Living with Psychosis | Living in Shame by Jonathan Harnisch
Living with Psychosis: Living in Shame Time passes so quickly these days as I come upon my 40th year. The prognosis of my schizophrenia spectrum disorder becomes clearer as my cognitive abilities decline. Life is an intimate and somewhat private stage. By contrast, the Internet is a public and global stage that is written in ink, not pencil. There is a curtain that always remains open. Time passes. Time goes... Where? “I’ve always loved the night, when everyone else is asleep and the world is all mine. It’s quiet and dark—the perfect time for creativity.” —Jonathan Harnisch, Porcelain Utopia I forget the rest. I just don’t care anymore. But the sad part is I actually do. Love me, hate me, hurt me, or kill me. I keep fighting. In a recent review in Foreword Reviews—known as “THE indie books magazine”—of one of my novels, perhaps my legacy, Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography, Alex Franks, in an excellent critique, writes: “Mental illness is romanticized at points in the text, as well, which may leave some familiar with the realities with an unsavory taste. That's not to say the work isn't well written—it's carefully plotted with well-rendered characters, presented in a narrative that would appropriately be deemed ‘schizophrenic.’” To romanticize, we must deal with an event in an idealized or unrealistic fashion; make something seem better or more appealing than it really is. I must have been having a good day when writing those “romanticized” parts. But, Jesus, sometimes I know of no other way to cope. The illness sucks. Schizophrenia sucks. And right now I think I suck. I’m sick. I am very sick. I was simply taking a nap in the house, but my so-to-speak real life is fully delusional. All the negative stuff, as my psychiatrist reminds me every day, are hallucinations or delusions. I am turning into my own book in many respects, and I still do not accept my overall mental health condition, not being able to tell what is real and what is not real, while my thinking, behavior, and mood are altered. That in itself presents a large problem—most of my problems. I will be around. I hope I will be working, not sleeping. I don't know. As the day continues, I will try my best for you because I trust you, and I think you know that I would like your thoughts on things at some point. I understand that many of the things I ask others to do are simply unrealistic or out of their jurisdiction, maybe. I just don't know how to wing it. I don't know what I'm saying. I have no clue, though life is just impossible. I have to have a plan. I can't make one. I have nothing. If you have a full hour until one o'clock, feel free to leave messages of any kind. I just have nothing to say. Blah, blah, blah... Too many problems to discuss, and they change—with additions and deletions. For example, this morning. And then not later in the morning. And then now, which means it has changed three times already. I believe I am not real and that nothing is real, not even that thought. All I do is hurt people. I am often ashamed of myself, mostly when I am around other people in any way at all. And I think I'm brilliant, and I talk too much, and I don't talk at all. I'm a complete waste, a failure, a miserable miscreant, and then it changes back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. You can see I'm trying to communicate, and I just can't. Anyway I am safe. I am not suicidal. As usual, I’m sure many are concerned, though nobody is here or there. I don't care. This has already taken me 40 minutes to write. It sounds scary, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn't. Everything is in black and white right now. I just don't care about a thing. I have no idea what is going on, if anything at all. I lie, I cheat, I steal, and I use people. I'm a goodhearted person, I am smart, I am a creative, I am successful, I am wealthy, and I have my good times. Simply, in three words: "I don't know." But somehow I seem to get through it. The sad part is that I can't help it. The curtain opens again. “Oh no, not him again. Not Jonathan. Not Harnisch,” a chorus of voices chants in lyrical beats and a rhythmic tempo in my head. It’s perfect. It suits me fine and fittingly so. I am hidden. Hidden at his meticulously cluttered desk covered in piles of books sits a frozen, mysterious, mosaic-eyed man in a tattered brown-and-yellow plaid suit. His thick salt-and-pepper hair is shaggy and mussed, his face unshaven, and his demeanor disheveled. His name is Jonathan Harnisch. Oh, that is me again. I can’t get away from myself. Already up all night and day, and onto something else. Something new. Something. I invite you to take what you want and leave the rest, as with all my work for that matter. I must apologize in advance, for I am having a bit of an episode and feel bitter, groggy, and, I might add, narcissistic—deriving from no self-esteem, perhaps. I am once again out of bed and inspired. I think. We’ll see if it comes across. That seems strange to me. My introduction. As my father would say, bizarre and odd, and perhaps it makes him look bad since he is a public figure. I am sorry, Pops. This is about me and perhaps about my readers. I have no idea how this is coming out. Just write. If I lose a thought, I’ll grab hold of something else and run with that. God bless my scattered thoughts. I am leaving them in this writing without revision. And now, the Great John Nash. I mean, Jonathan. Yes, that guy. The same person as last time. Different but the same. Strange. To begin with my first unavoidable non sequitur, since I can’t seem to think straight without sleep. 