Bullied to Death: The Conversation No One Is Having

A local sixth-grader took his own life after being bullied. He is no longer a sensitive smart boy, he has become a statistic. He was a good kid, but now he is a painful memory. He was an active member of his Church, but now he is a vacant seat in a pew. This kid might have changed the world one day. But now we will never know. He was bullied to death.

I was bullied damn near to death. I made three serious suicide attempts in Junior High School. It was that bad. I was pushed, shoved, punched, hit, and sexually harassed.

Bullying in schools must stop
Panic! By Sri Lankan artist Sujith Rathnayake

And I’m going to say something incredibly unpopular here.

The adults in the school system were aware of it, and they did nothing. Teachers saw what was going on, they heard the jeers and sexually explicit remarks that were yelled across assemblies. Bus drivers saw me shoved and hit, they saw my possessions ripped out of my hands. Lunch ladies saw food thrown on me. And they did nothing.

And you know what? I believe that the school administrators probably saw this boy being bullied. And guess what I think they did? Right. Nothing.

I know that schoolkids now sit through assemblies on bullying…but kids are still bullied, kids are still committing suicide because of bullying. And with the internet, public humiliation has become a spectator sport. It is high time we put a stop to institutional cruelty.

It is time to punish the bullies. It is time to punish school administrators who sit idly by and let the students in their care be bullied to death. It is time to arrest and prosecute bullies as criminals. Before another kid dies.

It is time to let people like me run school assemblies on bullying. People who will stand up and say, “I was bullied damn near to death in school and over thirty years later I still struggle with it. And I challenge school administrators to make the schools safe.”

Honestly it is time that some teachers, bus drivers, lunchroom attendants, and administrators lose their jobs. It is time they were prosecuted for willfully endangering a minor. Because they do. Our children, our most precious and vulnerable national resource are being bullied to death while they are in the care of these people. These school officials would probably do less harm if they drove drunk. (Of course I do not advocate drunk driving, but I’m just saying)

Bullying is not an invisible crime. Kids are not very subtle. They pick on the kid that seems weakest, the kid that seems slowest, the kid that seems poorest. Is it too much to expect that these kids be protected from bullies? I really don’t think so.

There is behavior that is commonplace in schools which would get you fired in the workplace. Let that sink in a moment. Ask yourself why nobody does anything before there is another child dead by their own hand. Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2013 CDC WISQARS)Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 suicide attempts by young people grades 7-12. An incredible number of young people, that is to say, schoolkids, are attempting suicide. And a lot of those attempts are successful.

Think back to your own school days. Did you ever attend an assembly that changed your behavior? What’s that? No? Right the fuck on. But for most school districts, the only anti-bullying program is an assembly. And the behavior of the bullies is unsurprisingly not changing.

The question is how many kids have to die of bullying before real laws with real teeth are enacted to protect them? Too many have died already. And the school personnel do nothing. Nothing.

And I am just one tiny voice on a blog that very few people will ever see. I’m screaming into a void. But I’m screaming. Maybe you could scream too.

Kicking the Closet Door

Sometimes I really wonder why I do this. I don’t like being so very public about my private life, and my schizophrenia really does not like this level of publicity either. But I guess for me, it is a form of coming out.

Like homosexuality, mental illness has been in the closet just about forever. I have been in the closet all my life. And as I have grown older, I have watched my GLBTQ friends come out. I have watched them begin to LIVE their lives, instead of living a lie. And I was envious. I was even envious when they did not get support from their friends and family. At least they were free to be themselves. At least they were free to find friendship and support for who they were.

Me, I stayed in my little box. It never dawned on me that there could be friendship or support if I admitted I was schizophrenic. Publicly admitting to having schizophrenia never crossed my mind. I never imagined a world where I could be myself and have my illness and be honest about it. So forgive me. The lies come easily, and the truth comes hard.

And my whole life was a lie until I was nearly forty years old.

