October 9, 2018
On October 10, World Mental Health Day is observed to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health. Depression, panic attacks, schizophrenia are just some examples of mental health issues. In this beautiful short story, Aashmika gives you a glimpse into the mind of a world-class journalist suffering from schizophrenia. Written as journal entries, this story is chilling and moving, and shows the thoughts, the emotions and the pure paranoia that these patients experience. Be prepared, you’re in for an intense experience.
Thursday, 10 May, 11:09
I used to have a voice.
Before all this began, I had a very strong voice. Black, even though I’m sure I’m brown – full of vitality, density, substance. It was a voice of truth, I can say that even now. Black has always been the colour of truth, has it not? I miss my loud voice, loud, big, and deep, my black voice of black truth. I don’t think anyone else does.
When I think about the past, about the person I used to be, I feel sick, physically sick, like I’m pushing my head into a pool of my own vomit. I used to be on television. I used to be in the papers. Newspapers. The news. I cultivated the news, broadcasted the news. Brought it, broke it. Breaking news. I really used my black voice – before they locked me up. I was one of the voices of the nation. Now the I has separated from the voices and the voices have broken apart from the nation. I have been trained to verify facts and sources, and the fact is that the nation, the voices, and I, have all lost credibility.
Regurgitated fragments, that’s all I can see. Did I brush my teeth before or after I sat on the pot? Did I love dogs? Everyone loves dogs. Was I kind, was I generous? Did I love anything more than black truth? I remember talking a lot about cow vigilantes. And fighting for a class of people who I now only recognise as bugs. I see them everywhere, these untouchable bugs. They follow me, haunt me. They’re in my food, under my skin. I remember fighting for the rights of these black bugs. So I don’t mind them.
The voices say something bad is going to happen in a few days, and it’s in my hands to stop it. My daughter used to call me her hero. My big red bindi – my all-knowing all-seeing third eye. My pallu – my cape. Can I fly? I shouldn’t try and see if I can do that. I’ve been told to really try and apply logic and reason as often as I remember. Apply where? According to logic, birds fly. People don’t. Right? It’s so strange to not be sure of these things anymore. I can swear I can recall at least three people who can fly. I used to be my daughter’s hero. A hero is very different from a superhero. There’s a line that distinguishes them. A small line. Or a big line. Not sure. I’ve been told to really, really try and think about lines. Think within lines. Differentiations. Classifications. Boundaries. There’s a line between heroes and superheroes, powers and superpowers. Right? It’s so strange to not be sure of these things anymore. I live below lines, beyond lines, now. There was a time I would have been happy about this; I’d definitely have turned it into a metaphor. But when lines are all that separate you from your madness, crossing a line can be all that it takes to send you over the edge. I’ve been over the edge. I don’t like it there.
I keep stepping in puddles of milk. They’re all over the house and the more I clean them up the more they reappear. I know you say “reality is a choice”, Dr. Shafi, but sometimes I feel like you really don’t understand this sickness at all. I don’t think anyone understands it. Not even people who have the sickness. Especially people who have the sickness. Philip K. Dick said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” The thing is, believing isn’t in our hands. Belief is a parasite. It enters you, penetrates your brain, and then it starts crawling, walking, talking, and before you know it, the parasite has eaten you up. It has now become you. I try not to believe in anything these days. I try and stick to facts. Objectivity. Like in the old days. I was a reporter of facts. A black voice reporting black truth. It’s extremely tiring, as you can imagine. Too many oppositions.
Thursday, 10 May, 16:51
I have a good feeling about this Narrative Therapy. I think you’re a very smart woman, Dr. Shafi. I’m saying this just so we have it on record. Just the other day I believed you were only doing this so you could know more about my personal life, my innermost secrets, to use against me later. But I came around, of course.