72 hours now. People are strange. No I didn’t say that. Someone else did, I think. “How was that for an introduction?” I ask myself, but I hear no response. I often do. But I have always believed that anyone, yes, anyone suffering from any type of mental illness is one badass mother f’*er. Nothing is more terrifying than battling with your own mind every single day. So, get ready for this. It may not be for the faint of heart. Once, when promoting one of my novels, I was asked about the comparison of my work to Alasdair Gray's 1982 book Janine—a challenging book about power and powerlessness, men and women, and masters and servants. In reply, I said that this sexploration of the politics of pornography has lost none of its power to shock. It is a searing portrait of male need and inadequacy, a theme also explored through the lonely sexual fantasies of the character in all my work and most of my real life. I am not here to promote my work. I have simply been starting to see my entire life as entirely and seamlessly in sequence with the story of my otherwise fictionalized autobiography. How pretentious of me, a Dostoevsky would likely say in criticism. One of my literary heroes—in line with the stream of fragmented thought I’m known for. I am a failed husband, lover, and businessman. But I am hopeful that I can use my wildly eccentric mind and reality in my work—as my literary playground. The playground of an author and all-around artist, dreamer, man on a mission, and human being just like you who also suffers—like all of us, in one way or another. The author (oui, c'est moi, l'auteur, the third person) laughs as he writes this, but hey, we're all for sale in some way. But actually, I'm all over the place. I'm in my head, my imagination, and my moment—comfortable here (comfortable nowhere). Have I already lost you? Awesome! Keep reading. I do what I do, as they say, and I change. All the time, often taking delight in the touchy topic of madness, for example, in this brand new, raw, brutally honest, and extremely palpable psychiatric thriller that is part fiction and part truth and is featured in Publishers Weekly and Writer's Digest, among other literary publications—by controversial mental health advocate, Jonathan Harnisch (Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography (2014); Second Alibi: The Banality of Life (2014); Sex, Drugs, and Schizophrenia (2014); Living Colorful Beauty (2015)). Ah, another reality begins slipping in. I am aware, I think. Maybe? Possibly. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the mental illness, and maybe it’s nothing. Random rules! Ah, an oxymoron! I love it. Another illogical non sequitur? How many? I think I have already lost track. I’m still finding myself. What is the sad part? That is what I wonder. By the end, will there be some sort of whimper or instead a bang that resonates? Bordering on brilliant, I love this. Mania. Sleep deprivation. Stuff. Myself. I admit it, I won’t defend myself. I don’t. Usually. I’d rather find reality, as, otherwise, it slips away—every day. Lost. My lost thought. Lost? Yes. I talk to myself. Even in my writing, my jibber-jabber. The voice in my head is speaking to me now. I take dictation, as fragmented as it is: “You’re nothing but a waling cliché.” I won’t argue with that. I think the voices often tell me the truth. I love my alter egos and my double self. You can find them in my Alibi: Ben, Georgie, Tom, Claudia, Heidi, Kelly, and so on. My friends. Fragment. Should I reconsider or break the rules of grammar? I choose the latter. I finished school. I write how I want these days. I am Jonathan Harnisch, the fragmented stream-of-thought, delusional, self-stigmatizing, at times self-loathing, four-times #1 Amazon bestselling author and #1 writer of hot new releases under the subject of schizophrenia. He introduces his ("Yours?" asks Dr. C, in my throbbing, labyrinthine head), yes, my, debut novel. Perhaps my pièce de résistance, Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography is now being taught at university level for its inspired and vivid portrayal of a disturbed reality, which is sometimes disquieting and at other times harsh. And with real emotions! It is culture-bearing, brazen, and bordering on brilliant—bam! Here she is, for 10 bucks (US), with all royalties donated to charity through the Jonathan Harnisch Foundation. Boom! And then there is Lover in the Nobody, where Ben Schreiber (voila, c'est moi, c'est Jonathan!) has Tourette's syndrome, which causes him to display uncontrollable tics and hops, stuttering and swearing inappropriately. Bullied throughout his school years, he can never form firm friendships, especially with women. He's simply incapable of happiness. In his late twenties, he plunges into a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse that culminates in an attempted bank robbery using a cell phone as a fake bomb. He is arrested and placed under psychiatric evaluation, where his psychiatrist, Dr. C, quickly sees that Ben's affliction is more than just Tourette's. Ben is not alone. Inside his head lives Georgie Gust, Ben's alter ego. Georgie is obsessed with his manipulative and extremely sexual next-door neighbor, Claudia Nesbitt, and shares a sadomasochistic relationship with her that is supported only by his obsession. Claudia has no love for Georgie, and while Ben desperately searches for someone, Claudia Nesbitt, the perfect woman, is able to provide him with the unconditional love that he never received as a boy. He finds it easier to retreat into his mind and to share George's sick obsession with the cruel and abusive Claudia than to deal with his real issues. Dr. C senses that Ben is suffering from some type of post-traumatic stress that occurred early in his childhood and that he is using Georgie as an escape whenever bad memories start to surface. It is up to Dr. C to help Ben face the buried terrors of his childhood so that he can finally let go of Georgie and reduce him to the literary character that writer Ben wants him to be. Alas, if you don't have this book in your library or classroom, what do you have? Get your copy now! P.S. I never said I was "normal." I suffer and move on. I laugh and cry. I write it all out and never give up. Sending light and love, from me, Mr. J. I'm lost. I don't know what to do with my life. I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I don't know what I want to see. My world used to be worth living, but now it's hard enough just to be me. Those who have experienced psychosis are stigmatized in our society, and those with schizophrenia are highly attuned