On Madness, and the Nature of Reality for Those “Outside the Circle”

Edited to add: This is a post that I’m putting out there to see how people react. I truly don’t know if I will completely lose people on this – if they’ll think I’m a rambling lunatic – or if most people will be like, “Duh, this is something we all know but never talk about.” Probably both. I would love to hear your comments.

When I was a little girl, I was constantly trying to boss other kids into playing my games. It was shocking they didn’t want to. I’d plop down on the ground, hugging my knees and watching through a haze of tears as they sat in their little circle and braided each other’s hair or played house, wondering: was there something so wrong with me that they’d rather do insufferably boring shit than have sword fights on the back of a Pegasus with me? Or maybe all those other kids were just crazy: maybe they thought playing house was fun, when it obviously wasn’t.

I still have this same debate with myself, nearly every day. Is there something wrong with me, or is it everyone else that’s a nutjob?

I was sixteen when I had what I now know was my first psychotic break, though I’m still not comfortable calling it that. I was over at a friend’s house, at a party, when my world turned upside down almost in an instant.

One of our friends was sitting on the couch talking. To this day, I don’t know what he was actually saying, but what I heard was that he and his friends were guerrilla fighters, living in the hills around town and recruiting new members for their fight against the government’s army of genetically-programmed robot-humans. Apparently this war had been raging around me my whole life, but I hadn’t known it; I had to reach a certain level of consciousness, rise above the façade of mundane daily life (school, work, chores, small talk) in order to see it. The guy went and turned on the radio, tuned it to the rebel fighters’ secret station, and I could hear their communications and calls to action.

It was frightening to be brought so suddenly into this new world, and embarrassing: I didn’t want to admit to my friends that I had just now reached the right level of consciousness to see what was actually going on. I mean, how hadn’t I seen it before? The life I’d been living—the “façade of mundane daily life”—made no sense. Why would anyone bother with school/work/small talk, especially when everyone seemed so pissed off about having to live that way in the first place? It was obvious it was all an act to keep people like me, or people like I HAD been before my enlightenment—stupid, unconscious people—in the dark.

I was so scared that I crawled into my friend Brian’s bed; the poor guy was trying to sleep because he had work the next day. I didn’t talk, but huddled in his arms while he slept, just wanting the comfort of another human body and to know I wasn’t alone.

It was only a couple days before I was able to concede to myself with a fair amount of certainty that there was no government army of genetically-programmed robot-humans. But to this day, part of me continues to wonder if everything I take for granted as real is just a dream within a dream. The world seems pretty damned ridiculous, and it’s hard to believe that people are able to function in it like nothing is the matter, so I figure there must be something going on that I don’t know about.

Each successive bout of psychosis has had similar aspects to that first one, though my most common psychosis is that I’m dead, and that everyone around me is a spirit. Each time I break, I’m absolutely convinced that it’s real. This is even though I know that I’m prone to psychosis. This concept, I’ve found, is something that is pretty impossible to explain to most people.

I have been told all my life that I’m a card-carrying member of the crazy squad, even though I kept my psychotic episodes to myself until quite recently. I guess that’s true, in a way. I’m still that kid sitting outside the circle of other kids, wondering why I don’t live in the same world they do, and can’t play their games correctly. But I actually don’t think their games are any more real than mine; it’s just that they have all the power and make the rules.

Most people take things for granted that I don’t think they should. They see things that I don’t see, things that aren’t there. They have all these social “rules” that I don’t understand at all, but are obvious to them. And they don’t see that this game they’ve created can be really horrible for people outside the circle. A lot of people won’t even concede that there is an “outside the circle”.

Most people have so firm a grasp on reality that they’re actually crazier than I am.

A lot of you are snorting and saying, “Oh, that’s rich coming from Mrs. Genetically-Programmed-Robot-Army,” but it’s true. Let me see if I can convince you of how true it is.

Let’s start with a statement that a large segment of the population believes is a solid fact:

If you break the law, you deserve punishment.

Okay. This is a statement of supposed “fact” that has caused me a huge amount of pain, anguish, and trouble in my life. Most of you reading this probably don’t think much about it, though. The law is there to protect us. Yeah, it may be annoying when you get a fine for getting the wrong building permit, or for parking in a “no parking zone”, but we’re not talking about those little laws. We’re talking about THE LAW. The big Thou Shalt Nots of the American legal system, like Thou Shalt Not Kill and Thou Shalt Not Transport and Deliver Heroin.

As for Thou Shalt Not Kill, I totes believe that one. The only thing that I’m absolutely positive is true is that you should try your best not to hurt others. However, as irrefutably correct as Thou Shalt Not Kill is, even *it* has legal exceptions. In war, for instance, or in self-defense, or capital punishment…or if you’re a cop (let’s not get into that argument now, mmm’kay? But you see what I mean).

