Friday, April 10, 2015

Nick Reid: Portrait Of A Hermit Visionary

For the most part my childhood was pretty normal, borderline idyllic really, polliwogs, fireflies, all that noise. Backyard swimming pools and Christmas' were beautiful as The Red House Painters once so poignantly put it. My teenage years were typically tumultuous but ultimately rewarding when all was said and done. My twenties on the other hand, I wish I had a receipt because I want a fucking refund. Lets just say it aint easy being a poorly trained hermit visionary when there's no more pretty girls left to inspire me. These days I've got nothing but time to waste. So sit your ass down and uncle Nick will tell you a depressing origin story and maybe, just maybe, if I'm lucky, I can figure out how the hell I got here in the process.

The seeds of my troubles were planted somewhere around age 12 when my peaceful preteen world was first engulfed by the flames of mental illness. That's when O.C.D. hit me like a goddamn Mack truck. I didn't even see it coming. When most people think Obsessive Compulsive Disorder they think Monk or Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, all hand washing, light switch flicking and wry humor. I wont lie, I had my share of that kind of shit too, in the beginning but for the most part mine was a much more insidious beast. My O.C.D. was always more about self doubt and self loathing, dwelling on the past and fretting over the future, that tiny, ugly little voice that whispers over and over, your not good enough, your not worth it, your not loved and you don't deserve to be. Sometimes those whispers got to be so loud I'd have to shout FUCK YOU!! Just to shut them up. Needless to say my O.C.D. came with a heaping helping of good old fashion all american depression. So my early middle school days were pretty fucking blue. I went to a shrink for a while and she did her best but she was also kind of a dick. Finally I gave anti-depressants a go and after a few false starts I discovered Zoloft, Sertraline, my first love and knight in shining armor and slowly but shirley shit started looking up, that is Intel I stepped on another fucking rake with Lyme disease, a nasty little bitch of a chronic illness that's basically incurable unless you catch it early and go fucking figure I didn't catch it early, neither did my mother for that matter, who managed to ketch it at the same damn time. We used to like going for hikes, now I'll never step foot in another fucking forest for as long as I live. I must have been about 13 when it started and once it started it was fucking relentless, one thing after another, chronic fatigue, Bells Palsey, leg cramps, shooting knife like pain in my neck, even my O.C.D. kicked back up, you name it, I got it and the worst part was being shunned and called a liar by one pompous doctor after another including my own shrink, all part of a crippling conspiracy of silence that goes to the very top of the medical establishment. I cant go into all the details now but its dirty as hell, just watch the terrifying indie doc Under Our Skin if you don't believe me. After getting the shaft from these assholes for a few months we were finally forced to go off the grid. My mother and I began seeing a series of doctors who were part of a small, embattled community of brave physicians risking there jobs to experiment with various kinds of antibiotic treatments, looking for an elusive cure. I guess you could say I became a reluctant guinea pig.

After a couple years of hit or miss treatments I finally managed to get the Lyme disease more or less under control. It goes without saying that middle school was one hell of a ride made even rockier by the unfortunate fact that all this seismic upheaval occurred in the hostile environment of a small conservative Catholic school, already not the ideal place to go through puberty, just add mental illness and chronic pain to the formula and PRESTO! Instant clusterfuck. By 8th grade my dark clothes,dreary demeanor and unpopular politics had convinced the good christian's at ST. Johns that I was just one Uzi shy of the next Columbine massacre, never mind the fact that I was an outspoken pacifist who came to school the day after the opening bombing of Baghdad with a goddamn peace sign rapped around my arm. Apparently listening to Nine Inch Nails and popping Zoloft was more than enough evidence to declare me the Antichrist. After several "concerned" conversations with my parents and me, not to mention a panicked call to the Diocese, the frightened villagers put down there torches, called off the exorcism and came to the all too obvious conclusion that I was just another run of the mill, pissed off American adolescent lost in the fog of teenage wasteland and I managed to graduate from that parochial gulag without further incident. Why none of the other shiny, happy, Jesus freak Barbie and Ken dolls in my class seemed to have experienced the turbulence of puberty, I'll probably never know. I do however thank Christ on a regular basis that I had one descent teacher, Mrs. Teeple, who was subversive enough to encourage my eccentricities and introduce me to the revolutionary power of creative writing. wherever the hell she is I thank her for being the silver lining of that shit storm-cloud called Catholic school.