When I was a kid, even a very small kid the lie was that we had a normal happy family. We were never to admit even the smallest truth of what a cesspit of abuse and dysfunction was there.(or ELSE!) I never told anyone about what went on at home, I was afraid to. Even now, I only give a sketch of how it was. I’m still afraid to tell. I have had no contact with my parents for years, and I feel ashamed of that, but not so ashamed as to jump back into the cesspool. I still obsessively search for an obituary for my father. In my mind, when he is dead, and I know he is dead, I will be able to live free of fear at last. (and I am aware that is not true; probably I will fear him till my dying day)

When I got older and began to exhibit psychiatric symptoms that required treatment, everyone was told I had ‘strep throat’ or ‘mono.’ I probably have the only case of strep throat in medical history that was cured by haldol. Even as a young adult, I got the distinct impression that I needed to keep my illness hidden. Every psych ward I was ever on went to great lengths to reassure me of their ‘total discretion.’

Art by Alice Rex
Art by Alice Rex

There are no great schizophrenic role models or mentors. If you hear the word schizophrenic on TV, it is probably on the news, and the news is probably not going to be good. Even going through the mental health systems for all these years, I never met another person on a psych ward who admitted to having schizophrenia. Not one. And in all my years of life, I have met one other person who admits to being schizophrenic. One. I’m sure I have met many other schizophrenics, I have met a lot of people in my life, and 1.1 percent of the US population suffer from schizophrenia, but the disease remains largely invisible, and its sufferers remain deeply secretive about it.

Somewhere around my fortieth birthday, I made a conscious choice to try to live more truthfully. I decided to be more open and honest about who I am and what I have. Honestly, I fail most days. Being who I am is often uncomfortable, and sometimes unbearable. But I am still struggling toward those goals of openness and honesty. I try to be patient with myself when I fall short.

So I write this. And I put it on the internet where anybody can see it. Not because I think I’m doing a particularly good job of it, but because someone has to. Someone has to start punching and kicking at those closet walls. Someone has to want to take a breath of air as a free person. And that someone seems to be me.

I have accepted that schizophrenia is as much a part of me as my spleen. I can deal with the reality of my illness, and try to learn better ways to live with it. But I don’t have to live in a box in the dark because of it.

I’m not deluding myself either. Schizophrenia DOES have a stigma attached to it in America in 2016, and some people won’t want anything to do with me. They have that right, and I’m not going to be judgmental about it. (I remain judgmental about racism or homophobia, though) Unlike Civil Rights or GLBTQ Rights, mental health advocacy in this country has had very little success in educating citizens that mental health patients are not dangerous. I think they are working on it, but I think they have a long difficult path to bring about those changes in perception.

The only thing I know for sure about beginning to live openly as a schizophrenic is that I am lucky to have some amazing, supportive, and tolerant people around me. Because of their myriad gracious deeds, I am still here struggling toward the light. I hope they know who they are.

The System Undermines its Desire for Us to be Compliant

In today’s mental health care, the patient is always coming up against the system. There is a sharp, painful dichotomy between the nurturing feeling of an appointment with a trusted doctor, therapist, or social worker, and the iron-clad unreasonable laws of the mental health system itself.

The Patient is often at odds with the mental health system, and their need to be compliant.
Image by: ifunny.com

I’ve had a couple weeks of butting heads with the system, and I have some good examples to illustrate my point.

But, first, I need to explain a central concept of mental health care: compliance. Compliance means exactly what it says it means. A mental health patient who is compliant takes all of their medications on time, every time; a compliant mental health patient arrives on time for every appointment. A compliant mental health patient gives 48 hours notice if s/he must cancel an appointment. A compliant mental health patient will always reschedule a cancelled appointment. These are the terms under which the patient may receive services. In many cases, my own included, non-compliant patients may be denied services. So, sadly the patients who most need help, but are not in a position to be very compliant can find themselves back at square one. I am glad to say that where I receive my services seems to be very flexible about accommodating patients’ needs and allowances appear to be made for people who are going through bad times.

However, in general, the terms of compliance do not offer flexibility. Even if your medication is making you sick to death, you take it, then whine about taking the medication and being sick to your therapist. Even if you live miles below the poverty line and rely on a cantankerous, un-inspected car to get to appointments, you go-even if you get a ticket you can not afford, you go. If the doctor gives you instructions on how to get your prescriptions refilled which deviate from the standard protocols, you comply, even if you come smack up against a brick wall of baffling administrative process. Mental health patients are often deemed worthy or unworthy to receive help based on their compliance.

