Psychiatric evaluations of his youth (OJR)

In boxes that his dad had left him behind, John found a folder full of psychiatric evaluations that he had forgotten his parents had done of him. He was subject to those kinds of test between age 10 and 20, at first by psychologists, then by psychiatrists. One of the things that stood out to him that nobody ever suggested is that he scored the lowest at "recognition of fonts and graphical abstractions" and "hand-eye-coordination for doing pegboard-style activities".

John once talked about a jet, a bathtub, a washing machine and the music of the universe, and just the ability to tune into that fits into psychological profiles as well. If this battery of psychiatric tests would contain a test called "This is the music of the Sewers", he would score off the charts.

Managing depression (OJR)

John suffered from depression his whole adult life and one of the ways John manages it is that he doesn't manage it. As a saving graze there is always some fight in him, even if he is hiding in his bed with the covers over him. He never surrenders or says that he can't go on. He can always go on, even in a miserable slog across a burnt-out hellscape.

When Robin Williams killed himself it had a profound effect on John. With all the crazy things that had happened to him prior, there finally was a day he couldn't go on? He had plenty of worse days, but all of a sudden, the fight can go out of you? John still wrestles with depression all the time, but there is still fight in him.

Melancholy, it goes with the territory (RL250)

John is prone to melancholy, he is ruminative, which - as a friend in 2017 said - "Goes with the territory, am I right?" However, it was never exactly clear what the territory was. It seems like a statement of something, but it is more like the social declaration of solidarity about something. Are you prone to melancholy if you are arty? John is public with being a lot of things: Impressive, prone to melancholy, chronic coffee user, his umbrella stand full of swords.

Disappointment and depression after his third album (OJR)

At the end of his tour for the third album with the The Long Winters, John finds himself in a state of disappointment, because he has 13 songs for another album ready to go, but can't get himself to finish it. He is now 46 years old, the age when John F Kennedy was assassinated. What makes Kennedy so fascinating is that he is frozen in youth and potential and never got the chance to disappoint us. Disappointment is such a caustic, corrosive feeling and John doesn't want disappointment to be the Spectre that hounds him. He finds depression a worthy adversary and he would be okay with having to fight depression for the rest of his life. Maybe if he would fall with the ball rag of depression to the center of Middle-earth, he would come out the other side as Roderick the White. Disappointment on the other hand is not a worthy adversary and John doesn't want to be defeated by this middling flaw. Yet every day he wakes up, comes down to his office, sets himself up to work on something, rearranges the pens, aligns all the paper clips and goes on eBay and soon it is night and so another year goes by.

Seeing a psychiatrist (RL181)

In November of 2015, John went to see a psychiatrist. He got that whole saga about Bipolar II and was given some anti-seizure medication called Lamictal. Inexplicably, anti-seizure medicine also works on Bipolar and ADHD and nobody knows why, so now John started with all the things he normally would not do: He needed to take it for two weeks at a very minute dose, just to make sure he is not allergic to it. You can get a black-box warning that you can get a deadly skin disease in the first week. Merlin had taken the same product for several years, while John had never taken psychological medication before, except back in the day at parties where there were people on Lithium and John was like "okay, give me four!" He would get this uncomfortable screaming in his head after "saltin' up" and after that he didn't want to take it anymore. People told him that this is not how Lithium works, you don't just take 4 and get a buzz, but John would still try a handful of everybody's anti-depressants and see what they did, but it wouldn't work and from then on he didn't want to take any of that stuff. It is like taking MSG.

This is the first time John takes some kind of medication that affects his personality. He did what the doctor said and took it at a minute dose for two weeks although it was boring, then a little bit more to get to the good part until he got up to the minimum therapeutic dose. If he would have been diagnosed wrongly, it would not be active and would not do anything, but it has a measurable effect we don't understand and cannot quantify on people with Bipolar, a condition we don't understand either. During the very short amount of time John was under medication, he wrote a song, sent it to Aimee Mann, she recorded it and is talking about putting it on her new record, then he bought an RV off of a parking lot in the rain from a guy and drove it down to California. He has been making some very exciting decisions across a whole broad spectrum of his life that seem like great decisions.

