Psycho Killer

By October 29, 2015Blog

Clinch your fist. Raise your arm above your head. Make three forward thrusts with your forearm, like you’re pounding on a door. Now, with your voice pitched up as high as that arm, shout these nonsense syllables and see what happens.

VREEEN! VREEEN! VREEEN!

Did that get your coworker’s attention? Did she laugh and say something like, “I know, right?” before slipping back behind the divider to her desk?

VREEEN! VREEEN! VREEEN!

Now you’re hearing it from other cubicles. Stand up. Look around. Jerky little fists punching the air, happy squeals, three piercing notes. Everyone’s on board. Work sucks. Giggle away.

VREEEN! VREEEN! VREEEN!

Want bigger laughs? Get video. Post it on the Internet. Sit back and watch the hits. You’ve punked the world. From your office. Where you’re safe, anonymous, and unharmed. Awesome.

In the middle of a campus, a student who’s seen your post decides to up the ante. Inspired by your thirty seconds of fame, he grabs his GoPro and heads out to recruit his buddies. Shenanigans ensue. He captures the crew, arms in the air, shrieking away in convulsive laughter.

VREEEN! VREEEN! VREEEN!

On the crosstown bus, where riders don’t waste a moment whipping out their smartphones and staring into the screen, the silence of the commute is faintly punctured by the tinny earbud squeals of

VREEEN! VREEEN! VREEEN!

as they quietly imitate the gesture, tugging on the straps of their purses and book bags. Muffled snickers pulse with the wheels-go-round.

At home your kids are swapping the family tablet. Like the proverbial rat at the end of the maze, they repeatedly hit [PLAY], falling to the floor in peals of laughter, rewarded with a treat every time the grimacing partier in the video—ketchup smeared across her duck-lips, brandishing a carving knife— yelps “Dude, check it out! I’m a TOTAL SCHIZO!”

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Through dinner straight till bedtime, from your tweenie to your toddler, after all the lights are out, that memetic imagery hangs in the air like the cloying scent of skunk. There’s a sense of unease colder than an ice bucket, and you’re feeling challenged to identify it.

Maybe you feel dirty. Maybe you feel—what?—ashamed? No. Why would you? It’s funny. It’s really funny. It broke the doldrums at work, made for good times at school, and brought the family together ’round the kitchen table like Grandma’s famous apple pandowdy. How could you possibly feel guilty? This is our country coming together, using technology to spread the happy. If everybody’s laughing, where’s the harm in it? Don’t you people think you’re being just a little too sensitive? You’re overanalyzing a harmless gesture that everyone has fun with. It’s just a noise and a wiggle. What’s the problem?

The problem is that it reduces the lives of one percent of the world’s population to three screeches from the lips of attention-seekers who’ve likely never heard the discordant riff from Bernard Hermann’s cinematic score The Murder, let alone seen the oft-lauded “shower scene” from the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho for which it was written.

Equating the infamous 45-second slasher sequence—inspired by the unthinkable crimes of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein—with any thought disordered mental health consumer is precisely the kind of stigma that many Americans staunchly defend as their God-given right to self- expression. News Flash: it’s neither. It is unjustifiable and ignorant. Whose God would sanctify prejudice, and what country would endorse it?

Every Halloween, costume ads for the Sexy Insane Asylum Nurse and the Sexy Mental Patient get trotted out for a month or more before the party weekend arrives. And every year, intelligent people in the mental health community stop and question the torn, slutty outfit with blood spatters on it, and the coveralls coupled with a faceless mask and cleaver. But to mention the stigma reinforcement such costumes perpetrate is tantamount to treason in the selfish minds of the narcissistic party proles.

If a costume is meant to reflect the inner fantasies and aspirations of the person wearing it—a sort of ersatz cosplay empowerment, if you will—then explain the sultry allure of that insane asylum. Enlighten those of us who’ve lived through a psychotic break and the resultant hospitalization. Where’d we miss the bootylicious heat? Was it the four-point restraints or the sedative drip? Having been through that experience, I can vouch for its absolute lack of titillation—unless one finds it stimulating to be treated like an animal.

When the slasher movie’s over and the makeup’s been removed, when the costumes are cleaned and folded, members of the mainstream audience can pack those bloody terrors away and ignore them for a year. Those of us living with a mental illness don’t get to leave our fears in the cheap seats. We don’t get to take off the raiments of another’s narrow-mindedness, or wash off the disgusting slime of stigma cast upon us for being born differently.