Objectively, this seems fair. It seems to reward the patients who are working the hardest to get better. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. In practice the system is nearly impossible to navigate for me, and I know that, comparatively speaking, I’m pretty high functioning. And nearly every other visit, I see patients at the breaking point from frustration, from fear, from poverty, or from pure D bafflement over how the system works. And remember, I just commended the system where I receive services for its outstanding flexibility. The realities elsewhere are much harsher.

Here are my personal examples to try to make this less abstract for you:

At my last visit with the psychiatrist, over two weeks ago, the psychiatrist ordered me to see my regular MD, to hand carry a copy of a recent EKG to the MD and get a clean bill of health before he would refill my prescriptions and add a new prescription for recurring nightmares. Seems reasonable enough. I was told to call the RN at the psychiatrist’s office to arrange my refills after I had seen the MD.

When I got to the psychiatrist’s front office, the trouble started. They could not find my chart. After they rooted and rammed all over the office, I was told that my chart had ‘probably’ been sent to another office to be ‘audited.’ So I had no copy of the EKG to carry to my MD, and now I had to worry about my missing chart. That chart is full of sensitive information, and I’m uncomfortable that 1)The System had NO idea where my chart was, and 2)The System has the authority (somehow) to send my chart ‘somewhere else’ for some person unknown to ‘audit’ and it is unclear what they are auditing the chart for. Not gonna lie here, I’m losing sleep over that chart still.

After my visit to my MD proved that I had a clean bill of health, I attempted to call the psychiatrist’s RN to renew my prescriptions. The front office will not allow me to speak to the RN on the telephone. All I may do is to leave a voicemail, and hope the RN will call. Two weeks later , three voicemails later and the RN has not called me, and my refills have not been submitted. I do not blame the RN. The message addressed three or four detailed fussy details applicable to different prescriptions. If I could have simply TALKED to her, where she could ask questions, and I could answer them, it could have been sorted. Instead she got the ‘term paper equivalent’ of a voicemail.  The front office informs me that the RN will not call, and that to get my refills, I need an appointment with the psychiatrist. I HAVE an appointment with the psychiatrist for when he wants to see me-in the latter half of March. But my prescription will run out in two weeks. This is called being between a rock and a hard place.

Example Number 2:

If I need to cancel an appointment with my therapist, I am expected to give a minimum of 48-hours’ notice, and to reschedule for the same week. Seems simple enough, right? In order to be seen for the aforementioned appointment with the MD, I needed to reschedule my therapist appointment. So I called. The Front Office-remember them? told me that my appointment had been cancelled, and that I could not reschedule as I had an appointment scheduled for the following week. (Actually it was today.)

Imagine my surprise last week when my therapist called to confirm the appointment I had cancelled four days prior. She had not been told that I called and cancelled, that I had not been allowed to reschedule.

So, here I sit. For the first time in my life really taking my recovery seriously, finally recognizing that getting better might just be my life’s work. And here I am being non-compliant on several fronts. And struggling not to be. Seeking a way to point out the brokenness of the system without sounding like a paranoid crazy person.

These systems are set up by the government, or by the hospitals ostensibly to protect some of society’s most fragile members. The office where my therapist and psychiatrist are located is an old school. It is a rabbit warren of offices that also serve the WIC program to provide nutritious foodstuffs to pregnant women, nursing mothers and small children. The same building houses a food pantry to feed the hungry. The same building provides free meals and enrichment activities to senior citizens living in poverty. And as I said, the building is a rabbit warren. Offices seem randomly placed, and signage is often minimal, unhelpful, or unclear. People are frequently simply not in the proper place. People do try to help, but not everyone knows where everything is, and sensible sounding advice can get you more lost.

And every other time I’m in there, or nearly every other time, someone is flipping out-either angry, or sad, or hurt, or frustrated, or confused. And I know that they serve people who have a high level of crisis, and I know that MH/MR clientele can be reactionary…but it can be really frustrating and stressful to be there even if you are not in crisis or meltdown mode.

