Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and debilitating mental illness which affects a person’s thoughts, perceptions and behaviour. They may not be able to distinguish reality from imagination, experiencing hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that do not exist) and delusions (false beliefs). Symptoms include disorganised speech and behaviour, lack of ability to function normally and social withdrawal. People with schizophrenia require lifelong treatment.
29th January 2019
I make my way out of the publication house. Months of sleepless nights of pouring my ideas into words and of finessing the manuscript have finally led to this. I take a deep breath. A wave of relief washes over me, but trepidation accompanies it. The fact that a single call will determine the path of my future is daunting, to say the least. It will either tell me that my very first book is going to be published or that I need to start all over again, the fear of the latter, making me slowly lose faith in myself.
I step into my car and drive home. My parents smile and tell me how proud they are of me. I glance at the space they’ve made on the mantelpiece to keep my book, to show what their daughter has accomplished. I feel overwhelmed, and swiftly rush over to my room.
It’s difficult to distract yourself when you don’t know when the thing that you’ve been waiting for is going to come. I know it’s going to take at least a week for the publishing house to get in touch with me, whatever the news might be. In spite of that, I keep a constant check on my phone throughout the day. Anxious, for it to ring at any moment.
I sit on my bed, blankly staring at the wall. I imagine myself walking into a famous city bookstore. Hardcovers and paperbacks titled ‘The Concealed Truth’ kept in the Bestsellers section, look back at me. My book.
Suddenly, cutting in the middle of my reverie, I hear multiple hushed voices. It’s almost impossible to discern what they are saying. I look outside my room, but there’s no one there. I hear my parents getting ready for bed downstairs. I go back in, pull back the curtains and check my balcony. It’s empty. The whispering doesn’t stop. It’s getting louder. Clearer. Somehow, I know that it’s awful. I don’t want to listen to it. But I can’t help it. It’s piercing my ears. A blinding pain shoots through my head.
I know what they are saying now. They’re calling out my name. Reminding me that I’m not good enough, assuring me of my failure. Telling me that I’ll never be able to publish a book, that I don’t have what it takes to be a writer. The conviction in their voices startles me, and I can’t help but believe it.
I try to block them out. I lie in bed, pull the covers over me and bury my head under the pillow. I can feel tears flowing down my cheeks. I know what they’re saying is the truth. What am I thinking? Achieving success in my chosen profession isn’t easy in NYC, a city of budding writers. There are a million others better at this than me. I should have tried to do something else – something more promising.
The voices have deserted me now, just as hastily as they arrived. I am sprawled on my bed, with my eyes wide open. I don’t get a wink of sleep the entire night, my mind mulling over my incapabilities. Until my alarm rings.
31st January 2019
I stand frozen to the ground on the busy street. I can hear them again. They are warning me. I’m floating around in a sea of voices but one of them stands out. A guttural, penetrating voice resonates in my ear, “YOU’RE BEING WATCHED.” It immediately dissolves among the other voices which threaten me that if I make one wrong move, they will come after me.
I look around at people walking to and fro. They’re all in a hurry and no one seems to bat an eye at what just happened. Maybe no one can hear what I can. It hits me with forceful intensity — I am the sole listener of these strange words.
I tried to convince myself during the past two days that it was because of stress. I thought I heard source-less voices that day because I wanted to hear them. My pessimistic self encouraged what they were saying.
But I feel they are real. The voices belong to someone. I can’t see them now but I know it. I am terrified. Whoever the voices belong to are keeping a watch on me. They are following me. They have installed cameras and microphones in the corners of my house to keep track of me, of what I do. I want to tell my parents about the warnings, but I’m afraid I’ll put them in danger as well. They will find out.
And I’m sure they will come to hurt me.
15th March 2019
I sit on my desk, a notebook lying open in front of me. The cool breeze flowing in from the balcony makes the curtain rustle and my hair sway. I try to write but I’m unable to spill my thoughts onto paper.
The voices don’t leave me. I know their secrets and they don’t want me to reveal it.
Just as my pen begins to touch the paper, all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see a silhouette of a man standing near the balcony railing. I clutch the corner of the table tightly, my knuckles turning red. I break into a sweat, and my skin feels prickly. My feet are numb. I can’t turn my head to look directly at him. But I can make out he’s a tall, broad-shouldered man. He’s wearing what looks like a bowler hat on his head, tilted sideways. I know that he’s looking directly at me.
