Whenever I look at this photo of me on the Playa, I remember my long struggle with the demons in my head. At this point in time, the struggle had been going on for years. At least since puberty. These fucking demons would constantly berate me, mock me, tear me down: “You’re worthless,” & “No one likes you,” & “You’re the worst human ever.” It was non-stop. I’d literally be having a conversation with someone and these demons would be brutally roasting my every word in real time. They eviscerated my motives, shat on my plans, rolled on the floor laughing at my dreams, whispered even unto the very moment I slept. It was so constant I carried them around like birthmarks.
I didn’t tell a soul, not that I can remember. We didn’t have the vocabulary, there wasn’t a space for it. My eleven year old son has a bigger vocabulary and more space devoted to mental health than I had at age 29, or whatever I was when this pic was taken. The few times I did let my guard down and tell someone, the shocked reaction – almost revulsion – was enough for me to keep my fucking mouth shut for good. And it wasn’t the dudes who made me keep my mouth shut; we just all knew to be quiet about it, maybe murmur about it, joke about it, hint at it when we’re drunk. But all the homies knew that if you were struggling with demons like this the only thing you could do was fight back and survive. Or not. And remember, this was just a little more than a decade ago …
These days, everyone speaks about their anxiety, their fears and mental health issues. Back when I was young, WHEN I WAS YOUNG, we didn’t. No one knew what to say, or how to say it, so we just didn’t.
Nah, it wasn’t the homies, it was the girls who convinced me to keep my mouth shut. The look they gave me when I said I might not be as confident as they thought I was, as cool as I was projecting, was a look … a look of betrayal almost. As if I had shattered their delusions with my reality, after building them up with my coping mechanisms. And that look, that feeling, of being utterly rejected by a girl (and of course, remember that the demons are constantly there telling me what’s really happening, so who knows how any certain girl reacted 15 years ago if I ever hinted at this struggle), that look was too much for my mama issue identity struggling outsider living blackest sheep out of the fields ass. It became so confusing and fraught, I just decided it would be me and me alone against these bastards. I’d either win or they would and that was that. Simple.
I coped with extreme extroversion: talking to everyone, hitting on every girl, cracking all the jokes, throwing all the parties, doing all the drugs. I became that dude. I interspersed these bouts with extreme introversion, in which I hid from everyone and was just by myself with the voices. They were quieter, when it was just me. As if they were jealous of other peoples’ attentions and wanted me all for their very own.
I found refuge in the road. By road I mean, literally, the road. Meeting people on the road was often just as fraught as it always was at house parties or elsewhere, but the road itself, the places and the vistas and the scents on foreign winds, there I found a space from which to make a stand. Turn to face these demons with a talisman in hand.
It was right around the time of this photo, 2006 or 07 I think, whenever this Burn was, that I finally just got so sick of these growths on my mind. It as a mundane day, could have been before this at this trap house on Blaisdell, or maybe it was after I met my pops for the second time, somewhere between Frankfurt and Chiang Mai, maybe it was multiple times in multiple places, but one day … One day I just told these motherfuckers, I mindshouted at these bitch ass demons to finally just SHUT THE FUCK UP.
(Can you tell from my words the emotions I relied upon to get me through? Another space I found refuge was during sports. In my body. Fighting, completely mindless, bashing someone’s face. Sports happened a lot, fighting not that much, but the drain that followed both was therapeutic. Lancing a boil, in some cases, escaping to some other, demonless realm, in other cases.)
I remember the silence that followed. The muted, almost abashed response in my head. I had finally become strong enough, somehow. Through experience maybe? Through longevity maybe? I remember at a pool party for my deceased friend, I shouted out to no one in particular that I was a bona fide king. This dude Adam said, “yeah maybe? Through longevity I guess.” That of course ended any friendship we may have had, from my side. I found his snide comment enraging, because I was worried his implication, that I was nothing actually, only a survivor maybe, could possibly be true.
True though, Let's be honest Let's be brutally, finally, completely, utterly, unabashedly honestly honest For once. All I did was survive All I can tell my son is Survive The badge I pin reads, I survived. I'm still here A dream spoke to me once I'm still here, but I can't remember who said it Was it me, or a dreamfriend, or a memory bubbling up again I'm still here and that's survival The fight is never really over That's for sure But look into my eyes these days and tell me Do you see a haunting? I bet you don't Because survival breeds resilience like practice makes perfect. Not perfect, no But every day above ground Is a good day.
Featured image courtesy of @notethanun