I awoke a week before my birthday considering a question I was asked by my close musical friend Mark Reinhart. “Is it transcendence or escape?”
I had written this question on a sticky note a year earlier, when I was debating whether a move to New York was timely. I retrieved the note from a box and kept it near me. I crowdsourced the above question to Facebook friends.
The question of transcendence or escape became my anchor for months. Daily, sometimes hourly, I would practice a form of self-awareness by checking which of these two options I felt at the time. I believe I intuitively knew that escape was a symptom expressed by my bipolarity.
But I knew I could trust transcendence, if I could only keep my self-awareness high. So I carried the sticky note around the New York metro area with me.
The amount of energy I maintained through June and July of 2018 could impress anyone unfamiliar with what could be going wrong. Several key people in my life were less than fooled. This part of the story I will leave intentionally blank for future discussion and private apology.
I proceeded to pack my entire life into two car-loads and abandon the seeds of life I had planted with close friends in NYC.
I committed to taking it as it came with respect to a move to San Diego, trusting the ever-increasing gravitational pull I felt. I believed that my ties to the Californian group – due both to my decades-long pull towards working in mental health and many years concerned with existential risk – were thick enough that things would work out.
I was impressively methodical with my packing: My art collection made solely of friends’ work, my books, clothes, tabla, drums – all tightly packed and labeled, more ready than I for a very uncertain outcome.
This section is the most difficult part of the story to remain honest about, because I essentially have to tell the truth about my own self-delusion. In fact, many of the events blur together in my memory, although I was thankfully taking lots of pictures.
I’ll do so anyway.
To keep things as simple as possible, here is what remains true today:
- While I secured work in NYC quickly, it required a 90-minute commute – maybe common in NYC. However, this had begun to negatively impact my sleep cycle and I was unmedicated. This matters a lot.
- I had a friend lead the way to San Diego, already being physically present there.
- I had heroic amounts of energy which had not yet diminished. Friends began telling me my powers were increasing. Flowers were blooming in my footsteps, so to speak.
With the rate of my cognition at a faster cadence, I am able to process events in a social setting faster than most around me. As time compresses in this state of mind, events become more dense. There is somehow a relationship between pattern recognition and the density of events in time, but that may be beyond the scope of this essay.
Others sometimes may find this rate of speed funny, and I have certainly been the life of several parties in this state of mind. But the cadence of thought ultimately and inevitably overwhelms those around me. For the time being, I spread some joy to those in my proximity.
I began opening up about my intentions to more people. I would conversationally leave out any blanks that truly existed in my story. I remember plenty of friends and family asking reasonable questions about these blanks. I don’t recall much about my answers to these questions, but I was probably an irritable dick. A bit ironically, one theme in all of my communications was that I was finally about to work in mental health.
My room in Brooklyn was empty and my belongings were all in Scranton. I left New York after a years-long itch to get there. I abandoned plans to study music for the time being. I sincerely believed I was taking great care of myself.
Self-portrait in a NYC bathroom. My last night in town, exhausted and precise
“I KNOW WHERE THE PARTY IS! FOLLOW ME!”
(Paraphrasing the late Carrie Fisher in Stephen Fry’s “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” while describing what it’s like to be in a manic episode.)
Back in Pennsylvania at a local restaurant we had all gone to for over a decade, I flipped over a placemat, opened Google Maps, and formed a plan – the first real one I had made so far.
A few close, golden friends, Dom & Carly, were into the idea of sharing the travel. They had already been considering a trip to the west coast. So we sat around a pizza and a flipped placemat.
Pulling into California, we wondered what we could pull off with more than 5 minutes of planning
With my fellow travelers along for the ride, I continued solidifying the logistics. This was no longer a solo journey, so I now required a more adequate way to take my art collection and drumset for a little drive across the country.
I got hitched.
One of the cuter Scranton hitchings to have taken place
I had a short time before we had committed to leaving and still had no firm understanding of what awaited me in California. Discussions between NHC and I continued digitally, and I was set financially for a period of time. I held it on faith that things were working out. The means were firm, the ends were loose.
If the sequencing of these events makes no sense to you – good, you aren’t insane. It doesn’t make sense to me today either. But it sure did then.
