My Experience of Schizophrenia
The wind carried litter along the pavement beside the Tube station entrance.
Slowed by traffic my bus's arrival was a distant hope.
My attention was caught by graffiti on the bus stop shelter which in clumsy script read ‘Stranger Danger’.
The phrase seemed very deliberate to me.
How could this be a random or accidental sentence?
The street bustled with people sitting outside cafes despite the February breeze.
Grey skies loomed above London's skyline.
As l waited a song from the radio came to me from the open window of a passing van.
‘This is the road to nowhere’ sang a familiar Talking Heads' track from the mid-1980s.
Yet suddenly an impulse of thought reflected on the combination of graffiti and the fleeting recognition of a lyric.
I felt a descending process of consideration that loosely linked the two structures.
‘Road to nowhere Stranger Danger’ was an immediately striking juxtaposition of meaning.
Maze-like associations jumped to mind implying street robbery, violence, futility, and my place in the busy street.
I looked down at my palm.
As l felt an uncomfortable wave of anxiety I heard a voice spiral leap across the space just behind me.
‘Stranger in Bethlehem manger’.
I looked around but of course there was no one there.
The next voice was more direct, a sound like an insistent whisper.
I swallowed and suddenly the traffic seemed to be producing jagged, alarming crowds of words which darted between the pavements and the windows of shops.
The names of cafes and supermarkets spelt out vague clues.
These words attempted to define new emerging meanings only l grasped.
I remembered the psychiatrist had suggested to me that when l felt unwell to find a peaceful spot away from stress-inducing confusion.
Easier said than done when you are in Kentish Town high street on a busy Tuesday.
‘Bus stop strangler’.
‘Damn good morning’.
Voices sparked one another like malignant tumors.
Hissing voices blurred and faded then suddenly returned in spikes of sound.
I knew this voice.
It had a shifting crystalline quality like moonlight in motion.
The crow's screech scared away the other birds and this particular voice operated in this manner dominating other lesser voices.
There was now an elderly man in a raincoat at the bus stop.
He looked smart in a 1950s way except he was holding a flimsy supermarket bag which appeared to be empty.
He stared at me.
'Why doesn't he look away?' l thought.
Traffic sounds increased sharply.
He stared and stared at me while the voices swelled and spun around me.
I stepped away toward the busy road.
The pattern of life above any city represents a complex map of street names, house and block numbers, as well as human histories and associated days.
Pulses seep out of the cracks in everyday life slowing into fractured sequences of voices that trouble people like me.
Enigmatic links connect objectively unrelated words in an unsettling pattern:
These nouns, denoting separate formal meanings, are linked when l see them.
Hospital contains the malign word 'pit'.
Medicine likewise encompasses the negative term 'sin'.
Holborn responds to the concept 'burn'.
City parks beside statues and monuments swirl with autumn leaves like discarded colours or glances.
The city closes around me as l try to rest but strong and persistent memories traumatise the silvery silence.
Con—crown—can of Cola.
The bus shook and trembled as it approached Camden Town.
The windows were smudged and dirty and some bright spark had outlined the letters 'WHUFC’ in the grime of the glass.
I imagined his digit dirty with dust after he or she wrote this crude celebration of West Ham United Football Club.
This was my team and my dad's team.
I began to muse over this fact.
Why had l sat beside this particular window on this particular bus?
Had someone anticipated my presence on the bus?
Had someone publicised my allegiance to a particular team?
Was it possible local newspapers or radio stations were involved and was there perhaps a wider conspiracy?
As l thought of 'radio stations' a significant association or hinted clue suggested Tube 'stations'.
Camden contained the hidden word 'mad'.
Den means 'from' in Turkish, my second language.
'From Mad' sounded like Fromage which means 'cheese' in French.
Although these mental links and associations were slight and subtle they resounded and reverberated in a cascade of entwined thoughts.
I began to tremble.
I looked at my palm and the web-like network of wrinkles and skin lines mirrored the complex and dizzying array of fragmented thoughts.
The sluggish progress of the bus emphasised my own snail-like movement through my day.
There was no destination except lonely exclusion.
The cafe was trying to mug me off because ‘coffee’ related to ‘coffin’ even on a sunny winter day.
The day centre opened at eleven meaning service users hung around waiting in nearby cafes or the churchyard next door.
The day centre intercom never worked and probably suffered from its own mental instability.
The heavy entrance gate remained aloof and immovable.
New volunteers would press 'enter' and distantly lights went out in the office and phones rang.
If they pressed 'lock' literally anything could happen including world war.
Inside (if you ever got there) was a drab and dejected social area decorated with photocopies of notices such as ‘Walking Group to Kings X’ or ‘Hearing voices’ workshop.
A blackboard beside the door listed daily events in a clumsily handwritten agenda.
