The I’m Not Okay Corral

Russian Base Jumping

Most of us engage in a rather juvenile fantasy that goes, “If I paint by the numbers and keep my nose clean things will work out well for me.” We desperately want to believe in a rational, merit-based world, all the while admitting secretly that life metes out misery at random – at least, according to some concept of justice incomprehensible to us – and seems to be as predictable and responsive to bribery as lightning. As a friend of mine likes to say, “What are you pretending not to know?”

Those of us who have crossed that invisible line and wandered the crooked streets of Cookoopantsatopolis can no long pretend not to know that – at any given moment – it is entirely possible that things will go terribly wrong. For us, the knowledge, and the fear, are always in the foreground and shall remain there until confronted eye to eye.

This, of course, is the greatest fear of them all – because any foe with the power to turn your life completely inside out is a foe worthy of your respect. However, just because it has killed before does not mean it is going to kill you. You can live in fear or you can face the music and dance.

I was forced to have a shootout at the I’m Not Okay corral and I’m so glad; since that time nothing has had the power to frighten me. It happened when I was writing my bipolar memoir, Invisible Driving. Every spare minute for an entire year I threw myself back into the one place on earth I was most afraid to go, the memory of my most recent manic episode.

In doing so I was not merely reviewing horribly painful memories, I was running the risk of sparking another episode. I understood this well, but likewise I understood that I simply had to do it if I was to have any chance at all of getting through it, and starting down the road to recovery.

Like the fellows in this cartoon – (one of my best, and most popular) – I knew there was a chance I would not make it. For the first time I had to be fearless, I had to have faith in myself in a life-or-death situation. Importantly, I understood that the wisdom and bravery of this labor in no way guaranteed it would work, and if it failed, I would be dealing with the consequences on my own.

There is purity and beauty to meeting, at last, the adversary you’ve been avoiding all your life, the demon you’ve been pretending not to know.


Published by Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.