Thursday, April 25, 2013

the voices that we hear.

The police tackled the man, who shrieked like a wounded dog yelping at a nail in his paw. He didn't fall to the ground, but rather crumbled, collapsed to the hospital's linoleum floor like a kindergartner's block tower. Once he was on the ground, one officer put his hand to his holstered taser while four others grabbed the man's arms and legs and picked him up.

He begged to be let down, and was told that he could walk himself if he would only calm down. "I will," he muttered, and the two officers carrying his feet lowered his bottom half to the floor. At this point, he pushed up with this feet like he was trying to jump to the ceiling, at which point the now-unburdened officers caught his calves, midair, and held him horizontal. He sprawled and he caterwauled as they carried him away on a makeshift gurney of his own limbs.

They tried to use the extra-wide revolving door, but the man arched his back and starfished his appendages, jamming feet against the windows and triggering the stop. He kept kicking and punching and screaming—"I work for God all day and all night/you have no idea who I really am/get your goddamn hands off of me/ please dear God will one of you help me/God in Heaven save me"—but they finally got him outside before they put him on the ground, stomach-side-down, handcuffed him, hoisted him into the back of a patrol car, and took him who-knows-where.

At the conclusion of my first night of volunteering in the hospital lobby, I walked out to the parking lot, brushing gently through the crowd forming on the sidewalk, climbed into my car, and drove home.

I can still hear him screaming.


Katie and I saw Silver Linings Playbook back in December, just a few weeks after I moved back to Utah. Her husband doesn't watch R-rated movies—WHAT A NERD, AMIRIGHT—so we travailed to the crappy theater in Millcreek, the only one showing it, and enjoyed a gargantuan bucket of kettle corn (seriously, it was probably built to carry ice melt) while watching Crazy People Fall In Love.

We got in a car accident that night. It wasn't too bad—a dented axle and a hubcap that went flying like an olympic discus—but it shook me up. I'm naturally prone to anxiety, but the movie had set me up like a tee-ball stand, and slamming into that elevated curb, mid-snowstorm, sent me over the edge.

As we'd left the theater, Katie asked me if I was okay. She's known me since junior high, and she was semiwilling audience to all sorts of my teenage melodramatics. But maybe even just by a change in my step, a lurch in my gait, let her know that something was amiss, and she was right.

If you'd seen the flick, you've seen the parts where Bradley Cooper's character experiences a dramatic combination of panic attacks, flashbacks, and delusions that culminate in intense re-livings of traumatic past experiences, perhaps amplified by his own imbalances.

I've had those.


Okay, maybe not to that extent, but I've heard voices. I've experienced sensations that were not based in reality. I've seen, heard, and felt things that weren't there, and I don't mean spiritual experiences or some kind of existential revelation—this was a straight-up visit to BananasTown. These times shook me precisely because nothing is more terrifying than not being able to trust yourself.

I'm still prone to bouts of occasional illogical upset at the hands of hypothetical conspiracy—although, as a close friend put it to me, it's not paranoia if there's precedent—but I'm almost 100% past these things. Sporadic relapses into darkness plague days and nights (dreams, mostly) and not only underline existing issues as Matters of Life and Death, but create nightmares wholecloth from problem-less situations. Imagine a negotiator so persuasive that they convince you that you only have one arm, despite being able to see your arm right there, attached to your torso, its hand giving a thumbs-down to whatever fictional crap this part of you is shoving in its face.

You can only resist for so long, really, at which point you start to hear the voices.

It's been different people, and always in a harsher voice than has ever really been spoken—a disappointed parent, a regret-filled ex-girlfriend, a boss who can't believe they waited this long to throw you out the second floor window. And that's the thing—they're fictional. These are templates that your dumb, broken brain takes from existing folks and builds into nightmarish scarecrows that shatter your faith and destroy your peace and laugh the whole time they're doing so. You know that you did your best, you know that you did right by them, and you know that you worked your hindquarters off, but the all-powerful brain thinks otherwise, and it lets you know.

