has experienced schizophrenia since the age of sixteen and is an activist in the
mental health field.
He lives in
By the same
to Recovery: 24 Years - A Personal Journey through Schizophrenia.
Zeus Publications, 2006.
Partial Sight (poetry). Zeus Publications, 2007.
The bird kite
fly the bird kite on the beach,
it out slowly,
feather wings move slowly in the breeze,
can feel it stretching,
my sinews and mind,
the feather bird, ripping apart my thoughts,
inform some sunbakers that it is stretching,
ripping the feather bird to shreds,
laugh when I tell them that Le Tan won’t help.
bird kite gets caught in a tree,
feather-wings flapping furiously in the breeze,
fishing line tightens around its leg,
climb the tree, out along the branch,
can feel it stretching my sinews and mind,
apart my thoughts, ripping apart the feather bird,
is shivering in my hand.
tell some picnickers under the tree,
it is stretching and shredding the feather bird,
laugh when I tell them that bourbon won’t help.
My skin sticks to the swing seat. The frost numbs my bare feet, but I sit anyway in my undies and a singlet, oblivious to the frozen morning. My hands shake as I roll a smoke and the coffee spills, burning my skin. It is a clear day, the sun breaking through a stream of dark clouds, and the frost glistens in the early morning sunlight. Daniel is gone. I drag on the rollie. Daniel couldn’t roll, so I would sit, sometimes for an hour in the morning, rolling his day’s supply of tobacco. For some reason he’d only smoke Drum. I guess it’s an acquired taste. Fuck, I miss him. What has it been, two months? But God I miss him. He wasn’t a morning person, didn’t like to talk when waking, so I’d make him a coffee and just sit in silence. Sometimes I’d read my poetry, just to annoy the shit out of him, and he’d grimace and mutter comments between drags. Occasionally I’d lie in bed with him and sing Renaissance songs. He’d tell me to piss off and let him sleep.
The chooks are stirring, looking for a feed. My feet are pink and frozen and I close my eyes with the winter sun warming my face. My nose runs and the rollie burns my fingers. He rang last night. Started a relationship with a bloke named Ian. A bank Johnny, for fuck’s sake. Said he was in love, besotted by Ian, his soul mate. I remember when he told me that I was his soul mate. How many soul mates can you have? I think about an early morning gin and tonic. It always numbs the emotions, dulls the senses. I think about Daniel, his olive skin, wiry body, black beard and the small mole on his chin. He was attractive in his own way, not stunning by any means, but a handsome man nevertheless. Not effeminate in any way. Very masculine. He wore earrings in both ears and a tiny, gold nose stud. What that was about I don’t know. Just came home one evening from work with this pathetic, gold nose stud.
We never fought. Early on in our
relationship, we established a ground rule that if we were upset or angry we’d
sit down and talk about the issues as they arose. It seemed to work well.
Perhaps not well enough. Daniel had moments of crankiness. He’d tear down our
cul-de-sac in his
Harold is whining at the back door. Wants food, I guess. I shuffle through the frost and into the house. It is warm inside, the wood heater glowing, heating the lounge and kitchen.
“You’re a bastard.”
“I’m not, I’m okay.”
“Love, peace, healing. Love, peace, healing.”
Schizophrenia. Over the last week, I had been experiencing the occasional voice. No hallucinations, just the odd voice. In some ways, it was a relief. Like an old friend that you hadn’t seen for years dropping in by chance. Sometimes I missed the voices, the hallucinations, the deep depression. I guess they had been a large part of my life for two decades, with me every day, sometimes every minute. It almost became a lifestyle. Living the illness, feeling the illness, being with the illness. When I healed it was almost traumatic, the relief of course was enormous, but nevertheless it was traumatic. In the space of a month my mind became clear and it was all very new. At the time, I called it my awakening. Scary. Talk about scary. The world is suddenly viewed with clarity, almost a new form of reality. I mean, schizophrenia is a form of reality, but with the absence of symptoms, I knew that for the first time in years everything would dramatically change. Relationships, work, writing, absolutely everything. And God I struggled to adjust. Talk, talk. Daniel simply couldn’t shut me up. My emotions opened, my feelings, conversation flowed like an overflowing weir.
