A while back, I ran a contest, using one of Neil Gaiman’s baby photos, and said the first person to guess who it was would win an interview with me.
Honestly, I run these contests because I like any excuse to play. But something else happens and that is you can be surprised by the depth and grace of people you didn’t know were reading your blog. So today, I want to introduce you to Daryl Darko.
Daryl is a writer, photographer, and sometime anthropologist. I knew right away I’d find something interesting about him because his website featured Syd Barrett, who created one of my all-time favorite albums, The Madcap Laughs. But very quickly, as we were talking about his work (including an intriguing ghost story set in the town he knows best), what grabbed hold of me was Daryl’s struggle with bi-polar disorder.
He is brave and generous to share his experience with depression, so I hope you’ll let Daryl know you heard his story.
These photographs all represent recent work done in the last 45 days. They are part of a 365 day long project I am doing in association with a group of people on Flickr where we all shoot and display (at least) one self portrait photograph a day.
Tell me about your name.
I’ve been a fan of horror films since I was a child. The scare I got when I was six years old from watching “The Haunting” stuck with me all my life as a source of entertainment and introspection that I’d never be able to shake. I never became fanatical about collecting horror-zines or anything like that, but rather I had a deep respect for the inner process I went through while watching film-stories that dealt with, what I considered to be inner matters of personal transformation. People that were monsters or had to deal with physical manifestations of monstrous spirits were champions of some sort. They had qualities worthy of study.
Daryl Darko is taken from the film title/character Donnie Darko – a schizophrenic teenager that has psychotic episodes that make him believe the world is going to end on a very specific date. Which it then does, on the day he dies.
This is a question about the bipolar disorder . . . Can you put me inside your shoes for a bit? I’d like to see how it feels to be in the world with this, and how it is to be a writer with it.
Being bipolar, to me, is like having a noose tied around my neck. I’m not quite as bad off as Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, was in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when he balanced precariously on the back of a rickety wooden cross (with his hands and feet tied) in a cemetery with a noose that his nemesis, Blondie (Clint Eastwood) had put around his neck. My hands are finally free in that I have found a proper balance of medications to use which essentially allows me to loosen the tightness of this diseases grip on me. I am not mincing my words, Susan. Being bipolar has brought me closer to not only giving up on my dreams (and life) but it has, at its worst made me incapable of even making the simplest of decisions.
The wonder of bipolar is being able to experience vibrant polar opposites of emotional states. I get to be really excited about things and I also get to experience powerful sadness, or in clinical terms, depression. I can’t really tell you in terms beyond what my own experience is what it is like for writers that are bipolar to experience this condition, except that there are periods when we feel like we can finish writing that book and that there are times when we could care less about it. Establishing a continual experience of middling moods is what we are made to believe is normal and what we must be to participate in the world. To do this, I have fought to become able to use the minimum amount of medications possible for me to stay in touch with my creative insights and energies and to avoid falling into decimating depressions. Only this past year (out of the eight since I was diagnosed and put on medications) have I become successful this way.
If you were to write about a character who was bipolar, what would that character want to express more than anything else? In what ways does s/he feel inhibited or caged? And if someone could cure the bipolar disorder in a day, what would the character miss?
Cured in a day? What would she lose? Have you seen the new t.v. show HEROES? There are characters that have their memories erased. I think being cured of this disease would be similar to that state; where there would be a huge part of the individual’s identity removed which made it possible for them to remember who they were and what they were about. I don’t want to be any better than I am now. In fact, there was a time about two years ago when I was dipping in and out of pretty intense depressions and I remember saying to a friend that I “didn’t want to be well”. That I “enjoyed the darkness” I was in because of how it fueled my creativity. During that phase I did a lot of the creative, imaginative structure building of the novel that I am writing. And I did it through actually being my character; existing in her depression.
I admire you so much for tackling these questions. Plenty of LitPark’s readers are struggling with depression, and I think it helps when people realize they’re not alone.
Can you tell me (if you want) what things were like before the medicine, and how others reacted to you?
Heheheh, *really big grin on my face now*, wow! What a memory!! Oh my goodness was that a great year. 1998. The year I was to complete my bachelor’s degree in anthropology at UC Santa Cruz. Part of the bipolar awakening in me was my becoming able to decide to go back to college in my mid-30’s.
My uncontrolled manic mind created some powerful delusions of grandeur; particularly that I believed that I was capable of going on in my studies to not only become an M.D. but to also earn a Ph.D. in medical anthropology. There was a problem, though, in that I couldn’t pass my first year college math or science classes. I imagined and talked up such a story amongst my peers that only I knew this truth; that I had zero mind for numbers and calculations. I was actually a visionary, not a scientist.