High school started out pretty shitty too with the usual underclassmen indignities of ham fisted bullies and pretty cheerleaders who couldn't seem to remember my name, not to mention a couple of excitable, close minded teachers who could have easily fit right in at St. Jerk-offs, but once I learned to relax and stop trying so damn hard to fit in I actually managed to find my place and shit got pretty bitchin. I made a few friends as well as some equally amusing enemies and managed to have a pretty good time. This is also where I discovered my second love, journalism thanks in part to another decidedly unconventional teacher Mr. May and the works of the good Doctor, Hunter S. Thompson and I spent what was quite possibly the best year of my pathetic, young life writing for my high school paper, The Red and White. In hind sight I probably had a little too much of a good time because I was totally unprepared for what came next. I ended up protesting my own graduation in one last act of teenage defiance, mostly because it came with a mandatory banquet the night before, dedicated to kissing the asses of the honor rolling serial brown nosers I had came to despise during my time at Bellefonte Area High School. I knew they would never celebrate the people I had come to love, the stoners, the geeks, the sluts and the freaks. MY people went unrecognized so I simply took my diploma and left. Unfortunately I also never got the opportunity to properly say goodbye to those people that meant so much to a teenage weirdo like me and just like that the bell rang and it was all over.

It wasn't like I didn't have any plans. In spite of my numerous learning disabilities and equally numerous problems with authority I still managed to raise my grade point average just high enough to get a provisional acceptance to Penn State University, where my parents went and where I planned to study journalism but something happened that summer, my world blew up.

It started small and grew slowly like vines strangling my psyche. This strange pitch black terror that stalked me closely over three months of searching for part time work before classes started in the fall. I found myself sabotaging my attempts to find even a volunteer job as this tension built deep inside me. The anxiety finally grew too large to ignore. So I relented and tried a new medication that was supposed to aid my Zoloft. Instead it backfired horribly and triggered a massive nervous breakdown which in turn triggered a bizarre relapse in my Lyme disease. I quickly dropped the new drug but it was too late. I ended up spending some six weeks on the couch terrified and in pain for reasons I couldn't and quite frankly still cant fully comprehend. Slowly I managed to get my bearings and attempted to soldier on and start classes in the winter but as that date approached that terror began to grow again and I backed out at the last minute to avoid yet another breakdown. Stubbornly I tried doing the same damn thing again the next year but after a tell tale visit to Old Main to check out a computer lab I would need for my disabilities I took a long look over the crowded campus and it hit me like a fucking bullet, the hard conclusion that I just couldn't do it, not then and maybe not ever. I just wasn't emotionally equipped to handle a large, traditional four year school. I would be setting myself up for disaster. I knew it would have been just a matter of weeks before facing another massive meltdown. I was lost. I had no plan b, no exit strategy. The world had suddenly become an overwhelmingly hostile environment. So I just gave up and retreated.