It is not the people who provide the actual services-they are kind and compassionate people who go above and beyond to help. It is this system of efficient office personnel with their keyboards, and their clipboards. And their protocols of how to deal with every situation-protocols that are blindly followed instead of taking a moment to listen, then responding accordingly. The secretaries are nice people, but they are, shall we say…hidebound? These secretaries who are so quick to hang up the phone, so quick to mouth the words, ‘you can’t,’ ‘it isn’t possible,’ ‘we are not authorized to…’ Those words are automatic, they do not check, they simply apply the system’s walls.

It is not the end of the world. By enlisting the help of my therapist, I was able to see the RN in person, and all should be well with my meds. The therapist was also not surprised that she did not get word that I had cancelled my appointment. It was not the end of the world, nobody died, nobody cried. But it was stressful, and it was very frustrating. And I have a very real world fear of running out of all these pills.

Since I began my journey with mental health care over thirty years ago, the care has increased immeasurably in competence and in compassion. It is time that the systems that control and administer the caregiving also move into a more functional and compassionate model.

 

Bullies Great and Small

I was about two hours old when I met my first bully. They say you never forget your first. They do say that.

My father was and is the meanest son of a bitch I ever met. He could explode at the drop of a hat over nothing. Or something. He was so unpredictable and violent that people just assumed he drank. Gods forgive me, I never told them differently. It was easier to have something-even a lie-to blame.

He hit with words: shouts and curses, and icy whispers. He hit with force: slaps, fists, grips that choked and tore. He hit with objects: dinners hurled across rooms, flung wrenches, car keys, radios. But he hit early and often.

I knew nothing of animals as a child, but I remember even as a very small kid, maybe three or four years old, that my first reflex relating to my father was to freeze silently. Like a rabbit when the shadow of a hawk passes over its small succulent body. I played silently from a very young age because my father didn’t like noise.

I do not know if my father hit my mother. Maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe there is no comfort in any answer. Is it better is everyone in the house is hit by the father? Or is it preferable that only you are hit by the father? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I care. I do know that my mother was as afraid of him as I was.

My mother’s parents bailed her out of everything, so I will never know why she didn’t run to Grammy and Poppy for help. Maybe because they had been strict and oppressive parents and she didn’t want to return to their home. Again, I don’t know.

My father and mother eventually divorced when I was in my early twenties, and he remarried one of my mother’s closest friends. Later he asked that my sister and I never contact him. I have complied with that request, albeit uneasily. I still feel disquieted to not send him a card for Christmas or his birthday-not out of love, but in fear that he will be angry if I don’t.

I felt like a natural born victim.
I felt like a natural born victim.

This is not a blog post about my daddy issues. It is a post about a pattern. And I’ve never seen anything written about the pattern I’m about to share, so maybe it is just me, or maybe I don’t read enough on the topic. Or maybe it isn’t real, after all I am supposed to be pretty crazy.

 

Long before I started school, I was in the habit of being bullied by my father. I was remarkably tolerant of screaming, of beatings, of having things thrown at me. I just shook and froze in silence. I believe now, and probably always will believe, that my silent, trapped response when my illness overwhelms me is rooted in that scared rabbit response as a young child.

If I ever cried easily, I don’t recall it now. It has always been a point of pride that I would not cry in front of my tormentors. It’s not that they couldn’t eventually break me down until I DID cry, I am human, and hurt hurts. But I made them fight for every tear every time.

School was an unexpected nightmare.

I was so excited to go to school! To have the opportunity to learn, to be free of that silent house that just waited for my father’s next outburst, to meet other boys and girls! I was expecting no less than Heaven. Of course, I found Hell. I was bullied in school from day one. I found myself the only bullied kindergartner. And here is the pattern. I believe that bullies can sense a victim.

My family moved often when I was growing up, and I never went to a new school where I was not bullied from the first minute.

The older I got, the weirder and more neurotic I became, so my behavior probably attracted bullies in my years of junior high and high school. But I don’t think I was particularly weird as a five or six year old. But they still could see me coming a mile away.

