“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.” – Isaac Newton
Schizophrenia is madness in motion. When I am psychotic — when I see and hear things others do not — it seems as though the buzz of atoms, the molecular bonds that hold things together, reveal themselves as tiny humming grains beneath the appearance of my surroundings.
It took me a while to learn my illness isn’t like other ways of being sick: it knows everything I know. It uses my brain against me and the more active and operational one’s brain, the more powerful the disease: the more tools it has at its disposal. When I learn new coping methods so does the disease, which in turn seeks to undermine them.
As I say, it knows everything I know. That is why a lot of the time I choose to blunt my brain: with drugs, with alcohol, with sleep. For a long time I existed in a dysfunctional zombie-like haze before I learned to manage a rough, teetering balance between sedation and awareness. I don’t take the full dosages of the drugs I’m prescribed, but neither do I totally go off them. Without them I’m insane, yet the full dose deadens my ability to feel — to write, like I’m writing to you now. Even cutting back, it’s not within my power to write with the same intensity of feeling I used to; the meds and the disease won’t let me. Maybe if I went totally off the drugs I could, but then I’d be crazy and with that there’s always the chance I could hurt myself or, worse, someone else. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’d be lying if I claimed it hasn’t almost happened.
Mornings generally are the hardest for me. I awake with songs in my head: stupid catchy songs, rendered in different voices with ridiculous alternating accents that play themselves over and over. I shuffle around anxious and unable to concentrate until my meds kick in. Then I can focus for a while, maybe thirty minutes: long enough to crank out a few sentences; not long enough to work a job.
None of this is ideal, but I have managed to remain more grateful than dissatisfied. That’s because I’ve been a lot worse off: utterly dysfunctional, suicidal, locked up against my will with people a lot sicker than me. And I think of those people if I begin to feel sorry for myself: homeless, living in halfway houses, quietly vegetating on wards or in prisons. It’s as much for them as for me that I try to be productive: to eke out what I can from what damaged gifts remain. The people I think about have lost their voices, but not their lives and because they cannot speak, I try to do so for them. So it is that when I write about the disease and my condition it sounds in my head not as a single voice but as a chorus. We’re writing schizophrenia. It is insanity channeled, bound with brittle bonds. It is madness in motion, held in check but a little, spilling out onto the page through one of its many victims which, here — in these pages — just so happens to be me.