Luckily, during my second year at UCSC a class about James Joyce was being offered. My first knowledge of where my own natural abilities in crafting words laid came when I was fifteen years old in a creative writing class. How I had gotten away from the dream of becoming a writer to pursuing a path into professional medicine in what were now my late thirty’s I cannot fully tell you without writing a(nother) book. I had lived in Dublin, Ireland during the decade of the country’s worse depression (the 80’s) and could sympathize with being a down-and-outer on Dublin’s dusty streets. Being instructed to read ULYSSES from cover to cover for this class was a welcome wake up call.
Suddenly I started to change my curriculum at school. I stopped thumping my head against chemistry and pre-calculus books and started to take writing and literature classes. In fact, I got so off track with my study of anthropology that when I could have graduated with the rest of my class I was missing units to fulfill my diploma requirements. I had to stay for one more semester to finish my last anthropology course.
That became an impossible goal that I to this day have not fulfilled. That summer I took a playwriting course that broke my spirit. Now I can’t remember this in exact detail but there was some sort of spiritual process I went through where I measured all that I thought about against some hallmark of judgment that I considered to be ~god~. I did this with the pursuit of the medical career too. I would channel my thoughts into an epiphany experience where basically, I would say “God? Is this the right thing for me to do?” My method of how I measured these questions and answers, I can’t explain right now because I don’t remember how I did it. I don’t/can’t do it anymore. It was not giving me right or logical answers though because how on earth could I have become a doctor?!
So I was writing this very esoteric play during the summer session about these local Santa Cruz young people that would go out to this grove of trees where it was said that The Holy Virgin had appeared. And we would act this out in class. The writing of the play, the drama, the interaction with my classmates, my professor… it all was real to me. (Later, part of my diagnosis was that of being schizo-affective; that of having psychotic episodes mixed in with the bipolar.) I began to believe that I too was seeing The Holy Virgin in the woods near my home. And I wanted to lead the others to see her. But before that confusion fully manifested, I had an epiphany.
See, I somehow got this idea in my head earlier on that my doings would lead me to spiritual awareness. Higher awareness. Actual enlightenment. And this particular day, deep in thought/meditation/wonder about this play I was writing and the pursuit of enlightenment via the path of “writing”, I realized that I would never achieve the goal. It happened in a split second while I constructed a brilliant outcome for the plot of the play; I reached the pinnacle, stood up straight, looked around and saw that I was still in the very same small, dark room of my own self that I had started out in. And then I collapsed.
I fell into the most miserable depression I had ever experienced in my life. There were other factors involved too. I had been in an eight month long relationship with a professor from the anthropology department and her job had just ended, causing her to move away. This was tragedy enough on its own because I had never had such a complete relationship (mental and physical) with a woman ever before in my life. And so I went on to develop a pretty good drinking ability… I did start school again in the fall but I didn’t make it through more than five weeks before I had to completely drop out. Yeah, I really ruined it badly.
Anyway, what people thought of me? I don’t think I’ve ever known what people really think of me because I don’t get close enough to people to ever hear them express their opinion. I’m very independent and it is really hard to get close to me. I have had very few close friends in my life and spend a lot of time alone. I have made an effort since I was a teenager to subtly stand out differently from the crowd, not caring what others think of me. Yeah, that’s my answer.
What was the event that led to a change? How did you go from the most miserable depression in your life to feeling like you have the bipolar controlled as well as you do now? What helped and what didn’t help to turn things around?
It has been a very long process, Susan. Eight years. Most of which were lived in hopeless abandon. When I was first diagnosed with this disease my condition must have scared my doctor very badly. So much so that she overmedicated me to put out my flames. The first two years of being medicated were almost like being in a coma. The things I remember most were that my driver’s license was taken away and I had to be driven anywhere I had to go (which was basically doctor appointments). I developed a myriad of health issues during those years from the excess of 50 pounds that the Depakote added to my previously virile 190 pound frame (like high blood pressure and constant swelling of the ankles) and problems with my liver from the Lithium. Overall the worse problem was the agoraphobia that set in. I had never been so shut off from the outside world as I became during this time period. Afraid to actually leave my house for anything but doctor appointments.
Ok, but I don’t want this to sound like any old bipolar confession that you could read on any support site. There was some thing that saved me during those darkest years and please, at least don’t laugh out loud when I tell you this. It must have been one of the most base instincts of the human spirit that was sparked in me but I developed a craving to be told stories. Almost like a child. I crawled into a cocoon of an inner sanctum and fell under the spell of television serial dramas. In particular it was the series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that won most of my attention. During the years when Buffy was first being aired, the F/X channel bought rights to the show and started to play reruns while the show was at the height of it’s popularity. Fans could watch four episodes of Buffy a day; two hours in the morning (7-9am) and two hours in the afternoon (4-6pm). I had nowhere to go, nor anything much better to do so I fell into a deep fascination with this, and other quality television shows.
