Mind and Brain

Five o’clock in the morning.

I took my Vraylar just now. I don’t remember any dreams I might have had. I woke up with a few lines of poetry in my head, so I got up and wrote them down. A poem was generated from the lines, but nothing great. I figure I need another dose of inspiration, or maybe I can go back and revise it later. I ask myself how one writer like Edgar Allan Poe could have such an influence on a whole movement in France, and be more heroic for them than for his own country. Also I wonder what were the last dreams of Edgar Poe. I feel as if I should have shared his fate as a casualty of alcoholism. In my own mind, it’s hard to discriminate between Poe and my mother, who was his ardent fan, proclaiming him a genius. She never had a desire to stop drinking, so she’s really kind of a bad angel to me— though I say that with regret. What would she have been like without alcohol and tobacco? These were her defenses, her security blankets against a hostile universe that was out to get her. My brother still condemns her, but doesn’t realize his own similarity to her. Now I wonder about the roots of paranoia, this diseased thinking that must come from somewhere. In some ways I’m more like my father, and his optimism and willpower are gifts I can hold onto, and wield them against the rest of the family.

Six o’clock. The phenomenology of schizophrenia gets tiresome after a while, and it’s easier to conceive it as just a biological disease, no different from cancer or some other somatic illness. Mental illness scares people because it attacks the mind, the seat of our thoughts and feelings, and also no one wants to acknowledge that behavior comes down to brain activity, a purely physical thing. The pastor of Our Redeemer is phobic of the reality of biological psychology and neuroscience. He chooses to ignore the facts of mental illness— and that’s a pity for him. But for this reason I won’t go back to church on Sunday morning. 

Free Agency

Quarter of nine.

I’m stuck with having to go see my hematologist tomorrow. I feel a little nervous about it because I don’t know what to expect. But they did tell me that I don’t need a phlebotomy this time… It’s almost time for Aesop’s breakfast, and he’s letting me know he’s hungry.

Quarter of ten. Sometimes I recall what it was like to be on a soaring drunk. During 2013 and 2014 I was a mile high every day, but now I don’t understand why, or how I could justify doing that. Maybe I just didn’t feel equal to my responsibility for myself, or strong enough to tackle it sober. It could have been just a guilty conscience, something instilled by my working class family that believed there was nothing wrong with me; the schizophrenia was a phony excuse to be lazy and selfish, etc etc. I think most of my family still believes that. When I decided to stop drinking, I was prepared to give up my family and take care of myself in spite of the guilt and shame they imposed on me. My brother gave me the hardest time for being unemployed, and he begrudged me every service I took advantage of as a disabled person. He tried to argue that I didn’t have schizophrenia once when he was drunk on the phone. He behaved like a complete jerk to me, but I say he can screw himself.

I don’t deny that I made my own decision to quit the office job I had 15 years ago. The CEO of the agency wrote that she knew I’d given it a lot of thought. I deliberated it for a whole year, in fact. I concluded that the poverty was worth the free time I would have to think and read whatever I wanted.

Eleven o’clock. I’m not a Nietzsche nut, but in Zarathustra he says it’s desirable to say you willed your past, that everything was an intentional decision. This is part of his idea of the will to power, and I think it’s a good idea. Feeling empowered is a way to abolish addiction. Leaving it up to a Higher Power, a power greater than yourself, didn’t work for me. Nor did the injunction of self abnegation really help me to overcome alcoholism. What works best for me is taking responsibility, the flip side of freedom. It’s a great thing to be an autonomous agent, and such a pity to be a pawn in someone else’s game. Even if free will is an illusion, it makes you feel better and gets good results. 

The Red Pill

One forty. Campbell or Carnap: which way do I go in my reading? Either way, I couldn’t stay in that mode forever. I had a friend who was so literal that she couldn’t understand figurative language, especially metaphor. I indulged her for six years and finally I rebelled against her anti poetry and embraced transcendence. Liberating myself this way, I could contemplate sobriety and imponderable things like God. Now I don’t know how much sobriety hinges on the supernatural, but I think it helped me get started. Probably in May 2018 I was very optimistic for the poet’s union with the sublime, deeming that Mallarme was the best path to revelation. Was I merely deluded? I don’t feel the same today that I did three years ago. The medication eliminates metaphysics as easily as cognitive therapy or logical analysis. More so: you only have to swallow a pill to make faerie go away. It’s similar to the red pill in The Matrix. This raises the question, Do we choose the reality we want to live in? Red pill or the blue?

