- B A C K -I've always had these cyclic things, almost like the seasons or something. Like, especially in the spring, I'd always go kinda crazy. I think it's kinda documented too that people who are manic depressive change seasonally. And it got worse and worse every year. It was tolerable until I was about 27, I guess. I'm 32 now. I was... Oh God, I don't know where to start... Basically, when I was about 29, I started to get to where I'd be filled with all of this energy or something. At first I really liked it, but then I started feeling tense and really agitated and basically really nervous. So I started drinking, A LOT. Just basically, like, self-medicating, y'know? And it works! It's a depressant. But then it started to where it wasn't working that good and I was hung over all the time and I was getting, like, panic attacks and shit. This is before I knew what my problem was. So I went to a shrink, 'cause I was having these panic attacks all the time--real bad fear and anxiety. I would get these cardiovascular things where I was afraid I was gonna have a heart attack, or lose control in a public place or in a car and I wouldn't be able to drive. All of the sudden I would just totally lose control. I couldn't get a breath. It's really weird. Your brain just starts short-circuiting. So I went to this really irresponsible psychiatrist. The thing for panic attacks is Xanax. She gave me a prescription and, oh, it took care of those attacks like that. BOOM, it was perfect. But I totally got addicted to Xanax. I loved it. I took it all the time. And I kept drinking. So I was drinking and taking tranquilizers.
Xanax is in the Valium family. Specifically an anti-anxiety drug. So I got hooked on this stuff. I was doin' fine for a while. But after 6 or 8 months, once again, that old manic stuff started pushing its head to the surface. It's really powerful. It can totally push its way through all these drugs and alcohol. No matter how much I took it didn't help. Then I got really crazy and I decided "I don't need anything! I'm a god! I don't need Xanax, I don't need alcohol, I don't need shit. I can do this myself." I just had so much energy and an unbelievable amount of self-confidence and I thought, "I can just drop this stuff like that." So I stopped drinking, I stopped taking Xanax, and I REALLY started freaking out. It was like all this stuff that was holding all my mania back--basically alcohol and tranquilizers--that was just like an anchor and then the rope was cut and I was just... full on woodie.
I was just running around like crazy. I didn't sleep at all. I would stay up for four nights straight. I couldn't sit still. They don't know much about mania because people who are manic can't sit still long enough for them to put, like, electrodes on them. So I was just running around the house all the time. I don't even know how I kept my job. I have no idea. I was down to workin' like two or three hours a week. Luckily, I had a freelance job where I could kinda work as much as I wanted to and not work if I didn't have to. But I remember one meeting, I went in there and totally freaked 'em all out. We'd have these little discussion sessions at work. We were producing these educational textbooks about American literature. And it was like one of those new multi-cultural, interdisciplinary kinda things. The boss was like "So does anybody have any ideas about this segment on Native Americans? And I just went BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! I started spittin' all this shit out. "We should explore the serpent mounds in Lower Kahoki! We can correlate our studies with Native American cosmology! Look at this design: This is like a black hole! It's a snake chasing its tail!" I wouldn't stop.
I just read this article about depression saying that people who are in a manic state talk really fast and are constantly doing wordplay and making these weird puns and stuff--making all these connections. That's what I was doing at work. Just shooting all this shit out. And after I went to the hospital and came back to that job, I was like, "Oh, I'm sorry I was so freaked out that day. I was on some antihistamines!" And they were like, "Oh no, we thought it was good! Thank you for your ideas!"
And maybe the same day I started ranting at work, or at least in the same two or three weeks, I went to work, and I'd been up for a long time. I just couldn't sleep. I went to work and ranted and I was like, "Man, I gotta take it easy. I gotta go out to my car and get some sleep." So I was in my car, trying to go to sleep, and every time I would barely drift into unconsciousness, it would be like BOOM! I would wake up like someone was kicking me in the head or something. And that happened about three times. And then the fourth time I felt this really weird pressure, this explosion or something in my head. And then I was having this... I don't know if it was a dream, or a vision, or what. But it was a like the total Life After Death thing. It was really, really wild. I never believed in any of that shit. I always thought it was New Age crap, basically. But suddenly, it was like I was underwater and I saw light at the top of the water and I came up through it, and I was on the bank of this river and shit and I saw my grandfather and all these dead relatives. It was really intense. It was really moving, really heavy. I'd never experienced anything like that before and I'm not really inclined in that direction. It was really wild.
