Never Take Advice From A Gargoyle


The dark forces driving mania also drive depression, indeed, mania and depression are like twins separated at birth and raised by different families. The more you understand them the more you are struck by similarities, not differences.

I have written much more about mania than I have about depression, but depression has consumed a far greater portion of my life. The death of my mother, which occurred when I was a grad student, triggered a long down cycle during which being and nothingness seemed almost indistinguishable from one another – it felt as if all color had been drained from the world.

During this bleak season I went on a European vacation with my brother. At one point we joined forces with a Dutch cousin and toodled through France in a borrowed car. Like good tourists we visited Paris and paid homage to the obligatory icons. Climbing the tower at Notre Dame I had an inspired idea for an ad – Gargoyle with Listerine. After huffing, puffing, and trudging round and round rickety wooden stairs we at last reached the roof and walked into bright sunlight.

Paris lay spread out at our feet like a pornographic postcard featuring men in masks and black socks held in place with garters. Standing at the edge, no railing to protect us, we gazed at the broad cobblestone square far below; remote and yet close enough so that we were able to make out individual faces. It was a lush summer day but I went dizzy and cold, sweat grew on my forehead. Abruptly I backed away; the nausea decreased.

It was nothing so simple as fear of heights, or even the proximity of death. The terror was this. If, for just one instant, my inner, irrational mind had taken control it might have moved one foot just far enough to pitch me headfirst into midnight. The faith I had in my mind’s reliability – to always act in my best interests – was incomplete. Some part of me knew this was dangerous territory.

Later, in mania, I would learn how right I was. Because, dear reader, this is precisely what happens in mania – involuntary, irrational behavior, fabulously self-destructive behavior. If there is a suicidal component to your personality, one second of losing your grip on it can be enough to lose everything.

Prunella Entwhistle Visits The Highlands

glen coe prunella highlands

Many years ago my (then) girlfriend, let’s call her Prunella Entwhistle, and I took a vacation to Scotland so she could meet the relatives and eat haggis.

A dyed-in-the-wool Romantic, Prunella adored art and was an amateur sculptor. Enthusiastic and impulsive by nature, she was given to moments of inspiration infrequently preceded by rational deliberation. The vacation progressed well and we crisscrossed the Scottish highlands in a rented Mini, lodging modestly in tiny towns with names like Auchnagallin, Kearvaig, and Cave of Smoo.

One morning, as we were leaving the latest in a long line of B&Bs, I firmly gripped the handles of our suitcases to take them downstairs for packing into the Mini. Doing so gave me the distinct impression that our suitcases did not wish to come along.

Flummoxed and put off in a way unique to people trying to break camp and get going, I raised the bags slowly – they had definitely put on weight. I was then reminded of a nagging suspicion I’d had – and ignored – for days, that either I was becoming weaker or the bags were getting heavier.

Impatient and irritated I opened them up to determine if this was real or some dreadful hallucination. There, carefully wrapped and stashed inside Prunella’s sweaters, shirts, and trousers were half-a-dozen large stones, souvenirs of the Highlands. I was horrified, but it was about to get worse.

I also discovered several whiskey bottles that had been filled with water from mountain springs. As I realized I’d been carrying this dead weight up and down stairs – and was expected to carry it through various airport terminals – the blood began to rise like mercury in a thermometer.

Later, after I’d vented sufficiently to make continued travel possible, Prunella revealed her “artistic” plan to install a little garden in our Pennsylvania home featuring Scottish rocks and water. I shook my head in quiet disbelief, wishing for a witness to confirm the depths of my suffering.

To live is to accumulate baggage. It pays to have a good look through the contents every now and again; some beliefs, assessments, values, etc. may have outlived their usefulness. As to dragging around somebody else’s insanity, well, enough is enough.