Thursday, April 15, 2004
A FISH PIE IN THE FACE
I'm sorry to hear that you don't feel you can really connect with a normal world that doesn't understand you. But before you jettison your mental equilibrium and go in search of your inner lunatic please consider what it truly means to have gone beyond trying to make anybody like or understand you. I can see from a lot of your ( American, and to a lesser expend European) movies and the mythologies that get built up around culture icons that psychosis is often portrayed as a series of charmingly photogenic ticks that make a person more interesting, more real and at odds with the buttoned down authority figure who represents the staid white bread world that just wants to make them conform. It's really not like that.
Insanity is not to "overstate things, exaggerate, press people to be far too honest, overdo it, offend whenever possible", it's having the voices in your head go full shriek all the time and you can't eat or sleep or think and you're scared all the time and then fighting it makes you frantic and fixated and at first that's even scarier, but after a while it gets to be a kind of relief because it's some kind of direction and you can fell like you have some sort of control. By the time you realise that you have no control and the compulsions and fixations are coming from the same place as the shriek it's far far too late and the compulsions just get stronger and the rules get tighter and you're so tired it feels like you're underwater and the shriek just gets louder and louder and the rules start to contradict each other and the penalties for not compiling get more and more complicated until you can feel yourself collapsing inward under the pressure. Then you're back in hospital, sleeping the sleep of the heavily sedated, and it is blissful. Until your family comes and they bring flowers and stroke your hair and try with all the love they have for you to understand what is happening, but they really can't see why you do these things to yourself and why you can't decide not to. You tell your mother that this is the last time she will ever have to pick you up off the bathroom floor and even though she's heard it more than a dozen times before she wants it so much that she believes you just a little. Your father nods gravely as the new doctors explain the science behind psychosis and at the end of the day they go home and sometimes they fight about what went wrong with their baby and sometimes they just sit at the dining room table and cry. So you start taking the new meds that the new doctors think are absolutely going to do the trick this time and you stick it out through the constant migraine and that not-quite-nauseas dizzy sensation and your sessions go well and for a while things are good. Your parents start to relax a little bit and you move out of their spare room and back to your own place, and it's like a real life, though your brother finds a reason to drop by everyday with lunch and he stays to watch you eat it and then to make sure you don't throw it back up. You start to go out and see people, nobody's going to leave you alone with their kids, but it's nice to when people talk to you about the future like your going to be planning for yours. You spend some time with the people you've met over the years in waiting rooms and wards and get a outside perspective on your illness as you become the helplessly uncomprehending friend of somebody whose imploding. You get some equilibrium back and buy some new shoes. Then one sunny afternoon at home you hear a noise in the next room like a radio playing static very quietly. You can ignore it for a while, but it slowly gets louder and louder until it's a whisper you can't quite make out and then you start to hear the occasional word and it's not good stuff. You try to tell somebody but everybody is so pleased and so relieved that your getting better and if it's going to come back why not just leave them like this for as long as they can have it. So you shut up the spare room and nail the door shut, but it doesn't help and it doesn't keep them out so you start to move to avoid them and they get louder until it's a constant shriek in your head and you're doing everything you can to make it stop but the rules are contradictory and hard to follow and your hanging on by your fingernails now and one day our brother comes by with yet more fish pie (fish is good for the brain, you have something wrong with your brain, thus fish pie) and finds you've been curled up naked in the garden since he left yesterday because it's quiet where it's cold and he picks you up and tries to take you back inside but you fight it because your not going back in there and he just lets you hit him and then puts his jacket over you and sits with you in the garden feeding you fish pie with his hands while his girlfriend picks her way through your house to pack some things and they drive you back to the hospital.
That's what it means to be disturbed to the point it embarrasses and inconveniences others. If you're really wondering about the loyalty of your friends you could make a short list of the people who'd come to court with you when the trial of the men who raped you the last time your meds turned you into a walking coma patient and you wandered away from the hospital falls over because your metal illness means you're an unreliable witness (although lots of people came to that girls funeral, so maybe she was more popular than I thought). Or the people who come to sit with you during your committal hearing (for this, remember not to count the people who come to support your parents, or the friends of the boyfriend you mistook for a chequered demon and tried to exorcise with a broom handle).