No one chooses to become a shut in and it doesn't happen all at once. Its an agonizingly slow process of telling yourself that tomorrow will be different, tomorrow will be better until tomorrow becomes a week, a week becomes a month and a month becomes a year, then two, then five. Suddenly you realize you haven't left the house in a month and the very idea of leaving it in even a year is too terrifying to contemplate so you through yourself into distraction. I personally buried myself in an avalanche of research and antibiotics in order to convince myself that I wasn't giving up on my life. I dove headfirst back into Lyme treatment, hoping against hope that somehow the cure to my existential terror lay there. So I began a seemingly endless regimen of hardcore antibiotics, one after another, the side affects of which tore through my aching guts like a fucking chainsaw. It got to the point where I was virtually couch bound but still I chose this physical agony over engaging the outside world and the psychological agony that came with it, like some strange form of masochistic, body horror, self mutilation. During this time I embarked on my own form of bizarre self education, reading voraciously. Book after book, I lost myself in a diverse range of odd subjects, covering everything from serial killers to feminism to punk rock music to conspiracy theories to the Russian revolution. My bedroom quickly became a cluttered library of books stacked foot high and I didn't stop at literature. I also immersed myself in foreign and art house cinema, living vicariously through the works of David Lynch, Lukas Moodysan, Harmony Korine and Park Chan Wook. I also became obsessed with shoegaze bands, pigfucker noise rock music and all things Nirvana and Hole. I created a vivid sanctuary for myself of strange characters and exotic locales. Who needed the real world when I could build my own, free of the fear and pressure of the terrifying outside universe. The straight world didn't fucking see me, why the hell should I see it but I could only close my eyes and plug my ears for so long before my sanity began to fray. It started with the loneliness, crippling, agonizing loneliness like a dull rusty dagger twisting in my heart. I lost touch with everyone. I went months, sometimes longer, not speaking a word to a single person outside of my immediate family except for my doctors. All my friends were gone, they had all moved on with there lives without me, going to school, getting jobs, falling in love and having families. I tried seeing a shrink again but for me paying a stranger, even a professional one, for conversation felt about as dignified as paying one for sex. The second thing that hit me was the anger which quickly boiled over into borderline rage as I watched the world go madder then I was through the flickering screen of my TV set from the comfort of my own cozy prison cell. I watched liberals vote for war and conservatives vote for blatant, unmitigated racism. I watched America continue to run rough shot across the globe, dropping bombs on children, overthrowing democracies and creating Frankenstien monsters just to justify there destruction. I also witnessed the perverse spectacle of my own government, under the tutelage of an alleged progressive reformer, eviscerate what remained of the Constitution once Bush was done with it, with increased drone strikes, wire taps, and increased executive power. Perhaps worst of all, I saw my very own community revealed to be something unfathomably grotesque. A riving, quivering mass of spineless fanatics, more then willing to sweep the lives of innocent children aside in order to protect the prestige of a greedy, sociopathic university I'm ashamed to admit I almost attended. All these things and more twisted through my skull like a cyclone. I had so much I wanted to say, so much I NEEDED to SCREAM with no place to scream and no one to FUCKING HEAR ME! The final straw though was the medication, the antibiotics, the supposed cure became worse then the disease. It got to the point where I couldn't even sit up at the computer for more than a half hour without my guts aching like bloody fucking hell. Finally, exhausted, I threw in the towel and went off the pills only to discover to my confused horror that the pain didn't go away without them. So began yet another agonizing saga of tests and examinations, being poked and violated in every last orifice imaginable, ruling out everything from colon cancer to celiac disease before a plucky nurse practitioner with an uncanny resemblance to Amy Sedaris finally figured out what a cartel of overpaid specialists apparently couldn't. That antibiotics, those goddamn antibiotics had given me Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is about as unpleasant and undignified as it sounds. After even more pharmaceutical trial and error, I finally found a cocktail of pills that brought me just next door to normal and even improved my anxiety.

Things didn't truly start to turn around, however until I began to right again for the first time in years. It all started with one of my many books, Come As You Are, a rock bio on Nirvana by Michael Azerrad that touched briefly on a period of lead singer, Kurt Cobain's life spent as a twenty something shut in like me. In spite of Kurt's self imposed exile or perhaps because of it he still continued to focus on his art and ended up writing some his best work during this time. Something about that story struck a chord deep inside me. I decided I wasn't going to let a college degree tell me who I am. I am a writer. So I began writing every single night after dinner often while listening to bands like Nirvana and Hole and Sonic Youth and everything just came pouring out like a massive flood of words. All the anger, all the sadness and grief and frustration and heartbreak. I had no fucking idea how much I was keeping locked up in my head until I put my pen to that paper and let it all out and let it all go. I felt free for the first time in years and it gave me the confidence I so desperately needed to finally step out of my prison into the unfiltered terror of the outside world.

So here I am today struggling to figure out how to hotwire my derelict life after years of neglect. Its a bit like getting out of jail after over half a decade inside and having to re-acclimate to society. Needless to say its fucking overwhelming and there are days I still feel like returning to the safety of my cell but at least now I know who I am and a finally have a place to scream and hopefully some sympathetic ears to scream in. Its not much and it shore as shit doesn't pay the fucking bills but it beats the hell out of the purgatory of my early twenties. Like I said at the beginning of this angry heart song, it aint easy being a poorly trained hermit visionary but somebodies gotta do it.

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