Over the years in school, I had my glasses broken countless times, gum put in my hair, again countless times, I have been kicked, hit, shoved, tripped, pushed down stairs, catcalled, mocked, ridiculed…you name it. My belongings were taken numerous times, As an older kid, I got used to finding used tampons, and excrement in my locker.

A low point in my school life was junior high and part of high school. I spent that time in a suburb of Spartanburg, South Carolina. There, a particularly sadistic and clever group of boys added outright sexual harassment to my daily dose of bullying. The school bus became a new Hell.

I know and you know goddam well that there were teachers who saw what was happening. It was not like it is now. They watched, and they let it happen. There was a guidance counselor who, I think, tried to help. Every once in a while, she would pull me into her office and tell me I didn’t look like I felt very well. She would ask if I wanted to go home. I always said yes, but in truth, home was the only place worse than school. But she tried, and I remember her kindly for it.

Believe it or not, my grades began to slip. This was not acceptable at home. Home being bad led to me being more neurotic, which led to me acting weirder at school, which led to more bullying, &c.

But at the lowest point, something happened. I was on the bus, the boys in the back were tugging my bookbag, my clarinet, my clothes, screaming “Pam, BABY!” and I was silently putting up with it, being pushed and prodded and dreaming of successful suicide when it suddenly all stopped.

There was no school bus, no boys, no clarinet…there was green grass under my feet, I could smell flowers, and I was surrounded by stone angels bearing books and swords. I thought my prayers had been answered, that Sweet Lord Jesus had sent his angels to take me safe to Heaven. I had no way of knowing that schizophrenia had arrived to take me to Hell and that those guardian angels would quickly become my jailers. I had no way of knowing that the Hell of schizophrenia is worse than the Hell of some precocious teenage boys.

Trying to Talk

So. I’m not doing very well at updating this.

I have a lot I would like to say here. And I am very consistent in not saying it.

So, I must ask myself why, if I have things to say, the words to say them, and a place to say them, do I persist in saying nothing?

Really, it is an easy answer. I really don’t feel that I am entitled to say the things that are on my mind or in my heart. Not here, not in ‘real life’, not ever.

So it all goes unsaid.

Except in that brilliant, scorching interior universe between my ears, where it gets said, shouted, stuck on endless loops like a bad dj mix. Everything that needs said gets said in my interior world. Inside myself, I am drowning in miles of unsaid words, there is no way to swim in them.

Paranoia is real. At least, it defines my reality. I simply can not believe anyone has good intentions toward me.

Surrounded by friends, encircled by a functional and loving church, I carve a private, screaming lonely Hell for myself. And I abide there.

The rational parts of my brain nudge me out from my Hell. They encourage me to expand, to try to reach beyond a diagnosis, to step out onto the floor and join the dance. And I am tempted. It does not seem such a reach to join a way of life I watch voraciously. But it is.

I have become skilled at living a simulacrum of life. At times, I can go to parties, at times I can visit with friends, at times, I can go to church. And I know that no one but me can see the gaping chasms that unfold around my feet.

In making this blog, I hoped to spin a bridge of words that might bear my weight, I wanted to find a path into the light. And I did know that it would not be easy. It is not easy. I wonder if I can follow through and build. Because, in building a bridge, you must trust in what you have built, and walk right to the edge, in order to build more. My tendency is to find a place and dig.

Digging and building actually look very similar. They both involve frantic activity and moving a great deal of dirt. In the end though, only building results in forward progress.

I do not want to be here to only engage in self-indulgence. I do not want to be here to only engage in attention seeking behaviors. I want to be here to find a path to progress and grow. The paths to move beyond schizophrenia that our society offers have failed me utterly. I am past belief in the next pill, the next therapist. I don’t even know if I believe that the mountain of pills or the army of therapists have helped anyone like me. The few schizophrenics that I know who have managed to thrive have all done so by their own interior processes. Some few get balance or perspective from a particular pill or one particular therapist. Most other schizophrenics I know keep digging for that one pill, that one therapist. I am weary of digging for the needle in the haystack. I need a better way out of here.

My options are fairly limited.

