Richard, Part 2: The Painful Beginning Of The Middle
This is the second instalment in a series. Read the first instalment if it so pleases you.
So, where was I... Oh yes, I left off yesterday right at the part where things would start to become confusing and my life would slide into a stunning downward spiral of lies and mental illness and gender / sexuality confusion. Seriously, a large part of me does not want to write about this. I have spent so many years separating myself from that time of my life, looking at it as though it were merely a short story in the book of my existence, as though it were a segment wholly unattached from what came before and after it. Viewing that period in this way has served me well in supporting my personal fiction: if I don’t see myself as being connected to who I was at that time, if I hold the belief that my behaviour was anomalous and therefore insignificant to the larger picture of myself, then I don’t have to incorporate it into my vision of who I am.
And it is important that I do take it into account, because if I don’t, then I have to accept the flattened paper doll version of me that I feed myself, the version that lets me pretend I am good and have always been good and I was born good and when I was little I did and said such nice things and see how I visited the elderly as a teenager and let’s skip that period of confusion that led my innocent self into accidental evil so we can see how nice I was later right up until now where I am being good until this very second. Now that I am starting to see it, I would have to be demented to accept that from myself. It’s like that time I was in a town whose main street buildings all had themed façades. At first, I thought the façades were the real building fronts, but once I realized what they were, I no longer saw complete buildings. All I could see were buildings hunkered down a few inches back behind cheaper looking false fronts.
And so here we go for another round with Richard and Schmutzie (with added pictures to carry you through this ridiculously long entry)...
Richard and I didn’t so much start dating as I just kept hanging around his house like I had been only more. I slept there, bathed there, ate there, and even brought my groceries there instead of to my own apartment. It was very much like an extended holiday. I was never at my place, Richard did all the cooking because he was a trained chef, and I remained unemployed, which meant long days over that spring and summer of doing nothing but what I felt like. I read, wrote, learned how to make soy milk, participated in an underground non-monetary bartering economy, discovered all kinds of music in B’s 500-plus cd collection, drank copious amounts of coffee, made mixed tapes, and fell more and more in love with Richard with each passing day.
From the first moment he kissed me, from the instant I could feel the cold metal of that lamp post pressing against the back of my head contrasting with warmth of his face against mine, I had this starry-eyed fairytale future that I imagined before me, and so when my illness first began grabbing hold of me again, I whisked my symptoms aside and tried to think of them as nothing. I had gone quite mad five years before, and I tried to believe that my present good life would not make allowances for psychological malfunction. It just couldn’t.
But it did. I slid quickly and quietly, telling no one in the house but Richard what I thought might be happening. It began with depression. Richard would move my crying form to the kitchen to eat and then to a hot bath and then to bed. Each place was simply another location to bear my misery. The depression shortly developed spikes of paranoia and feelings of dis-ease. I felt that anyone who was nice to me was only doing so out of social obligation because of their affiliation with Richard, but that at the root I was roundly disliked or found to be amusing like the socially inept kid at recess. I knew they covered their mouths and traded jeering grins when I turned my back.
Then, after winter was long gone, I saw great white fluffy clumps of snow falling from the sky. It fell all day and all night. It fell incessantly, yet never piled in drifts or rested in slopes on buildings and lawns. It never melted. It fell and disappeared. I was thankful that my delusion did not have the snow falling indoors, because it was wearisome to always see it and yet know I was the only one to witness its descent. The snow was tiring, but the bodies in cars were horrific. I would see them in the driver’s seats, slumped over steering wheels, bullet holes in their foreheads or temples, as though they had been executed, as though entire streets of vehicle owners had been offed one by one and left behind the wheel for me to find. Then, too, I knew that they weren’t real, that my mind was fabricating these visual atrocities possibly as a way of externalizing my innate fear of walking alone at night, but you can’t easily ignore each body as you pass them on your way home. I would walk down the middle of the street where the glow from the streetlights was brightest. I would fix my eyes on a distant spot blocks ahead of me to keep my eyes from swishing left and right.
Richard was patient and a great comfort and did whatever he could to ease my struggle, but eventually he told me that I had to seek professional help. When my paranoia began to occasionally involve the belief that he had secret machinations behind his loving exterior, something had to be done. So I made an appointment, insisted that it was an emergency and no I could not wait three months, and saw a psychiatrist the next week. Over a few visits and after hearing about my previous bout with a crippling psychological illness, he diagnosed me a paranoid schizophrenic and wrote out a prescription. I was thrilled. What was wrong with me was identifiable, it had a name, and the bottle of pills offered hope for some relief from my constant anxiety and hallucinations.
After the medication started kicking in, I didn’t know which was worse, my illness or the side effects. The resulting apathy was intense. Apathy is actually much too mild a word for what I experienced, though. Here is a rundown of what my days were like while on this particular medication: Richard woke me up, he dressed me, he fed me breakfast, he put me on the couch, he came home from work and moved me from the couch to the bathroom and then from the bathroom to the kitchen for supper, he bathed me, and then he put me to bed, repeat. For weeks, he would come home and take care of me. When he asked me if I’d eaten or gone to the bathroom, I would shrug, because I didn’t know. I was too apathetic to even feel any shame for my inability to take care of even my most basic needs. My friend K tried to help out by taking me for walks, but I would be too exhausted by the time we reached the end of the block and would have to head back to the house. The illness was starting to take its toll on my relationships. My friends felt helpless and people dropped by the house less and less. I guess my drooling on the couch was far from enticing.
Despite how deadened I felt, one small piece of my brain knew that this wasn’t right, that I could not go on taking this medication, because no matter how upsetting my mental illness had been for me, this zombie-like stupor was far worse. My body had literally gone quite numb, I couldn’t taste or smell, I heard sound as if it was coming down through a long tunnel, and my ability to tell the difference between waking reality and dreaming was blurring substantially.
The last night of my chemical confinement, I sat on the couch in the living room, screwing up what energy reserves I had so that I could get up and do something, because I felt like I was slowly dying beneath the thick layers of drug-induced listlessness. I hauled my ass off the couch, walked into the kitchen, and picked up the bottle of pills. Richard and B looked up at me from their kitchen chairs in amazement. This was the first time they had seen me move in weeks. “It’s not time for your pill yet, hon,” Richard said. “I’m not taking my pill,” I said, and I moved as quickly as I could up the stairs to the bathroom on the second floor. Richard and B thundered up the stairs after me to find me standing with the opened bottle tipping over the toilet. “What are you doing?!” Richard yelled in surprise. The chalky white pills fell into invisibility against the white porcelain of the toilet bowl before they were flushed away.
It was a couple of weeks before I felt more like my old self. Remarkably, the hallucinations and the paranoia were mostly gone and did not return with the full force that my psychiatrist predicted. Thankfully, I have not had another schizophrenic episode since, although I have come close. This bout with mental illness right when I felt like my life was untouchable shook me deeply. What could I truly put my faith in now that even my own mind and its perceptions were suspect? I realized that I hardly knew who I was, that the deep thinking child I had been had grown into a young woman who had forgotten herself, and it was up to me to find her. Both Richard and I deserved better for our life together than what I had previously been able to offer.
Stay tuned for more ancient history in the next episode...
The Chimney Sweeper: A little black thing among the snow
– William Blake, 1757 - 1827
A little black thing among the snow,
Crying "weep! 'weep!" in notes of woe!
Where are thy father and mother? say?"
”They are both gone up to the church to pray.
Because I was happy upon the heath,
And smil'd among the winter's snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
And because I am happy and dance and sing,
They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King,
Who make up a heaven of our misery."