After about two weeks in, there seemed to be a pattern: those are fairly dramatic decisions, he felt great about them and he is sleeping well, meaning this is not some kind of manic state where he is only sleeping 3 hours a day. These are all choices he would make if he was on a tear, but he doesn't feel like he is suffering the other symptoms of a manic episode, like that he doesn't sleep, forgets to eat, or would gamble a lot. Sometimes at 02:00 in the morning he goes on eBay and buys 5 or 6 patches from a WWII veteran last man standing clubs, but that seems normal. It all seems very related. John is not sure he would have bought an RV and driven it down to California with almost no preparation, would he have been in a depressed state. When the water pump blew up mid-way in Eugene, he didn't just walk away from it and get on a train, but he fixed it, which means he is part of an experiment right now and he is taking medication and making some adventure choices.

In retrospect, had there been times when John was a little bit manic? It is easy to see the times when he was really cratering, because they leave a much darker streak on the personal timeline. But looking in between those, there were happy times like when he was recording his first record with The Long Winters. He made those records, went on those crazy tours, walked across Europe and and rode a motorcycle from Seattle to Kansas without any tools or luggage. Maybe there is a connection between those things, but he always felt like this was his normal personality. The depression on the other hand felt like a foreigner. Bipolar is frequently misdiagnosed as depression and then you are given almost the exactly wrong drugs. When John was high and felt the mania, it felt great and normal. It felt like the person he wanted to be and he had never diagnosed that as a problem. The reason he went to a psychiatrist now was that both the high and the low times were getting lower and lower, and he was never soaring anymore. Losing a summer every few years didn't feel worth taking medicine, but over the last 5 years he stopped getting the peaks and the best he could report was that he was coping, while for the rest of the time he was scraping his undercarriage on the onramp. Hearing the psychiatrist say that the problem with Bipolar is that your bottoms get lower and your tops get lower too as you get older, that was exactly what it felt like for John.

Now John is taking that crazy stuff and he doesn't feel medicated. You don't realize what normal feels like until you don't have it anymore. There is only a very faint twinkle or hiss at the very edge of his periphery, just some awareness that there is something different and it feels a little bit like a supporting hand, a lot like Buddhism. When you have the kind of cold that wrecks you completely for three weeks, there will be a day all of a sudden when you wake up and you feel less bad. You still don't know how long you're gonna be sick and you don't feel well yet, but if you feel less bad day after day, that's a really good trend. You are still sick, but you don't feel engulfed by the sickness anymore. A day when you feel less shitty is a good day. After taking the medication, John did not feel high, but a little more normal, and normal felt weird, because it is not what he was used to. The medication works like this: If you can imagine that your personality is roughly the consistency of unfixed gelatine and you put in a box, the problem is that a lot of the feelings we get are like most of the gelatine is going down to one end of that box. The problem with Bipolar is that you don't want to give somebody so much stuff that the gelatine is flying all the way to the other end. What you want is the same flatness all around, without sagging bits or huge spikes. It is not making you high, it just will avoid for you to have high highs and low lows. It just happens that it helps for people with ADHD and people with personality balance issues, albeit is is originally for people with seizures.

John is now wrestling with the question if his normal personality would have been capable at any moment of buying an RV and driving it off the lot to California. That just felt like who he was. Some people are waiting to fall in love and know it will happen some day. He knew this could be the day when he fell in love with the RV, or he might pull into a drug stop and fall in love with a girl and take her to the RV. After all these positive results, John doesn't want to go back to the psychiatrist, because when the doctor will ask "How's it going" and John will say "Great" and will start to report some of the things that he is doing, then the psychiatrist might want to adjust the dosage, because that all seems a little radical. And John will then interject: "Hang on a minute and give me a projector! I have a 193-slide presentation to show you. It has animations, can I get a sound-out on this? First of all: you have to follow me on Instagram! Second of all: no I don't want to adjust the medication, because I'm very intrigued by the present amount. It feels like a fairly stable state that is elevated over any recent stable levels that I had in the last 5 years. And if this is the new normal for me, that is wonderful and I will be taking exactly this dose. No more, no less! I may go bankrupt, I might for a while have two or three vintage Filson bags coming in the mail that I bought from eBay in the middle of the night, but I can find a home for those and I can make a bit more money, just let me work this out and don't mess around with me!" The doctor might say that this is dangerous, because buying a vintage RV is one of the signs in the DSM-5 that a person is over-medicated. John doesn't want to hear that and doesn't want to be messed around with. It is not the medication he wants to abuse and he will never take two of it because he doesn't feel it! There were plenty of instances in the past where John felt very normal, but was in a mania and did wake up in Morocco. Waking up in Morocco at one point will tell him he has gone too far. "If I tell you that we are going to Morocco and it is 11pm, then lock me into the bathroom." The next few months are going to be very interesting for John and he is curious to see how this pans out.