Medicine alone won’t shut off the projector; therapy alone won’t turn up the house lights. The combination might take us to the lobby for snacks, but all too quickly we’re back in the theater, wondering silently to ourselves, “When will this discrimination stop?”

Maybe when the highly publicized witch hunt is made illegal. Maybe when the word “crazy” is co-opted by the community of mental health consumers in the way that other pejorative terms have been rendered meaningless by their respective cultures.

I’ve worn my share of costumes and makeup. I have no argument with fantasy or fun. But blatant profiteering at the expense of people with psychiatric disorders is not only insensitive, it’s offensive to any citizen with a modicum of humanity in their soul.

Think about it. Would you let your kids go trick-or-treating as The Sexy Cancer Patient? The Sexy Ebola Victim? Somehow I don’t think you would. I’d like to think that nobody would. Then again, I’m an artist who defends everyone’s right to self-expression. I’m also one of those annoying mental health advocates who believes in the dignity of every human being regardless of their diagnosis. You know, one of those people.

Oh, and one more thing. I live with this pesky nuisance called schizophrenia—a chronic and debilitating mental disorder steeped in fear and apprehension, complicated by misinterpretations of reality. Like the reality of a holiday turned sideways, where people like me can become the monster under society’s bed every 31st of October. As long as we’re “sexy”.

VREEEN! VREEEN! VREEEN!

7 Comments

  • T. Fuller says:

    I am unable to share this wonderful article on Facebook for some reason. It does show the share button but it will not post:-(
    Thank you, T.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Hi, T. Whenever I’ve had trouble sharing a post on Facebook, it’s usually something to do with settings, which can most times be fixed from one’s personal page. Maybe poke around in there, give it a try (unless you already have)? I know our guys make it easy on their wall. 🙂 Anyway, I’m glad you liked the blog this week! Thanks!

  • Carol S@ says:

    Henry, I couldn’t have said it better. Even when I occasionally ‘like’ a silly FB meme, if the word crazy or nuts is in it, I cringe. I used the term,’nuts’ the other day to describe a situation ( traffic or supermarket, I believe) I’d just experienced. As soon as I said it, my heart sunk, with guilt. Why hadn’t I thought to use a more kind adjective? Seeing the pain firsthand in my own family, I need to set a better example.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Language is a pretty big thing, Carol, and it seems to be continuously morphing, too. Words once used become obsolete, new ones enter the mix, and some just never seem to go away no matter what we do. It’s always the intention behind the words, I feel. When a person is speaking from belligerent cruelty, any word is ugly; when there’s genuine caring behind the word, or sometimes a personal sense of unity or kinship, solidarity occurs. I took a line from Silver Linings Playbook—”Calm down, Crazy!”—and applied it to my personal mantra for those times when I feel the more managable symptoms coming on. I don’tbristle at ‘crazy’ when a trusted friend and I use it together, but when I overhear a person calling a mentally ill person a ‘psychp’ or a ‘schizo’ as I did in the grocery over the weekend, my hackles go way up and I go into advocacy mode. I introduce myself as a blogger and a schizophrenic. I tell them about my advocacy work with BC2M, and have a friendly, civil conversatino with them. That’s the best way that I know how to change the way people think. It’ll take time, but we can do it. Look at the civil rights movements of the past 50 years. It’s what’s in our hearts that matters most when it comes to initiating those conversations. If the shopping mall feels a little ‘nuts’ to you, then it probably does. But a more descriptive word might be ‘chaotic’ or ‘topsy-turvy’. Your willingness to ask yourself this question publicly is such an awesome first step, so kudos to you, Carol! See? You’re already acting in an advocacy capacity! Cheers! 🙂

  • Sarah w says:

    WORD.

  • Henry Boy says:

    In the “Art Imitating Life Department” [from my Facebook page 10.30.15]:

    Overheard at the grocery today [one 40-something adult to a group of three others]: “I’m going as a schizophrenic – blood and everything! It’ll be awesome!”

    Normally, I would’ve walked up to them, introduced myself, and shown them what a certified schizophrenic “looks like”, but of course without all the awesome blood.

    I would have given them my card and told them about my blogging for BringChange2Mind; I’d make contact and practice tolerance of the educational variety. But since my morning started with hate mail regarding my recent blog, I was a little off my game. I went out for pancakes instead, and talked with a trusted friend.

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