Some Prose By Matthew Freeman

I asked my poet friend Matt Freeman to please write some prose about his experiences with paranoid schizophrenia. Here is what he sent me. Thank you, Matt!

The Concise Version

At the instant I awoke to find myself a poet I began experiencing the early symptoms of a possession where something sinister entered and would evolve into what doctors call schizophrenia. I had been such a good boy! Even in a rather Romantic and wild home I had been totally sane, hitting homeruns and getting good grades. Then one of my coaches got me into Dylan Thomas and I began a study of Keats and Rimbaud and especially Jim Morrison (because already I was drinking mammoth proportions in order to relax) in a futile attempt to impress a young lady. Suddenly I was frozen and couldn’t do anything about it. I ended up at college with a scholarship but I could only leave my room at night to buy cookies and cigarettes; one beautiful day I met my muse and she took me to the dining hall and introduced everybody but my brain was completely on fire and I could barely function. My only recourse was to drink lots and remain slightly unstable but somewhat sane. I do remember stepping off an elevator and hearing the Legion and thinking I’d had too much to drink and maybe someday I’d call a doctor. Well, I was bitterly expelled and my father never could forgive me and I was nervous again and I rambled around a little bit and tried to bring myself under control but began thinking an old girlfriend was still in love with me and she was somehow slipping me stuff to make me hallucinate and I panicked and it was like everybody kept saying “soon” and my teachers were talking and stealing from me and I ended up in and out of psych wards for several years while my family and family home crumbled and I would follow the clouds and tell paramedics about all the meds I was on and Jakob Dylan had heard about me in New York and was writing songs to me and once I got so high I had to walk around Webster Groves when language started falling apart and I was so beyond sorrow I couldn’t name it and there was no longer any authority so I went to my parents basement and wrote one hundred songs and put on one hundred pounds and was really creepy and smelly and I withdrew from everything and was barely able to go out drinking  and I was smoking three packs a day and I lay in bed for twenty hours a day and got a little check and felt terrible about it and well-meaning people kept asking me when I was going to get a job and finally my community support worker called me out and it became clear that if I wanted to live I was going to have to stop drinking and take my meds and not fool around. I was going to have to submit and become free! Thanks to Clozaril and Ativan and lots of miracles that I can’t explain I googled “Saint Louis Poetry” and started forcing myself to participate in society and met a bunch of new professors who encouraged me and inspired me and met lots of poets and started getting published and was on my way and through symptom after symptom burning clear through me like light I did not quit meds as tempted or drink or otherwise destroy myself and when I see people on my worst day I smile and say what the hell I’ve had my ego shattered and seen the devil and such beauty and instead of one-time oceanic reality I’ve seen what happens when the environment—overheard remarks; the damn signs; the fluttering birds and leaves and fingers of bus passengers—completely falls out of the Romance and turns against you. So that the answer is finding the warmth in the middle of you and about you and remembering to breathe and what an orderly at MPC once said was “ a whole new kind of clean” which I can’t help but feel has something to do with perception.

“Madness And Civilization”– Part 2

In “Madness And Civilization”, Foucault writes about an early trope concerning madness– the “Ship Of Fools”. Mentally ill people are grouped together and put on a ship– perhaps this ship travels the rivers of Europe on a pilgrimage to any of various shrines. Perhaps the insane are simply and mainly cast away from land, from the certain shores of the healthy.

ship-of-fools

As a schizophrenic person, this image interests me. I notice that a ship is referred to- and it is a vessel that only the insane board. I infer that the ship represents a sort of travelling chaos or irrationality– to get on board is one of life’s possibilities, but the sane reject it.

The “Ship Of Fools” is a metaphor for aspects of society and life for which only fools relentlessly quest. The well-grounded person refuses the journey. Culture, reason, and accepted values are the sane person’s landed castle.

Why is the madman on a journey? Why can he or she never dock, never come home? In part, this may because they have become apart from culture– society has set them off, on this never-ending quest.

From the schizophrenic’s perspective, I have to add that, conversely– perhaps the mentally ill person has cast society off. The mentally ill person boards the ship, by refusing to accept society’s’ standards. A compromise, to externalize the chaos and irrationality of life, has been refused by the mentally ill person. The insane person embodies that chaos. The crazy person and the sane reject one another.

Perhaps what seems the journey of a fool, to the healthy world, seems to the insane person the quest of a hero– to leave the shores of the known and defined and seek deeper, more hidden meanings.

“Madness And Civilization”

Years ago, a friend recommended I read Foucault’s Madness And Civilization. After over a decade, I am revisiting the text. I have just started re-reading it, and already there are so many things to think about.

Foucault’s main point, I believe, is that, as society’s ideas in general shift, so does its view of insanity. That is, mental health is subject to paradigm theory.

In the Middle Ages, the phenomenon that ostracized people, that mainly marginalized them, was leprosy. Foucault makes a connection with “madness”– that once leprosy left Europe, it was the mentally ill who assumed the position of the leper.

Madmen represent certain things, Foucault writes in his first chapter. They embody, in a sense, death itself– or, a sort of death in life. The crazy person is like a grinning skull. The aspects of life that are uncontrolled, absurd, undefinable– these things are the purview of madmen.