Some indigenous people in parts of the world that are not Pittsburgh, PA, USA 2014 believe that schizophrenia is not a pathology, just a different way of processing information. In those cultures, schizophrenics as we define them are healers, shamans, witches. I daydream of moving there. But I don’t want to go far away, learn a new language, leave my kids, and try to see the mess in my head as something other than a pathology-I very much doubt I could do those things.

Some groups of indigenous people knot or tie the hair to calm overactive spirits. That seems more accessible. So, on December 10, a friend is going to take my stubbornly straight red hair and somehow use her skills to turn it into dreadlocks. It might be a small step, or perhaps it will be huge. I’m trying not to pile too many hopes or expectations upon it. But I am both excited and fearful of having this done.

I have never once had a good relationship with my hair. I don’t like how it looks, I don’t like how it feels. Left to my own choices, I keep it buzzed into military ‘high and tights’ and return often to the barber so it does not get very long. I began growing the hair to try to be attractive to a man who did not find me attractive. (it didn’t work) So now I have this pile of hair.

I have no patience with the hair. Zero. I can’t afford to go to a salon and have it ‘done’ in some fetching way. Even if I had the cash for a hairdo, I find having someone ‘in my hair’ revolting. But, yet…I’m going to try this dreadlock thing. And a month away from my ‘dreaded date’ I am already devising self-soothing techniques to be able to sit with the process of having my hair dreaded. My hair is thick and straight, and this will take some time.

As much as I want to believe that somehow putting these dreads in will magically fix everything, I am resisting that temptation. But I also feel the need to balance that by not scoffing the possibility of the dreads helping significantly into oblivion before we ever begin.

The work I need to do remains the same, dreads or no dreads. But I do feel like I am taking a new and different step in how I view myself and the world around me. But in tiny tumbling faltering baby steps, I am beginning to weave my bridge cables. I remain hopeful that in time, my bridge will bear my weight…

The Emperor’s New Thong

I have been thinking a lot and posting very little.  Sometimes, even I can exercise a bit of prudence.

I have left the house twice this month, and that is a lot for me. I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed by stuff happening outside my house. Ultimately, it does not matter how overwhelmed I feel, or how dismayed.  Mass delusion is unappealing. It is challenging enough to live with a condition where there is a very blurry line between what is and is not real, but when the people you count on to be sane people start playing around that line of real vs. unreal, it is time for some assessment.

So, I have been assessing.

And now I know some stuff.

Over the past 12 years or so, Pittsburgh has been good to me. A lot of what I needed, I found here. But my time here is winding down. Sitting alone, late at night, I can hear the clock winding down. I won’t be leaving mad, and I won’t be leaving super soon, but I will be leaving. I grew up near the ocean, and I think I want to be closer to it again.

Mr. Sweetie and I are calling it quits. This has happened 5 times previously (maybe 6) but this is going to be the final break. We are taking our time, gently untangling things with infinite patience. It will probably take a year or more to untangle this. Fine, I suppose neither of us can make any better plans until we find our separate ways.

Parts of me would like to yell, to blame, to accuse him. To hold him accountable for the hurts he has done me. I’m sure he feels the same. I’m sure there are many people who would encourage us to ‘clear the air’ and say what clearly needs said.

I suppose that would be the mentally healthy thing to do. Or so I would be told. But my one woman war about what we call mental health in this country wages on. Will either of us be un-hurt if we said all of this? No. We would only get to add the other’s hurtful words, wounded pride, and sense of loss to the wounds we already have. There is no need to fight. There is no need for harshness now. I am grateful that he is a deeply peaceful soul. I’m certain that most of the blame for the failure of the relationship is my fault, and that is enough without an itemized bill.

We know how hard we have tried.

The relationship is only one of the cherished unrealities currently being unveiled. And, ironically, it is the easiest. Because this man and I are fighting for gentleness and compassion.

Elsewhere, friends are fighting, severing ties, speaking harsh words. Friends-the very same friends are crying, hurting, wounded. Some of these rifts seem beyond repair, are, in fact, beyond repair.

Efforts to communicate between the groups have only worsened the situation.

Illusion is stripped away. And real pain, real suffering is illuminated.

The Emperor’s new panties are all stuffed in his heineybumps and he is miserable. Perhaps the Emperor should not have donned a thong.