My time with Daniel, six years, had been a period of clarity, no voices, no hallucinations and no depression. Early on in our relationship I had abstained from medication and it worked really well. I guess it says something about the panacea that is a stable, loving relationship. Just the odd voice. I welcomed the voice back; it had been a part of my being for so long, and when it disappeared, I actually grieved. I had learned to love the voice, to accept it totally, embrace all that it said. Somehow, I didn’t feel complete without it. Didn’t feel like a whole person. It had become a part of who I was; it had shaped and formed my identity. I feel relieved that it has returned. I welcome it back.
I walk with Harold through Queen’s Park to work at the bookstore. Since coming out of hospital in 1995, I had been working there, first as a volunteer while studying at uni, then as a paid employee, and now as manager. I love books. Their smell, the smell of ink as you open the pages, the texture of the print, the sometimes vibrant colours of the cover. I love being around them. They were, during lonely times, my constant companions.
A lady sits under a tree in the shade with her toddler.
“She’s a liar, she can read your mind, your innermost thoughts.”
“She can read your mind.”
“Peace, love, healing.”
“Peace, love, healing.”
Much to the woman’s disquiet I stop, muttering to myself, and stare at the toddler. It is climbing a tree, like they do in the Solomon’s, a pine, pointing, laughing, cursing at me. I call out to the baby, but it is now at the top, picking the seeds and fruit and throwing it onto the ground around my feet. The woman says something about weirdo, grabs her child and leaves.
Harold is growling and barking. I sit under the tree and try to make sense of what I have just seen. It makes no sense, is sort of nonsensical. It makes no sense and I feel frightened and alone.
Many years ago while still in hospital I made a friend. He was an old man, of indeterminate age, perhaps 65 or 70. He wasn’t a resident of the hospital but must have been a visitor. He seemed to be there every day. Sometimes I sat in the outdoor smoking area and saw the man flying a bird kite, watched him for hours, drawing the kite in, letting it flow out in the breeze. He never talked, but during the long years of hospitalisation, he was my constant companion. He was a friend.
It was a beautiful kite. He held a pole, outstretched in his hand, and the bird flapped its wings in the breeze. Sometimes the bird kite got caught in the trees surrounding the ward and the man climbed to great heights in order to free the bird. Only once did I tell another resident about my friend. He said I was mad and walked away.
The man is back. My friend is back. Fuck, it’s been years. He sits under a tree grooming the bird kite, preparing it for its flight. I sit beside him. Light up a smoke. He doesn’t acknowledge me, but focuses on the bird. He lets the breeze take it away. It soars, rising up into the air, above the trees. I sit, transfixed, mesmerised. It is beautiful, the wings flapping slowly in the breeze. The bird rides the wind currents and then slowly descends, alighting on the ground. The man picks it up and walks away through the trees.
A new shipment of second-hand books has arrived. One of our volunteers, Meg, hasn’t arrived, so I start to unpack the boxes. The door is locked but conversation echoes throughout the store. I feel upset, distressed. A group of spectres is standing, reading, throwing books to one another, laughing in high-pitched wails. I close my eyes and push the image outside of my mind and send it to the universe.
“Peace, love, healing.”
“Peace, love, healing.”
The spectres are still there. One is smoking a pipe, packing in the tobacco with a bookmark. Their wailing and high-pitched laughter echoes and I am beginning to get distressed.
“Get the fuck out of here.
“Go on, leave me alone.”
I open my eyes and they have gone. I roll a smoke, sitting on the floor, surrounded by books, my hands trembling. I start sobbing. After six years you almost become complacent, you forget, forget. I think briefly about hospital, 10 years of deep psychosis, ECTs, isolation, dislocation, medication. Fucked if I’m going back.
I ring Meg and say that the store will be closed for the day. Say I’m off colour. I walk home through the park. Trees on either side of the path start to move. Their branches sway as if in a cyclone, leaves and twigs cover the ground, and their seeds and berries stain my clothes. I close my eyes and scream silently, drop to the ground and start sobbing. Harold licks my face and starts whining. I can see the bird kite above the trees. It is diving and rising rapidly as if the wind currents are strong. It is a still day, breathless. I run through the trees with Harold, searching for the old man. I desperately need to speak to him, need to be beside him. Where the fuck is he? He is standing under a tree. His arms are outstretched, straining, trying desperately to control the pole. He is sweating profusely. I can see that he is struggling to hold the bird kite. He disappears amongst the trees.