Give me all the medicines! (RW53)

In January of 2017, John was taking his bipolar medicine for about a year. He also took some kind of blood preassure medicine that seems to be having no effect at all and in order to reduce his risk of heart attack, he is taking a Baby Aspirin a day. At some point in the late 2000:s when The Long Winters were visiting, John's dad told them that taking a baby aspirin a day would be the one thing he would do differently if he could go back in time. John didn't check with doctors, because a Baby Aspirin is not going to hurt anything, it is literally for babies! John also took some fish oil pills that he found in a store. He has read for many years that fish are good for you. His Millenium girlfriend also started to talk about that stuff called Elysium which is something like NAD, a miracle version of Vitamin E that takes all your free radicals and stuffs them into a Christmas stocking. It also increases your sensitivity to pheromones, you can see halos, you can see around corners, and you can play the kazoo better. It is an amazing drug!

Somebody online also talked about stuff called NAC which is for people who lose feeling in their hands and can't tap dance anymore. It also helps if you are suffering weird memory issues as a result of taking bipolar medicine that was originally intended for seizures. It binds to the free radicals that were even more free than the free radicals that were grabbed up by NAD. It enables you to do yogic flying, and it causes the ends of your fingertips to exude wax. Maybe. John had never taken any pills or any drugs of any kind, but then he went to that doctor 1,5 years ago and she said "I didn't come to see you, so why don't you take my advice and take this bipolar medicine?". It had a great effect on him, so now evertime somebody recommends him to take some medicine, he is just going to start taking it. He has this handfull of pills that he takes every morning and he thinks that what is going to kill him is that he will choke on this handfull of pills. As a test of his hardiness, if he can't swallow his own pills he doesn't deserve to live! How do you even measure or detect that your memory is improving?

Mental illness (RW77)

John has a lot of people in his life who suffer from depression, anxiety or a myriad of constellations of mental ailments that does not allow them to thrive. It breaks his heart! For 25 years he was in the same situation and the moment he started to take this bipolar medicine, he immediately got into a romantic relationship that lasted for 1,5 years and spent almost all his energy navigating this relationship that was difficult to navigate. He met her within the same week that his medication started working and for a long time he credited his medication for the ability to even be in a relationship that took the form that this one did. Now it has been over for a couple of months and John feels very different after that. He is no longer constantly standing on the precipice of an infinite hole. This medicine is really helping him, but he is still in an emotional situation fraught with peril. John's conditions on the ground change on an hourly basis and he is not really sure what his new baseline is. He feels liberated by the fact that the cold hands of depression don't feel like they are right over his shoulders like they were in the past, but he is also bouncing from one thing to the next. It makes him feel very unstable not knowing what his new normal is, but at least he doesn't have this daemon on him all the time anymore.

When people would ask John if he was happy, his response had been the same for decades: He would give them a resigned shrug, expressing the fact that he didn't know what happiness meant and weather it was feasible or even possible for someone like him to achieve this goal that he couldn't define or even picture. "Happy? Am I happy? No?" When John saw happy people, he despised them, because happiness seemed to be predicated on a blindness to reality, which is also a huge part of the mentality of depression. You believe you deserve your bad feelings and you think they are created by reality. Your intelligence and your perceptiveness make you see the world in such a way that depression is the inevitable result of your nature and of who you are. You see it as a gift to be able to see the world clearly, but all you can conclude from what you see is that life is shit and you are shit. This means that people who seem happy also seem blind, either stupidly blind or - worse - wilfully blind! Happiness was not just elusive, but it felt almost like a curse you could put on somebody. John wanted to be happy, but his capacity made him incapable of it. He thought it was delightful that people were happy, but he also let that happiness include things like wasteful consumption or ignorant racism in the form of: "Oh, there are no people of color amongst the members of our Country Club, which means there are no people of color who qualify!" and they would go back into the pool. Happiness looked like simple answers to complicated questions. Happiness was the element that perpetuated inequality or exclusivity. Donald Trump seems happy. He seems contented or his anger is a manifestation of discontent, but he doesn't doubt himself.