Newcomer volunteers were always jobbed to do this particular task.
Chalk in white or pink detailed the day's adventures.
Partly out of frustration and boredom at my situation l added events to the blackboard with my own crude scrawl.
My most inspired were:
‘Suicidal Tendencies Group Excursion to Beachy Head’
‘Hitler Studies Three O’clock (lease Bring Own Armband)
‘How to Sign-on in Forty-Two Different Places including Cardiff Workshop"
‘Pensioner Wrestling Focus Group’
There was actually a genuine enquiry about the Hitler studies item.
Tea and coffee supplies were the light bulb to the moths of mental illness.
Teabags and tablespoons of instant coffee pinned the empty hours to the structure of the day.
Sitting on the worn out sofa, service users examined newspapers with a range of glazed expressions.
People shuffled toward the small garden (no flowers as such) to smoke roll-up fags.
Literally everyone chain-smoked in the centre, a probable consequence of Clozapine and Olazipine dependency.
Antipsychotic medication bloats the human shape in a distinct and irreversible manner.
Stomachs swell as unrelenting hunger leads to casual snacking and overeating.
The queue for lunch assembled fully twenty minutes before the serving hatch opened.
Plump faces and chubby bellies are commonplace in wards and day centres.
Heroin use does help with weight loss apparently.
I always left the centre after lunch.
After eating there was always a gloomy lull.
The streets seemed to jump suddenly up with discordant impulses and sights.
Traffic noises surged.
The iron gate seemed reluctant to let me out.
It was literally a Herculean effort to wrench it open.
Muscle-bound weightlifters from the Soviet Union's glorious era would have struggled with it let alone us unfit service users.
The gate groaned with furious disapproval as it eventually opened.
Perhaps this indicated we had no easy access to the real world.
That gate was stubborn as hell.
The TV screen watched my every move.
The glare of the screen hummed on the relic of a TV in neon colours.
1....2....3.... l counted on.
My breathing slowed.
On the kitchen table l had a pile of paperback books organised in a particular way.
Doctor Who, Dracula, Dan Dare, Dagenham Dave
Chris Turd (damaged goods)
When my mum died her legs were covered in ulcers.
The winter comes in stages, not all at once
The council would have made me homeless if it wasn't for my wonderful care coordinator, Anna Maus.
When l first met her l felt nervous and impulsively asked,
‘Any relation to Mickey?’
Near the station there was always a collection of junkles and homeless people who seemed to appear at dusk.
It was as if, as the working day descended into shadow, the marginal and desperate peopled the grim streets and alleys.
The gothic towers of the station only added to the sense of gloom as traffic relentlessly swirled around the maze of streets and roads.
Neon lights shone in gaudy colour above a game arcade where people waited trailing cigarette smoke.
I walked here out of loneliness and promptly embraced their degeneration and self loathing.
The emaciated drug addicts simply presumed l belonged to their particular street subculture.
Scottish accents added an edge to the interaction.
I soon acquired a taste for smack.
The police seemed largely unconcerned with the sale and exchange of narcotics around the station.
Maybe the heroin quantities were too small.
Seedy hotels provided the backdrop to alleys where addicts shot up.
Graffiti lined the backstreets with faded peace signs and weed symbols prevalent.
Smoking heroin takes longer and is impossible on a windy street unless well sheltered from the breeze.
Once you are high of course nothing matters except a cigarette.
Sitting in an alcove watching a Victorian station building could seem the most wonderful experience after using.
I maintained a weirdly moral perspective in that l never shot up.
Partly it was a phobia to sharing syringes.
Smoking off tin foil or chasing was my moralistic preference.
The silver paper was the colour of stars.
The movement of gear is like a detached momentary glimpse into heaven.
The hit is milder than injected heroin when you chase but the long glow of comfort combined with a sustained sense of blurred relaxation is impossible to beat.
Impossible as a frozen sun.
When you are homeless the city streets wrap themselves around you in an unwelcome embrace.
Traffic noises and passing trickles of chatter provide a fleeting background.
People who walk by usually discuss TV, food, or shopping.
Their footsteps hit the grey pavements as they rush to an office computer or a congested sandwich bar.
The sense of exclusion is double edged.
I never envied the suited and booted commuters their work routine.
The mortgage dependent, the rent slaves of any big city are constrained and defined by the surge to work.
I notice religious individuals, whether Christian or Muslim, and think their social agenda is more honest somehow.
Birdsong is the tonic to the growl of the working day.
There is simply so much time to overcome when you have nowhere particular to go.
The wave of euphoria was so intense l struggled to catch my breath.
The elation was concentrated and all encompassing.
I let my body drift into nothingness.
In the high branches the birds were singing .
Faraway dusk lined the streets.
Soon the game would be over.
Chris Bird 2022