I had gotten in touch with Dr Heather Sandison (who had interviewed Dr Walsh on the Collective Insights podcast, recall) at her practice in San Diego. I arranged to have my Walsh Protocol labs drawn in Scranton and shipped to be read by Dr Sandison on my arrival in San Diego. I am skilled at selectively thinking ahead in this frame of mind.
Photo by Rob Lettieri days before my departure
With time compressing, I did my best to rest prior to whatever was coming next.
Somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert
The data show that most U-Hauls rented in Northeastern Pennsylvania go to Arizona
We departed from our home in Scranton, Pennsylvania right on schedule. We made our way to State College where I reconnected with my favorite advisor from my time as a student at Penn State, whom I will call E. This was a warm meeting after roughly 6 years away from town.
We continued on our way the next morning to Chicago. It was on this leg of the trip that two phone calls came in: One was with lab results of a favorable nature – separate from the Walsh labs but of equal importance to me, the other with the CEO of Neurohacker Collective which amounted to a second interview and concluded with a verbal offer to give me a shot. I thanked him and breathed a collosal sigh of relief.
If the sequencing of these events continue to make no sense to you, you’re still sane. 👏
We continued on to Iowa, Denver, Moab, Vegas, to San Diego. We did this entire journey over 6 days, as planned. I could not ask for better travel partners as Dom & Carly, and thankfully they say the same of me. We committed to each other that we would travel again over even greater distances in the future, however medicated I hope to be then.
My clear view from the Arches National Park with no end in sight…
Recall: “Sometimes self-harm comes, slowly, in the form of casual abandonment, of disassociating from consequences large or small…”
The crack is how the light gets in
It was in Vegas, our last stop before California, that I knew I needed to reconvene with myself and truly feel what was happening. This wasn’t just a vacation – the going-away parties happened, the U-Haul was full, and I was uprooting my existence to the west coast to pursue a shot at… mental health.
So, prior to our departure on the very last leg of our journey, I found the conference center in the Golden Nugget and sat alone with a deck of Oblique Strategies, originally created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt to get unstuck during creative acts, along with some papers I had been noting things on. I sat quietly for a few moments, considering what was available to me.
I reflected on the many meaningful conversations I had been having with coaches, friends, mentors, even financial planners. I reflected on subjects of stability, chaos, and the relationship between the two: “Don’t depend on the chaos for energy.”
Exploring my Worthwhile Dilemma with the help of my Oblique Strategies deck, which stayed near me through my entire journey
These two cards would later inform my decision to leave California
It was here that I began exploring a new premonition that a veneer was about to start cracking in my life. I began writing about my relationship to professional work, to my family history, to my relationship with my father who has long struggled with alcoholism – and likely bipolarity. I wrote about what I hoped the next year would be. I wrote about past quiet evenings and how long it had been since I had felt at home, at least over a year.
I wrote that I wanted the next year to be more like gardening, less so like architecture, vis a vis the astute Oblique Strategies card.
Now I can see these journal entries with a much clearer understanding of what was cracking open. Thomas Merton, John Bradshaw and others have written about the false self, and so here is another instance of what happens when it comes to its timely end.
The veneer took months to expose its cracks, and this process of total surrender to the truth remains the most exhausting I have undergone.
A moment of reflection in Vegas, just prior to departure. If I look tired, you’re right. Inclusion is hard
As Ken Wilber has written about and as I have experienced first-hand, there is only inclusion in the process of transcendence, never escape. The act of shedding my false sense of self did not occur all at once, nor was it simply cracked open and left behind.
If this false self of mine had been a construction supported in part by my denial of the undesirable parts of my psyche, defensively created by me during sustained periods of trauma, the work of cracking the veneer has primarily been an act of seeing and including what had been denied all along.
What began in the Golden Nugget conference center was a reconciliation of the Big Split of Self: Raising the qualities of my personality, all the past and current actions which exist in spite of my unconscious denial of them, into a more conscious awareness.
[This is HARD. WORK. and essentially ALL that I have been doing since my return home. And it has proven to be the most worthwhile thing I have ever done.]
I packed up and we drove to San Diego.
Dom & Carly continued north to visit family. I checked into my Airbnb north of San Diego, securing a storage unit to unload my belongings into for the time being.
For a week straight, I slept no less than 10 hours a night.