It’s a party, but none of the guests are familiar. They ignore you, which is fine, because this is an experiment.
Stand still. Don’t mingle. Close your eyes and listen. Listen to their conversations, the chitchat, small talk, pickup lines, and gossip. People sharing their day-to-day experiences. Communication. It sets us apart from the furniture.
Remain silent. Don’t respond. Pay close attention to every word, every nuance of every word, every inflection, accent, and social cue. Was that laughter? Is someone flirting? Are you attempting to associate what you think you know with what you know you’re hearing? Was that empathy or censure? Did a tongue bubble up from the cotton-batting patter and pique your attention? Was it directed at you or at someone else? You’re minding your own business, keeping to yourself. What did you do to deserve criticism? And why are you rattled?
Stay calm. Step outside. Get some air.
Open your eyes, but don’t turn around. Let the breeze and the night air soothe your nerves. Watch the skyline. Focus on your heartbeat. Let’s continue this experiment somewhere else. Some place bigger, less claustrophobic. The train depot. You’ll be anonymous there.
Imagine that you are a secret agent. Your skill set makes you irreplaceable. You have information that is highly valued. Your adversaries will stop at nothing to acquire that data. This is the danger of espionage, but you have never been uncloaked, never disclosed your sub rosa intel. So why does the depot make you uneasy? Could it be that these bystanders are not here to board the train? Have they instead assembled for some nefarious purpose? Are they carrying technology which enables them to intercept your thoughts? Can they replace those thoughts with forgeries? Leave now, before you risk the mission. Return home. It’s safer there.
All that excitement has made you hungry. Let’s continue the experiment.
Sit in your favorite chair. Look at your watch. Are you still hungry? Had you forgotten? Imagine now that you are your chair; you have no frame of reference for hunger. What does it mean to be hungry? Was there a memory of an answer? What was it? Food? Best perhaps not to follow this line of questioning. You are a chair, after all, and furniture does not wont for nourishment. You are redundant. The floor would suffice. This is existence, not life. Life is made of variables too numerous to calculate. You are an object, not an object lesson.
Despair, or do not. There is no choice.
Bring to mind your best friend, how you grew up together and shared every dream. Times are different, you’re older now, but when you meet them, they look the same. Not in the colloquial sense, nor the yearbook cliché of Dorian High. No, they are exactly the same: their clothes, their hair, their age and size, forever frozen, enduring, unchanged. Your therapist tells you your friend is not real. In time that friend may say farewell, another one might take their place. Is this evocation, or treading a slipstream? Are you attempting to associate what you know you’re thinking with what you think you know?
Our experiment is almost complete.
Picture each scenario as a three dimensional film, projected on separate plate glass screens: the party, the depot, the chair, and the friend. Stack each plate on top of the other. Concentrate. Each diegesis works on its own, but fused and compacted all context is lost. Any attempt to discern a cohesive thread results in confusion. Chaos emboldened. A chimera.
This is what it is to open the mind.
I have offered, in narrative form, oversimplified examples of a few individual components of the symptomology of schizophrenia: hallucination, anxiety, paranoia, avolition, dissociation, depression, and delusion. In asking you to consider them as one molten concept, I have presented a working notion of psychosis within the framework of this debilitating thought disorder.
My objective is to share my experience, strength, and hope, by asking you to spend a few moments in my shoes. We can create a conversation where silence might have been. Misinformation fuels the stigma and discrimination that every person living with a mental illness feels daily, doing little to address the more significant challenges at hand: affordable health care, cultural inclusion, solvency, acceptance, and authentic, respectful support.
Tabloids are driven by drama. Drama is driven by conflict. Conflict requires resolution. Resolution delivers on promise. Promise is based on assurance. Assurance is born of ability. Abilities are gained through experience. Experience is acquired through knowledge. Knowledge affords understanding. Understandings are formed through agreement. Agreement leads to harmony. Harmony ensures wholeness. To be whole is to be one – unbroken, undamaged, healthy.
Don’t remain silent. Don’t stand still. Share those day-to-day experiences. Respond and mingle. It’s a party, and every one of the guests are welcome. Especially you.
Henry Boy Jenkins is a Seattle artist, writer, and musician living with schizophrenia. He received his diagnosis in 2010 and has been managing his illness with a passion ever since. He is currently writing a memoir chronicling his experiences with schizophrenia and trauma in the hope that people living with a mental illness – as well as those who love and care for them – will find something in his story that compels them to share their own. Publicly open in his advocacy for awareness and change, Henry focuses on education and communication as the most effective tools in any superhero’s utility belt. Honesty and courage work hand-in-hand to combat stigma.