Hi there. Are you comfortable? Got yourself situated in a good seat, coffee in hand's reach? This opening is intended primarily for my regular reading audience who've only become familiar with me recently, and/or for those of you who've known me for a little while, but have very little familiarity with the realities of my regular, daily life. To be frank, this is a post that is INTENDED for everyone, but which possesses the potential to make some of my long-time acquaintances, colleagues, and friends perhaps a little uncomfortable, due to some of the facets of my personal life that I'm finally opting to share more broadly, and because one of the items on the agenda often carries a lot of stigma with it.
So, let's get started with the personal stuff.
-I'm a Little Angry, All the Time
This is something that folks in my real world circles of friends and coworkers seem to struggle to believe when I bring it up from time to time. The most common response is, "Really? You don't seem angry." Well, yes, that's largely a function of my understanding that EXPRESSING anger all the time is a giant social no-no, and would leave people with a really bad impression of me. But every day, something gets a little under my skin, and these things build throughout the day, every day. I hold onto that energy, and most times, I find a way to redirect that energy to a productive purpose. That doesn't mean I don't get angry; it just means I usually figure out how to BE angry to my advantage. Most days....
-I Have Been in Too Many Fights
When I was in my early 20's, thanks to training in kenpo karate, wing chun, and muai tai for several years, I felt very little need to abstain from potentially violent situations, and got into several altercations. To avoid legal troubles, I ended up signing up for numerous amateur-level sanctioned muai tai fights, 15 of them. I enjoyed the violence, doling it out and having it aimed at me. I felt more alive, fighting, than doing anything else.
Until my last two losses, back-to-back fights only three days apart. And let me tell you, that last kid? He beat the fucking brakes off of me, cracked my face plate with an expertly timed elbow to my face. He was way faster than me, and superbly technical, all focus and zero blind rage. That humbled me, and I gave it up with an 11-4 record that I honestly am often ashamed of. I shouldn't have been fighting to begin with, but I felt a need for it. Largely due to, well, another factor of my life, one that started to take firm hold when I was 14 or 15....
-I Couldn't Hit Who I Wanted To
That might seem like an obscure header, so let me explain. When I was 14, approaching my 15th birthday, I started to notice these peculiar moments throughout my days. There would be times where I would hear these murmuring, muttering, whispering voices, all around me. Now, this wasn't too unusual- I was a relatively weird kid in a high school that was very clique-ish. The odds were always decent that someone was trying to be coy nearby while talking trash.
Problem was, it was happening even when I was alone. Not ideal, especially given a family history of mental illness.
The biggest trouble arrived one night while I was walking home from my buddy Paulie's house. Angola is a quiet little village in Western New York, and back then, it was not exactly a well-lit little town. The imagination could really run wild, if you let it. Or, as in my case, if you were predisposed to uncontrolled bursts of stimulae showing up from random misfiring in the brain.
I smelled something odd, a blend of cinnamon and spoilt meat, wafting from behind the village post office. When I wandered back there into the grassy yard behind to check it out, I found myself looking at a rather out of place fellow. He towered over me, roughly six and a half feet tall, dressed in a crisp black-and-white checkerboard suit, with a dark pink button shirt beneath and a pale gray tie. On the tie, he wore a pin, a sigil with four hooked blue claws, joined along their curved tops by a solid black line.
He wore no shoes, because his feet were those of a raven, as was the oversized head sprouting from his neckline. One feathered hand was held on his hip, the other holding a slim, silver microphone, like a game show host. And with a broad smile full of too many teeth, he swooped down beak-to-nose with me, and in a very calm and almost English accent said, "A touch unsettling, isn't it?" And then he laughed at me, and I blacked out.
I regained control of myself at the hosital, where I had apparently been transported. When I hadn't showed up back home by midnight, my parents and brothers came out looking for me. I tried to tell them what happened, but nobody believed me. Nor did they believe me when, the next week, I suffered a pack of giant blue wolfhounds with scorpion stingers for tails following me to school and home, speaking in random television and movie quotes. My father at one point, when I tried to open up about the bat-winged skull with one eyeball sitting and singing lullabies on my bedroom window in the mornings, told me to shut the fuck up about all of it, or I was going to be thrown in the 'funhouse'.
