Voices Forum front page //// articles //// Personal Stories //// Views on Severe Mental Illness //// site index


AN ENDURING EPISODE OF SCHIZOPHRENIA

By Andrew L


Coughing, traffic, laughter and possibly a few remarks or comments have been for me the most frightening aspects of my diagnosed schizophrenia.

Coughing was a source of distress for me and, while I do recognise that it can be a very real symptom of physical conditions like asthma or bronchitis or even the common cold, I thought that people were doing it deliberately to cause emotional pain and uncertainty. It could put me out of countenance to such an extent that I felt my face was clouded over with a literal darkness. No rosy, healthy hue for me. I felt ugly and wretched. I feared the noise of traffic and lived in dread of drivers sounding their horns. My head would at times beat with the awful sound of passing cars, buses and lorries. Motorbikes too. It wasn't so much a fear of the actual steel or metal but I feared the drivers were enjoying driving their vehicles to cause distress. Trains running on a timetable were not such a threat to me.

Walking down the street and feeling myself the target of pedestrians coughing en passant, sometimes quite vigorously, and having also the fear of cars and horns and the rush of wheels were sensations that could overwhelm me. At best I faced it all with a kind of dull, resentful endurance. I felt dazed, confused and pierced by pain. I'll always remember when these fears first took hold, the first coughs, the first car, the first few laughs. Did those people actually lie in wait for me, to pounce like tigers on the hunt, or was that just my imagination?

What pleasure could there possibly be in hurting someone that way? How can I explain the complete indifference of passers-by? And what of my sheer terror at times, when I felt as though colleagues were trying to murder me, and my voice ascended in pitch to a shrill thin squeak and it seemed there was no way out?

Even in the simple things like walking down the street, life became a nightmare, with obstacles in the form of people and vehicles. The street where I live now has busy traffic, and the neighbours talk of traffic-calming measures, but for most hours of the day and night sixteen or so buses sweep past in each direction. I also work in a community pharmacy shop and there is not shortage of people coughing. Those wouldn't be ideal circumstances for a relapse and return of symptoms.

These worries were my betes noirs, bug-bears, weak spots, vulnerabilities - call them what you like. I went downwards in mood and intellect, numbed by these distracting noises. Mine was an illness. It may be that parallel cases exist, but I have often felt alone, quite alone, in my grief. I believe that such feelings cannot be unusual and I believe that fear of noises may even be commonplace - that is, perhaps, my madness speaking - but it is just that, as one French philosopher put it, 'The greatest griefs are dumb, silent". What a symptom iceberg exists out there, I wonder. I was someone in an isolated position, and no amount of talking with health professionals could alleviate the pain.

In my madness, I wrote half a dozen or so letters to old acquaintances, people from school and university and so on, intending out of best motives to warn them of these things that I considered dangerous man-traps, never expecting any reply. I thought myself frank and courageous. Over the years though, I have been pained by their silence. Like the innocent, dewy-eyed, letter-writing Tatyana of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, I have pined in secret fashion.

I sometimes wonder if this sense of isolation has contributed to the passive, negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Having no proper comeback on my active or positive symptoms, that is the fear of coughing and traffic and such, I begin to withdraw emotionally from life; to disengage; to retreat. This lack of support and the feeling of being let down don't help when you are on your back in a mental hospital.

I felt like someone in a kind of coma, in complete prostration of mind and body. Being like that I always say is possibly good preparation for death, but you had better take that one up with The Almighty. It is like being under a concrete blanket, as a fellow sufferer once said. It's sad, but it happens all over the world. There is nothing particularly romantic about schizophrenia. It wastes lives.

In my case I feel that the cause of my fear of these noises was rooted in a couple of incidents, triggers, from when I was younger. Once I suspected I was seen when I picked up some tattered pieces of pornography by the side of the road on the outskirts of Cambridge. I felt abashed and embarrassed. On another memorable occasion I felt I was seen by a manager at work flirting with a woman. I can't even recall who. I was puffed up like a puri in the trouser department. If you don't know what an Indian puri is, look it up in a recipe book or, better, go for a curry some time. I offended as a man and I hope I can be forgiven my offences as I never persisted as a devil. I certainly never intended any harm. To compound matters and to add a sharper edge to the occasion, the manager who saw me had earlier given me a very poor performance review, marking me with poor man management skills, under point l(a).