However, this gives people the wrong idea about schizophrenia…

From a Phish Song

Noon hour. I motivated myself to blow the dog crap off the patio with the garden hose because it was attracting the houseflies. Motivation is difficult for people with schizophrenia. No one knows why, and therapy doesn’t seem to help. No use in making a moral issue of it either; it simply is… I’ll be going to practice between three thirty and four o’clock. My slovenliness embarrasses me, yet I can’t help it. It would be even worse if I were drinking. I will try to muster up enthusiasm for the music today. But overall I feel like an empty shell, burnt out on everything I used to love.

One thirty five. I looked up the lifespan of the average schizophrenic: it shaves off up to 25 years. By this predictor I could die before I’m 60 years old. I guess I’m okay with that because I already feel like an octogenarian. Can’t imagine living to be 75 in real time. Time to start doing what I really want to do with my life and make every second count. Or perhaps I’ve done enough. It’s like the song “Character Zero” by Phish. What is the best use of our time? Should we rush or take it slow? 

Disorganized

Eleven o’clock. I know that I’m a complete slob. The inside of my house is a pigsty, but without assistance I can’t do much about it. I can’t seem to organize my environment to make it habitable. Every therapist I’ve had has despaired and given up on me. It makes me feel so worthless and hopeless. But at least I don’t mistreat anybody. I hate cleaning and cooking chores, so I simply don’t do them. Probably I learned my behavior from observation of my mother, who always put pleasure before business when I was growing up. The older she got, the more her negligence and social withdrawal. If I had a limitless supply of money I could hire a housekeeper. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about what people will think of me. As it stands, my behavior is exactly like my mother’s. The only difference is that I don’t drink anymore, and I never have smoked cigarettes. And instead of doing crossword puzzles, I write my thoughts and post them to my blog. But the underlying principle of pleasure is the same for both of us. Would anyone want to judge me?

One twenty. The truth is that I’m disordered by the schizophrenia; I didn’t learn it anywhere. I tried to play the bass just now and it didn’t sound good to me, just a flurry of nonsense notes, noisy squirreling in the low frequencies. To play well, I really depend on the band being there for structure and organization. And forget about music composition. I couldn’t concentrate to do something like that. The illness pretty much blew away my ability to create music recordings. Yet still, in spite of this, I refuse to give up out of love for my late mother. I just need a context to plug my bass into. Nobody can live in a vacuum. We’re all symbiotic and dependent upon each other. Or maybe it’s only me who has this problem with organization and focus? 

Splitting of the Mind

Midnight. 

My letter to S— this evening was pretty good; it became a discussion of William James quite out of the blue. He sidesteps reason altogether and looks instead at the practical consequences of any belief an individual holds. This method may be the best way to save metaphysics from the logical positivists. And maybe this was the reasoning of the movers and shakers two decades ago when my mother died and the real world blindsided me. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing bogus quantum mechanics or faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the intelligence of water crystals, Intelligent Design Theory, and discovering a Boeing 747 on Mars. The rationale for all of this became the figure of William James, especially his Pragmatism and The Will to Believe. As late as winter 2010, his philosophy was resurrected to sort of usher out the crazy millennium, or perhaps give it another last gasp. In August 2002, I had an assessment for addiction issues at an agency downtown. I told N— what my beliefs were, and was there anything wrong with that. She replied, “It depends on how you use it.” This was a statement of Pragmatism very early in the game, which would drag on for another ten years. I first heard about Cognitive Therapy the following year, but it wasn’t available here until spring 2006. It ran contrary to Jamesian philosophy by being evidence based, almost too little too late. Simultaneously there were these two competing ideas, Pragmatism and something more akin to science: enough to split anybody’s brain into halves at war with each other.

One twenty five. So what is the solution to this pandemic of schizophrenia, which literally means “splitting of the mind?” Because ultimately it comes down to the nature of the human brain, with its two cerebral hemispheres, each with its own mentality. They communicate with each other by means of the corpus callosum and the cerebral commissures, bridging the gap between them. They inform one another. Some people are more dominant on one side than the other. And some people fiercely deny the truth of hemispheric lateralization, that is, the specialization of each half of the brain. My brother and I got into an ugly argument over it twelve years ago, before he retired from his career as a professor. He told his students that hemispheric lateralization was a myth after our disagreement. But he wasn’t aware of the studies done with split brain epileptic patients, where the results suggested a recognizable difference between the left and right brain… Whether you accept lateralization or not, the solution is to improve communication of one side with the other— and to educate people about psycho physiology. 

Illumination

One thirty in the morning.

I just had a beautiful thought about my life today: it seems to me that I’ve paid my dues for whatever heinous thing I might’ve done in the past. If schizophrenia is a divine curse, then it’s been expiated at last. This doesn’t mean that I now have carte blanche to do anything I want. But it does mean that I’ve been granted a second chance to get my life together.

