this in real life; there have been times where I’ve tried to explain how I feel to people by turning on a song, and, even further, one of the ways a therapist has helped me become comfortable with my emotions is by saying that feelings are just creative energy without the creation, musical energy without the music.
And when I first started typing this article, I had a list of sappy, heartful, or gut-wrenching songs that I wanted to incorporate. I wanted to use, “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers, because the music video is about going to therapy. One of the phrases in that song is, “I didn’t know I was broken until I wanted to change.” That song explains itself.
I wanted to use “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore,” by The Menzingers–for obvious reasons. The music video comically shows Jason VoorHees from Friday the 13th, the most recognizable movie monster, engaging in various types of self improvement. I also wanted to include this one because it was at a show by this band I reunited with a life-long friend who is going through experiences similar to mine.
Both of these are solid options, if a bit melodramatic.
But really, the song that got these words out of me is one that goes way back in my past.
In eighth grade, at Saint John Fisher, the American history teacher, Mr. Barry Dunkle, would play classical music during study time.
And the most peaceful and beautiful piece I’ve ever heard, one that exemplifies tranquility as the hands moving roll like waves through the keys, that is the “Clare De Lune” by Claude de Bussey.
I encourage you to listen to that piece. I encourage to sit there with me, with Junot Diaz, with your own self, in the calm and happy and content dreams of our childhood.
This is a place I haven’t been in years. But man, does it feel good. Does it feel simple.
I’m glad to be here, and I bet I’ll be back here again, more and more often.