Saturday, February 4, 2012

He's One in a Hundred: An Essay on Schizophrenia

B is a seasoned sidewalk bongocero. As buskmates, I strum my banjitar and B thumps his bongo. His habit is to sit cross-legged on the sward or curb, depending on the pitch, follow my lead and pound his unique beats accordingly. As a percussionist, B’s abilities are one in a hundred. Statistically he is one in a hundred in another way – B has schizophrenia.

B’s affliction is a textbook case study. At seventeen he was stricken with schizophrenia. Over the next few years B quickly became a transmogrification of his former self. Even though he was an A+ student, B dropped out of school. At home he refused to follow house rules, cavorted with new acquaintances from his newly developed drugships (his closest friends had long-since abandoned him), and exhibited such bizarre behaviors that he was committed on several occasions to the Psychiatric Adolescent Unit of the local hospital. When he turned eighteen years of age he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and by the time he was twenty-five, had been assigned to the Psychiatric Ward over a dozen times.

From ages 17 to 25, B was delusional. His life was a blurred line between real and imaginary experiences. A few examples: He thought he could smash television sets, re-make them into modern art pieces, and sell them for millions of dollars. B could also telepathically connect with anyone within his range of visibility. B was also convinced that his father was his fakey dad, and that his real father lived in another world. B was obsessed, striving for immortality, longing to soar forever in the universe, an afterlife so desired after his transitory existence on Earth.

And B was hallucinatory. He would chuckle along with his imaginary friends and he would frequently receive secret signals from characters on the television screen. B would constantly be chatting to some of his usual invisible visitors, one being an identical twin (but female) from another planet. B was walkative, and would flounder the streets frequently, both day or night, and yell at cars, imaginary people, even trees. Oftentimes in cadge-like fashion, the broken B would pan in front of the liquor store.

During those years conversations with B were incoherent, or as described in the industry, salad. His words would be made-up, mostly in portmanteau fashion, and strung together in muddled perfection (sensible only to him). And during other conversations, in episodic fashion, his correct use of grammar would be gone, replaced by someone who was analphabetic, benighted, dark, and seemingly untaught.

To say the least, B was in bad, bad shape both mentally and physically. During that time B was institutionalized in either a group home or an agency managed apartment. (B shall be indebted forever for the support of the staff at the Phoenix Residential Society, under the directorship of Carole Eaton.)

That was then; this is now.

These past years B enjoys living in his rented downtown apartment. He works part-time for a landscape company, lifts weights at the university on a regular basis, and is both the conguero and bongocero for The Grand Trunk Troubadours (a community service band) and Seahorse (a buskband).

Busking, in a significant way, has become part of B’s catharsis, relieving the stress of his past and present condition. Though his percussion cantillates are sometimes full of repine, B is a man on the mend. B, indeed, is one in a hundred, and together we have shared a hundred buskapades on a hundred different pitches, and this is what I know:

B’s life is not unlike that of any protagonist's in a novel of the Bildungstroman genre – that used-to-be blurred line of his between real and imaginary, becoming brighter and brighter, moment by moment, pitch by pitch.

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