Then I woke up. It was like something was pulling me to wake up. The same kind of feeling as someone kicking me in the head or grabbing me by the chest. I wasn't in my car anymore. I was on the ground, next to my car, and I was floppin' around like a fuckin' fish, like I'd gotten electrocuted or something. I'd had a seizure, basically, which could've killed me because I was totally alone, at the last parking space ('cause I wanted to be away from everybody) in a parking lot out in the suburbs of Chicago. After that I really thought that GOD, or SOMETHING, had touched me. I really believed and I kind of still do. Even if it was just brain chemicals or whatever, or just my body, or exhaustion, I still believe that I had some kind of mystical experience. After it happened, I was kind of on the other side of something--a new part of my life. It was like an epiphany. It still changes the way I think about some things. I don't feel as strongly about it as I did then, but at the time it really freaked me out.
I got back in the car. And I was like, "I'm OK. I'm gonna do whatever God tells me to do. I'm gonna get in the car, I'm gonna drive where God tells me to drive and blah blah blah." So I get in the car and I start doin' this weird random stuff where, like, "If the light's red, I will turn right. If the light's green I will keep going ahead." I'm driving around and I come to this strip mall out in the suburbs. There's this big store called Bed, Bath, and Beyond. So I go in this store and I'm like, "God will tell me what to purchase!" This is very typical manic behavior--spending a lot of money. At the time I really believed that I was on the verge of being a millionaire too--that tomorrow I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams, because I'M A GENIUS! No reason other than that. So I go in there and I buy like $500 worth of pillows--just fucking pillows--bath pillows, couch pillows, body pillows, just all these pillows. I was like, "THE PILLOW IS THE SEAT OF THE HEAD. THE HEAD IS THE SEAT OF THE SOUL." Really weird shit. So I bought all this stuff and I bring it home, and my wife Rennie's like, "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" And I'm like, "GOD TOLD ME TO BUY THESE PILLOWS. THEY FELL FROM THE SKY!" Then I tell her the story of this vision and seizure and SHE'S REALLY INTO IT. I mean Rennie, she's a little weird too. She knew that I was fucked up, but she also observed the fact that I'd been making all these really intense connections--making a lot of really wild observations that I normally wouldn't do--that most people wouldn't normally do.
I mean I'd been staying up all night just THINKING ABOUT SHIT. All night. I would draw diagrams and write this stuff about PHYSICS. I've never really read a lot of physics or anything. Rennie's read a lot. I'd get up the next morning and start talking to her about this shit I was writing down about black holes and positive and negative flow of IONS and shit. And she was like, "You know, it's scary, but this stuff is really accurate." I was tapping into something that was already there. All I had to do was kind of open myself up and this knowledge would make itself manifest. And that's a weird thing, y'know? There's no way to do it normally. I don't know.
What eventually got me locked up... well, this was after about a week or so of staying up, I think. I had an appointment with the psychiatrist. I was really nuts. I tried to drive downtown and I was under the impression that the transmission had fallen out of my car, when the car was actually fine. I was basically hallucinating all this stuff. So I go downtown and I'm like four hours early to the shrink's. I hadn't eaten in a long time, so I went to this White Hen Pantry, which is like a 7-11, and I bought ALL THIS SHIT. I just ran up the credit card. I bought like four bottles of champagne, all this cat food and magazines and candy bars and shit. And I went and sat in the parking garage for like three hours, drinking champagne, eating cat food, smoking cigarettes, and trying to re-wire the stereo in my car. And there was nothing wrong with the wiring in the stereo of my car.
