Born to Run (2016)
At the end of the tour, rather than returning immediately home, I joined Patti and my daughter, Jessica, in Europe, where she was touring internationally as a professional show jumper. All my children had left school, were on their own, doing well and mostly out of the house. Twenty years of parenting had gone by and we now served them in an advisory capacity.
Evan graduated from Boston College. He had gone into the music business, living in the West Village only blocks away from my old Café’ Wha? stomping grounds. He works in radio as a program director and festival producer. He has become quite a good singer and songwriter in his own right. Independent, creative and bright, with a hard moral compass, he proudly makes his own way. Sam went to Bard College and studied to become a writer. He left after a year, feeling that he needed to do something with more immediate impact on people’s lives. He became a firefighter, reentering the blue-collar world I’d known so well. His graduation from the fire academy near my hometown of Freehold amid all my old friends and neighbors brought tears and made Dad and Mom very proud. He also set up a project to bring returning veterans to our shows on a nightly basis. There he hosts vets in a friendly environment where they can enjoy the show and a night on the town. Jessica graduated from Duke University and had gone on to some fame of her own, becoming a world-class athlete, winning the American Gold Cup in Old Salem, New York, in 2014 and riding for the US team as they won the Nations Cup in Dublin, Ireland, at RDS Arena, my and the E Street Band’s old stomping grounds. Patti manages our lives, plays in the band, makes her music and holds it all together. The success of our children is largely due to her strength, great compassion and deep interest in who they really are.
• • •
Mild post-tour depression can usually be expected. Sometime in June I noticed I wasn’t feeling all that well. The shows are an insane high. The adulation, the touring company, the fact that it’s all about you. When you come off the road, that stops on a dime and you’re a father and husband, but now the kids are driving, so you’re an out-of-work chauffeur. The bump is natural but the crash that I experienced this time was something else altogether. It was hard to explain, bearing symptoms I’d never encountered before in my life. I had an attack of what was called an “agitated depression.” During this period, I was so profoundly uncomfortable in my own skin that I just wanted OUT. It feels dangerous and brings plenty of unwanted thoughts. I was uncomfortable doing anything. Standing . . . walking . . . sitting down . . . everything brought waves of an agitated anxiety that I’d spend every waking minute trying to dispel. Demise and foreboding were all that awaited and sleep was the only respite. During waking hours, I’d spend the day trying to find a position I would feel all right in for the next few minutes. I was not hyper. In fact, I was too depressed to concentrate on anything of substance.
I’d pace the room looking for the twelve square inches of carpet where I might find release. If I could get myself to work out, that might produce a short relief, but really all I wanted was the bed, the bed, the bed and unconsciousness. I spent good portions of the day with the covers up to my nose waiting for it to stop. Reading, or even watching television, felt beyond my ability. All my favorite things—listening to music, watching some film noir—caused such an unbearable anxiety in me because they were undoable. Once I was cut off from all my favorite things, the things that tell me who I am, I felt myself dangerously slipping away. I became a stranger in a borrowed and disagreeable body and mind.
This lasted for six weeks. All the while we were overseas. It affected me physically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually, you name it. It all went out the door. I was truly unsure if I could ever perform in this condition. The fire in me felt like it had gone out and I felt dark and hollow inside. Bad thoughts had a heyday. If I can’t work, how will I provide for my family? Will I be bedridden? Who the fuck am I? You feel the thinness of the veil of your identity and an accompanying panic that seems to be just around the corner.
I couldn’t live like this, not forever. For the first time, I felt I understood what drives people toward the abyss. The fact that I understood this, that I could feel this, emptied my heart out and left me in a cold fright. There was no life here, just an endless irritating existential angst embedded in my bones. It was demanding answers I did not have. And there was no respite. If I was awake, it was happening. So . . . I’d try to sleep; twelve, fourteen hours weren’t enough. I hated the gray light of morning. It would mean the day was coming. The day, when people would be waking up, going to work, eating, drinking, laughing, fucking. The day when you’re supposed to rise and shine, be filled with purpose, with life. I couldn’t get out of bed. Hell, I couldn’t even get a hard-on. It was like all my notorious energy, something that had been mine to command for most of my life, had been cruelly stolen away. I was a walking husk.
Patti coaxed me out of bed and tried to get me moving. She steadied me, gave me the confidence to feel I’d be all right and that this was something that was just passing. Without her strength and calm, I don’t know what I would have done.
One night in Ireland Patti and I went out to dinner with a group of people. I was doing my best to fake that I was a sane citizen. Under these conditions that can be hard to do. I had to leave the table somewhat regularly to let my mind off its leash (or to keep it on). Finally, on the street, I phoned my pharmacologist. I explained to him things were condition red.
He asked, “Does anything make you feel better?”
“If I take a Klonopin,” I said.
“Take one,” he said.
I did and it stopped. Graciously, mercifully, thankfully, yes there is a God, it stopped. After a short period on Klonopin I was able to stop the medication and the agitation did not return. But it was a terrifying window into mental debilitation and I don’t think I could’ve gone on like that indefinitely. All of this brought back the ghost of my father’s mental illness and my family’s history, and taunted me with the possibility that even after all I’d done, all I’d accomplished, I could fall to the same path. The only thing that kept me right side up during this was Patti. Her love, compassion and assurance that I’d be all right were, during many dark hours, all I had to go on.
Mentally, just when I thought I was in the part of my life where I’m supposed to be cruising, my sixties were a rough, rough ride. I came back to the States slightly changed and still wrestling with myself day by day. But things became a little more normal as time passed. I’ve long ago stopped struggling to get out of bed and I’ve got my work energy back. That feels good. Two years have passed and it can feel like it never really happened. I can’t specifically recall the state. The best I can do is think, “What the fuck was that? That’s not me.” But it’s in me, chemically, genetically, whatever you want to call it, and as I’ve said before, I’ve got to watch. The only real bulwark against it was love.
• • •
Writing about yourself is a funny business. At the end of the day it’s just another story, the story you’ve chosen from the events of your life. I haven’t told you “all” about myself. Discretion and the feelings of others don’t allow it. But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise: to show the reader his mind. In these pages I’ve tried to do that.