I. Hornet’s Nest Dysphoria
“The first thing to depart in mental illness is the familiar. And what takes its place is bad news because not only can you not understand it, you also cannot communicate it to other people. The madman experiences something, but what it is or where it comes from he does not know.” – Philip K. Dick, Valis
It feels dangerous to talk about it out loud. So I take to writing it down.
The illusions of grandeur started when I was 19 or 20 years old. It was a three or four year period living in this particular hellscape. The internal world I traversed at that time was one of psychic torture swinging into bouts of ecstatic overload. It was volatile. Apocalyptic. Paranoia wove its way through my mind ceaselessly. I forever thought friends were inviting me out as a joke. Even a funeral I went to, beforehand, I had thoughts of not going because I kept thinking it was a ploy to out me as a scourge unfit for family and friendship. I had enough presence of mind to talk myself down from these thoughts, but it was difficult.
I remember hearing voices telling me I was a prophet, the reincarnation of Buddha, the second coming of Christ. I had thoughts telling me I was sent here by God to unveil secrets to those around me. Prophecies. Everything was a sign pointing me closer and closer. To what though? I don’t know. Enlightenment? Transcendence? Fulfillment of divine purpose? It must have been a click in my brain. A jolt in my being. A freak show of ego and narcissism. Chemistry out of whack and firing haywire. There were any number of rationalizations for it, but the fact of the matter was clear. This is happening. I don’t have any small doubt it is a major reason for me being a writer. I wanted to hammer those thoughts into submission. I wanted to mold them into stories more sane and relatable. Transform the language and find new words. I wanted to channel those thoughts into something less cultish. Less religious.
I also did not in the least want to walk that path into schizophrenia. Mental hospitals. Dissociative disorders. Strapped in institutions. Drugged into zombification.
I was haunted by fear. Outlandish visions. I had nightmares of being gang raped and beaten pretty regularly. I wondered if I was tortured in another life for a practice of witchcraft. I recall smoking weed with friends, and feeling the need to stop, because it felt as though I was inside everyone’s heads, hearing all their thoughts. I had no idea what to make of my experience, this unreality, this alternative world, that worked its way into my thinking, but I dealt with it on my own.
There were nights I sat in my room unsure how I made it through another day. I felt like I had zero control, like I was being pushed through life by an external force co-opting my inner will. I gave thanks and praises to whatever it was keeping me safe and harboring me through the chaos. Many times I considered taking off into the quiet life of monkhood. A monastery. A mountain. Somewhere cloistered and sacred. Practice daily ritual and meditation. I don’t recall talking about this with anyone until years later. Even then, I’ve kept very quiet about it. It certainly showed up in some of my writing, albeit thinly masked and self-ridiculed. I’m 31 now. It’s been about a decade. I feel like it’s been long enough to revisit these thoughts in earnest, because they don’t leave. They’re still in my memories. Much quieter now. Almost an absurdist abstraction. A surrealist spat at a distance. I’ve dealt with it in ways that I knew how. It’s different of course in the present. Back then, I felt forever on the brink of losing complete and total touch with reality. Like my head was exploding with archetypal upheaval.
It’s ironic in a way too. Don’t the teachings of Christ make such suggestions? At least the Nag Hammadi Texts? The kingdom of heaven is within. Christ is in each one of us. We don’t need the middleman of the priest to know our connection to the universe or god. In all probability, we don’t want the priest to corrupt our natural encounter with feminine.
At the time, I was also reading about shamans, so this archetypal energy was presenting itself simultaneously. But the modern American culture makes as much space for shamans in society as it does for prophets. So that didn’t seem like a much better path to tread. Michel Foucault wrote about the village idiot. The person where madness found a dwelling. Mircea Eliade relegated the shaman to a madman suffering schizophrenic delusions.
Given what was arising in me and what roles are acceptable to fulfill in modern society, I suffered a lot of confusion. At the same time this was happening, I felt more and more a part of me that is a woman. I remember a dream I had in which my mom and aunts and the women ancestors sat around me in a ceremonial circle as I heaved and cried and screamed, “I don’t want this! Why me!” “It is part of your gift,” they said calmly. “You must accept it or it will eat you alive.” The idea of being transgender or non-binary was barely on the periphery of my understanding, but even then, I have often felt like and continue to feel like both a man and a woman. Not one or the other, but an interweaving of both. This is part of the reason why Willow has become a chosen pen name.
I ate mushrooms for the first time when all this was happening. To be honest, I believe it helped me ground, get real, filter and integrate these thoughts.
During one journey in particular, I traveled back thousands of years. I lived in the trees and wore a loincloth. I overlooked the forest village in which we lived. It was paradisiacal. As I returned to the present day, I experienced the fall from grace and entered a period of profound sadness. How could civilization develop in such a way? So much violence toward one another and toward the earth. Violence that is both explicit and unconscious. But that trip, deep into the terrain of psyche, helped me understand the nature of those reoccurring grandiose illusions. We are complex beings. We are more than just our present life. We have memories encoded in our DNA. Our genes carry the weight of millennia. I don’t need to give my whole identity over to one particular upheaval of thought patterning.
There was another voice that said over and over again, “You are gay. You are gay. You are gay.” It was frustrating. It was clear that women turned me on. My sexual fantasies indicated as such. Men, not so much, but I was and continue to be open. Experimental. So sure, I’m gay. I feel an emotional, romantic connection with men. Not all men. A heartfelt brotherhood. But as teenagers, our touching one another was always aggressive and competitive, expressed through sports and wrestling around. There was less hugging. Little to no softer intimacy. This is something I craved much more than sexual attraction. There was this phrase “butt buddies.” It indicated that two friends were attached at the hip and vaguely implied that they were fucking one another. It was used as a derogative. A point of joking and making fun of people. Closeness with men was clearly discouraged.
I grew up in a place that was progressive and open, but still people were steeped in tradition. Homophobia existed in subtle ways. It wasn’t so much a hatred for the LGBTQ community, but more so a fear of it. “You’re gay” was a way to say, “you’re dumb.” When it came to sexuality, it seemed as though you could be either straight or gay but no in between. There were no degrees along the spectrum. Only a strong binary. Gay or straight. Man or woman. In the closet or out. Strict, defined boundaries. As someone who identifies as queer, this didn’t appear on my radar when I was younger. It was almost too complex. My whole experience was too complex for me to get a grip on.
Most of my younger days were spent in a hazy darkness. The space needed to find clearness of thinking and expression of an inner world didn’t really exist. I remember being relatively miserable. I had a few friends I could relate to on these matters, but I don’t think we had the language or concepts to describe what was happening to us. We most definitely searched though.
I understand consciousness forever ebbs and flows, changing like a chameleon depending on the context of society and individual state of mind, but still, it’s important to name the delusion.