to stigma. I live with both, and my life is spent living in my own way within the comorbid schizophrenia spectrum—with medical support, psychiatric and therapeutic help, and the work I do on my own to battle the symptoms and episodes that I experience frequently as my illness falls deeper and deeper into a state of decline. I still have my good days and my bad days. It is interesting for me to look back at these written accounts of the bouts I have had with myself and with schizophrenia—and how I seem to always get through them. To me, that shows resilience. I am proud of that. Tonight I haven’t slept, again, so here I am as usual. Symptomatic and sleep-deprived, using writing therapy as my tool—my lifeline. I often consider writing in itself as my life. I think all in all it comes down to the fact that other people in my life have all the say in my life and that they have full control of my life, although as I write I realize that this is likely my illness speaking; it is my mind playing tricks on me. I do not have control of my own life, and frankly I do not want control of my life because my mind with schizophrenia feels all too often to determine everything. I won’t settle for anything less than the brutal truth. I'm not excusing myself from this either. I am a troubled man. I am not good. I burn bridges. I can't make my mind up about anything. I can love, but I cannot fall in love. I don't know how to trust. I make more mistakes than I should. I am always sorry, but I never change. I am afraid of letting anyone else in my life get too close to me. If you want to come into my life, the door is open. If you want to get out of my life, the door is open. I have just one request. Don’t stand in the door and block the traffic. Sometimes I see no other way than to let other people go. I remove them and erase them completely from my life because I believe they are toxic to me. If I can, I let them go. I remove them completely from my life and do my best not to feel guilty about it. I frequently feel I have no other choice but to them go because they take and take and leave me feeling empty. I let them go when I can because in the ocean of life, when all I am trying to do is stay afloat, they are the anchor that drowns me. Unfortunately, perhaps sadly, when I blame other people, I blame myself. I let go of myself. That is one of the brutal truths about me. I will only settle for the brutal truth. I must also admit in confession that sometimes I look into the mirror and see a complete stranger. You don’t want to be me. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and a failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and lack of motivation. The saying comes to mind: “People will hate you, rate you, shake you and break you. But how strong you stand is what makes you.” This comes into my mind, penetrating my mind. I must stand. I must keep going. There is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the damn hallways in between that get in the way. The hallways keep me awake, as I try to find the door and try to keep hope and faith. I have it. I have this. I will never give up. Never, ever. Never say never. “Never!” I kick ass. When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kindness. People may not tell you how they feel about you, but they will always show you. Pay attention. Spread kindness. Be nice to those around you. If you can't think of anything nice to say, you're not thinking hard enough. Smile at others and start a piggy bank for a cause, keeping your spare change in the piggy bank. When it is full, donate it to a charity of your choice. A sincere smile is a very kind and meaningful way to make a positive difference in someone's day. Without using words, a smile says to a person, "Hi, I hope you have a nice day." Help a child learn. When you look back at your childhood, you can probably name several key people who taught you some of the most important things you know today. You too can be an influential force in a child's life by spending time helping him or her learn. Though it is a common courtesy to say "Bless you!" when someone sneezes, people rarely do so unless it is someone they know. The next time you hear or see someone sneeze, offer those kind words regardless of whether or not you know the person. And if you have a tissue on hand, offer that, too! Beyond anything else, the hardest part is self-compassion. You need that to do anything for others. That seems to be the hardest part, but is the first step. Again, by default, when given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kindness. It will make a huge difference if you can pull it off, one of those easier-said-than-done ideas. I speak from experience. Thank you for reading these thoughts, some of which I have read about from various sources online and in books about kindness. I behave in this way when I can, often going to homeless parks and giving out food from a restaurant whenever I can leave the house. I have been doing so for years and years, and I even wrote a chapter about this in Alibiography, my debut novel—the chapter entitled "Benevolent Georgie." Enjoy your morning, day, or evening, depending wherever you are in your neck of the woods. There is more to come. I find this closure quite amusing. At the same time, in all seriousness, one final thought: other people who don’t understand the first thing about me and my delusional reality should stop expecting “normal” from me. We all know it is never going to happen. I hope this leaves you with a little laugh, all the while gaining a glimpse into my madness in order to understand or possibly simply consider your own. Love me or hate me: I continue delivering this discourse as the unconventional mental health advocate that I believe I am, with problems galore: schizoaffective disorder, Tourette’s syndrome with Autistic spectrum disorders, and PTSD. And all the rest not otherwise specified. I’m still the same bad-ass author and Hollywood sage with more to come. Until next time, or to quote Jerry Springer of all people, "Till next time, take care of yourselves and each other." I am and will always be Jonathan Harnisch.