Untamed Heart

By September 4, 2014Blog

I was in grade three when I skipped school for the first time. I excused myself to use the restroom, but ditched classes altogether and escaped to the shopping district. The movie theater was only a mile away. I found a side entrance and slipped in unnoticed. The darkness welcomed me. That day I discovered a sense of something other than confusion. Pictures, movement, dialog, and music, in harmony and constant motion. It was fluid and right, and I could relate.

Movies became my emotions. Not the excitement or the stories, but the viscosity. Of joy and sorrow, of love and strife. Those behaviors which I had only understood as facial contortions and conventional responses were suddenly freed to be mine. Not as conditioning or allowance would have them, but as a hardwired connection to the heart.

I was undefined, tractable, a statue hiding within the stone. I lived my childhood never knowing what was real and what was imagined. I’d studied the faces of adults to learn what was expected: the lilt, the growl, the grumble, coo, and cry. The disguise behind the mask, the prehensile pretense beyond the ploy. The emotion. I lived inside my featureless face, smiling when I was told to, frowning when everyone frowned. The difference between me and the other kids? Their emotional arc waned naturally, spark to fizzle, tantrum to tears. Mine stopped like a razor edit. Vegetable chopping knife hits bone. There was no blood. Now there is.

Voices used to come with a person attached. I accepted this phenomenon in much the same way that any child accepts a puppet; it moves on its own, it speaks to the crowd, therefore it must be real. There is no suspension of disbelief because there is only acceptance of what logic proves out: the terry cloth pirate is not a marionette, the high seas are not made of cardboard. The experience is palpable. Like the voices only I could hear. Real and true.

Frustration inevitably bled to surrender when I realized that no one was listening. They couldn’t or wouldn’t – maybe even refused to – see what I saw or hear what I heard. I was admonished and ridiculed for being oversensitive, unresponsive, hyper-alert, and preoccupied. Heads, tails, dotted line. Inside, out – too bright, too loud. I wasn’t the princess, the pea, or the mattress. I was all three interfused, a recombinant child. A rod puppet in a lightning storm. Alone and afraid.

Over time I grew suspicious of the outside world. I couldn’t comprehend social interaction; I only trusted toys. Food became a mystery, eating a ritual. Fear began to dominate my life. I couldn’t sleep for the nightmares. I still wet the bed in high school. The dichotomy between my private reality and the common one had created a rift that my best efforts couldn’t resolve. Instinctively, I knew there was something more to it. I tried to watch and learn, but it never sunk in. Nothing has changed. I am not a typical card in the emotional spokes of Plutchik’s wheel, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel. The ride is just different.

My disorder created a way to contend with my lack of connection to the naturally occurring states of mind. By producing a sensory impression relating one of my senses to another, I could equate, for example, desire with light, depression with brine. This neurological phenomenon is referred to as synesthesia.

I hear color and texture. I inhale touch. Kisses are wheat in the deep summer sun. Sound is muscle, is sinew, is home. So I write. I play. I watch the film. I live in the frames between the action. The camera and I are one.

My collections of music and movies and games do not inform my emotions. Rather, they are my emotions. By this definition, I can find joy and sorrow, adventure and strife. I can love. This may be the result of a lifetime of maverick psychosis, as I am only aware of this function in recent years. Or perhaps I’m crawling out from under the effects of trauma. I don’t presume to know. I listen and learn. I educate myself. It is a part of my story, my advocacy, and my survival.

I relate to others through art-as-emotion. It may be intangible, but it is the only way that I can make a friend. Medicine doesn’t understand it, and science doesn’t teach it. This is the desolate terrain of schizophrenia.

One day I will die. It might sound like the color of kisses or smell like a shirt made of rain. I would like to believe that at some point people will learn to accept the differences and not rely solely upon the lilt, the growl, the grumble, and coo. When two hearts touch you can taste the world.

One Comment

  • Linda says:

    Henry,

    It was so helpful to read your story. Your words are so beautifully intense and truthful. My son was diagnosed two years ago as bipolar with psychotic features. Not having another family member with this illness, I quickly scrambled to educate myself find to find support wherever it was available. I would love to be able to talk with you more about your illness, about what type of support you receive. About what things help you cope day to day, and so much more. The issue I have with medical professionals are they have only studied the illness. They have not lived with it. My son has had two suicide attempts. He has been stable 1 1/2 years. I thank you for sharing your story. I would like the opportunity to talk with you further. Thank you. Linda W.

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