I didn't even mention the returning appearances of the bird-thing, or the conversations I eventually had with it. I learned his name- Quoth.
Bad joke, but one I got a snicker from anyhow.
You see, I'm a schizophrenic.
Yes, if you know my Amelia City Stories, you know Quoth. Know this, too; I hate him. I have always hated him, and I blamed him, early on, for my condition. That's why I wanted to hit him, to beat him to death. I was convinced, utterly, that he was some kind of tangible entity of some kind, sent to torment me, and that I could somehow kill him.
But with time comes a kind of understanding, sometimes.
Quoth is both a curse and a blessing. Sometimes, he is darkly hilarious. Sometimes, he seems to hold onto things I've read or heard, and helps me remember them. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and want to shriek, because he's in the corner of the room, half-concealed in shadows and just glowering at me with these gnashing teeth in half-seen mouths floating all around, as if waiting for me to say or do the wrong thing, to allow him to eviscerate me.
And other times, he shows up dressed in sailor's dress regalia singing "He Is an English Man" from H.M.S. Pinafore while juggling flaming chainsaws in my living room. He's pure unreality, and I hate him and appreciate him for it. He's the longest-lasting delusion I've ever had.
And when I involve him in a story I'm writing, he goes away for a little while. It's like he's busy elsewhere, so he doesn't have time to bother me. There are other things to contend with: the Whispers, the Blue Hounds, the occasional appearance of a floating door with the number plates '2' and '6' embossed on it, but they are easier to ignore as simple hallucinations.
And that's why I sometimes seem disjointed, or distracted. It's why I try to keep busy all the time with my kids, my wife, my job, my writing, because when I have too much down time, these things start creeping in and seeming more real to me. Medication helps dull them all further, but they're never completely gone.
-Why Am I Telling You This?
Firstly, I don't want or need pity; I'm waaaaaay better adjusted than a lot of other schizophrenics with persistent delusions or hallucinations. I'm functional, have a loving wife and kids, and a passion for genre fiction and artistic expressive freedom that keeps me loving my life most days. The worst phase of my life was when I was trying to use booze to quiet the noise in my head, which turned into a bad batch of alcoholism.
9 years sober, woo hoo!
I didn't receive any official diagnosis until I was in the Air Force, where my commanding officers and fellow Airmen observed certain behaviors and mannerisms that kicked off suspicions that something was wrong. I didn't tell them everything, though, and was dubbed as having Borderline Personality with Schizotypal ideation. It wasn't until about a year ago, when my symptoms started ramping up under the stresses of the pandemic and being laid off, that I went and sought help actively in the private sector.
My new analyst stated flatly that the military had it wrong, in large part to my opting to finally tell SOMEONE the whole hog of it all. He informed me that I have Paranoid Schizophrenia with Antisocial Behavioral Tendencies.
But I have coping mechanisms and tactics that worked for a looooong time, from the age of 14 to 38. Not too shabby, I'd say.
It isn't easy, hanging on to reality. Most of the time, I can tell you that the things I see and hear that aren't real, aren't real. I can tell when it's just in my head. Usually.
And that's what I want to get across here, to drive home. If I hadn't just laid this all out here for you, how many of you would have guessed that this carnival of queerly disquieting and sometimes darkly hilarious nonsense filled my existence for 24 years?
I've been fortunate. I have family, friends, creative pursuits. But most folks dealing with hallucinations don't have those advantages.
So please, give up a prayer for them, or good vibes, if that's your thing. More importantly, petition for them to have affordable access to help, and maybe some options that don't kick them back to the streets after 72 hours.
That's all for now.
Sorry to make you uncomfortable.
But at least you don't have a skulking bird-thing to wake up to.