John has still access to this world view, because he steeped in it for so many years. It was the reason why he was resistant to see psychologists: He felt like they were either practicing their medicine by road (which means they have learned a set of techniques and are now practicing this set of techniques without really reflecting on things), or they were psychopharmacologists who were part of a drug enterprise. The logic of depression is that everything you are telling yourself is true: Life is shit and you are shit! Let's be honest: You make conclusions based on reading the evidence. What is so pernicious about depression is that you can very intelligently and rationally walk yourself through the steps of your thought process and arrive at a place where you firmly believe that this is the only conclusion! It all makes perfect sense! You are using your rational brain, but your input is all being filtered by an emotional sieve which is coloring and pre-processing all of your information. Your logical brain is working with what it perceives to be the truth, but in reality it has been colored by an emotional function machine that you can't look into. Input goes into this black box, a red light goes on and it comes out on the other side modified. All you can do is deal with the data. The frustrating part is trying to repair what is inside that box without being able to know what it is. That is why people surrender or collapse. But those feelings are real! They are absolutely real! When you feel a blossoming rageball or a black throbbing sun inside yourself, when your eyes go blind or when you are just stuck in tar: all those feelings are real! The challenge is to understand that they are not an accurate portrayal of reality and to approach reality! When you look out your window, you might say "I see my barn! It is not red today and it is not floating in space! I have a pretty solid picture of what I'm looking at and what I'm dealing with!", but you cannot peer inside your emotional life. That is what is so bananas about the fact that your emotions are acting equally upon your mind!

John's medication has stabilized his emotional baseline by dampening the oscillation. One of the most dangerous states of bipolar disorder is called rapid cycling. John had always skimmed that and understood "rapid cycling" as a thing where one day you think you are the greatest thing in the world and the next day you think you are a garbage person, back and forth, and emotionally unstable. But as John read deeper into it, he found out that it means that you go through a manic phase for a few months, a deeply depressed phase for a few months, another manic phase and another depressed phase over the course of year. John realized that he was rapid cycling for a long time! Way "up" and way "down"! By the end he was just cratered and did barely have any "up" at all. All that is gone and for the first time he considered the question if he is happy under those new conditions. John has a life-long habit of finding 1000 reasons why he would not even get a callback for the audition of "Am I happy", because there are 800 guys at the back lot who all look like him, reading aloud from the script of Parks & Rec and he just turned around and walked away before he even signed in.

But now things are going good and John is not comparing it against a lifetime of agony and shit anymore. He has a lot of work to do around the house and he got some pretty good friends. One of his friends was visiting him for a few days and just made him happy. But that friend is suffering and what do you do when you are with somebody suffering and it hurts you? A lot of people in his life have not found a path out. The bipolar-people were super-lucky that somebody happened to trip on a frog in the Amazon rainforst and it turned out that it helped if you licked that frog! The doctors don't know why, but fine! Anti-seizure-medication has stabilized him and he doesn't want to know any more. It hasn't paralysed him, his eyes aren't spirals, and he doesn't lay around all day with no libido and get fat! All it did was to take away the chasm.

John's mom being a borderline personality (RW77)

John's mom told him years and years ago that she is a borderline personality (BPD), but John didn't believe her and said that borderline people are those who are waving guns around and driving people into a reservoir. What are you talking about? She insisted that the whole description of borderline personality disorder fits her to a tee, but years ago she decided she is not going to be a slave to this and she used her considerable power of self-modification and pure willpower in order to not allow borderline behavior to come through. John sees a lifetime of struggle when he looks at his mom, but she has a tremendous will and capacity to endure. John read about BPD the other day and found out that there is no medicine for it! The only thing you can do is to train yourself to master it, talk to a psychologist, start to see you patterns and work on your reactions. When you feel emotionally unstable, you can count to 10 or fidget with a fidget spinner or smoke a pack of cigarettes in an hour. You are trying not to sow destruction while you have a borderline episode and you are trying to collect yourself during the time in between. It sounds very similar to bipolar because of the cyclic nature of it, but as John was reading more about it, he realized that his mom really is borderline and has just managed to clamp it with her power. She didn't ever burn the house down, but she wrestled.

