How often do you pay attention to the voices in your head? This was just one of the thoughts that ran through my mind last evening as I lie in bed, unable to fall back to sleep. How many voices does one hear? Is it just one voice, the “interior you” that you listen to when, unable to sleep, that voice runs through a list of everything you need to do and consider in the days and weeks ahead, or spends what seems like hours suddenly rehashing long forgotten, sometimes regrettable, episodes in your life, leaving you to question the validity and your actual memory of said episodes? I would like to believe this voice is my mind sorting all the clutter of daily projects, attempting to make some sense of innumerable chores and lists and questions and half-answers scattered around my mind.
My current project, which of course came up in that interior dialogue last night, is an examination of Andrew Martinez, Berkeley’s famous “Naked Guy’ of the early 1990s, and his possible influences on the growth of the Body Freedom Movement. Andrew heard voices, he described the process in an interview I was reading yesterday. When asked to describe what he said to himself the first time he went naked, Andrew replied, “In my head, I say to myself, ‘OK, Andrew, you know, this is something you can do, you’re willing to do, you want to do, it’s right to do. So do it!’ And then there’s still part of me going [using a singsong voice] ‘No, oh, I don’t wanna go, oh shit, uh, oh, God!’”
Now I believe that we all have this mental process going on. What has me perplexed, however, is whether it is all a matter of degree. Most of us are capable of quieting the voices, or at least rationalizing their logic. Because Andrew was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, this raised several questions for me. Andrew believed in and pursued a way of living that was non-normative. He bravely chose to pursue this way of living rather than altering his behavior to conform. Could it be possible that Andrew’s insistence on living his life his way, free of the restrictions of “normality” led to a diagnosis of mental illness?
I have a friend who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, so I do understand a little about the debilitating nature schizophrenia can have. I sometimes find it difficult to spend more than a few minutes with my friend. On the other hand, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at about the age of 11 or 12. I know that I was a very disturbed child. This was forty-five years ago, before Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Movement. I was the biggest sissy at my school, tormented by both my peers and a few of my teachers. Everyday I would have to suffer gross ridicule at school, then I would go home to parents who could not understand why I could not be more of a man, could not be “like the other boys,” who did everything they could think of to “make a man out of me.” I survived by being as different from my tormentors as possible, which not only served to increase their torment but gave me a perverse sort of satisfaction, and by withdrawing into a half imaginary world of fantasy, envisaging what my adult future might hold.
When I look back on that period in my life, as I did last night –– yes, those (voices) trains of thought –– it is difficult to remember exactly what did transpire. Which only raises more questions, like layers of sediment that seems to line the interior of my mind. Am I forgetting what happened because of the natural occurrence of time and age, or am I forgetting what happened because it is too horrific or embarrassing to remember? I have lived my adult life assuming my “diagnosis” was informed by my survival mechanisms, and therefore my “diagnosis” was incorrect. The world I inhabited was one of my own making, I was in control and therefore I was not schizophrenic. Wasn’t I? Is the nature of reality and disorder so liminal? If so, what does that mean for those of us who refuse to actively conform?