Monday, November 21, 2011

Hearing Voices Is Not Funny

Hey, hey - I've got a joke. You know, you're never alone. See, you've got plenty of cancer cells in your body to keep you company. See! It's funny! It really is!

Cancer survivors and cancer patients, and the families of cancer patients and survivors, probably wouldn't think so. Not with all the heartache, the pain and suffering, the hurt, watching your love one suffer, and the expenses that one goes through when they develop cancer. Unless you're into a particular set of gallows humor that isn't about being funny directly but through reactions, you're not likely to find that one either. Someone who lost a limb, or all their hair while undergoing chemo, or the family someone who actually died from metastasized cancer, likely would not find that joke funny. And it's doubly offensive unless you yourself are a cancer survivor, in which case, if you did make it, it's not so much attempting to be funny as it is being darkly ironic. But until you do, you'll never know. And it becomes a tasteless joke for that reason.

If that joke is not funny, and we can all agree that it's not funny, why is it funny to comment how you're never alone because "you've got the voices in your head to keep your company?" I see it on tee-shirts, some funny person pops up with a joke about hearing voices and never being lonely because of it on my news feed every so often. There are mainstream jokes about it. For some reason, everyone thinks that it's okay to mock people who have a mental illness, but not people who have cancer. Joking about people who are psychotic should be every degree the dark humor that joking about cancer is, but it's not. Joking about sick people, who's lives are in danger, is not funny. Whether it's from cancer or from danger of suicide, the end result is the same - death is death.

Do you really want to know what it's like to hear voices, and see things? It's not worth joking about unless you've actually experienced it, right? Of course. Let me tell you what it's like. Because it's not funny. It's scary. It's truly, honestly scary.

I've mentioned a few times on this blog I fall somewhere on the bipolar spectrum. It's usually bipolar II or cyclothymia, because I can't remember which I was formally diagnosed with. I've also mentioned on this blog that I lost a year of my life to a relentless depression that just would not let up, and was so deep that I've actually lost memories of what happened before it, and during it. That's not fun. I'll probably never get those memories back, either - sit down for a while and remember all that you can about your high school, middle school, and elementary school years. Now block out 98% of that. That's how much I lost, and aside from a few scattered memories that come and go, that's what I'll never have back.

I suppose that's a good thing, that I've never heard people joke about depression. But then, it could be that I travel in circles that either a) don't acknowledge it exists or b) have bad enough taste to joke about psychosis but good enough taste to avoid depression jokes.

Unfortunately, depression and psychosis are not mutually exclusive. During that year, when my depression was kicking me in the stomach while I lay in the bottomless pit completely removed from any outside light, I had breaks from reality. It happened. A lot.

Here's something that's really funny about hearing voices. I remember sitting at home, by myself, at night. I don't live in the best neighborhood, and there's a certain degree of stress that goes into staying by yourself, at night, in a neighborhood that is not a very good one as far as crime goes. Even though I've lived in this house for my entire life, I will still feel uncomfortable. Well, I was sitting at my computer desk, and I heard talking.

Keep in mind, I was by myself. And I didn't recognize the voices.

I've got AD/HD. I have tendency to zone out for a while, especially when I'm working at the computer. I zoned back in just in time to hear them talking - but I couldn't hear what they were talking about. I was by myself. In an empty house. In a bad neighborhood, at night, hearing unfamiliar voices in my own home. I froze, utterly horrified. Did someone break in? Oh fuck, what the hell? I had a sword in my room at the time - it was actually a ceremonial knife that was dulled, but any weapon is good as none - and I picked it up, creeping into the living room. My stress level was through the roof - someone had broke into my house. I heard them talking. I went, room by room, flipping on all the lights, until I found nothing. I heard the voices twice that night, and freaked out both times, until I eventually curled up in my bed and tried to tell myself I was imaging things, and ignored the moving shadows. I didn't sleep that night until my parents came back home.

See? Isn't that funny? Haha funny, right? See, I wasn't alone! I had the voices in my head to keep me company!

Thankfully, that year is the only time I experience that. I still remember going to bed and seeing things move out of the corner of my eye. I remember hearing people call my name, and when I check to see if anyone called me, nobody did. Until you know what it's like to have a break from reality, and until you're by yourself, of a night, in a neighborhood known for break-ins when your house had been shot at not even a few weeks before hand, do not talk to me about "hearing voices." There is nothing funny about it.

My experience with psychosis is limited. I haven't had another experience with psychosis in a long, long time. My mind still plays tricks on me every so often, but they're different from actually hearing people talking - very real voices - when you're by yourself.

I cannot imagine what it's like to live like that. What it's like to live, day in and day out, hearing voices that you don't recognize talking to you. When you're alone and you hear them, when you're with others and you hear, when you see strange things - this shit is fucking scary. And you're going to sit here and make a joke about it? I'm glad you're never alone because "you've got the voices to keep you company." I'm really fucking happy for you.

I'm not sure it can be expressed how offensive that is. But I like to think I'm doing a good job.

And before you get all huffy, and accuse me of being "over-sensitive" because it's "just a joke" - so was the cancer "joke." I'll also thank you for explaining to me that it's "just a joke," because to me it's sure as hell not. To me, that was real. To me, it was scary enough to make me still want to cry. It makes me anxious enough to the point where a lot of my anxious ticks - in particular nail-biting and skin-picking - are something that I'm doing right now, as I type this.

Saying that being psychotic is "difficult" is probably an understatement of near British proportions. It's a ridiculous statement, because there's really nothing you can compare being psychotic too. It's a break from reality, it's seeing things that aren't there, it's hearing things that aren't there. It's scaring yourself when you're all alone, because you know those voices are real, but they're not. And you can't help. And you can't turn it off. And it doesn't go away. And it doesn't help that you keep making fun of people who are psychotic. It doesn't help that people who are psychotic are typecast as being violent, when really, they're not. They're a larger danger to themselves than they are to you. The only type of schizophrenia I can think of as being the "violent" type of schizophrenia is paranoid schizophrenia. And even then, it's overstated big time.

I'm not schizophrenic. I don't want to be schizophrenic, and even though I'm a malproper big time when talking in real life (I'm pretty sure some of it is learned habit, because it was "cute" to be "dyslexic" back in HS. If you don't look back and cringe on what little you remember of your childhood, you did something wrong), I don't have a formal thought disorder. I know that Bipolar can take on traits of schizophrenia, and vice versa, because your mood says a lot about your state of mind. If you can't control your mood, it's only a logical extension that you can't control your mind, either. But I'm not. And I'm infinitely thankful. See, you may joke about hearing voices, but I never want to, ever again.

It's all in good humor, though. I mean, a joke is a joke, right? Especially when the only joke I see is the idiot who thinks bigotry and joking about something as serious as psychosis is prime material for humor.

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