I started getting more and more agitated and really freaked out...and drunk (I'd started drinking again, obviously). Then it was finally about time for my shrink appointment. I'm totally out of it. I go into the lobby and I think all these people are conspiring against me. I started getting really paranoid. I go up to this security guard and I'm like, "I NEED TO GET TO DIANE COHEN'S OFFICE!" They're like, "Cohen? That's the 8th floor." So I go up to the 8th floor. I look around. I've been there like a thousand times and I can't find her office. I can't find it anywhere. I'm totally lost... completely disoriented. So I go back downstairs and the security guard is still down there and I just fuckin' wale into him. I just started yelling at him, like "WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT'RE YOU TRYIN' TO DO TO ME? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TRYIN' TO DO?"
And he's like--in a calm voice-- "It's on the 8th floor, I'll take you up there." So he takes me up there. And I go to her office and I'm totally delusional. I'm just ranting and raving. And she's saying this shit like, "Oh you're delusional. You need to check into the hospital for a couple of days, blah, blah blah," and I'm like, "Ahh, FUCK YOU!" I mean what else can you say? Because I felt pretty fucked up and crazy, but I didn't feel like I needed to go to the hospital or anything. So I talked to her for a little while. She's basically lecturing me and I get into this shouting match with her. Then I'm leaving out the front door and I start yelling at the security guard again, like "YOU MOTHERFUCKER!!"
The psychiatrist, in the meantime, had called my wife and said "Oh, Brett's really going crazy." And Rennie knew I was going crazy anyway. I hadn't slept in like two weeks. The psychiatrist was like, "You need to get into the hospital. You just need to be there a couple of days and it'll be fine." I was at Kinko's making like a thousand copies of this press kit that I'd written about the band, that was totally nonsensical. Mike and Rennie found me. I don't know how, but they found me at this Kinko's and they basically dragged me screaming to this emergency room. And the day before, my insurance had expired. So my shrink thought I was going to go to a nice cushy little private sector kinda clinic thing. But I ended up going to the fucking State Mental Hospital. Which is like, it's as bad as it sounds--really terrible. It was very fucked up and I was there for fucking two weeks and two days.
They have you commit yourself when you go to a state hospital. You just have to sign something. I didn't even understand what I was signing, I was so crazy. And then it's like BOOM! They give you a big fuckin' syringe full of Haldol and next thing you know you're a zombie. That Haldol, that shit is liquid lobotomy. I was OUT. They give you this stuff and then they fuckin' RESTRAIN you, right? They put you in a stretcher, they strap you in. Then they put you in an ambulance. It was so weird. There was no need for that. It's like a procedure or something. They give you this Haldol and then wait about thirty minutes for it to work. And then this woman was interviewing me and said "Let's see how your cognitive skills are." And I was like "Man, what are you talkin' about?" And she says this sequence of numbers, like "5-3-7-7-9-0. Can you repeat those to me backwards?" And I'm like, "WHAT? I don't even know my NAME right now." And she's like, "Oh, that's not very good. We're gonna have to strap you in."
Then I got to the hospital, and for the first two days--I don't know if it was the drugs or me coming down from this high, but I basically just shuffled around for the first two or three days. I could barely stay awake for more than 30 minutes. It was really fucked up. It was terrible. And they wouldn't let you go to sleep either. Oh man, this hospital was the worst! You have to get up at like 8:30, right? And for the whole day you gotta stay awake. They lock the rooms where your bed is. We'd sneak in and try to get a nap. But they don't want you to sleep because they don't want you up at night. It's a real master/slave relationship. They keep tabs on you with all these little "books." If you get up in the morning and take a shower you get 5 points! If you shave you get 10 points! If you wipe your ass, you get 2 points! If you eat all your food, you get 15 points! And at the end of the day, you add up all your points and there's a points store! And you go get, like, a bag of potato chips for all the points you've saved. It was fucked up.
Most of the people in there were junkies and alcoholics, like me. They all smoked. And they totally used that against everybody all the time. Only four cigarettes a day was the rule. So all day, people just JONESED for a cigarette. That's all people could think of. That's the only pleasure there was in there. So people would just be like, "Oh if I can only make it three more hours I can have another cigarette." But if one person would refuse to take their medication, they'd be like, "OK, no cigarettes until everybody's taken their medication!" And all the smokers would fuckin' totally wale on the person that wouldn't take their medication. And then they'd be FORCED to take it! I knew a lot of people who didn't want to take their medication, 'cause their medication made them feel like shit! It's understandable. There were a lot of zombies in there.