I really like your writing, and I don't mean to be cruel when I say this, but it is beyond imaging that you could turn out to be the first person in human history whose emotional life is so unique it can't be understood by anybody else. Maybe the normal people do understand you, maybe they just don't care, maybe you're just not interesting to them, maybe they've heard enough from people who think they're boring for wanting to raise good kids, drink nice wine and play golf. Maybe they're as annoyed with your attitude towards sanity as you are with theirs, but they've made a place for you and have the good grace to continue to sit through those Salon ads that pay your bills.
I don't want to be belittling your sense of general discomfort with your world, but maybe you should wait until you've really seen all the options before you start ragging on sanity. Maybe you're right and the sane people are all bored. But even on a nice sunny day like today, here in my nice office with my constant migraine and that not-quite-nauseous dizzy feeling, wasting taxpayers money writing to you while I wait for my boyfriend to come by with lunch (anything but fish, god how I am sick of fish) I'm constantly aware that it could all fall away with very little warning. Every day brings the heady thrill that it could be the last day I get through without hurting myself or somebody I love (again). Honestly, I'd rather be bored.
With all due respect and sympathy for the considerable burdens and challenges you face, I certainly never meant to suggest that psychosis was a sweet, embraceable reality that I long for night and day. In the "Sanity is Overrated" post, however self-centered and misguided it might have been, I was referring to the relatively minor challenges of being moody, difficult, outspoken, and prone to making weird or offensive statements in mixed company. My focus there was really on society's tendency to shame us into conforming to the herd, and our corresponding compulsion to cater to the least common denominator despite the fact that it silences those voices and squelches those traits that make us unique and weird and special in our own way, however sad and unsavory those voices and traits might appear to others.
Of course, one of the dangers of overstating and exaggerating things is that people misunderstand what you're trying to say. When I used the term "disturbed," you see, I didn't really mean "disturbed" in the verifiably insane sense, so much as "disturbing," in the way that weird or mildly offensive statements are disturbing to those who prefer for the people around them to behave predictably.
Likewise, some readers have assumed that by "normal people" I meant people who are married, have 9 to 5 jobs, wear suits, have children, discuss the features on their gas grills, etc. I have no beef with such people - I like marriage and kids and suits and gas grills as much as the next rabbit, maybe even more than the next rabbit. All that shit is beside the point - plenty of those people are off their rockers - and by off their rockers, I don't mean that they suffer from psychosis, but that they're original, open people.
So anyway, you're right, I don't know what it means to be disturbed to the point that it embarrasses and inconveniences others, not really. That was an overstatement. But I think you recognize that. And of course I never said that no one here can love or understand me - maybe you were listening to "Bye Bye Blackbird" while you read my post. Really, though, you just want me to know that my words felt insensitive to someone who really does struggle with her mental health. I have a lot of sympathy for you, and I feel very grateful that I'm not in your shoes. That said, I still reserve the right to overstate, exaggerate, and offend whenever possible. Without that right, I would have far more struggles than I do now. And yes, my struggles are relatively minor skirmishes, in light of the larger battles that exist in the world, but if I can't blow my own little world way out of proportion, then who will? It's only human to adjust the contrast and play with the scale of your own picture, even when you know you're creating a warped image in order to heighten your own sense of solitude. That's just what people do sometimes, and while you might feel offended by my obvious warping of the picture, there are other people who are struggling to accept the fact that they're fucking weirdoes to the core, and they read my exaggerations and overstatements and it makes them feel a little more comfortable with their inner freaks. I'm not pretending to feed the world or anything, but I do agree with Adrienne Rich, who wrote that, when we tell the truth, we create the possibility of more truth around us. I relayed my experience, you relayed yours. Should one of us adjust our story to better suit the needs of the other?
Rich also wrote that "[I]f the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name."
There are plenty of equal and opposite opportunities to focus outward, to put your life in perspective - your letter was one of them, for me. Thanks for that.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
BEAUTY IN THE BREAKDOWN
In keeping with the insanity theme in these parts, the trailer for Zach Braff's film, Garden State, really gets under my skin. Is it the lyrics to "Let Go" by Frou Frou, the song that's playing, that makes me teary? Is it the fact that the title, Garden State, reminds me of Rick Moody, whose writing makes me melancholy? Or is it just the Dayquil talking? Check it out and let me know what you think - just be sure to opt for the high-res version, the others don't do the trailer justice.