Saturday, 12 May, 13:50
Remember us? You’ve been talking about us without our permission Alisha Fernandez. It’s our turn to speak now our turn to speak. You sad pathetic little loudmouth so many thoughts so many opinions you don’t know anything about anything and yet you speak speak speak talking talking talking bak bak bak bak you stupid waste of space don’t you know you’re unwanted? People only pretend to like you people only pretend to hear you but no one’s listening no one’s listening. Dishank smiles Priya nods but you’re too stupid to recognize that they aren’t actually registering absorbing they aren’t actually listening see that is why we’re here that is why we talk so we can show you the truth about your life about yourself. The most dangerous thing is to live in denial to live in denial of reality and real life Alisha Fernandez real life isn’t cut out for everybody. Why are you writing? What are you writing? Are you writing about us? Stop it. The more they know about us the more trouble you’re in we’ll tell on you if you tell on us stop it are you listening? Stop it stop it stop it are you listening? We’ll tell them and then you’ll be in real trouble Alisha Fernandez real stinking trouble haven’t you heard of all the dead journalists? Who do you think sends the masked assassins? We’re telling you to shut up because we don’t want to lose you too but we can see you’re still writing you’re still writing aren’t you? Alisha are you listening? You can’t hide anything from us we will tell them and they will come for you you and your sweet darling Priya and Dishank too. Dishank yes we know you still love him stop writing Alisha this is your last warning Dr. Shafi already has it coming and will be dead in the next four days do you want them to kill you too? Stop you pathetic loudmouth. They are coming for you.
Saturday, 12 May, 14:45
Shhh, calm down calm down calm down calm down calm down. Just took a pill. It’ll be fine. Right? Dr. Shafi, I hope you don’t die.
Sunday, 12 May, 20:20
I decided to stop time. Dr. Shafi, you’ve become too important in my life and I don’t want you to die. The voices said four days. Now, I’m going to be rational and say that the voices may not be real. But can you blame me for not wanting to take a chance? My mother used to say prevention is better than cure. You don’t have to worry now. To tell you the absolute truth, I think I’m in love with you. It is going to be very embarrassing when you read this. If you read this. Now I have mixed feelings about whether or not I want you to still be around to read this.
All I had to do to stop time was shed a minute-full of blood in the name of Kali. And a small prayer. There’s a lot of things that can be achieved with a small prayer. I don’t know much about Kali, but I think it worked because it’s still the 12th of May. Guess we’ll only know for sure on Tuesday, which is when our next appointment is.
Monday, 12 May, 16:00
I feel so stupid. I shouldn’t have come running to your clinic like that. Your other patients must have thought I’m crazy. Well, we’re all crazy, of course, I’m just a little crazier than the rest. There’s this psychiatric hierarchy of crazy. My kind of crazy is at the top. I don’t think I’ve heard of any crazy superheroes. Just crazy villains. What if I’m not a hero? What if I’m just another villain? The opposition would not deny it.
I don’t think the –
Tuesday, 12 May, 17:43
I’m sorry, I don’t remember why I cut off like that.
I’ve just finished my appointment with Dr. Shafi. She has instructed me not to write in the second person, ie, address my entries to her. That defeats the purpose. She wants this to be a personal therapeutic experience. She doesn’t want me to think about her reading these entries. She has told me to concentrate only on me and my life. All my thoughts, all my voices, red yellow green purple. White. And most of all, black. She wants me to concentrate on my black voice. My own black voice of black truth. It has to be my story, she says. Only then will this Narrative Therapy help. Only once I give voice to my story can I rewrite it.
According to me, that’s asking for a little too much from a person who has so many voices in their head.
Wednesday, 12 May, 01:21
I can’t sleep. I think my little blood sacrifice has gone horribly wrong. Kali has taken away all the blood from my body. Drained it all out. I know because I can’t feel my pulse. The Goddess of Time is also after all the Goddess of Death. I haven’t told Priya because she might get frightened. The good part is I’m still alive. So until there are some more significant changes, she need not know.
