The Battle for Relevance

My first long stay in the booby hatch featured frequent entertainments provided by the most amazing schizophrenic woman I have ever met.

She was in her mid-50’s at that time (1988-ish) and she was a seasoned vet of this country’s mental health system. Except that she wasn’t really. Many years before, this lady had gazed steady-eyed upon her reality. She didn’t care for it, so she gave reality the finger, turned her back and began walking briskly into her interior magical schizophrenic reality.

By the time I met her, she had been on her walk away from reality for over 20 years. The progress she had made was astonishing. I don’t mean that in an unkind manner. Far from it. I believe that this woman was probably the only truly free and completely self-actualized human I have ever met.

In that miserable locked windowless institutional beige hell, she retained deep cunning joy.

Of course, best practice of psychiatry determined that deconstructing this woman’s interior world was the most important task on the ward.

Armies of carers, nurses, social workers, therapists, and allmighty doctors daily assailed her reality. They would begin their attacks by trying to force her to see them. She rarely gave up even this small point. Undeterred, these health professionals would use bright, clipped and commanding tones, always with the same message “X, be relevant!” And, occasionally she would turn those burning mad eyes of hers upon them and reply “ELEPHANT!!!!”

Being relevant is a concern for posturing hipsterish pop bands, not for people.

She remained adamant. In my mind, I see her as a lighthouse in a terrible storm. Small and slim in her white hospital gown, capped with a head of bright gold tangles assaulted by a mindless numbing elemental violence. She won the war by erosion of the collective will of those ranged against her.


And by biting. And clawing. And hitting, spitting, shrieking. The rest of us were terrified of her. But she was inspiring brave and compelling, too. When she was still, and in her own peace we would creep as near as we dared to listen to her muttered narrations of the world as she saw it.

From being institutionalized with her for an extended time, I developed a romantic fixation on her pure and complete madness. It seemed, still seems like a greater truth than trying to live with my own corrupted form of madness.

I must live with my tainted mind in this world. I have never found that shining path into perfect irrevocable schizophrenia. So I live on the fringes of a world that largely does not want me, a world that renders me as invisible as possible. Bound here, with skills that do not meet my needs. Living in a world that ironically wishes for nothing but my absence, the absence of every person who sees the world in a way that makes our society uncomfortable-and yet, and yet this world that so wishes for my disappearance makes attempted suicide illegal.

Following the majority of my impulses, giving voice to the majority of my beliefs will only result in what our society calls hospitalization, but in all reality, it is incarceration. If you do not have the means to open the door, you are imprisoned.

So my own battle is waged here in the hinterlands of the real non-schizophrenic world. Every action, every word from me must be obsessively examined through a filter. I have to decide over and over and over if a stray word or act can end me up on the wrong side of a locked door. Part of this is just the baseline paranoia that is a bonus prize with every large box of schizophrenia. But much of it is based on experience of ending up on the wrong side of that locked door.

In a lot of ways it is not so surprising that I ended up stuck in my house, too fearful small and paralyzed to go out. The surprise is that with a great force of will and a great deal of discomfort that I do actually go outside. Mostly in here it is just me and those elephants. I like elephants.

Hurting Hurting Hurting Harm

This post has been essentially completely written in my head for over a month.

I fear the judgement that follows on the heels of me trying to tell my truth.

I’m going to try to step over that, and just write this.


I made my first suicide attempt in the third grade. Actually, third grade was a banner year for me, I made two suicide attempts. But the first one was pretty sophisticated for a little kid.

My gram had this tropical plant, and she was mad proud of it. It was a dumb cane. (A Dieffenbachia…not that the plant lacked intellect) It was a very pretty plant. It stood in her living room looking like a tall pale green renaissance lady. ¬†My gram frequently reminded me not to ever ever touch it because it was “deadly poison”

I yearned to eat that plant.

But really, she was mad proud of it. And I couldn’t just filch a few leaves. The dumb cane only had about three great big graceful leaves. (I was an expert at stealing leaves off Gram’s plants. I would always steal a soft fuzzy leaf from one of her African violets before I had to leave her house…the smell reminded me of gram)

So, I began a program of stalking the dumb cane. I had a little kid’s perfect faith that an opportunity would arise. And it did.

My mother had a penchant for psychotic dogs. Our family went through several of these slavering beasts, they were usually ‘rescued’ from the local pound and they usually promptly were returned to the pound in less than a week. (I’m pretty certain now that the dogs were not the problem, my family was) Anyway, the year I was in third grade, we were treated to Terry the (alleged) terrier. Destruction on paws.

Gram was not keen on animals. But Terry the terrier could not be left anywhere because of her extremely high mayhem quotient. So my family ended up taking Terry to Gram’s for Sunday dinner. She was fenced securely in their backyard, but she promptly began to eat Grampy’s prize winning azaleas. To prevent further harm, the dog was hauled inside, where my mother promptly decided that beating the crap out of the dog would ensure good dog behavior for the rest of the day.

I do not endorse beating the crap out of dogs, but my mother firmly believed in it.

Of course, my mother’s plan backfired spectacularly. To Terry the terrier’s credit she did not bite my mother, but she took some amazing evasive action and began running through Gram’s pristine house in blind panic.

You see where this is going?

