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.

Author: belladonnareed

Pamela Alexander is a 48 year old mother of two and mild menace to society. She resides in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA with her sorely oppressed partner, and flatulent dog and a cat. She smokes like a chimney, swears like a sailor, and has been known to drink. When she grows up she hopes to move to the West coast of Mexico.

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