Friday, November 9, 2012

There's a fine line between breakdown and breakthrough

A scene from last night's episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Did you catch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia last night?

The Marx Brothers: Terrible people
I did, and I might have laughed harder than anyone in America at it. For the uninitiated, the show revolves around "the gang," a group of five horrible human beings who somehow remain friends. The main characters are bratty, unduly confident siblings Dennis and Dee Reynolds; their stepfather, Frank, a lecherous lowlife; and two other companions: musclebound lunkhead Mac and twitchy neurotic Charlie, easily the show's most complex character. In each episode, the members of "the gang" make reckless, terrible life choices and end up hurting themselves, each other, and innocent bystanders. The characters are largely defined by their negative traits, including vanity, stupidity, and selfishness. Without being too pretentious, I see Sunny as the modern-day equivalent of the Marx Brothers, because those classic comedians of the 1930s also portrayed deeply flawed, often aggravating individuals who treated each other badly and yet maintained a curious camaraderie. These people are loyal and disloyal simultaneously. Like the Marx Brothers,  the members of "the gang" on Sunny never learn anything from their experiences. They simply act upon their instincts, consequences be damned, for their own amusement and ours.

Like most episodes of the series, last night's installment of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia had a self-explanatory title: "The Gang Gets Analyzed." That's exactly what happens in it. The entire episode takes place in the office of Dee's therapist, beautifully played by guest star Kerri Kenney-Silver of The State and Reno 911. The office depicted on the show was very much like the one I visit each week, right down to the soothing artwork and the various knickknacks, and the demeanor of Kenney-Silver's character was very much like that of my own therapist. This was incredible serendipity: one of my favorite shows was depicting events currently unfolding in my own life! Of course, Sunny turned the entire experience into a grotesque farce. The plot had Dee inviting her four companions along with her to therapy so that the therapist could settle a petty dispute: who should wash the dishes from one of the gang's recent dinners? Frank had actually brought the dishes with him and dumped them on the floor of the stunned, yet admirably composed therapist's office. Kenney-Silver then proceeded to analyze "the gang" one by one. Inadvertently, each one ended up revealing a great deal to this woman. Mac is gullible and delusional. Dee is a liar. Dennis is egotistical and condescending. Frank has deep psychological scars from his past. And Charlie? Well, Charlie carries a dead pigeon around with him, which may offer some clue to his mental and emotional state. As per usual for Sunny, nothing is "solved" during the episode. The characters reveal themselves at their worst and then just carry on with their lives. I like that a lot. Too many TV shows offer trite homilies and facile speeches to their viewers. Sunny is just about venting negativity and letting that negativity stand, untouched and unfixed.

All Day by Girl Talk

Meanwhile, I had something of an emotional breakthrough yesterday. In brief, I can feel sadness again! For me, that's remarkable. I've spent the last few weeks not feeling much of anything. It was so gratifying to have an actual strong emotion after such a long period of evenness. And it was the damnedest thing which brought it on, too. I was running to the commuter train station from my office in downtown Chicago. It was a few minutes after 5:00, and I'd just worked a very long, stressful shift. I decided I needed a little music to pep me up, so I listened to my iPod as I ran. The song which came up was a track called "Jump on Stage" by Girl Talk, which is the pseudonym of a DJ named Gregg Gillis who creates long, elaborate audio collages by combining snippets of various pop, rock, hip-hop and soul records in a number of unorthodox ways. It is not uncommon, for instance, for Gillis to mix the vocals of a song from one genre with the musical backing of a song from a completely different genre. "Jump on Stage" is a track from his most recent album, 2010's  All Day (available absolutely free here), and for a few glorious moments, Gillis combines the vocals from "Hey Ladies" by the Beastie Boys with the music from Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." As you probably know, one of the Beasties, Adam Yauch, died of cancer earlier this year. But in the sample from "Jump on Stage," he sounds young and vibrant and alive again, even though all he really says is "hey." Add to this the fact that "Lust for Life," which Pop co-wrote with David Bowie, is about the singer's recovery from heroin addiction. I can't exactly explain why, but the combination of these two songs -- both jubilant, by the way -- had a seismic emotional impact on me. By the time I reached the train, I had tears in my eyes. I thought about trying to fight it, but then said to myself, "Fuck it. Just let it out." It was great to be so sad. Paradoxically, my desire to live was incredibly strong at that moment.

Then, as will happen in a city the size of Chicago, a man dressed like Indiana Jones boarded the train and somehow snapped me back to reality. This was not a costume. You could tell it was his regular, everyday look. I immediately stopped crying and spent the rest of the 40-minute train ride in contemplative silence. If you're curious, here is the track which provoked such a strong response from me. The relevant portion begins at roughly the 5:18 mark.

HEALTH NEWS & NOTES: For those who live with depression and anxiety, sleep can be an issue. Cheap over-the-counter sleep aids usually work for me, but these are relatively weak and may take a couple of hours to work. While I was in the behavioral health center, my doctor prescribed Restoril for me and told me to take it at my discretion as necessary. Let me tell you, this is some serious shit. Restoril will kick your ass. At least it did mine. I was used to taking sleep aids well before bedtime, and I thought I could do that with Restoril, too. But that drug has me sound asleep within an hour. The problem with this is that I might wake up fully rested at 2:00 in the morning, which screws up the rest of my day. So I'm trying to avoid using it unless the "nuclear option" is mandatory. Meanwhile, I'm a little concerned about my lack of physical exercise. I got a lot of exercise over the summer months, but this was almost entirely based around running and walking at a nearby park. When the temperatures dropped, my long walks stopped. I don't think it's coincidental that my depression spiked when the chilly weather arrived. I have to think of an alternate exercise routine. My psychiatrist just told me to join a gym, but I'm not really a "gym" guy. For one thing, I'm very self-conscious about my body and appearance. Plus, frankly, gyms cost money, and I'm a cheapskate. If you have suggestions in this regard, please leave them in the comments section.

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