Anyway, mine were only mild sexual misdemeanours. I can't begin to imagine what it is like to have committed a capital offence like rape and find oneself serving time in a jail where sexual offenders are given a hard time. To add some more piquancy to my case, one of my psychiatrists was dismissed from his job for various nefarious activities, including trying to rape a patient. Imagine how I felt as I was having breakfast at the Sunshine Cafe and reading about it in The Sun. "Oooh? I say? The wicked old so-and-so".

With me, the incidents were a cause of guilt and embarrassment. In my mind there is a connection between the sexual guilt and my paranoid fear of traffic, coughing and laughter. It may be that this is an illusionary bridge or artefact of my mind. When the distress really started to establish itself in my guilty, furtive and definitely nervous life, the incidents and memories, the thoughts and feelings that they engendered, mounted up to haunt me and I felt like the dirtiest and most disgusting of men.

As a critic of James Joyce's Finnegan 's Wake once wrote, it is when the battle is at its height that life reveals its most shameful secrets. A Samaritan once told me "In Jamaica they say the high wind knows where the old house is". I merely state the connection in my mind and my other feelings in general. I do represent the lunatic fringe after all. I do think the connection is important, and certainly, in the Indian form of meditation I practice, Sahaja Yoga, we learn that feelings of guilt are quite common, particularly in the Western world. The left vishuddhi (throat) and left agnya (mind) chakras become blocked.

What is more, and perhaps most important of all, is that I needed to be honest about the incidents and I needed to confess them. Confess is perhaps the wrong word, as I had done nothing particularly shameful, in my opinion, but I did feel a sort of visceral pain before I came clean. It was in areas corresponding to the lower chakras. What would have happened to me without confession, I wonder? An emotional guilt equivalent of tuberculosis or some such serious condition; pretty horrendous schizophrenia I suspect. In James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen feels a great relief too after he has made a confession.

It is so important to have someone one can talk to about problems, and someone who can listen is perhaps the greatest thing of all, something beyond words. It is an example of the mysterious way we are connected inside to each other, like some say we are dreams or prayer or what we call 'the collective' in Sahaja yoga.

Two things I have found very helpful and therapeutic over the years, apart from guts, grit and determination, or lack of them and those are reading and Sahaja yoga. I did find reading helpful, as it enabled me to cross-reference my problems and to reduce my feelings of paranoia by comparing myself to fictional characters. I find reading has become so much part and parcel of my well-being that I am surprised mental health professionals do not make use of it. There is an innovative bibliotherapy project being made from Huddersfield Library which received coverage in the national press, and I do hope it continues to do good service for people with mental health problems and that the good efforts catch on elsewhere.

For coughing I found Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea the most beneficial. The bullying naval officer is up to every dirty trick, including a 'repressive cough'. I also compare myself to the mad Roman emperor in the television adaptation of Robert Graves' I Claudius. He orders a Praetorian guard to cut off his nephew Gamellus's head for coughing in the senate. "Madness in great ones (ie Royalty, not me) must not unwatched go" (ex Hamlet). I will also mention Chekhov's A Dreary/Boring Story, where there is an irritable/angry cough. It does help if you can see your mental phenomena as happening somewhere on a scale - sure I was mad and paranoid and distracted, but I'm sure there was an element of unfriendliness directed against me.

Something else very useful was The Deceivers by John Masters, a fictional account of how an Englishman infiltrated the Thuggee cult in order to expose it as an evil that could beset the unwary traveller in India. The hero has to make no mistake in feel or tone to accomplish his dangerous task, not to fight squalor and cruelty but to become part of them. By coincidence, these thugs killed by strangling with rumal, and I often in my madness felt my neck fill up with a sense of guilt. It was another aspect of my aural torment. In Sahaja yoga terms I was catching on the left vishuddhi. In psychiatric terms it is a delusion, a symptom.

My pain was also relieved by incidents mentioned in John Prebble's Culloden. Culloden (1746) was a defeat and massacre for the Highlanders and marked the beginning of the end, and a very brutal end, with rape and decimation and such horrors, for the Highland way of life. The Highlands are now quite a deserted place, and instead of Highland Gaelic, you will hear the English language and the unpleasant sound of sheep"

Anne McKay, a servant maid who helped a Jacobite officer escape, and Evan McKay, an agent carrying codes and French letters (no, not those humble heroes formerly supplied under the counter, like an old spy movie, in chemists and barbers shops, but secret messages from France, in code), both spend time separately and as punishment and torture, in a coffin-shaped cell called the Bridgehole. There, the legs would swell and the head ache in agony from the constant noise of hooves and feet and wheels. I once did some local history research in Inverness library into the curious and gruesome little prison under the old stone bridge.