So, something we took for granted as absolute truth—that we shouldn’t kill people—is actually not something tangible, but a murky concept that is sometimes difficult to sort out, with everyone disagreeing on what the law should mean and how it should be applied.

I’ll touch on the Thou Shalt Not Transport and Deliver Heroin law, too, because that’s what I was in prison for, all those years ago.

Before I make you stop reading because you’re so disgusted with me, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not in any way shape or form trying to say that heroin is good. I’m just trying to show you why the law doesn’t make sense to me and why it isn’t real; why one thing is legal and another thing isn’t has absolutely no bearing on merit or harmfulness. And I’m trying to make you see how these rules the people in the circle have made end up making life pretty hard for those of us that have a hard time playing their game.

Okay. So, the Thou Shalt Not Deal Heroin law is a law you might think is less complicated to sort out than Thou Shalt Not Kill. You might think, if you deal hard drugs, you should do hard time. Believe me, you don’t need to tell me how much I deserved to be punished for my crime. I’ve heard a million times how I was killing children by filling up their neighborhoods with dangerous poison, etc.

I was a heroin addict at the time I was running drugs. I’d like you all to step back and imagine why that was. Could you see why a person who periodically believed in genetically-programmed robot armies might want to take the edge off now and again? Add that to the fact that I’d just spent several years being physically, mentally, and sexually abused, and you might see why I would gravitate towards something that made me feel good.

I delivered heroin for a lot of complicated reasons, but mostly because I didn’t want to support my habit by prostitution, or by stealing from people. I didn’t want to hurt people. I was just trying to get by from day to day without the pain destroying me.

And if you’re still saying that I ruined a bunch of kids’ lives by giving them access to hard drugs, you should know that most kids who get addicted have problems to begin with. They, like me, are just trying to deal with them by slamming dope. The dope is the symptom, not the problem.

And besides, let’s compare the number of overdose deaths with the number of automobile deaths. The number of people killed by heart disease. The number of people whose lives are ruined by the most horrible drug, alcohol. Yet it’s legal to sell cars, and double cheeseburgers, and booze.

Did I truly deserve to be thrown into a horrible cage and treated like a worthless piece of shit (and to continue to be treated as worthless shit even after I got out, since your rap sheet doesn’t disappear, ever)? Was I doing anything any more wrong than someone who sells booze in their convenience store? Or was I just suffering the very real consequences of being a kid outside of the circle, not playing the game correctly because I didn’t really know how at that point?

Most people see The Law as absolute truth, a thing that shouldn’t be broken, and yet they look at laws in other countries and cultures and call them barbaric. They’re completely unable to see that the people in those other cultures are saying the same thing about their laws.

That’s because laws aren’t absolute truths. Laws are generally based on moral concepts. Moral concepts vary from culture to culture (and person to person). Moral concepts are not real: they are ideas, completely created by humans.

Most of you are comfortable with this fact, actually, that law is an intangible thing created by humans, and you take for granted that having laws is a good and necessary thing. However, when you’re having your face slammed against the pavement with a cop’s gun against your head, or when you are screaming and begging the police to not take your best friend to jail for the supposed “crime” of being schizophrenic, the law seems like a very cruel game that those kids inside the circle are making you play. And it seems Very. Fucking. Real.

We’re all delusional, but those inside the circle in any given culture are able to turn their delusions into reality. Human beings have a tendency to believe things so strongly that they make them real. But if you’re not inside the circle…if you’re not playing the same game as everyone else…then this reality that people have created is not very damned functional. If you don’t believe me, look up the statistics on how many unarmed psychotics are killed by law enforcement, to say nothing of how many people who, for one reason or another, can’t play the game correctly are jailed or harassed or beaten for being different. Because a lot of the time, the people labeled “dangerous” are actually just different than most of those inside the circle. Some of you may not realize this, but when you’re sitting on my side of the circle you do.

I could go on and on and on about the things people inside that circle take for granted as absolute truth, when they’re not, but if I still haven’t convinced you, let’s try this one:

You have to have a job, so you can have a home, pay the bills, and have a good life.

Even something that seems so rooted in our physical reality as this isn’t actually real. Humans have lived as hunter/gatherers for most of our species’ existence, and were quite happy and healthy that way, if anthropologists can be believed. But if I tried to take my kid and live in a tent out in the woods now, hunting deer with a handcrafted bow and arrow, I’d be arrested for vagrancy, trespassing, poaching, and child endangerment. Most of you will say “Yeah, but…” You’ll talk about the dangers of bears, and about property rights. But, if you look at the history of how people have acquired land and money, it seems a lot more hurtful, dangerous, and wrong, than living out in the woods and shooting deer with arrows. And I’m more scared of some of the shit I’ve seen go on in beautiful downtown Shandon than I am of bears.