Practice with Mike and Ron yesterday afternoon was a good experience. The three of us had fun making music and getting reacquainted. Ron’s prodigious keyboard playing was a pleasure to hear, and the rhythm section of Mike and me got so it locked pretty well. My new Fender bass cut through the mix and sounded awesome. Yet I suppose it isn’t so much about the gear we use. An instrument is just a tool, and the musician himself is an instrument of the divine. Music is more than sound, even more than feeling. It is a meaningful message from powers we scarcely understand. Mythology is said to be the picture language of the soul. Likewise, music is a language of sound, but it is conveyed through the medium of time. Music moves… We plan on getting together again next Saturday for more practice. Funny, but Ron said I look kind of like Adrian Belew of King Crimson owing to my pattern baldness. I took that as a compliment. 

“Fixing a Hole”

Five o’clock.

At midnight I listened to Sgt Pepper, which was a gift from Kate about seven years ago. I’d forgotten all about the song “Fixing a Hole.” It was one that Paul wrote, and hearing it again was rather breathtaking. The whole album reminded me of when I had too much fun drinking. I don’t feel necessarily triggered, but it makes me wonder how I made the decision to start doing a 12 pack of beer every day. The logic that led me to this action is alien to me now. Today I can take the survey of my entire life, not just since my mother’s death, and make more sense of it. The lotus land of alcoholism was merely a stop on my personal odyssey. And as I ponder it, I imagine that I did drink to deal with the illness. It really was misery to live with delusions of the devil and other superstitious things. The only option I had was to self medicate.

Six thirty. On one hand you have morals. On the other hand there’s necessity, reality. Schizophrenia is a biological disease, not a sin or defect of character. Everything that happens, happens by cause and effect. Things happen because they must; and because they do. They are inalterable even by the will. So David Hume was probably right about determinism. It only makes sense. 

Getting Better

Seven twenty.

The dawn is coming up very rosy outside. I need to get Aesop some canned food this morning. We finished off the ice cream in one day. Recently, I went searching for the word origin of “church” and could find nothing… Okay, it derives from the Greek that means “Lord’s house.” I’d expected something different, like a collective of people, a community maybe. Interesting how embedded in the human psyche is the idea of God, but also the way it skips over some people… Another thought is the nature of schizophrenia, whether it can be considered a willful nonconformity or instead just a biological disease. Opinions will always be divided on mental illness. I suppose that religious indoctrination is not harmful for a person with schizophrenia, although I’ve resisted Christianity for almost twenty years… I guess I’ll go to the store now.

Nine o five. I finally learned that Vicki was let go from her job. It took two years for them to make this decision, and Deb sat in on the meeting. Now Michelle will be working five days a week at the market. I’m sort of glad, because I never knew what Vicki might say from one day to the next. Hurtful things, sometimes. Overall it looks like the little store is becoming more professional and conscientious about customer service. And that’s kind of a relief to me… I may or may not go sing carols with the church tomorrow afternoon. I’ll probably pass on the Christmas spirit this year. The hoopla of the season is not for me. As long as it’s optional, I will opt out. I don’t get the feeling that the church has ever understood schizophrenia, so maybe it’s time to reevaluate my situation. I don’t feel particularly guilty or ashamed for anything anymore, and I believe that consciousness is being raised in general regarding the mentally ill. I imagine time will tell. 

Sunday Morning

Ten o’clock. Colin was out walking Lolo with his baby daughter Tessa strapped to his front when I returned from the store. He told me how pretty he’d thought my maple tree was before it dropped all its leaves. And it really was beautiful. Tessa made “stink faces” at me, but they didn’t mean anything. She also waved. Colin speculated on the future of the coronavirus, but neither of us knows anything. We agreed that a vaccine will be a great thing. Lolo sniffed my shopping bag, which was full of stuff.

The store was fairly busy. One customer bought biscuits and gravy. I saw another person head for the beer cooler. I got a couple of Snapple teas and easy food. I found out that I don’t tolerate soda very well anymore, perhaps because of the phosphoric acid, or the carbonation. I tried to do a two liter of Pepsi Friday and felt a little sick. Gradually I’m moving away from things that are unhealthy for me. To some extent, alcoholism is deliberate suicide by a slow means. I’m more hopeful now than I used to be, and a bit more defiant towards people who don’t understand me. My sister and brother used to bully me until I finally broke away and took my chances on my own. I found that most strangers were nicer to me than family, though that sounds counterintuitive. And it’s still a battle with them, especially my brother, who refuses to understand what my life is like.

The Stewart Copeland songs are still in my brain, so maybe I should listen to something else. People always ask me if I hear good music or bad, but it’s really a matter of what I’ve been listening to. Is it a hallucination or instead just having a phonographic memory? I’ve had it all my life and come to live with it… The rain has stopped this morning, but should resume tonight. It rained all night long. At least it’s a little brighter outside than the last few days.