I also remember reading a book called One Of My Submarines by Edward Young. When the author refers to enemy traffic (that is, the shipping the submarine aims to sink), it helped me to visualise the traffic I dreaded in a helpful way. The moral effect of coughing and traffic I also liken to the experience of being depth-charged, which must be terrifying.

Also, I should mention a psychologist called Helen Graham who has written about visualisation as an alternative or complementary therapy. Her books were mentioned in an article in The Times on pain management. Like Caroline Myss, someone very popular in The States, she writes about chakras, which is something in common with Sahaja yoga Knowledge of the Kundalini. It is, as Shri Mataji once said, a kind of secret knowledge in a sense, because, although mentioned by several saints and scholars of the Middle Ages, it is not mentioned in Yoga Sutra or the Baghavad Gita.

The cause of my problems was sexual guilt, and I have read a few things that have made me feel less isolated. I found Sartre's Nausea very useful for the incident involving pornography. Roquentin, the central character, is very fond of picking up "Old rags, chestnuts, bits of paper, the more detritus on them, the better".

Finnegan 's Wake, by James Joyce, particularly the battle of Phoenix Park, was a constructive read, although there is nothing particularly mild or moderate about the incident in question. Ulysses and Dubliners also by Joyce, feature masturbation in scenes that take place in Dublin. I believe they alleviate sexual guilt. These works by Joyce, as you may know, faced considerable difficulties before they were published.

Shakespeare, someone else with a marvellous mind when it comes to sexual matters, refers to 'the codding spirit' in the fifth act of that brutal play Titus Andronicus and certainly, to use a phrase from Measure for Measure, my own 'rebellion in a codpiece' has serious consequences for me. I wish I could have brushed off the experience I later went through as a light joke, but then, as one of my community psychiatric nurses used to say, "Life is full of ifs, buts and maybes". Still, I regret plenty. Maybe one day I'll have a decent conversation with a health professional about the subject of the sexual crime in Finnegan's Wake.

There is much to rue and wail, and my dear time slips away like sand through an hour-glass, but I feel Joyce is worth mentioning more in connection with my schizophrenia. Try to appreciate his worth and his great salutary effect. There is, as I have mentioned, the scene at the beginning of Finnegan's Wake, concerning the incident in The Phoenix Park in Dublin. HCE is a less well endowed man than Bloom in Ulysses and his sexual misdemeanour is of a worse degree.

Someone once remarked that Joyce is not always in plain English and successive generations of researchers will need to shed light on the texts for the unfamiliar reader. Perhaps, and I do mean this humbly, this is a case here. Finnegan's Wake does not run through a normal mould, let's be honest. Ezra Pound said that 'nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clap can possibly be worth all the circumambient peripherization'. In my case it does have an uplifting effect, but it is not simple to have to read all that material.

I confess that I found the plain English description of the passage given in the introduction by Seamus Deane more useful. It really was very helpful. One of my acquaintances, a most well-read man, said he studied The Wake for two years with guidance from a professor of English at the University of Sussex. He said that people read the first couple of pages of this book - probably the best book you'll ever read - and don't have the foggiest what James Joyce is on about. I find that scene is like a spiritual treasure for me but, unfortunately, unwilling as I was to reveal to my friend that I had schizophrenia, I could not tell him this. Such is the nature of the beast in this illness - it's very much a case of keeping below the parapet and moving around at 'hope your head doesn't get blown off' height.

I should mention that James Joyce was on holiday in Bognor Regis in the summer of 1923 shortly before he began work on what he then called "Here Comes Everybody". There is a commemorative blue plaque near the beach and not far from Belmont Street, High Street and the theatre. I understand that a fishing rod in use on the pier (yes, dear reader, the one from which the adventurous birdmen launch themselves in the remarkable Bognor birdman rally) becomes inevitably phallused in the text. Phallic symbols abound in the wake: pens, telescopes, fingers, monuments and here Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker's rod. Earwicker is a name that appears on a gravestone in Sidlesham churchyard, on the Manhood peninsular. I've been there. The Bognor scene was intended at the start of the novel, but was subsequently replaced by the battle of Waterloo/Phoenix Park sequence.

Barnham, where I first took fright of passing vehicles on the B2233, is a West Sussex village whose postal town is Bognor Regis. That's my connection with Irish letters, I lived in Barnham. I also spent over a year in supported accommodation for mental health patients while "recovering" in Bognor Regis, and I attended the mental health centre in Bognor.

