August 28, 2012

Insanity’s Mirror: Through the Looking Glass. ~ Edith Lazenby

What’s Crazy?

Some define insanity as doing the same thing and expecting different results. They use it in 12-Step programs and we have all been there, arming our actions with expectation that somehow this time it will be different, even if we have done nothing different.

But when I say I’ve been crazy I mean something completely different than that scenario. I can say I’ve been crazy because I have been. To many that is a politically incorrect word, an offensive way to refer to others. However, I can refer to myself that way without offending anyone, I hope.

I’ll never forget sitting in the Mug n’ Muffin in Cambridge, Massachusetts, getting something to eat. I felt like I was tuned in to 20 different radio stations at the same time. I could hear each one loud and clear. What I was hearing were the voices of the customers, in stereo. Each one seemed clear to me. Now today I cannot tell you what was being said. But I’ll never forget that moment. I don’t think I stayed long.

Bodiless Voices

Those voices had bodies. I could see them at the tables. Try hearing disembodied voices, that people will say are in your head but they might as well be sitting across a table from you. I did not carry on conversations with those voices. But yes they talked to me.  I could not walk away when I had enough. They were with me, all the time.

I remember leaving the poetry room at Harvard Library after listening to a recording of T.S. Eliot. On my way home he kept talking to me. Or walking to the 24-hour store and noticing it only rained on me, my own private cloud. Or back in Washington, DC, when I was working at American University I heard God say: “I forgive you.” I stole an American Bible, at least the cover said it was an American Bible. I probably still have it somewhere.

Of course those days were long ago. Unluckily when all this started I was involved with the occult, so my voices just fell in the category of thought transference. I was a fragment in my inner world and barely surviving in the world, as you know it. I worked at Harvard College Library for nine months totally psychotic. I was rather proud of that. I could not put it on my resume though.

Psychosis as an Interesting Phenomena

The voices and hallucinations were just as real as the couch I am sitting on. It was like “It’s a Beautiful Mind” but not quite. I must say the movie did a decent job. Yes, I have a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. Yes, I take medication. Yes, I find most therapists and social workers and psychologists useless. Not that there aren’t good one out there because there are many excellent ones; not that therapy was not helpful because it was.

Photo: Vectorportal

Just the dynamic of talking about the same things over and over to someone who would not tell me a thing about their life, bothered me; or the fact I often felt as though I had to distill what I was saying so the professional could grasp it. Then there’s the whole premise that there is something wrong with me and that some stranger can fix it. Like I wrote in another article, we all have a mental health condition.

I will tell you what else is crazy: having someone who does not know you all that well figure out what’s happening when the professionals could not. She took me to the emergency room at George Washington Hospital, purely out of desperation. She left. I stayed. I told them who the President was, since they asked. I counted backwards from seven. Every time they tapped the pen and said either “a” or “b” I had to respond. And then I went back to the place where I was renting. They discharged me.

Even when stark raving mad I am articulate. I can also write in any state of mind and make sense. Ironic? I think so. When active in my alcoholism I’d wake up to poems I did not remember writing and find the poem worked.

I was psychotic on and off from 1985 to 1990. I did not get the proper medication or treatment at first and like many who are told their sanity depends on a pill, I rebelled. My mom cried herself to sleep during those years. My parents were amazing. They had to be parents again and they did it all. They helped me the most when they realized their limits and helped me to live independently. They were always there for me. They just could not be my housemates or caretakers. I had a situation and I had to learn how to take care of it.

I used to get fired right and left. Finally my dad gave me an ultimatum and I stopped working for pay. I interviewed well. I worked at Harvard University. Often people thought I studied there. I was in room 196, Serial Records Division. I was a staff assistant. My performance improved after I went crazy. It really did. I stopped being late. Of course there’s more to this story but some things are better left unsaid.

Delusional Thinking

So what is delusional thinking? Douglas Brooks said it is when there is too much subject. Another example of delusional thinking might be found in a false syllogism: The Devil is Red. There is a man in a red car. The man is the devil.

In delusions the archetypes take you for a ride. It depends on your tradition but there was God and Jesus and the Devil, we all met. Then there is the CIA and the KGB.

It really is crazy. But insanity? I came close. I remember laughing, alone, hysterically and I went to an edge I’ll never forget because had I gone over I don’t know if an anti–psychotic drug would have brought me back. It was only a moment but that moment is etched in my memory.

I remember my first psyche ward experience: I was escorted with security guards. My parents had taken me to an analyst. He did not seem all that bright to me and my guess is his experience with psychosis was limited. Amazingly I sat in a room after few nights at the hospital with doctors and social workers and this analyst, I was discharged without going AMA: Against Medical Advice. Little did I know what a feat that was at the time, except I was hearing sentences in fragments and I was…”crazy.”

What is it like today?

I think I am saner than many, a bit too candid for some. I teach yoga full time. I am very resilient. I survive. I take my medication. I have not been sick in a long time. I always get on the latest and greatest medication so sometimes with new dosages or medications I have been symptomatic, but not sick or hospitalized. I know myself well enough to see what is not “normal” for me. Basically I have an overactive brain. When symptomatic I can be short or, I learned, I cannot stop the internal dialogue. Normally a noisy mind is not my problem.

So was psychosis the most painful thing I have experienced in my 53 plus years? No. It was however, the most terrifying. Think about losing your mind, and any framework for reality, as you know it. Am I different because of this? I don’t think so. We all have things in life that challenge us; we either crumble or grow. We all have experiences that we think set us apart. But the truth is we’re not all that different. I have insights that many don’t have but everyone else has their own insights from their life that I can learn from when I am willing to listen as well.

What’s crazy? I would say it is not learning from your mistakes, and allowing others to define you with a word or a label. I have been crazy in the truest since of the word. I continue to make mistakes, and many several times before I catch on and make the changes necessary. But I don’t let any one aspect of who I am define me and if someone else finds comfort in putting me in a box, the only person it contains is the one trying to close the lid on something they cannot understand, for whatever the reason.


I am a full time yoga teacher, trained at City Fitness in Washington, DC, and Willow Street Yoga Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. I have been writing poetry since I was 9 years old. Poetry is my first love and yoga continues to feed my heart. I write and teach because I love it. I tell my students: do it because you can. I believe in creating opportunity and in helping. I think faith is the most important gift of life, because when we lose everything else we still have that in our heart. I believe the natural state of being is happiness, or bliss, or Ananda. Life is a celebration. Poetry and yoga help me celebrate.

My blog and website: www.edieyoga.wordpress.com


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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