SMH Comics don't just write great comedy material. Please enjoy the Poetry and Prose of SMH...
Rob Engelquist is an SMH Vancouver Class of 2005 Alumni. He was featured in the award-winning Passionate Eye documentary about SMH "Cracking Up". Rob has now done over 250 shows with SMH. He is a talented Rapper. Watch Rob's Rap on Schizophrenia and his Message to All of Us:
"Schizophrenia", a Call to Self-Compassion
By Alex Winstanley
I would like today to talk about schizophrenia, maybe not as most people are accustomed, as sad story of victimization and loss, but as groundwork for intense self-examination. Schizophrenia changes the mind of the ill person so delicately, so finely, as the imbalance of invisible neurotransmitters pulse abnormally in the brain. This is enough for perception to become so warped the ill person can no longer distinguish between reality and illusion, enough for a person’s entire identity to be broken down. But this subtle change in brain chemistry does not have to dictate the end of the soul's life, does not have to leave us a withered shell chain-smoking on the porch of a group home.
Maybe I should begin with my own story. At nineteen I was propelled into the extreme company of many unhuman beings, including angels, demons, and animals. My madness was a very creative time for me, so creative that I forgot about reality. I spent six months in hospital, raving. I do not want to romanticize the extremity of my condition—I was absolutely self-centered and wrapped in a masochistic obsession with my own importance. Being that focused on one's ego hurts. When I finally got out of hospital I was crushed. From having been the next Messiah, to some human who can't even get on a bus and lives in an eastside home with very sick companions, was a lot to absorb. But here is where the weight of my message comes in: I had been reborn, re-inhabiting my body with my self—a broken self—but mine. This shift is at the center of what it means to be human: a new manifestation of my own will. Schizophrenia gives us the chance to work with the fabric of our will.
I see this mental illness as a game played by Nature, that strikes at individual minds, either through heredity, or otherwise. Oftentimes, when the mind feels so directly assaulted by voices and visions, it disengages from the will. Is this set up not the perfect battlefield for self-discovery? People with this mental illness are privileged to be fighting for the very phenomenon that makes us human—personality. And I can assure you that if you learn to tightrope along the precarious thread of your own consciousness, you will become a balanced, beautiful, deep, wise, and resourceful being, when you begin again to tread on ground. You will have a one up on all your friends, because of your bravery.
Love people, head straight toward them, look them in the heart. People are reality. A reality more potent than a car or a book or a hallucination, because they are co-creators, and we live in each other. Kindness and compassion are the forces that cause us to grow and blossom; on the other side of the spectrum, coming into contact with any type of self-loathing and hatred, if taken with understanding, often provides the spark of life, the dissonant friction that makes us also to yearn for peace, and, sometimes, leads us to actually find and cultivate this peace, through, I repeat, kindness and compassion. An isolated being, marooned in illusion, need more love than most, because out of that love only a bit will penetrate.
The illness called schizophrenia at first hides behind the eyes, a black abyss of paranoia and worry. When we feel fear or anxiety, it is a tremor that begins in the roots, sapped up as venom and vulnerability through all our faculties. And it does not cease. For days, months, years, the venom extends its poison even into dreams. But, at the center of all this mess, an enlightened inner power called peace and silence holds strong. If you are human, you have reservoirs of silence like the lullaby of a calm sea...Let your breath become your best friend.
Silence. Who could even conceive of it in the modern world? And even less, when hearing voices. For me silence is not necessarily the cessation of sound, but rather the fluidity of a rushing river. We consider the noise of a river to be peaceful, because of its constancy, the fact that it continually undergoes change yet remains whole. Thus can be our minds, full of energy and torrents of thought, but whole, clear, life-giving. This is true silence: to be moving within the life force, alive within the greater universe, in communion with other beings, at peace. This is the silence Schizophrenic men and women yearn for: to fit in, to be harmonious.
Often men and women with mental illness are awkward, speaking at the wrong moments, moving with rigidity, and generally not fitting into either their bodies or society. This is a result of breakdown of identity. Identity, on a deep level, is a definition of self. It is, as much as the body, a mold for our souls to fit into; and when there is great turmoil in the soul, the identity cracks and anxiety rushes in. I wish (me included) for all mentally ill people to stop being ashamed of their awkwardness, but to embrace it as a mark of their depth. We are engaged in an existential battle for our identity; and we should be proud of what we are learning. When you feel awkward or strange, be proud, for you are on a crash course for deep wisdom, a wisdom that speaks beyond appearances.
We all tell a story about ourselves. Stories are powerful dictators not only of the individual, but also of society. These stories can nourish, but they can also destroy. There is a war going on inside every Schizophrenic person's mind; a war between self-assertive love, and insecurity's self-hate. But we can get in charge of our stories. Among all the voices in our head is our voice, clear and true. In any way possible try to tease the voice you think with into the light. Write, speak, think outside the box. What the voices try to do is lead you down into an imaginary and intensely destructive world. It is important to delineate yourself and entwine your voice with your will. Write in a diary, paint a picture, critique a movie; for once it is good to fall in love with the sound of your very own voice.
When I was in hospital my mother called almost every one of our family members, and I had a barrage of visitors every day. I learned to paint, converse, play the harmonica, and even though I could barely speak without revealing an unhealthy obsession with my own cosmic importance, I connected, and felt their reality and love. Ever since I have left that hospital, I have not stopped making connections; and I have physiologically forged a new me, among the very caustic chaos of voices and mad hallucinations, I have found my voice, and it is an existential phenomenon of pure joy.
I would now like to redeem the term "Mental Illness". First, mental, or mind, does not have to be reduced to the intellect, but includes the body and the heart. Taking this more holistic definition, we may discover that the mind is also the site of the great theater of human drama, a majestic hall filled with the communal beauties and uglinesses of all of mankind. To have an illness of the mind is to have parts of this hall draped in darkness, where perception falls away from reality. The experience of this shadow can be frightening, but it can also awaken spiritually what humans have always been good at doing, rushing through the spots of light left over, adapting through love.
I want the word "schizophrenia" to no longer be whispered hurriedly at the backs of buses, or be pronounced with mechanistic certainty by the doctors and nurses, but to become a bold battle cry on the front lines of self-creation. I want people, when they hear our diagnosis, to stand taller and collect their thoughts, because in front of them is a being whose very consciousness is as transformative and changeable as Shakespeare's or Dante's. The only reason all you see is a slightly hunched, timid creature is because we are in the making. But when we are made, baby, you better watch out, cuz we are going to dance down the labyrinthine hallways of our own heightened mortality without shame—in ownership of the soul, the body, and these flashes of the mind. We are the modern mutants, taught in the furnaces of consciousness the healing power of compassion, perseverance and strength. We are journeymen of alternative consciousness, original, and free.
Copyright Alex Winstanley 2010
A fallen bridge
in your eyes,
and on the far side
the lilies of lucidity.
Satan called you out
into the garments of death—
to swallow those pills.
And you lay dying
in your room for two days,
slipping into dreams,
as cool green water
trickled over your skin;
you were prom queen,
a princess of sunflowers
in your youth.
But then you were Ophelia.
That awkward word,
stretches between us like green rope, or
a fallen bridge.
And on the far side—
lilies. And I cry
for the broken stem
of your mind.