Christmas Vacation in the Schizophrenia Factory

First Aired: 12-26-2006 -- Add comment

Federal express me benzodiazepines.

The entire trip from 7am in Northampton to 5:45pm in Atlanta Georgia crept along grey and shrouded in fog. The brief moment of sunlight at several thousand feet was best wishes from a kind angel soon very very far away.

Two hours in the car wandering up and down Peachtree street: There, there, that was open. No it wasn’t. Let’s turn around. Ok so keep going. Should we go back? I think the Denny’s was open. Look there is Benihana. What about the chinese place. Closed. Ok keep going there’s got to be something in Lennox. I manage to text my queer monk friend Callan in eastern Nevada (she’s doing a retreat with Mormons, but that’s a different story) that reads TRAPPED IN PSYCHOTIC FAMILY VORTEX. DRIVING EMPTY STREETS LOOKING FOR PLACE TO EAT. This is christmas. My amused detachment fades as eight hours without food becomes nine then ten. I start losing it.

By the time we are at a Chinese food-by-the-pound buffet for our christmas dinner I’m in one of my familiar dissociated paralysis states being yelled at by different voices in my head. This time it is all about inhabiting the pauses between sentences, and drowning in the conversation topic, pride of a cousin’s career successes, battering my own pathetic failure of a life. Distant but listening too closely to every spoken detail, which is obviously directed at me and obviously calculated to annihilate me.

It is ridiculous, which is all the more humiliating because I only have myself to blame for my susceptibility to blame, regression of guilt and being guilty at being guilty. It makes no sense why this should be getting to me. No sense why I’m becoming suicidal. No sense why my own values, friends, life, work, interests, ideas have all evaporated and my body has shrunk and I’m Gregor Samsa and maybe I can steal a crumb or two, because I don’t deserve anything.

It occurs to me how rude it is for my dad to invite the three of us to visit, pick us up at the airport, and have no idea or plan about what to do for dinner. Not rude, a trap, a clever passive deniable trap. Have I spotted the first of a whole strategy, and is my silence and freezing the way to escape? Or is this humiliation, of not speaking of not responding, of not being normal, is that the trap too?

A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state. That’s the whole point, Captain.

Back in the car and all I can do is smell everyone around me. I’m beginning to gag. My coping mechanism is the very weird thing that everyone reacts to which then proves that I am indeed this person I am becoming, this familiar mental patient lost soul, stigma ostracized outsider who has lost it. I am not responding to my family’s craziness. I am crazy and my family is responding to me. Did I get that right? My father is now copying my text messaging and sending secret codes out to his backup posse to further prove my own irrelevance, divorce means no longer the real family real kids, a life somewhere else. We are discussing his intellectual property rights infringement lawsuits, and how he cleverly fabricated one of the quotes he attributed to his serial killer biography subject and how it trapped the defendants in his suit. Apparently the mass murderer on the South Carolina death row didn’t quote Friedrich Nietzsche after all, and by claiming he did the screenwriters for CHAOS or WORLDS WORST SERIAL KILLERS or whatever it is are now a slam-dunk plagiarism case taken on contingency.

Janet Leigh is being stalked by a Mexican marijuana and speed gang. Charlton Heston is spelunking the Hall of Records.

I’m not going to make it and on the drive back I just try to render myself unconscious. They are asking me questions from very far away and I am not in control of my own body mind or voice when I don’t answer. I try to call one, two, three, four friends but can’t reach any of them. I’m convinced that anyone else I try to call will try to hurt me. I tell myself if tomorrow things aren’t better I will hitchhike to a hotel and hide out until the plane ride back. The plan is comforting. I collapse onto an old 28 year old mattress in the back bedroom, and as the wolves and dogs locked up for years in the yard pen howl at the crescent moon, I pass out and dream about facillitating a support group and my friend announcing she has kicked heroin.

The next day I manage to eat a bowl of fruit and then spend hours trying to be in whichever one of the rooms in the house that no one else is in, like those numbered tile puzzles where you can only move one tile at a time into the empty space to try to free it so the sequence makes sense. They talk with me but I can’t say anything or make eye contact. I want to eat more but the stench of cat litter is overpowering so I spend the morning cleaning out their boxes which haven’t been emptied in a month. My dad has invited over some people to work in the kitchen so we can’t cook. My brother sleeps until one; I’m jealous.

Dennis Weaver is scaring me.

I manage to kill more time on the internet playing a video game and helping get the word out to the press about leaked Eli-Lilly documents. Still not able to reach any of my friends, or at least the ones I don’t think are trying to hurt me. Or did I try? Then I take a nap. There is no cooking oil that is not rancid so I head to the gas station for Wesson for my falafels. I am using a boxed mix that says it expired in 1999. In the kitchen there are more rounds of terrifying mixed message intrusive boundary family dis-communication. My coping strategies seem more and more like self-immolation.

I’m getting desperate emails and voicemails from up north about various political activist scene crises, and they seem more catastrophic and apocalyptic than they really are. At this point my body is something owned by something else. The schizophrenia factory; that’s why all the research into family communication interpersonal dynamics that excited RD Laing and others got defunded and marginalized in the 1980s: it actually identifies real changeable realities in the world, tries to adjust the world to your madness not your madness to the world. My mind is spread on a cross between invisibility and explosion. I get out to make it to the car to make a phone call on the pretext of finding good cell reception. On the other end one of my poor friend’s voice mail is subjected to a resentful spite-filled paranoid outburst about how because no one cares about me I need to start hiring my friends to comply with my advance directive. I hang up and immediately regret having left this message. My coping strategy for my coping strategy is now compounding guilt upon my guilt. Action creates my inaction; all exits are marked FUTILE.

Charlton Heston is white passing for Latino trying to pass for white.

And then just as Police Captain Hank Quinlan is inevitably going to die in this shadow and evil infested maze of dusty streets and corrupt lawmakers, someone picks up on the other end of the phone. It feels to me like a destructive act, reaching out to my friends who care about me. That is how far my prison has confined my capacity to understand allegiance and love. And I don’t know what to say, but the dark clammy grey mist starts to burn off in the sunlight and warmth of that voice, that face and eyes and humanity from my other life, my real life, my chosen family. I’m not crying or raging or shuddering with any of the emotion numb and buried in me, but some kind of line has been sent down into the well and there is a tug at the other end. Simple words: talk to an ally, take a risk, there is someone there with you. And remember. And accept that it’s ok if this is what happens when you go into this situation. It’s ok.

Back inside a spontaneous gesture of affection manages to come out of me. Then there is a moment so well known from many many many times of collapse before. This time is different, though — I instead snap back and defend myself when disrespected, I demand a different tone of voice than the one I have just been subjected to, so degrading and belittling and familiar, tearing at an old and never healed wound. I snap back instead of collapse. Some kind of thaw? Life animating this corpse? We’ll see. I’m eating junk food, pecan pie, which has put my danger alert on flashing orange, there are men with knives circling all around and I’ve left my clever feints and hand-made armor far away, but the film is starting to be kind of fun, the director’s cut is even better than the other version I have seen, there are more lines and angles and depths and brilliance shining through. That night I dream I am having a hard time walking, stooped over like my father, and there is a flap of unhealed flesh from a scar hanging from my right side, as fragile and easily torn as paper, and it is not bloody and gaping but dry, like molting skin. I think I might survive christmas 2006 after all.

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