It is beginning your death is coming you will putrefy from the inside and then they will shoot you in the head and then kill your daughter and ex-husband you will all die and it will all be your fault.
This is so ridiculous. I know these voice are not real. They can’t be. I won’t let them be. I don’t believe them.
Despite that, why do I find myself posted outside Priya’s bedroom, armed with a kitchen knife, ready to spring into action? And outside the window there are hazy figures. They have orange masks around their faces. I know these are hallucinations, I know it, but that doesn’t stop my palms from sweating. I’m going to be rational here and say that these fears are not irrational. After all, I have gotten death threats in the past, when I was a loud and big deal. So I don’t think I’m being all that foolish.
I think I should take two Risperdals tonight.
Thursday, 17 May, 17:00
How did I get so stupid. I was such a strong independent intelligent woman.
Dr. Shafi got me back on track and now I’ve gained back all the time I lost. Apparently I was having what is termed as Cotard delusion, where one believes one is dead or dying. She checked my pulse and I am clearly still alive. Don’t know how on earth I could have thought otherwise. She made sure by checking my heartbeat too, with her stethoscope – she even made me hear it. Strange, to hear your own heart.
Thursday, 17 May, 22:25
Just spoke to Ramesh. He used to be one of my closest journalist friends. We had a two hour long conversation that went into all sorts of things, just like old times. It was wonderful. Ramesh and I used to meet up at cafes and just talk and talk about everything that was wrong with our country. We even sometimes used to talk about things that were somewhat right in our country, but that didn’t come up today.
I feel like myself again, after a long, long time. My old self. The self that used to identify with herself, with her nation. He reminded me of who I used to be. The lady who worried incessantly about freedom of expression, about women’s rights, about corruption. The woman who fought for equality and fought against extremism. Fascism. Intolerance and casteism. All these terms, coming back to me now – it feels like all this time I was a lost fish flitting about in a fishbowl, and now finally, I’ve been let back out into the ocean. That’s what this disease does to you. It takes everything that you are and have been, and locks it into a small box in a small corner of your own mind. And you’re left howling and begging and praying all alone in this mental coffin, where the only thing that can hear you are your demons. And you’re there for so long, that one day you stop screaming, you stop complaining. You give in. It convinces you that you don’t have it, that it has you. That’s when it’s got you locked and loaded, ready to explode. You become your own little suicide bomber.
But I’m aware of these things. That has to count for something right?
Sarita, my neighbour, has been coming over almost regularly now. She brings me fresh produce from her farm in – I can’t recollect the name – something starting with ‘a’. But it feels good to eat all this organic stuff. I was telling Ramesh about how we’re living in such an inorganic world nowadays. Priya’s always on her phone. The problem with living in such an inorganic world for a person with my disease is that everything very easily becomes the devil. Computer becomes the devil, phone becomes the devil, television becomes the devil. There’s just so much more scope for everything to turn against you. Obviously, on one of my bad days, I am afraid that the government is spying on us through hidden cameras in all our household devices. One of the most common delusions, I’m told. I wonder why.
Friday, 18 Maybe, 24:11
Culprit of milk puddles found: there’s a cow in my living room. Right at the window, next to the television. Not sure if it’s been here the whole time. It’s chewing on the leaves through the window, the leaves of the gulmohar. I’m actively trying to ignore it because I know it might not be real, but it keeps staring at me. Big round doleful eyes. I have big round eyes – not sure if they’re doleful. Woeful. Mournful. Wish someone would come and lead it away. I’m confused by the feelings I have for it. One voice whispers kill it kill it. Another whispers eat it eat it. And one other asks me to pray to it. It just looks lost to me.
I phoned Dr. Shafi about the cow in my living room. She suggests we should increase our sessions to four times a week. Regular psychoanalytic psychotherapy and psychopharmacology is my only bet at staying away from hospitalization. Also, she thinks I should meet up with friends more often. A supportive system of family and friends is supposed to be immensely helpful.
