My Manic-Depressive Down Slide: Hoarders, Phil Ochs, and Woody Allen


Caution: While I feel compelled to entertain everyone in my other life, I don’t feel that same compulsion online. You might want to stop here.

I’ve been curled up in a ball for at least a week now. I haven’t been this depressed in at least 20 years. Suicidally depressed. And for no reason. It’s just the way things go. Nothing major has happened. I’m not sad. I’m just super humongously depressed. There is a difference.

But try explaining that to people who don’t go through such things. A friend called and asked if I was OK since I hadn’t been calling her daily. I have no idea how that became a requirement of our acquaintanceship. I told her I was depressed. She went into a screeching flurry of “Why would you be depressed? I’m the one who should be depressed. I’ve got [… her usual litany of every single medical thing that’s wrong with her and that she imagines is wrong with her].” I put the phone on the desk and gave her the “Look of Death” from the privacy of my bedroom. I said “I am manic-depressive, remember? This is part of it. I don’t need anything to happen to make me depressed. Why don’t you ever understand this?”

When I don’t feel well I usually act like a sick cat. I go into hiding until I’m feeling better. But last night was so awful I thought I’d try something different. I called a friend. There was laughter and commotion in the background. He said “Hey, what’s up?” and I said “I’m suicidal. I know. Some way to start a conversation.” And I laughed a bit. He said “Oh don’t do anything like that. The world would be less without you.” And then he went on to talk about hard drives and what to do about some computer thing and such. Which I’m usually up for… but wasn’t exactly in the mood for last night. So I said “OK, see you.” and hung up. I understand. He didn’t know what to say. He was trying to get my mind off of whatever might be depressing me. What exactly does one say to a person who says they’re so depressed that they’re feeling suicidal? I guess something about hard drives is as good as anything.

Today I did something I haven’t done in over 20 years. I called the doctor at the “mental health” clinic. His assistant answered and after I explained (in 30 seconds or less) why I was calling she said, “Well then, I’ll connect you to a nurse.” The nurse turned out to be an answering machine: “Thank you for calling. Please leave your name and phone number. Be sure to spell your last name. I’ll return your call within 48 hours. If you feel you need help sooner, please call the Safety Zone. Have a great day!” I might have called the “Safety Zone” but when I called them soon after I arrived in Arizona in the ’90s, the person on call said, “Just go to sleep.” and hung up.

And they wonder why people shoot people in the head here in Arizona. I used to have a case manager. I used to have access to a therapist. I used to have access to groups. But now I have 5 minutes or less with a very nice doctor with a good sense of humor who says “What’s up? Need refills fax’d in for your prescriptions? OK, see you next month.”

The reason I don’t have access to anything else is because in June, 2010, while everyone was going nuts over SB 1070, Jan Brewer cut mental health care drastically. Everyone was divided up. Clients, including those classified as SMI (Severely Mentally Ill), were either “Title XIX (19)” or “Not Title XIX (19).” I was one of the latter. Believe me, there are so many former clients who have no idea what happened to them. All they know is that now they’re out on the street, have no meds or meds that don’t work, and no one to talk with anymore. Ah screw it. I’m not in the mood to explain it all right now. All everyone needs to know is that half the people formerly getting help are not getting help anymore.

[Someone just knocked on my door. They wanted me to do something for them on the computer. I said “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling well. Some other time. I really feel rotten.” And they just kept on going about what they needed done! What the fuck is it with people???]

I told my friend on the phone last night that maybe I hadn’t picked the best things to watch considering my mood. He asked what and I told him “the last episode of Hoarders and the American Masters documentary on Phil Ochs.” He said “Who’s that?” *sigh*

If I could think clearly (thanks for the irreparable brain-fuck, Clonazepam) I might be able to figure out the correlation between the two shows. How hoarding has become a cultural problem. Not particularly in the sense of material things but in a broader sense… America for Americans! Kill the poor! No Tax Hikes for the Rich! Cut Medicare and Social Security!

And so on… hoarding what we perceive as our gawd-given “American lifestyles” at the expense of anyone and everyone else. Perhaps that’s the connection. A political crossroads, one that Phil Ochs sang about until he was a worn out, manic-depressive drunk. Dead at 35.

Watching my way through the decades I lived though, re-living the promise and the failure, was very difficult though I’ve certainly watched it all in many other documentaries before this one. My daughter once said to me, “Your generation ruined everything.” and perhaps she’s right. I have nothing much good to say when Talking ‘Bout My Generation. I look around at the spoiled self-centered poorly educated children we raised who are now raising the next generation of spoiled sociopaths and I know that things are worse in many ways than before Phil Ochs started singing.

I might as well mention the two part American Masters documentary on Woody Allen here too since it fits in some odd way. I watched it a few days ago. They should have called it “Woody Allen: A Life Unexamined.” The documentary was more interesting than Allen himself which is sort of funny because it was about him. I was living in NY when Bananas came out and so of course I saw it in the theatre. Followed by other of his films. There were some great films, no doubt about it. Manhattan and Stardust Memories are most memorable for me.

I was very struck by the scene in Manhattan where Allen stood beside a skeleton in a classroom and read his friend the riot act on morality and ethics… ending with something like “… and when I thin out like this guy, I want to be well thought of.” Or some such. Though he has always said his films are not autobiographical, I could usually predict what he would do after seeing his latest film. While watching “Hannah and Her Sisters” I wondered if Mia Farrow was aware that she was playing herself and that Allen would be dumping her soon for someone much younger and needier. Apparently not. But even I could not predict that he would leave Farrow for her under-aged daughter, a daughter he’d helped to raise. I could not figure out how he got from Point A (being concerned about ethics and being well thought of when he thinned out) to Point B (screwing his step-daughter and then calling Farrow a lunatic when she reacted with hostility).

Allen ends one film and immediately starts on the next. He makes sure there is no time to stop and think about things he’s done. A life unexamined. And if he really believes that his films are not autobiographical then he is crazier than I am. The last film I ever watched by him was Mighty Aphrodite. Clever idea, horrible movie. Perhaps Woody Allen would do well to have a Greek Chorus following him around.

So how does Woody Allen fit with Hoarders and the Phil Ochs documentary? Hmmm…. maybe the belief that he is entitled to do anything he pleases regardless of the consequences to those around him? Not sure. I’m only sure there is a connection somewhere. The total lack of a code of ethics, a selfishness that is mind-boggling… perhaps that’s it.

Oh. The advice I got from my friend is that I “need to get out of myself.”

That feeling of needing to get out of myself… permanently… is what got me on the phone in the first place.

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