I don't know why James Joyce should have been in Bognor. I thought he was supposed to be in Trieste or Paris, in exile, working. Perhaps it is something to do with his daughter Lucia, who "lived out" a schizophrenic existence somewhere in the south of England. Lucia eventually committed suicide. What can one say, schizophrenic patient kills herself, that's not news, that's not a sensation. Sahaja yoga alternates medical problems, again, not sensational. Dr Fadel guilty of attempted rape, newsworthy. His patient stumbles on a cure for sexual guilt, not worth a bean, old boy.

In any case, he was a long way from Phoenix Park in Dublin. I hope my sexual "crime" is more like being "soundly soccered" as a "fenemine Parish poser" rather than that of someone whose rightful place is in a highly criminal establishment. Different, yes, but similar. Christ was not a criminal, but he died on a criminal's cross, one of the lowest symbols of the Roman Empire. In Sahaja yoga, we saw that Jesus and Mother Mary are associated with the agnya chakra, the mind. The Kundalini (the Holy Spirit) must battle through the different chakras, including the mind, on its journey and ascent from the sacrum bone to the top of the head, the Brahmandhra, where there is true union, or yoga, with God. My mind certainly took a whack in that pharmacy in Heathfield and my Kundalini, my soul, must have been badly hurt. In the end I collapsed and had a frightening and hellish vision of the end of the world, which, perhaps naturally, I tried to save.

It has often been pointed out by commentators that Freud and Joyce had the "same" name (Freude in German means "joy"). Well, I can't say I really know much about Freud, the odd bit, I suppose, but I can recommend both Joyce and Sahaja yoga to you and both may bring you a measure of joy.

Ulysses, which again prompts the confession that I haven't read the whole book, in particular the scene on Sandymount Strand, blew away a few of those dirty old cobwebs and eased my sense of sexual guilt. Ulysses was a taboo book in many places, and finally the ban in America was lifted in the same month that saw the end of prohibition of alcohol. An important novel from the point of view of free expression and free letters, Ulysses has been described by some as the best book of the 21st century. Can we say that the end of the ban, allowing the book to be admitted to the States, was an important day for the spirit?

James Joyce spent well over ten years writing each of his books, sixteen in the case of Finnegan's Wake, and he suggested his readers would do well to spend the same amount of time in reading them. In his book Surviving Schizophrenia, E Fuller Torrey MD describes James Joyce as a very interesting case from the psychological point of view, an interesting study in psychopathology. Carl Jung commented that James Joyce was diving in waters where his daughter, Lucia, who suffered tragically from schizophrenia, was drowning.

A very interesting medical paper was once published regarding my hero, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Schizoid 1. It was perhaps not the most flattering piece you might read, but I mention it not because I valorise the opinion, but because it does help to push awareness of James Joyce and the issue of mental illness. Ah! The strength of the opposition. Save me from them, the grave and wise. Someone wrote a short poem once, entitled 'Who Killed James Joyce?'. Well, I hope not me. I have spent a lot of time, and I still do spend time, wondering whether people are genuine and honest, or whether in the subtle shades and complexities of life, people very much guilty of meanness, jealousy, selfishness, snobbery and hatred, nonetheless manage to disguise their inner feelings and motives, and present a mask to the world that conceals a multitude of evils. This line of thought surely can only lead to further madness and feelings of persecution. Still, some of the most positive men are also the most credulous. You may be a man, kind, warm, independent and generous, but that doesn't mean everyone else is.

In passing, and in the spirit of two for the price of one, or buy one get one free, I should mention again A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, and in particular one quote, from the hell-fire sermon, 'God spoke to you be so many voices, but you would not hear'. Speaking as one who has suffered from schizophrenia and the horrors of paranoia that infect the soul, I found this novel very useful for my problem with interior voices2. A real gem of a work, I hold it to be wonderful for the sense of the awakening spirit. Towards the end of the novel, in the last chapter, Joyce was preparing a bridge to connect with Ulysses.

"Important for human spiritual development" - certainly. Good for schizophrenia - it helped to dispel gloom and darkness in my case. There is also the James Joyce centre in Dublin, and the Internet site, www.jamesjoyce.ie. Ulysses and the other works should never have been banned, proscribed. I feel that if there is a gateway to the understanding of mental health states like schizophrenia, it will come through writers like James Joyce. As Harriet Stowe Weaver, one of his patrons, said, his writing was quite medicinal, very good for the soul. He was certainly a Good Samaritan figure to me.