It seems to me, then, that mentally ill people serve a societal function– at least at this point in history– to represent that all about life cannot be controlled or rationalized, that culture has its limits, and that conditioning and socialization cannot always conquer nature.

Mentally ill people allow the sane to externalize this force of chaos– by embodying it, the madman allows the healthy person to say, “I am not that”. The sane casts away what is absurd in life– perhaps similarly suggesting that there are aspects of life that will forever remain inexplicable, and at the same time, that these aspects are associated with a human mind that has become dysfunctional.

If you say, “I am sane, and you are not”, you vanquish your own fears and insecurities. I become the bearer of nature’s chaotic forces. Without meaning to, I help you to ground yourself– to remind you that you are healthy, cultured and well-adapted.

Unity, Nonetheless

There have been a lot of posts suggesting that, “Because I have schizophrenia, this is the case”, or, “Because I have schizophrenia, that is the case”. It has been a theme that the experience of being mentally ill can be different– more attenuated, at least, in some ways, than that of being sane (as best as I can recall).

That being said, it occurs to me that a more dominant theme is, perhaps surprisingly, the unity of human experience.

I talk about hallucinations, and the increasingly hallucinatory nature of reality, in general, for all people. I mention the reality warp involving having a President who is a reality television star. I mention how hard it is to know what the truth is, no matter who one is, and how easy it is to be conned by images or other media– how CG can seem to resurrect the dead, how rubbing elbows with healthy people in a work setting can benefit the sick– and many similar topics.

My experience with having schizophrenia is that, it is definitely an altered condition. It is not normal. Yet, the nature of modern life is often not normative, in a sense we would have meant, say, 20 years ago. These are increasingly trying times, when people’s mental health is tested often– more than they know.

I am asking for us to work on removing the stigma of schizophrenia, because, as every day passes– you are me, and I am you.

More Poems By Matthew Freeman

My friend the poet Matthew Freeman has been generous enough to allow me to publish several more of his excellent poems. Matt writes a lot about his experiences living with paranoid schizophrenia– but if it’s not painfully obvious, his poems are a lot about all of us and the lives we live.

Boulevard Status Update

Holy shit! I just realized
that all of the signs I’m seeing
are actually metaphors. This is
a huge breakthrough! Now place
doesn’t mean anything and I’m free.
How could I have been so deluded?
Today when I saw a dead bird at the
bus stop I knew it meant I
was going to sing again.

And when Kelly was so curt at coffee
I knew it wasn’t that I wasn’t
Irish enough or she had googled me
and seen my history of psychosis nor
was it because the homeless kid tried
to put on a block. It was because
my slightest gesture had her tremble
and shake and become unable to speak
and my slightest verb left her in some
liminal place where ecstasy loomed.

So now I’m going along grandly on God’s trip.
When I went in to the record store
someone murmured, “Your mom doesn’t live here.”
I’m forfeiting everything that weighs me down.
I’m no longer imprisoned by the pattern of ceremony.
And yes, I accidentally let some type of voice in.
I’m thankful now that it’s mild and I’m glad
they trusted me with a beautiful analyst and
I’m grateful for all the REAL things that have happened
whether from the depths or outside. He’s arrived.

Sad Experience Sonnet

I’ve heard some voices in my day. I got
so paranoid I thought the CIA
was after me. On an Alaskan boat
I threw my medicine into the sea.

I ran my Mustang through a flowershop
and fell drunkenly out the second storey
window at a party and would not stop
raving until some friends had to restrain me

and I have been expelled from schools and bars
and thrown into the hospital where it
looked like I would never get out. My scars
proclaim that I have seen some scary shit.

So I don’t have a lot of loot. Know what?
To be this cute you must be destitute.

Reality Proximity Sonnet

I tripped on “You have got to find your voice”
for twelve long years. I asked whom I could ask
but everybody looked at me askance.
I got online but everything was masked.

Time fled and medicine began to work
and I got dulled down to a passing bum;
belief would dissipate, I’d lose the spark
that made things real and metaphor would come

to claim that everything I thought’s insane.
Reality replaced reality.
What once was beautiful was now profane.
Who once was god was now a casualty.

(The wind beats at my window and my door—
I’m closer than I’ve ever been before)