There was an healing that I experienced during this time of obsessive devotion to these programs. A lot of emotions that I had kept buried seemed to become real to me in such ways that I was able to contemplate my life more deeply than I had been allowed to before. Having this time off and being spurred to look at the long process of my life, and imagining inwardly that I was feeling emotions that these stories imitated worked for me. A sort of self-therapeutic treatment via video literature.
And that is the key of what kept my own creative inspiration alive. I started to discover my own story that I needed to tell. To write.
If you knew there was someone out there suffering the way you did, what would you say to them?
Listen to your body. Especially if you are on meds. Don’t believe that you have to do everything that one single doctor tells you. If you don’t like the results of the care you are getting find another doctor. I know that can be hard. My insurance is state sponsored and I can’t go to just any ol’ doctor that I want. So I’ve literally battled with my doctor (for nearly three years now) to get him to really listen to me and consider my wishes when it comes to trying different medications and dosages.
(Okay, I jumped right into talking about doctors and meds as if any or all readers of this would already be under treatment. If you are depressed or suffering symptoms that make you think you may be bipolar, do not be afraid to seek professional assistance. Get help before things get as bad as they did for me.)
Also, educate yourself. Read as much as you can about these conditions to determine whether you are correct in assuming you are bipolar or not. Do not be shy about asserting your knowledge before the professionals. If you are really sick, get someone to advocate for you (i.e. go with you to your appointments and speak for you). I have never been able to do this. I tried and ended up destroying a very old friendship in the process, but that is another story.
Find something you love in life and hold on to it. I lost a lot of things when my crash came and that ensuing heartbreak is more of what crushed my spirit than anything. Having to leave Santa Cruz, not being able to live by the ocean or be in that youthful, artistic, healthy community anymore really was a loss. If you feel like you have lost everything? Find something new, no matter how small it is and become fascinated by it. The crawl back to life may seem eternal but it can be done.
Now, tell me about this mix of anthropology and photography and writing. Have you found a way to put these interests together? What’s your hope about what you might create in the next five years?
I want to create things that no one has thought of or seen in exactly the same way before. Studying anthropology gave me insight into storytelling in different ways than I had known before. Anthropology is pretty much a social science that tries to reflect truthful biases about those aspects of society studied. I learned research techniques of observation that enable me to view life and the world with less prejudice than I used to harbor. But I am not in love with academia, and truthfully, due to the continual grip this illness has on me, I cannot say that I would make a suitable or reliable field researcher.
And I think this is where fiction has slipped into my mixture of how I want to relate (or report) my view of the world to the world. I don’t want to lie or create lies. I want to tell the truth but I want to share it in ways that are born of my spirit. I think memoir has become tired and less vital, even in just this last decade. Although, my stories will be and are of my life.
So, I am on a path of continual self-discovery and my methods of expression are still in development. Even now, while I am enrolled in college courses learning how to do digital art, photography, and web design I am envisioning new ways to get out what I want to say. It’s a personal evolution. I am not simply a writer of short stories/poetry/fiction/novels.
Ok, here is what is on the board right now. I have this wonderful novel of a story in my heart/mind and I’ve got a notebook full of ideas and research written out. Just a few months ago I discovered the personal voice of the narrator that I want to tell the story through. So now, in this one very creative photography class that I am taking we are planning on creating zines. And the brainstorm I am having is to use this project as a building block in the process/development of my novel. Did I tell you that I’ve already titled my novel? “Burnt Bone, Stone, and Manzanita. A Young Woman’s Descent into Madness”
I want to make my zines be chapters, graphical novel-like scenarios of what the book will actually be. And see? I’m learning how to design web sites now too using Dreamweaver. (Such an apropos title for software, isn’t it?) I can make both hard copies to mail out and electronic copies to link to my blog and leave floating mysteriously on the web for people to discover.
Whether this could turn into an ongoing serial or not, who knows? By five years from now it would be wonderful if I could have the full text of my novel written and ready to send to a publisher.
With Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, who was a guest professor in the anthropology dept. at UCSC.
What would you consider the most awesome stroke of luck if it came your way?
The most awesome stroke of luck would be becoming able to afford to live in Santa Cruz again. It is a magical place to me. I would be in a community of artistic-minded people like myself, I would be near the sea – that gives me so much rejuvenation, and who knows, maybe I’d find love again.
Why do I have this feeling good things are about to come your way? Thanks so much for being here, Daryl!