My point here is that the concept that you have to have a job, etc., isn’t ACTUALLY real, but society has MADE it real. So now, if I want to go homeless because it actually makes more sense to me (and, this will be a surprise to some of you, but to a lot of people it DOES make more sense), then I am outside the law, and subject to very real punishment for my unwillingness or inability to play with the cool kids.

It’s hard, for a lot of reasons, to be the kid on the outside of the circle. It’s lonely out here, and I run afoul of people in so many ways, because I’m reacting to things they can’t see, and vice versa. We live in different worlds, and see different things. This is another concept that I find it’s pretty difficult to explain to kids inside the circle sometimes, and it’s why I write my books, and blog posts like this: I want to find a way to connect our different worlds, so that we can all understand each other.

I’m going to come right out and say something else that most of you won’t understand: I actually don’t mind being the kid outside the circle. I like the way my brain is. I definitely won’t say this every day, especially when I’m in a major depression or when I’m actively psychotic, or when I’m otherwise having a particularly hard time just maintaining my daily hustle, but overall, I wouldn’t trade my brain for anyone’s. The reason for that is that a lot of people don’t seem to know how much of their life is a delusion, and that seems like a shame to me. Because it’s beautiful here, in my world. The things I actually see as real are good things. For instance, the fact that life exists at all; that a series of extremely unlikely events, occurring over an impossible span of time, resulted in human beings who could turn so many of their beliefs into reality; and that those same human beings have the self-awareness to rise above all they’ve created and see that there is an even bigger truth…that’s a pretty awesome thing, actually. And though having that thought foremost in your mind makes it hard to interest yourself in things like corporate culture and making money, I’ve been able to find my niche and I do okay, at least for the moment. I hope all my friends outside the circle are able to do the same, because just because you’re different doesn’t mean there’s no place for you in the world where you can be reasonably happy and functional, it just means that it’s harder to find that place, sometimes.

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6 thoughts on “On Madness, and the Nature of Reality for Those “Outside the Circle”

  1. “resulted in human beings who could turn so many of their beliefs into reality. . .”

    You implied that what many people believe is real isn’t so. Sorry, Elizabeth, but you’re no more on the outside of that circle than every one of us is. We just need to believe in order to avoid the shivering grue who lives within the human spirit.

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    1. Naw, I get that. I know that the human spirit has to cling to something, or we’ll spiral into madness. The reason I’m outside the circle is that I’m unable to cling to the same things that everyone else is, and that frequently brings me into conflict with the VERY REAL machinery of the kids inside the circle. The point of view that “Yeah, we all have moments of existential angst, get over it,” is an “inside the circle” point of view.

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      1. Agreed, but although I managed a long career that demanded at least the pretense of membership inside the circle, I did so while living a life based on what you name existential angst. I get the fact that you can’t ignore, or cling to, the illusion of normalcy. I’m bored by people who care not to dare themselves beyond our self-conceived borders.

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    2. I think the confusion here is because I posted that piece to soon, and it was incredibly horrible and jumbled before (I’m having a bad week over here). I think I go a little further towards making my point now. I’m not talking about “kids outside the circle” just as people who are capable of thinking outside the box. And, in reality, I’m a kid that’s been able to push her way into that circle, even though it’s taken me a lot more effort than it takes others. But there are some that it’s waaaaay harder for than it was me. My friend Phoenix, for instance. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, He’s incredibly talented, and he’s capable. But will he ever have a normal job? Probably not, because work culture isn’t set up for people like him – it’s set up for kids inside the circle. Not only that, but he gets beaten, put in jail, and institutionalized on a regular basis. This isn’t because there’s something wrong with him. This is because there’s something wrong with SOCIETY. Because the kids in the circle have decided that people like him can’t play. And that, my friend, is wrong.

      Like I said, I can pass. But I’m the sort of employee that, despite the fact I was really good at some things and excelled in certain situations, was never going to make manager. Was never going to get a raise. And in fact I never kept a job for more than a couple years, because I made myself so miserable and stressed out trying to figure out what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t be a good employee, that I would implode. I’ve spent my whole life trying to explain to people that I know I’m not a special snowflake and that no one likes their job, and that I concede that if I were a better or stronger or somehow different person, than I would just buck up and deal with it, do my job, make money…but, let’s face it, I really am crazier than average. I’m productive at writing, and at a lot of other things. But I give off an aura of bizarreness that makes people in a corporate atmosphere uncomfortable and pissed off. I’m not good for business. I don’t know if that makes sense. I really am a kid squarely outside of society’s general circle. But that’s okay, because there are other circles that I fit into and still not end up in conflict with the law 🙂 Others, like my friend Phoenix, are not so lucky. Being schizophrenic is effectively illegal.

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