John is attracted to borderline personalities and has dated a lot of them which made his romantic life so confusing. He has constantly been in emotionally unstable situations while he was unstable himself, but in a different way. It has been a fun ride, but now he wants to help other people get to the same place where he has managed to end up. He started to take a medication which he was incredibly suspicious about. He was suspicious about the premise of it, and he was suspicious about the entire profession and culture dedicated to finding and dispensing this medicine. He took it and is so happy about it that he now wants psychopharmacology to hurry up and lick enough frogs so they can help John's other friends. Stumbling about some mold that turns out to kill bacterial infections transforms the world! It had always been there, but it didn't exist until somebody discovered it. It is right to be suspicious of science, because history is full of examples where scientists have presented an explanation and a solution that turned out not to be true. Science was the basis of phrenology. Some kind of flawed science is the basis of eugenics. The initial conclusion of psychiatry was that homosexuality is a reaction to a distant mother. This was not that long ago! It is right to be hesitant to accept the latest development!

By happenstance and largely because he ran for office and thought he'd had a heart attack on the hottest day of the year, John went to the doctor and that doctor sent him to another doctor and that doctor was that woman from New York City who said "Hey, I didn't come to you!", which is a hilarious line and a story he will be telling until he is 95! John got lucky! It is now conceivable to him that it is possible to be happy, not just in general, but for John to be happy! That is a huge and amazing thing to realize, but it is awful that there are still so many people close to him, throughout the world and listening to this show, suffering from this hyper-intellectual depression or anxiousness or something in between them. There is some part of their processing that is true, but inaccurate and that has them mired and leaves them with absolutely no believe and confidence that there is an authentic path out, a path that doesn't involve them being lost or their perception being falsely altered. [Dan: ] That's the biggest thing that people are worried about: Is there some aspect of "me" in the way they are feeling anxiety or depression? They don't want to have the pinwheels for eyes, they don't want to become some automaton and they don't want to lose that thing that makes them "me". Maybe their current feelings are "me" and that is the way that they are and they don't want to change who they are. Maybe they know people who have taken XZY and have changed in a way that the thing they liked about those people is gone, because they liked that those people were weird, even if it took some toll on them to exist as a human being. They were in hell, but that was what you liked about them in a way, and they don't want tot lose the ability to be "me" or think the way they think or feel the way they feel. What if John started taking this medicine and couldn't do music anymore or couldn't be funny anymore or couldn't be a writer anymore? What if that goes hand in hand with whatever the disorder is? [/Dan]

John falls in love with borderline personality disorder people. For a long time he didn't know it, but now he does and he doesn't think it is going to stop him. He isn't going to recognize BPD people and say: "Ooops! You are a problem for me!", but he is going to recognize them and is going "Hello, sister!"

John's good friend Karen taking her life (RW77)

Throughout the early and mid 1990s John had a couple of friends who were really troubled. They were not averse to taking mind-drugs and he had to watch them taking the first five generations of seratonin reuptake inhibitors like Zoloft, Prozac and that whole family of drugs. Some of them got really numbed down and their eyes felt far away, but they said that they didn't feel suicidal and "It was fine, I guess?" Those drugs didn't feel like a cure, but they in turn caused the need for more drugs to counteract the symptoms of the first drugs. John knew people who were on a whole cocktail of drugs to solve these problems.

One friend in particular, one of his oldest friends in the world, suffered mightily as a teenager and went through alcohol and drugs together with John. She was the person who stood there with a net when he stopped doing drugs. She had quit 6 months earlier and she was there waiting for him when he walked through the same doorway, his head still full of fuzz, having made a decision, but being unclear how to follow through on it. John knew he was done getting high! It was what he wanted and he had made that decision with a lot of firmness, partly because he is his mother's son, but also because the telenovela of his future revealed itself to him and he could see some inevitabilities.

There just wasn't another solution and he was done, standing there with very shaky legs, while she was the one who said "Let's get you a tooth brush!" She saved John's bacon, but by getting sober she didn't solve her mental problems any more than John did. After leaving drugs behind she went into psychopharmacology and there were a lot of questions between John and her whether or not that qualified as being on drugs. She was taking drugs, she was on them, they were changing her, but she was using them in an attempt to take another step towards mental health.

Ultimately, her drugs didn't help! John was watching that process and worried about her. He stood on the other side and this was not the path for him. He did not want to go through this experimentation, partly because he wasn't tormented the way she was. He never felt suicidal, but she did and she had a lot of fear. John's fear was more general. He didn't walk around seized with fear, it was much more seized by doom.