You can't shake it. You can't appeal to logic when your brain, YOUR CENTRAL IF NOT ONLY CENTER OF LOGIC, is insisting on something that isn't true. Prayer, deduction, etc. are completely helpless in the face of such overwhelming, self-induced cognitive despair, and there's nothing. that. you. can. do. about. it.

So you do your best. Understanding that your brain is broken helps, so you make do. You dunk your head into Spider-Man comics, Prince albums, Steinbeck novels, and Cassavetes movies while doing your absolute damndest to ignore that part of you, the chunk of your mind that's telling you how dangerous everything and everyone is and how they're all out to get you, and you push it down like a water wing at the public pool and hope that it takes at least seconds to resurface.


I watched that man shriek and holler that someone help him, and a part of me shook, knowing that I was perhaps only a misfired synapse away from such a debilitating condition. I'm not a violent man by any stretch—I'm a Quaker, for God's sake, and I have to read books about how to be assertive—but good grief, there's nothing like seeing a man lose complete control to remind you of how tenuous yours was.

What chemicals in my brain appear in milliliters and allow me to be calm in the face of confusion and dismay? What about the people who've never had anything but a smile on their face—what're their serotonin levels? And the folks with an unshakeable belief in a loving, omnipotent, omniscient God who goes out of His/Her/Its way to comfort and unforsake(?) them...what do they do on dark nights of the soul in which the world proves alien and their minds fare no better?

This is how it works. And this is what is inescapable.

I can't even write this without help. I'm currently about four glasses into a bottle of red wine because this is all too much to process without a foggy cloak of tannins hovering over my shoulders. It's not a matter of alcohol, either—nine times out of ten I'll just take a jog and watch cartoons—but there's a vulnerability necessary to these discussions, one that can't really be arrived at without intense therapy and/or 26-proof grape juice.

So that's where we're at, I guess. I saw a guy freak the shit out and go crazy, but what does that mean?

I guess it means that, in a slightly different world, where I was held as a child two minutes less than I was in this world, if I'd been given an additional gram of sugar in my infant diet, if I'd whatever whatever whatever, whatever whatever whatever "Whatever, WHATEVER!" whatever—then maybe I'd be that guy, cowering in fear at the back of a headrest in a Salt Lake Police Department cruiser in front of a children's hospital where all I wanted to do was get some help.

That's what the security guard said he was there for, after all: he was a paranoid schizophrenic, a guy in his mid-40s, who thought he'd ended up at the nextdoor college teaching hospital, but who stumbled into the nearby children's hospital. I don't begrudge the police officers and security guards, either—if children are directly involved, my civil liberties bullshit flies out the window like a deranged sparrow trapped indoors—they just did their jobs, and were as gentle as could be with a man flailing like a party favor whistle.

But this part of me can't escape thinking how terrifying it is not to be able to trust what you see, hear, feel.

And it may sound like ridiculous tripe, but all I want is for that guy to calm down long enough for someone to put their arms around him, whisper a "sshhhhhh" into his good ear, and pray with him for the ghosts to go away long enough to feel the warmth about his shoulders and the cheek against his neck.


Dalene said...

Here's the thing. You can't wrap your arms around them and whisper your choked-up shhh-es in their ear until they've calmed down a notch or ten. Or, as it was, climbed off the roof you were so terrified they were going to jump off. Even then he can't hear your shhh-es over the voices in his head. Sometimes she's just curled up into a ball of catatonic state and all you can do is hold her distant body and stroke her hair over her ears and choke-whisper "I love yous" into her deaf ears. Knowing she has shut herself far away to protect herself from the voices. Sometimes...well, that's enough for now. Damn fine post gut-punched me in the heart and the deep recesses of carefully hidden memories.

Meg said...

This part of the human-psyche needs further exploration, and I think you've bridged a gap in this. Know you are not alone. Some of us live through this day to day thing in just the same state. I admire your honesty.