Yup. Sure enough the dog knocked over the dumb cane and its fall tore a huge chunk out of one of its leaves. In the ensuing chaos, I snitched the piece of plant and hid in the bathroom and  wolfed it down.

I believe that today a suicidal third grader would probably warrant some investigation. It didn’t then. Or, at least, it didn’t in white families from nice neighborhoods. I got out of the hospital in a few days, received my obligatory ass whupping and began my long career of missing school for ‘strep throat’

My family life was no picnic. And blaming them for my suicidal tendencies would be easy.

But there is something in me that does not want to be alive.

If I can find a behavior that hurts this body, I will do it. I have always been, and remain, deeply committed to the act of making my body suffer. From smoking like a chimney to not eating to staying awake for days to sitting in a hunched over position that causes pain, I do it all.

The only thing I really never went for was cutting. I tried it once. It drew too much attention too fast.

I compulsively gouge chunks of skin off my arms face chest legs, any part I can reach.

I guess I’m schizophrenic, and not depressive is that I never have that ‘they’ll miss me when I’m gone’ feeling. I really think, truly believe that if I can just tear enough skin off, stay awake long enough, pull out enough hair that it will prevent some unnameable catastrophe.

I’m not sitting here screaming for help. This is not an invite to a pity party. I’m not trying to solicit attention. This is not an aberration. For me, this is normal. This is how I experience life. This is me finally taking the first step out of the circle of lies.

It was never strep throat.

Dieffenbachia tastes like Hell.

There’s No Place Like Home…

Schizophrenia and paranoia go together.

Even if you are not technically a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ there is always a sort of dread, a feeling that ‘they’ really are out to get you. And to try to live at all, you have to learn to ignore that feeling.

But, every once in a while, there really is someone who is out to make your life Hellish. But, if your general assumption is based on ignoring anything that feels like an attack, then if you ever are actually attacked, you don’t notice. Or, at least, you don’t notice until it gets bad…

Yesterday, I guess it got bad.

My house has the misfortune to be situated in a small town. When we bought the house, the small town seemed like the best option for my partner’s anxiety. Life in the city did him no favors, and rural living was something I had done, but he had not…my personal definition of Hell is living in a small town.

I guess I’m not really a friendly person. I like my friends. I fear and loathe strangers. And, I know this does not highlight any of my better qualities, but, to me, neighbors are loathsome fear-inducing strangers who are reallyreally close to me.

Over the past year, one of our neighbors has taken up the ‘hobby’ of reporting our yard to the borough for being overgrown. The problem with that is that our yard is not overgrown. But the Einsteins of our borough never seem to look at our yard, they just receive the complaint and come stick a giant embarrassing bright red sticker on the front of our house with notations of the current complaint. The stickers leave a residue. I hate them. I especially hate the fact that we have not committed the ‘crimes’ we are accused of.

So. Yesterday a sticker was stuck on my door. The notes not only claimed that our back yard was overgrown, but additionally, that there were rodents. It ominously commands us to call. the. borough. (Our yard is not overgrown. Partner had a lawn care orgy on Sunday. He seems to like caring for the yard.)

So. I’m hurt. I’m mad. And one of us is going to have to Call. The. Borough. (It probably won’t be me, because I have a bad tendency for strong language if I’m poked)

Since we moved in here, one set of neighbors has consistently thrown their empties over the fence into our yard. Not once in a while, all the time. My beautiful moss-covered statue of Our Lady of Lourdes is often surrounded by a circle of beer cans. We don’t even like beer. My partner planted herbs around our Lady, they were killed by the same neighbors dumping piles of cigarette butts over the fence.

They brutalized our pretty Japanese ornamental lime tree. Their yard is a super highway for feral cats. (They feed them) We get to listen to the feral cats fight or bump uglies almost every night. So, again, I call bullshit on the rodent accusation.

These neighbors have screaming, verbally abusive fights, usually at night, and they last for hours.

But because I will almost always assume that my perceptions of mistreatment are ungrounded, we have never said even one word.

Our backyard is beautiful. Really. Almost anyone would envy this yard. It is tiny, but the previous owners filled it with pretty ornamental trees, and amazing groupings of plants. We never go out in it. I sometimes think I’d like to-until I contemplate the idea of sitting there and getting hit in the face with an empty beer can.

So, sometimes, I sit in the sunroom and look at the yard.

And that is a micro view of schizophrenia. These are grown-up bullies. It is junior high school all over again. My life feels very constricted. I fear and loathe whoever keeps falsely reporting us. I fear and loathe the idea of Calling. The. Borough.

I contemplate cultivating a poison ivy hedge.

And, again, it is my fault. I can’t figure out if I’m being too sensitive. I can’t figure out a way to break the pattern. And, honestly, it is already too difficult here. The added pressure is not what is needed right now. But I think this is how mentally ill people really get driven to, and past, the breaking point. The endless cycles of fear, shame, and poverty.

The gas is still off. Cold showers are awful.

But, we are still among the lucky, as far as being mentally ill goes. There is still a roof. There is food for the cat. There is food for the dog. The lights are still on. And, luckiest of all, in our house, there are no harsh words. There are no fights. I don’t know how my man manages it, but it seems like the more it sucks, the more times a day he tells me that he loves me. So. Yeah. That. Even now, even like this, even with no end in sight, I still wouldn’t trade my Hell for someone else’s.