Her experiments continued for decades, always trying something new, always seeking some cocktail of drugs that was going to help and in her 40s she started to descend into paranoia and she started to lose what had always been a firm but shaky grip on general reality. It was heartbreaking for them both to watch what happened to them in their mid 40s. This is why Robin Williams' suicide affected both John and her so profoundly. Robin Williams had the same thing than they had, but he was rich and famous and beloved, and he had resources across a wide spectrum. He could have turned to anyone! That day he killed himself was not the worst day of his life by far! He had 1000 worse days! It was just the day when he finally gave up.

Robin Williams taking his life put a cold fear in John and his friend, because although they did not live immediately adjacent to him, John knows Bobcat Goldthwait who was one of Robin Williams' closest friends. They were only one kiss away from that orbit and Robin did a profoundly better version of the job they aspired to. It was part of the shock that ultimately propelled John to sit in that doctor's office and made him take that stupid medicine.

Unfortunately, John's friend hung herself at the age of 46 years old. Five months prior to that, for reasons unclear, she decided that John was now her enemy in addition to her parents and everyone else. She was in love with John's daughter, but he had somehow not replied to a text or something and she perceived that as John denying her access to his daughter who she thought was going to save her. Being John's daughter's aunt was important to her and John was denying it to her, which of course was not true.

John couldn't recall the text he hadn't replied to, but - come on - he doesn't reply to all texts! Apparently this was a key one. She had been doing this to her parents for years and was doing it to a great number of people. She ended up living in her car with her dog and ended up killing herself at 46, which seemed very rapidly. Her name was Karen Korn and her mother has started a program in Seattle providing art supplies and art space to homeless people and people who are transitioning in and out of street.

It is called the Karen Korn project and it is in the basement of St. Paul's Church on Lower Queen Anne. It is supported by a group of people and anyone can go there. There are tables and art supplies and food and coffee. You can just sit and express yourself through art as long as you want. The project is in honor of Karen and is reflecting the fact that Karen ended up homeless. There wasn't any state- or city-sponsored program that she qualified for and in the end she just had no resources.

She wouldn't let John and others come close and she was in a full-on episode towards the end. By pure fortune John saw her one last time as he walked into a coffee shop and she was sitting out front at a table with her dog and she got up and said "I'm sorry, I know you are not my enemy, I'm sorry I did that, I feel a lot better now, I hope that we can hang out" and John had an appointment he had to go to. He should have said that she should come live with him, but she killed herself like two days later.

What happened with Chris Cornell was in a similar vein. Where did it come from? It wasn't clear to the outside world that any of that was going on with him. He had a working relationship with his wife! He was trying to find a medication that worked and unfortunately he got into drugs that were prescribed for him by somebody as an anti-axiety medicine, but they really were addictive tranquilizers.

John wants to help others with similar problems (RW77)

John wants to help the people close to him as much as he can, but: He himself had been resistant to help! There was nothing that anybody could have said that would have made him go to a therapist and try a medicine sooner. All the different people said all those things that didn't make sense to him back then until one day he hit bottom. This is an awful thing to say, because bottom is often suicide when it comes to mental illness, or it can be an incident of domestic violence where other people die! Bottom can be a situation where a lot of people die because the false reality and the white hot bloom inside of a person can utterly cease control and make them irrational. Bottom can also be a very very slow and invisible process where you just gradually close the curtains more and more until no one sees you again. Then you become bedridden or homebound or you become physically disabled by virtue of hostamalities (? Timestamp 57:44), mental and otherwise. There is no way to say that one day these people will hit bottom and they will seek help, because it is too multifaceted. John had people say to him (in reaction to things he said before) that his thoughts gave them a different picture from inside of where they were. It is uncommon for people - who have been there - to speak about it in a language that people who are there can hear and go "Huh!"