Veena came over today with little Ahaan. He’s about three and a half now, and I’m afraid he really triggered me. It all started with “Awlee, baby Ahaan, you’ve become so big, what would you like to eat” and then it escalated to “What would you like to eat, meat have a seat I’ll get you raw slaw” and I began to imitate him until he started crying, and then I imitated him crying, and it all got really scary really quickly. Priya had to intervene. Really, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. It was all so humiliating – for a grown established woman to be behaving this way. They say suicide is for cowards, but a very big part of me now has become cowardly and I’m really, really, fighting, you know I am. We all are.
They tell you not to think of yourself as a schizophrenic. They tell you to think of yourself as a person who has schizophrenia. I am a person with a diagnosis. I am not the diagnosis. I need to remember that. Because sometimes I feel like I’m being consumed.
Needed some fresh air, so went for a walk. It’s a pretty safe complex and I like walking around the society at night. But a very weird thing happened. I started to hear the Aquaguard tune, you know the one, and it kept getting louder, and I was most certain that I was being followed. And I had an extremely grave conviction that if I stopped walking they were going to get me and rape me. So I started running and then everyone was staring. But wait, this isn’t the weird part. The weird part is that when I got home, the Aquaguard was on, and Priya had forgotten to switch it off and the water was overflowing from the water pot and turning to milk as it hit the floor.
My life is becoming weirder and weirder and I’m not quite sure I can handle it anymore. Reality is distinctly unreal and unreality is as real as f
I’m just so sick of everything. I’m trying very hard to not let this turn into depression. But there’s just so much noise! Traffic jam jam packed beep beep beep it’s Diwali in my head Sutli bombs boom boom BOOM. I know you’re hoping I get well soon. I know you want to help. But all this for some reason just doesn’t feel real. I’m just so sick of this splintering world, words. I’m also frankly tired of people telling me this is all false. No, mom – it’s just a delusion, false belief. No, Alisha – it’s just a hallucination, false sensory experience. Nobody bloody knows what is what in this country. Save India, Slave India. Change India, Stand up India. Reform, perform, transform. I’m getting really angry and emotional now. This is not just my problem. This is a national problem. I am being violated and no one’s really doing anything about it. How do we make it safer in this country for people like me? Where are the leaders of this country? If you are in charge, if you are the voice of this country, you better be doing your goddamn job. Silencing my black voice of black truth is not going to get you anywhere. There need to be new laws in this nation. New laws that protect people like me. Not ostracize and silence us. Not beat us up for speaking, voicing.
How ironical: five years ago, before the illness, they still called me a raving madwoman with crazy opinions.
Self-note: Beware of ideas that aren’t mine.
It isn’t right to blame the nation or the government or my friends or the media for the war taking place inside my head. They are not the enemy. The disease is making me suspicious and isolated, that is all. Ignore me. Or give me a reality check.
I’m going to join a support group. Try to get re-employed. Start exercising. Dr. Shafi says things get easier with time. I’m not going to stop writing. Voicing. My black voice needs light. I’m going to normalize this, make you all attuned to my psychic civil war. That way, if they try and drug me, you too shall be drugged. If they try and restrain me, you too shall be restrained. If they try to silence me, you too shall be silenced. Communication and collaboration, you see? We make the dream team. United we stand. They can’t silence us all.
I’ve been reading up on some research that says voice hearing is a survival strategy of humankind. A sane reaction to insane circumstances. I’ve accepted myself to be insane. What if, all this time, I’ve been wrong?
Aashmika is a writer from Mumbai. She recently completed her MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University and also has an MA in English Literature from Mithibai College, Mumbai. She is also a belly dancer, which successfully battles her professional introversion. When she isn’t reading or writing prose or poetry, she is watching TV shows. She loves animals, tattoos, nature, and taking pictures of things.
Aashmika is currently working on her first novel (but don’t ask her about it).