In the eyes of one crazy person, it becomes clear that too much closeness with too large a group is ultimately going to end like this.

Schizophrenia has its own form of wisdom, too. It whispers for distance. It is miserable and withdrawn in large groups. Schizophrenia fights the tender embrace; it distrusts the friendly hand.

I have far too much of it. That is why I’m supposed to be sick, and others are presumed to be healthy. I’m sad to see our most beautiful illusions shattered by our all too real humanity. Like everyone else, I thought we were golden, special; that these friendships would weather any storm. But, here I sit, at low tide. I think of the process of sifting through the wreckage, to see what can be salvaged. But, still I sit, either frozen in shock, or prudently contemplating, depends on who you ask.

Schizophrenia croons Robert Frost into my ear, “Good fences make good neighbors…”

 

The Word Friend Still Bothers Me

Well.

Here we are again. And again I really don’t want to write this.

But, in trying to find a way back from crazy, apparently, some of the shortest paths run through sewers.

I was a shy awkward kid, bad haircut, thick glasses, and thoroughly intimidated. I was a reader early on, as a kid, I was not a talker. Add to this my family were the most repressed WASPs ever, and half of them were from rural North Carolina-that is to say, The South.

No one in my house talked ever about bodies. Not living and certainly not dead. I don’t remember my body ever being mentioned at all. I knew I had one. It was the vehicle that carried my consciousness into the varied acts that resulted in my carrying my body to yet another ass-whupping.

But as far as concepts like me being “in charge” or “having sovereignty” of my body…perish the thought.

In short, I was a victim awaiting a circumstance. It didn’t take long either.

He was a “friend” of the family. He is the first person I remember specifically being told was our friend, our family’s friend. It gave me a shitty perspective on friendship.

Not long after I made my acquaintance with our *friend* my hapless Gommy (featured in the diffenbacchia  story, too, poor soul) tried to teach me the song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” I let her know that I didn’t want to be friends with Jesus, and that friends were big yuck.

Gommy was no dummy, but she was not particularly gifted with little kids, either. She added 2+2 and came up with 4 no problem. The problem came when the South reared its ugly head. She asked me gently and seriously if I was “being interfered with.”

Interfere…interfere…that word raced around in my little reader’s brain.

thought maybe she meant what was happening with the friend, but I was very leery of making a terrible mistake.

Interfere…interfere…AHA! Interference! Football!!!! I had what Gommy was asking. I confidently told her ‘no.’ (I was not allowed to play football, so there was no possibility of interference.) Hell, I was only allowed to watch my beloved Steelers if I was completely still and silent.

By the time I figured out how wrong what was happening to me was, I was too ashamed to tell anyone. It went on for years. Even now, writing this, I cringe, the shame is as fresh as it was over 40 years ago.

But in time, anger grew over the shame, then adolescence and the punk rock sensibility grew over the anger. Like layers of a tree. After a time, you grow numb to it.

It is bad enough to be a perfect victim at 5, at 15, or 25 it is a nightmare.

But that code of unshakable silence is hard to break. Even here, trying to break the silence, I’m still hiding in the shadows. At 25 I was chain smoking Kool straights and telling myself that it was “only rape” just get over it don’t be such a baby.

What I didn’t learn at home from our “friend” I learned soon enough through mental hospitals. They call it “milieu therapy” That sounds a lot nicer than ‘we save a ton of money on staffing by putting the violent and the victimized on the same ward.’

I remember at about 25, in the hospital just sneering at this blubbering woman who was dragging group out forever by crying and moaning over and over “he made me suck his….blahblahblah…” Yeah? well, so what? If that’s all he did, grab some mouthwash, and chalk it up in the win column.

I have a lousy track record for compassion for any victim of sexual assault.

And suddenly, it seems overnight, I am being bombarded on social media to speak out against “rape culture” I am suddenly being told that this is not okay.

Well, no shit? It’s not okay. I know it’s not okay. Personally, it’s never been okay. But it is going to take a lot more than signing facebook petitions to change things.

It means changing how every institution in this entire country is organized. We know that there are huge problems in the prisons, and on college campuses. But I’m here to tell you that the mental hospitals, many nursing homes and many many group homes for the differently-abled deserve the same treatment.