To people who have been listening to the podcast for a long time, John has evidently not been changed by his medicine in any important way. He is not misfiring and the drug has not changed his thinking. No element of his wit has been edged and there has been no dulling of his sharpness. Hopefully people who are listening are saying "Well, that is alright for you!" Just enough of the information John is giving them has to penetrate into that function box to make them realize that what they are feeling is real, but not accurate. That alone can be a toehold that allows them to insert another line of code into the function box as they walk themselves through this progression that seems very clear and that arrives at this inescapable conclusion every time that life is shit and they are shit. There needs to be one more line in there that says "Wait a minute, there is an unreliable narrator in this chain I cannot see and cannot identify by name, because it is pre-processed according to a selective filter!" That alone is enough for you to know that it is happening. It should saw enough doubt in your conclusion that you don't just wallow in what you imagine is a certitude. It makes you say "Maybe not!", which is the best you can hope for! It can propel you to either search professional help or to sit outside in the sun and look at the birds and say "These birds can't also be shit!" (although birds end up being raccoon-shit, eventually). The challenge is that there is no evidence in the world that can disprove what that function-box is telling you! You just have to start disallowing that physical process without knowing what it is and you must not go out and say that everything is shit anyway and we are headed to catastrophe and all your friends are lame. Those things are not related! All those things you are looking for in the proof are already pre-processed by the box.

There was one point when Dan was in therapy and he got prescription for some Prozac, just to try it out. For him it was not about depression, but about Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Dan knew that Prozac changes your personality and he didn't really want that, but he also had this believe that maybe there was something more he could do on his own without having to resort to using some kind of pharmaceutical for it. Maybe there was something he hasn't tried yet? For a lot of people there is that hesitation towards the medicine. They will try this one more thing and then a lot of the times the one-more-thing doesn't seem to work. A lot of the times the medicine doesn't work, either! Dan wound up not getting on it, but it probably would have helped him and he probably would have been fine. There are a lot of people who are hesitant because of the fear it is going to change them or they will get addicted to it and have to take it for the rest of their lives, which they don't want! John didn't want that either until he started this thing that worked and now he is fine with taking it forever. What they say is that it doesn't lose it's efficacy and you don't build up a tolerance for it. It doesn't seem to wear off and John does feels the same every day and the remaining swings in mood are bearable. If it stabilizes you, then that is where you will remain. John is concerned however that it hasn't been around long enough to know what the results are if you take it for 40 years.

Listener email about depression (RW78)

A listener wrote in to thank John for his amazingly clear, perspicacious and helpful description of the Phenomenology of depression in the previous episode. It had hit them like a lightning bolt and somehow crystallized a thought on how to handle it in their life. John's descriptions have made their own issues clearer to them than they had been in the past. As much as John is joking on Roderick on the Line about helping people, this is at least one instance where his openness about his own struggles helped a listener to understand something about themselves.

The problem with most of those conditions is that there is no cure and that they are characterized primarily by loneliness. You feel alone because you cannot share your struggle. It is rare that the people closest to you have markedly similar experiences and you feel like a burden on your friends just for asking them to listen. John is able to be candid about it, because he is not inhibited by it and he is not asking for anything from anybody. He is not trying to go fund an experience for himself, but he is just talking about it because he has been through it, he is clear about it and he doesn’t feel ashamed about it. Together with Dan he is in a position to talk about such things openly without receiving an email afterwards asking to take that post down because it is affecting their job and it is not very professional.

If you do feel the way John described and you hear somebody talk about it, it not only relieves a lot of your burden of loneliness, but is also takes away some of the stigma. It no longer feels like this private bottomless drag. Talking about it feels very easy for John because he is not ashamed and nobody is ever going to deny him a security clearance that they weren’t already going to deny him. Nobody is ever going to listen to this program and say that they were giving John a high paying opportunity, but now they are not because he seems a little bit unstable, having admitted psychological struggles. For years we were taught to be scared of that, and even if you are not scared of your boss or the FEDs coming down on you, it will still be scary if you are a thoughtful person and see people who talk about their mental illness too much in public in order to gain sympathy or as a way of defining themselves by their struggle and wanting special treatment. Even people who are really struggling don’t want that to be their calling card with a Facebook account that is all about their difficulty where they are trying to get as many likes as they can to get them through the day.

A lot of the listeners are resistant to being that way, just like John, but if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it and you don’t want to go on Facebook and collect thumbs-ups, it increases the feeling of isolation. It is hard even for John, although he has had lots of conversations about it with close friends. He has also seen their eyes glaze over in confusion and fear about what to do and say next. It has affected friendships. A really close friend said to John in the beginning of 2017 that they weren’t aware John was suffering and they wanted John to know that he can always talk to them. He wrote them a long email the next day and didn’t hear back from them, not even after following up on it. As John eventually sent them a text, telling that they are not sincere, their reply was that they wanted to come back to John, but his emails were just so long. This was a good friend he had known a long time! They wanted to say ”I’m here for you”, but it is hard to be there for somebody and it was not a job they were comfortable in doing. John was waiting and waiting and hoping to hear back from them within an hour. In the end it was worse than if they had not offered John any help, because now he also feels estranged. If that happens to you enough, you become real shy about saying that you need help.

