Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mental illness: Laughter in Crazytown.

Mental illness can feel like being trapped in the movie "Labyrinth." You swear you're walking straight ahead on an undeviating path. You look at the walls around you and they seem flat, sturdy and sound. Every once and a while you stop and talk to some sentient rodent who seems, while unusual, reasonable enough. Sometimes you take their queues on the way you should go. But then if you could see yourself from above, you'd know you were swirling around in an endless corkscrew of constantly shuffling walls and talking to mischievous sock-puppets operated by your own imagination.

The worst is the confusion. In your paranoia you absolutely believe, without any shadow of doubt, that klutzy barista Sharon throws scalding lobs of mocha at you in an attempt to make you feel shame. In spasms of post traumatic stress, you are entirely convinced with histrionic certainty that your assigned work shadow Brian is really orchestrating a plot to get you alone and assault you. Your disassociation invisibly splits your mind into raucous versions of "Crossfire" in which you and another you both attest with equal sincerity that you really are a Republican traditionalist who just wants to go to work, and you are also an anarchist hippie twitching to chuck all your things in a van and move to Venice Beach tonight. Then you wake up the next morning sleeping in the van in the kmart parking lot curled up on a pile of fifty cent stuffed animals and you have no idea why. (It's not as fun as it sounds.)

And don't even get me started on the medication. There are pills that give you a "safety net" but replace the whispering voices of sinister evil with a constant ringing in your ears that makes you want to bust your ear drums with booming Rastafari just to get some peace. Then there are the pills that temper your highs but make you feel like some rubberized prisoner in that moment when Ben Stein drones "Beuler. . .  Beuler. . .  Beuler. . . " and you can barely move your legs to escape because every part of you feels like it's swimming in lukewarm pudding. And then there are the pills that make you slightly less convinced that everyone you know wants to kill you, but simultaneously make you gain forty-two pounds and have untoward "leakage" that none of those previously murderous friends can ever discover.

Sometimes you feel your only choices are a disease that is a whirligig of interminably conflicting inputs and swings through bliss, terror and despair, and a recovery that is a parched desert of grey-tone faces,  muffled voices, dulled sensations and drowsily stumbling thoughts.

Plus, without your disease, in recovery, you can feel completely un-anchored. You may have been convinced that the voice in your head, who told you your place in the mystical architecture was eternal, penitent punishment, was God's. If that voice disappears, does God vanish too? Maybe you never lived one day not impelled through frenetic busywork by mania. How do you fill your hours once you're calm?

And who do you connect with? It's not like you can just go up to the guy in the lunch room and say, "Gosh you know, sometimes it is just so hard to stop crying in the morning in time to get ready for work, right?" 'Cause it's not like he'll, perchance, just back away slowly and maybe pull the fire alarm or anything.

You feel isolated. Like it's just you, and your disease, alone on a wide grassy plain with nothing else but crickets. It's scary.

But you're not alone. A recent article showcasing three people who got better from severe schizophrenia and depression highlights that, to stay well, they:

Have fun. And connect with others.

Often, we who bear mild to extreme crazies feel as though anyone who might discover our inner Wonderland would go running screaming into the night. We can also feel excessive shame. Sometimes the only people who feel safe are those suffering like us. And there are few more healing remedies than laughing with someone about that time you taped the windows shut against night daemons, and how it's not as funny as when they nailed the door closed to keep the giants out.

Just listen to these guys:

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it." ~ Bill Cosby

"No mind is thoroughly well organized that is deficient in a sense of humor." ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Some of the most ill of us are wiser, stronger and braver than the sanest of the curmudgeoney sane. Despite our struggles and brain-kinks, we can sometimes offer more to each other and the world than could someone who's survived less. And we gain huge relief from our illness when we can treat it like some cross-breed of David Bowie and a Boggart. (Just picture that for a second. Dita Von Teese? Anyone?) Our disease may never leave us. But its weight upon us and power over us will decrease significantly if we can laugh it out with friends. 

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