I’d like to think that I’m at least evolving personally. And I guess I have a lot more compassion for victims of sexual assault now-as long as they are not me. But I also know if given a choice between getting the daylights beat out of me or sucking a dick, I’ll hit my knees in a heartbeat. Nightmares are no fun, but broken bones are a bitch to heal.

But, as I live and breathe, I’d like to believe that the last generation of perfect victims will die with me-my sisters in silence.

How the Hell You Gonna Love Somebody Else?

An often repeated catchphrase of RuPaul, one of my very few celebrity heroes. At least, it is the second half…the whole line is “If you can’t love yourself, how the Hell you gonna Love Somebody else?”

I don’t know, I don’t know.

Do not the fuck even start in on me about loving myself. I have tried very hard for a very long time to do so. There’s no future in it. I don’t find myself lovable in the tiniest detail. And despite all the ‘Yay! Go! Me!’ that our culture crams down our throats every single day, I am deciding to accept that I find myself utterly unlovable. I am deciding to be okay with that.

I do have some very nice qualities, I can see that. They don’t amount to enough to make me lovable. As some people loathe coconut or lima beans, I loathe me.

For years, I followed all the perky advice of therapists and counselors. I made lists of my positive traits. I spoke affirmations. I read so many self-help books that Deepak Chopra would gag. I gave 110%. And now I am over it. So over it. I think I can find more useful applications for my time.

For me it boils down to that central question…if I can’t love myself, can I actually love someone else?

I think I can. I believe I do. I would charge grizzly bears for my daughters. I have done without a fair amount in trying to see that they did not have to do without very much. Neither of my girls would probably rate me as a good or great mother. But I have no doubt that they don’t lose any sleep wondering whether I love them. With every fibre of my being. Don’t believe me? Your choice, but try to hurt one of my kids at your peril.

I have a tribe of friends. Do I love them? Do they know I love them? Probably it depends on the friend, or the day. When I am at my worst, I retract as deep into myself as I can. I’ll quit talking to people for, literally, years at a time. Some friends do not appreciate this tendency. And I appreciate that it hurts them, alienates them, and angers them. But this is me. Like a bear, I need to hibernate. I need to go deep into my cave and listen to the voices, see what they have. But that cave belongs solely to me. It is not a place of sharing. There is almost nothing in life that I won’t give you, or share until I have none left…but that cave is mine, and mine alone.

My greed of this small dark place is not a miser’s greed. I do not retreat to gloat over some wealth. I go there to wound and be wounded, to suffer, to bleed, to die over and over and over again. You don’t need to go in there. It smells bad. The atmosphere is not healthy.

So, yeah. I love my friends. And I think they love me. At least most of the time. But there is a thing I do, and will keep doing that just pisses them off. Trust me, I beat myself bloody over pissing them off and hurting their feelings. And I apologize, but I know I’m a dreadful friend.

Finally, there is this man who lives here.

I don’t usually know why the man stays.

I’m crazy about him, I guess that is a plus, but it is weighed down significantly by the fact that I am crazy. I do all I can for him, but at this stage, that isn’t so much…when I had money, an income, I could try to better spoil him. Now, it is all I can do to try to cook for him, and do little things around the house.

I struggle to need as close to nothing as I can, to not want…I’m not sure that is really much incentive, but what else can I offer? This relationship reminds me of those terrifying mirror mazes on the Boardwalk when I was a kid…all I see no matter how I look, no matter where I look is my own distorted images.

He might love me with all his heart. On my best days, I like to think so, and feel warm and safe with that. Most days are not best days, and those days, it seems more that he patiently tolerates me, the grinding poverty, all of this…because he currently has no better option. Honestly, if I thought he had a better option, I would support him in taking it. I have before, just historically, his better options haven’t been better…

I never expect to feel as secure in any relationship as I perceive a non-schizophrenic self-loving person might feel. I’m generally okay with my life existing in a question mark. Perhaps, today, I am weary. Perhaps today, I would give anything for a hot shower, but I also know to not worry too much.

Tomorrow, I’ll be somebody else.

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.

madwoman

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.

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.