And they don't want to let you go. I don't know why that is, but it's a lot harder to get out of there than out of a privately run facility. I did all my points. I tried to be as cool as possible. I tried not to raise any hell. I tried not to get pissed off. Because if you'd yell at a nurse or something, they'd be like, "Oh, you're not getting a pass now. You're not getting out of here." Or "You can't go down the hall to eat with the big kids." Oh, they totally get into the good behavior thing. I guess I was just cool about it and I said "I've got a job, I need to get out of here." And so they let me out. Oh, the other great thing was I said "I'm in a band, and we're supposed to go to Atlanta and play in some shows in the South." They called Rennie and said "Oh, your husband is obviously still delusional. He thinks he's in a BAND! A rock star." And she was like, "Ah... you idiots, he IS in a band!"
That was a life-defining year. It makes you wonder who you are, definitely. They put me on Lithium for the first time in the hospital. That replaced the Xanax, which I'd gone off way too quickly. That's probably why I had the seizure. Because if you're on Xanax and you stop taking it all of the sudden, that's one of the common side effects. I didn't know that. Nobody'd bothered telling me. But I knew I had to stop taking Xanax. It's a really bad, addictive, terrible drug. When the doctor saw me that day, I freaked out on her, she was like, "Oh you're manic." So she put me on Lithium, which is OK. It works. I don't know. I don't really have anything bad to say about it, other than I can't be some crazy visionary guy, which is, unfortunately, a full-time job if you wanna do it. I'd love to be able to live like that, but it's not all that pleasant all the time. In retrospect, parts of it seem good. But at the time it's not very pleasant. And I think basically you end up burning yourself out, too. Or killing yourself or something. I mean, how long can you go without sleep?
I was looking at this datebook from then--April '95. The entries are pretty reasonable, like "Call to set up show, call regarding soundcheck, blah blah blah." Then all of a sudden, two days later, there are like a thousand entries--in this little daybook. They're all scratched out meticulously as I did them--stuff like BONDO THE VAN. All these fuckin' weird things. And it keeps getting worse. The next week after that it's totally illegible--scribbles, almost.
At the time, for the company I was working for, I had to read a lot about Native American astronomy and stuff. And I was drawing all this shit in my journal. Just scribbling. It's just all over the place. In one spot I'd have a picture of the Indian icon of a snake chasing its tail. I was drawing all this shit in different cross sections--an inverted cone, like a black hole, then an upward cone, like a teepee. And smoke, like the fire in a teepee, with smoke swirling up through the top, then turning that upside down and looking at the black hole. I'd draw pictures of matter getting sucked into the black hole. Then a snake chasing its tail at the perimeter of a black hole. The snake consisted of alternating positive and negative charges, which keep the perimeter... rotating, almost. But rotation's not the right word. It made perfect sense when I was crazy. I was writing a bible. But when I went back and looked at it, it doesn't really resemble a bible. It was more like this freeform nonsense. The more I wrote, the more garbled it became. By the middle of it, I'm just starting to write in partial words and nonsense syllables and stuff. I felt like I'd reduced the essence of language down to those certain sounds! It was bullshit, but I was like, "OK, I GOT IT NOW! NNRGH!!" Some fuckin' nonsense.
It's good to have that energy. I'd love to have that energy. It's like being a kid again. It's BETTER than being a kid again. But it's not very directed. It doesn't have any kind of target. It's totally raw. I remember one night, specifically. I would just walk around and look at something--a speck or something on the floor--and I'd just bend down and study it for like an hour or so. And then I'd get up, like "Oh, I'm gonna go get a glass of water." And on the way there, I'd notice some book or something and I'd just pick it up and start reading and get distracted by that. Endless distraction. Everything seemed equally important or valid. It was actually really exhilarating, but I mean... you can't live like that. You just can't think like that all the time.