I need you, Daniel. God I need you, mate.
I collapse into bed. Harold is on the bed biting my arm. So are the spectres. They sit and lie beside me and one particular gentleman, in his sixties, starts talking about Sartre and the existential movement. It’s disturbing. I start debating with the spectre just what Sartre meant by the void of life and the mud, which we must crawl out of to gain insight into the human condition. I try to argue with him that it is true that most people have to emerge from the mud but others gain, through previous existences, immediate clarity, vision and insight into the reality of society and the world in which we exist. Some of the spectres start laughing at the old man. They call him a fool, an old bastard, who speaks through his arse. The old man picks up his walking stick and leaves the bedroom. The other spectres follow. I am glad that they have gone. My body shakes and I feel exhausted. I fall into sleep.
“You can’t trust her.”
“She’s using you.”
“That’s crap, who is?”
“She’s just abusing your trust.”
“You’re too naïve.”
“Peace, calm, love, healing.”
“Peace, love, healing, soothing calm.”
A man, naked with an erection, walks into the room. It is Daniel. Fuck! Will you piss off and leave me alone. He climbs into bed and lies beside me. He places my hand on his chest and I can feel the hair between my fingers.
“She’s using you, Samuel.”
“Who is, Daniel?”
“You know who it is, mate.”
“Forget your Buddhism.”
“Follow my atheistic path.”
“There is no spirituality. It doesn’t exist.”
“I can’t, Daniel, I need to follow Buddhism, it helps me heal, gives me love and peace, holds together the fragments of my identity.”
“You don’t exist, Samuel.”
“I know, mate, there is no self, but I need to feel a part of the world, I need my love of spirituality, to heal.”
“Atheism, Samuel, we live, we shit, we breathe, we die and turn to dust.”
“How do you explain the spectres, the spirits who were just here?”
“Don’t know, mate, you’re psychotic, need medication, hospitalisation.”
“Get fucked, Daniel, just piss off.”
He starts to masturbate. I close my eyes and scream silently. I ask for healing and love. I need, so much, his love and understanding. He leaves.
Estelle rings. My voice trembles as I talk about the psychotic experiences, about my conversation with Daniel and the spectres.
I sit out on the verandah, rolling cigarette after cigarette. The gin and tonic warms my body. The house is freezing but I sit in my undies and singlet. I’m not shaking because of the cold; it’s the experiences.
“She’s a bitch.”
“Have nothing to do with her, just uses you.”
“Will you piss off, leave me be.”
I cry. My body heaves. I cry for Daniel. Fuck, I miss him. I need to hold him. Lie down and caress his forehead, sing nonsensical songs and recite poetry. I need his warmth, his gentle touch, his soft lips. If only I could hold him, just for a moment. Why did he leave? I feel fractured. My soul has split and fractured. I need Estelle.
Giant phalluses are outside growing in the garden. They sway in the breeze. I close my eyes. Fill my mind with white light. Birds fly into the window, their beaks shattering the glass, shrieking as they gash their bodies. People are walking by to the childcare centre. They are naked. Some point at me and laugh, cursing, calling me a gay bastard. My body heaves. My hands are trembling as I roll a smoke. I can barely hold it.
Estelle. She has a key to the front door so lets herself in. We hug and kiss and she places her hand on my forehead. It burns with heat and soothes.
“You can’t trust her.”
“She’s a liar.”
“Peace, peace, soothing peace.”
“She’s abusing your trust, Samuel.”
“Don’t let her in.”
“A liar, a hypocrite.”
“Will you fuck off, just leave me.”
Estelle has her bag. We had established years ago in our relationship that if I ever experienced psychosis again she would stay with me and ride out the storm, ride out the waves. A beautiful person. I can’t believe that I’m thinking this way. I feel this tremendous guilt, almost shame, embarrassment. We love each other. It’s only the voices, not really me. Surely it’s not my conscience speaking.
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