[Still on the plane.]
Yesterday I was talking to a parent of a young adult with psychosis, when, near the end of our conversation, she asked me where she could find a published version of my “story.” (“It would be so powerful…” as I’m often told.) As I’ve indicated many times in the past (here on my blog), I feel deeply ambivalent not about self-disclosure in a general sense, but certainly about particular forms of narrativization (including the “first person account”). This ambivalence obviously stems in large part from my position as an academic and ‘social sceintist’, but also, I’m beginning to realize, from an almost painful introspective obsession with the thousand ways in which “illness” and “recovery” can be (and perhaps inevitable are) spun; the difficulty of telling an honest story when the subject of one’s discourse is so profoundly over-determined.
“For an entire year I could barely motivate myself to take a shower, to drink, to eat,” I find myself telling her: “year three of “schizophrenia”, the worst year, but also the turning point.” This is the truth in a basic sense, but was it despair, ‘negative symptoms,’ laziness, psychosis (….) that paralyzed me so profoundly? Still talking to her, I begin to wonder if, in labeling my experience as “psychosis” at all, I am implicitly claiming a false solidarity with her son (and so many others)? To what end?
‘I had all but given up hope,’ I continue, ‘for all those years I did not think I could cope with anything, didn’t think I would ever be able to read again.’ ‘Ironically, returning to school helped enormously,’ I add, but simultaneously reflect on the extent to which this is only one version of the story. Did things get easier simply because of time or luck, had I learned to ‘cope’ better, was it the ‘valued social role’ of the graduate student, or is the whole narrative merely a retrospective fiction? Can I or can’t I just be honest about these complexities, or is there some unspoken ‘contract’ between us, by virtue of which we both understand that my role is to embody the future-recovery of her son..? Or simply confirm the ‘validity’ of psychosis as a thing-like thing, as something coherent, enduring, surmountable because others have surmounted precisely and exactly ‘it’?
A while later, a young voice hearer describes his voices (overwhelming, abusive), then wishes aloud that there were such things as positive voices. Oh, there are, I say, and then think, “do I report mine….? Should I mention Eleanor Longden, suggest listening to her TED talk; or perhaps speak more generally about the prevalence of positive voices? Which would be more compelling, more effective, more honest…? And then (if it’s all a partial fiction anyway), what is my motivation—does the fiction serve him, myself, am I stroking both of our egos in some sad, small way? Do I even believe that what we’ve experienced is, in any way, the ‘same’: parallel, analogous, shared, translatable? Or, conversely, is it selfish not to play the archetypal ‘guide,’ to instead insist on my difference, to insist on the fiction of “psychosis” as a singular entity?
Yes, yes, I know: all narratives are fiction, all fiction is autobiographical, and even the most self-critical preoccupation with ‘the truth of the event’ is at least a little sophomoric. I nevertheless cannot shake my discomfort, nor fully articulate why so many other forms and types of narrative (of love, of death, of war) do not seem to bother me, while testimonials of psychosis, mania, depression almost ubiquitously do.