I also found Sahaja yoga, a non-physical form of meditation, very useful. This was a lifeline for me and very calming and heartening in my troubled and anxious state. I used to meditate regularly and I still do, and I carry a photograph of the guru, Shri Mataji Ninnala Devi (Lady Srivastava), who initiated the movement. I have also been Christian, even before I was fed to the lions, but Sahaja yoga was godsent. It brought religion very much to life for me. Nowadays it can be accessed via the internet on www.sahajayoga.org.uk, and we believe that pictures of the guru are like icons in their power. It is also a free thing I have a small piece in the experiences sections of another site, www.divineknowledge.co.uk. In Russia, Sahaja yoga has been recognised by many and even called Nirmala CEIB technology by one institute. It is good that research is being done into Sahaja yoga. It is simple and it can do wonders. I commend it to you. English doctors and English people in general are not very easy to convince, as we know in Sahaja yoga, but it is good stuff. I am very grateful for it.

I sometimes try to weigh up the pros and cons of approaching the mental health service for help, or in several cases having that help given to me under section. I don't personally find all its people that credible, but that's life and I do understand that my case does stray over the boundaries of convention and sexual reticence. There's nothing particularly reticent about the way some people do actually behave but I've never found too much fellow feeling from my listeners. I am resentful and bitter, as it wasn't actually the psychiatrists who were being pulled apart (like Germany and Russia did to Warsaw and Poland) and I do wonder about the ghosts that must haunt mental health system establishments. My belief is that my case was partly molecular, in that schizophrenia affects neural transmission, but mainly of moral origin. A friend of our family, a retired GP, once commented that it helps if you can see the world and its stage as being at one and the same time both comic and tragic. This certainly holds for me. I've never liked the set-up of psychiatry and also the high emphasis placed on drugs, even the newer atypical types. At college I did not opt for the extra module on neuropharmacology (psychiatry) and so my dosing with knowledge of the centrally acting drugs and anti-psychotic medication is probably no more than your average pharmacist, but I do have personal experience. Basically I won't be happy until the Senate and Roman people have apologised for the unfair and cruel way 'they' have treated me. I don't think that will ever happen. So I live in a kind of quiet desperation. I believe my case could be an important reference point for psychiatry, but is this, as my former psychiatrist said, a grandiose, over-valued idea?

I don't quite know how to end this piece. The matter has had no closure for me. I have not made my quietus with it. What would be a commodius vicus (words from the opening sentence of Finnegan's Wake, meaning, I think, a convenient place), a suitable way to finish. Well, perhaps this, that I consider these episodes to be of life and death importance. Much as I feel that my experience of voices in schizophrenia was a potentially lethal one. Once I thought I heard the voice of Sigmund Freud telling me to commit suicide. Shri Mataji, my guru, once gave her opinion of Freud, that he was weak and characterless, and that is very heartening to hear, as the experience of his voice and others left quite a cicatrice in my mind. It was either Ken Dodd or Mahatma Gandhi, who used to seek the opinion of Ninnala Devi when she was a young girl on his ashram, who said that the trouble with Freud was, he never played second house on a Friday night at the Glasgow emporium. The manager who gave me such a harsh critical appraisal hailed from near Glasgow, and I think I know what the joke is. It's all about vigour, aggression, warmth and humour, honesty, leadership, courage and manliness, and while I may have wanted all those characteristics myself in my precarious position, I have to concede that the opposition better me in every department. In a sense, it wasn't really schizophrenia I had, but the cause of my death would have been l(a) poor man management with sexual guilt as additional factor. The trouble is that while all this rubbish is going on in one's head, one has to concentrate on life outside the real world, which in my case involved responding to prescriptions, dispensing and checking medicines, themselves of life and death importance, on the very spot where the second incident happened. It may be taken three months of misery but my spirit broke, it snapped inside, and I broke down. Schizophrenia and paranoia had taken hold. I had a fit of involuntary shouting and my body went into a kind of fit.

I went into hospital and lost my job and split up with my girlfriend. Is mine an individual malady of soul, or will I, like Stephen in A Portrait, be shocked to find one day that there are others like me?

Hush, it's all probably nothing, just be quiet and keep taking the tablets ... river run, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us to a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

And if we find ourselves at the second house, Friday night at the Glasgow Emporium, you're on first.

1 NJC Andreasen. "James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Schizoid". Journal of the American Medical Association. 224 (1973): 65-71. 2 Andrew L. Voices. Bishop John Robinson Fellowship newsletter. Issue 12,March 2002. Published by the Spiritual and Pastoral Care Service at the Maudsley Hospital. ISSN 1475-746X.