An Exciting Case of Schizophrenia

After I got back from New York expelled
and humiliated and emasculated
and still under the Beatnik Influx so
introverted I could not see
what was right in front of me as in
I sat at a bar with a loud bright Amex
and this wonderful young lady
kept hinting she’d like a drink so I
went over and threw up on
the jukebox and I was looking
for the cuckoo but landed
on the lamplight and when Chief and I
left I had these discordant elements
of consciousness following me as we
ended up at the emergency room and Chief
disappeared and the judge who was
my buddy’s dad had said you’ve got to
find your voice and I told the intake lady
I needed to see a female analyst
in the presence of a male security guard
and these young doctors come in
and I said I’ve learned about the
discourses because I had been sitting
in structuralism class when
I was bombarded by the teacher with
this crazy wild innuendo so I got
up to freak out and leave as Emma and Jane
grabbed my shoulders and the
teacher said you’re driving this class
and when I opened my eyes the
young doctors were smiling at me
and language had me screwed like
I could tell gender and sexuation but
the truth is just that some stoners will
talk about someone else but stab
you in the heart because they’re really
talking about you Lord why did it take
so long and why did I have to have
literal auditory hallucinations at the
same time finally figuring out that
“Finding your voice” is just a metaphor
and poets don’t necessarily all take dictation
from voices and I went so far down back at the
dusty home with Dad and Mom dead and
when someone said something mean
about me not having a job usually
someone sinister practicing witchcraft
I would let them go let them go let them go
and learn to like myself and what the hell
because then I exploded on difference
and a wild flood held up
a mutiny against total desiccation
and then twenty years go by and my doctor’s
like you have such an interesting example
of schizophrenia because you have insight
and you can even remember how it was
before you were sick
and I’m like I’ve sat in so many rooms
where someone said “cuckoo” and I found
it could go either way and what the hell
all of my early miseries built me up and I have
to touch the stop sign to know it’s real
and I get this deep numb sorrow and
I’m sad and when I go out will women
come from all over and scream at me
and it’s fun to go back and forth and after
fifteen years I can date and be cool
and I was walking on campus like through
wretched fire and I had no expression
on my face and I heard one kid say to
another kid look how cool that guy is
and I’m so happy I’ve got no warrants out
and everyone’s passing and we’re so happy
here at Parkview Place where my
friends all give me these microwave meals
and one dude gave me these new clothes
and I walk to coffee with my
friends and I let go and I hardly know anything
and I don’t throw anything out the window
or care who’s watching and who’s listening
and I learned that Lesbia was wrong
when she said
you can’t be crazy if you know you are
and as for that bird song by Jakob Dylan
well maybe he heard of me up in New York
maybe the nurses want to sleep with me
maybe I’m file at the FBI
who really cares anyhow because now
I know Starla and I sit with her
very carefully and I try to listen to
exactly what she’s saying and watch
what she does with her eyes and somehow
I still think she knows more than I do.

Like it’s Always Sunday

I’ve told you everything
I know about
the secrets and revisions
of psychosis. It remains to be
seen how I will be persecuted.
But I believe that the
Pharisees on Forsyth,
jealous that I’m literally descended
from a bird, will call
every publisher in Manhattan
and tell them I tried
to kill my brother and steal
his wife.

The last time I was in Bellevue
I had Chief go to the house
where my sister lived
with twelve young ladies
and put my big crate of notebooks
in the attic and disguise them.
I had to think about growing up.
I had to consider doing some work,
not just showing up at the psych ward
rubbing my belly.

Today I noticed a grammatical error
during the sermon at the church
up the street. I sat there wondering
what I might look like off my meds.
I sat there rubbing the scarred wrist
of a homeless girl I had met.

My Wife

I have schizophrenia, yes. I am fortunate that a nice woman married me anyway, knowing that this was the case. In fact, I told her very early on in our relationship about my condition, and she accepted me.

My wife is a type who roots for underdogs.

Lately I have noticed that she helps me in ways that are hard to explain, yet are nearly essential.

For example, on my own, I tend to go on and on. One thing leads to another in my mind. Before long, I am getting lost in a maze of thoughts, ranting silently to myself, or, worse, talking to myself.

A lot gets done this way. I am a man who likes to do things, at this point in my life.

When my wife comes home, life returns to sanity. My thoughts slow down. I start to evaluate my impressions more clearly. My limits are re-established– and, believe it or not, this is very helpful. I need to know where I can’t go with things, where they are too extreme or unnatural.

She helps me with this. She does this, I think, just be being herself– without even having to try.

We do have our ups and downs. I get very angry on occasion, and this is hard on her. I also hear voices, and she has seen my talk to myself– another thing that is hard for her to deal with.

I am very glad we are still together. I hope we will be for the long haul– frankly, I am not sure what I would do without her.

Fear Of Art

When I began getting involved with art, I came across a lot of people for whom art was “just not their thing”. Many people, even very intelligent ones, find art of most varieties to be utterly perplexing.

It’s like a different language, that only a few people can speak.

DSCI0015otn

Some folks have lives that are hard enough that they are taught that art is a luxury. They can’t afford a nice painting, or a sculpture. That being the case, why would they be interested in art?

Others are taught that art is an exclusive game. Maybe artists are mainly homosexual (which, of course, some are). Or they are all from France. Maybe all artists wear funny hats, or are snooty intellectuals.

Where am I heading with this? When a person looks at a work or art, they may feel that sense that they are reeling through the void. “What does it mean?”, they may ask, “I have no idea.”

That experience is, in fact, important. It gives a person a place to start from. Realizing the mystery of the whole work, they can then start to describe and discuss the details they do perceive.

What color is it? What texture? What is the scale– large or small? We can start with little, seemingly obvious things, and from there we can begin to formulate a notion of what a work is about.

So. . . please don’t be afraid. There’s a lot that can be appreciated about art, for those who are willing to accept that lack of certainty and build from there.