As John started to talk about having found medication that worked for him, he got emails from people saying that he should be careful, because it might stop. Often it didn’t work for them and those emails have given John a real education in the great variety of people’s experiences. People also wrote John to say that they had terrible experiences with things that are not curable. It is easy to feel hopeless if your only outlook is to keep on keepin’ on. That is what defeats so many people! According to John’s experience, talking to friends about it shows us that we don’t each have to reinvent this wheel entirely by ourselves each time. It is not on the message boards, it is not in the literature and it is not coming from the mental health professionals. Just knowing about it and feeling that you are not the only one takes a lot of the fire out of that dragon. In an ideal world, all listeners of Roadwork who suffer from mental illness could gather and say that John’s story was a real conversation starter. It would be a world that was somehow self-moderating and when somebody came in and wanted to talk about themselves endlessly, moderators could send them to Reddit where they belong. Every time you want to make the world better, someone is ”we need to build a gate” and as soon as you build the gate, it is ”we are not doing this right anymore”.

A vulnerable and uprooted place (RW68)

John started to take his depression medicine in the fall of 2015. He had been running for city council the entire year up until that point. The year before he was doing a weekly live show at The Rendezvous in Seattle. The first thing he did after he started to take his medicine was buying a GMC RV. That should have been a major warning sign! Not being depressed was all of a sudden a lot of responsibility and he needed to calm the fuck down for a second. Almost immediately after he got into a romantic relationship that has continued until it passed into history just very recently in May of 2017. There has really never been a time where he was experiencing the effects of this mood stabilizer without also being in a very intense romantic involvement with somebody. They were oftentimes separated by a long distance and then together for concentrated bursts. He had never been in a relationship before that he was really trying to make work and was really excited about. It was not just "I met a girl, she is nice, we live in the same town, she works over there and I work over there and we are dating". He doesn't want to diminish the loves he had before, but there was never a situation where he wanted to fight for it and really needed to see this through all the obstacles. There was this tremendous promise of a transformative life. The relationship was sweeping into both of their lives and was going to forever alter who they were and where they lived. Now it is spring time in Seattle and his mom just sold her house yesterday, the one thing that rooted him in the city, even more than his own house.

In the context of his medicine it felt like he was ready to blossom in a different way because the number one thing that Lamictal did for him was removing the abyss. Wherever John was standing over the last 25 years, close by him there was a bottomless abyss. It was always there, even on his brightest days. In his darkest days he was teetering on the edge. Lamoictal sealed it up. The floor came back and there was no bottomless pit anymore. There was still a lot of darkness and it was trending towards a depressive outlook, but he no longer had this feeling that he could plummet forever. A life-altering change! This pill doesn't do anything else. It is not speedy, he doesn't feel jazzed, it doesn't put a muffle on anything, he didn't stop being interested, he didn't stop being sexual, he didn't stop being creative. All it seems to do was put a floor over the yawning maw of despair! John couldn't be more thrilled, he couldn't have asked for more!

All last year it felt like John was on the verge of a completely new life. Today the feeling that a completely new life is waiting for him somewhere, just right outside the front door, is still there, but John is back to asking questions: "Do I want to keep living in this house? Should I get a haircut today?" Everything got a lot more mundane. Looking back on last year, he can only say that it was not normal. It was unusual for him to be in this tempestuous relationship. The year before that he was running for political office which was very ragged, because he was still manic depressive and was moving between a manic flair and a depressive plummet. The year before he was doing his weekly show and emotionally he was really touch 'n' go. Since John was 10 years old he had never had a consistent emotional baseline where things are good, he is good, things are fine, he is fine, here is what he does, he does this, it is good, these are his people, they are good. John has never even been conscious of the fact that people get a baseline place where things are pretty good and then they go off from there. Maybe for the first time in his life he is very curious to find his baseline and what stability looks like for him. He never thought it would make him happy because he always wanted adventure, but now that stability doesn't feel incompatible with adventure anymore. It feels like there is plenty of adventure in his life and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down. Dan interjects that John seems to continue to draw a lot of magical experiences to him that other people just don't have. Stability would only give him a better place to reflect on that.

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