He says only one word before he evaporates into thin air. “Alice.” I know who the deep-throated voice belongs to now.
20th April 2019
“What’s wrong, Alice? You barely step of your room. You don’t talk to us. You don’t visit your friends. They call on the landline because you don’t receive their calls and I have to make up an excuse for why you can’t talk. Tell me what’s the matter,” My mom softly says, her fingers touching my folded hands on the dining table. My dad sits on the other side of the table, his arms crossed on his chest.
I can’t make myself look into their concerned faces, contorted with worry. I can’t tell them the truth.
But I know what she means. On the pretext of harbouring an idea for a new novel and an involuntary urge to write, I remain locked up in my room. In fact, this is the first time in days when I gathered the energy to come down and have dinner with them. I feel hollow, unable to do the things I previously liked, unable to even feel things. My phone keeps beeping with notifications of calls and texts, but I don’t have the heart to talk to anyone anymore. The rare times I pick up calls and have the inclination to reply, I cancel plans to meet and assure everyone I’m okay. I turned away a caring friend when she showed herself at the door because I just didn’t feel like talking to her. I’ve lost all sense of trust and companionship. Lost all spirit to have a decent conversation.
The voices don’t stop. The silhouette of the tall man keeps appearing but I’m never able to see his face clearly. They communicate with me through the radio sometimes. I switch it on to listen to music but instead, threats and warnings blast from it. They tell me some of my friends are plotting against me. They need the secrets to be buried forever.
On some days though, I feel lively again. The former vitality flows through my veins and I want to read, to dance, to go out for a walk and to go shopping with a friend. There are considerable stretches of time when I’m not enveloped by the headless voices. But they always come back. And leave me devastated, terrified and unable to ask for help.
“Honey…can you hear me?” My mother prodded, pressing her hand a little more forcefully into mine. I realise I was listening to her but I don’t remember what she asked.
Assuming she must have asked how I am, I plainly recited my usual reply, “I’m fine Mom, you know that I’m super busy writing the manuscript for another novel, right?”
She opens her mouth to say something. I cut her off, with a smile plastered on my face. “Don’t worry.” I get up to go to my room before she says anything else. I don’t know how long it will be before I feel like having dinner with them again.
9th June 2019
I’m out in the front garden watering the plants. Suddenly, I hear the voices. I straighten up, look around in their direction and gasp. The watering-can slips through my hand and drops down with a soft thud on the freshly-cut grass.
I see him, along with a horde of men. They immediately stop talking when I glance at them. They look like a group of men going to a fancy lunch, wearing their long overcoats and mufflers. But I know who they are. I’m unable to move, I just stare at them. Hoping they’d go away just like the shadows of that man do. But they start advancing towards me. I force myself to budge, and I realise I’m screaming. I step onto the porch, rush inside and slam the door.
I collapse onto the floor. My parents dash to my side, but I can’t make sense of anything. Months of hidden thoughts and secrets babble out of my mouth. I don’t even know if they can make out what I’m saying or if it sounds like just a load of gibberish. I can feel their arms around me. But their comforting voices sound like they’re coming from somewhere far away. I realise I’m crying, with my head buried between my knees. I’m terrified that those people are going to barge in any second and hurt us.
My mind felt like it was in a frenzy when suddenly, I see a couple of strangers enter the house. They crowd around me. Believing they are involved in the masterplan, I struggle to get away from them. I scream and I cry and all of a sudden, everything goes blank.
10th June 2019
My eyelashes battling against themselves, my eyes twitch to bright light right above. I find myself lying on a bed. The last time I fell asleep was more than a week ago, but it feels like a decade. I snap out of my cloud nine moments when I see my parents walk in along with a man dressed in a white coat. The white walls that surround me make me realise I am not in my room. The legs of my bed certainly do not have wheels beneath them. Where am I?
“Hello, Ms Alice, I am Dr Frank Madore from the Department of Psychiatry,” the man in the white coat introduced himself. “I will be your physician until…”
“Wait! What doctor? I don’t need a doctor, and I am ABSOLUTELY FINE!” words spit out from my mouth without thought.
Hospital! How did I end up here? The last thing I remember was being surrounded by their shadows in my room. Was I attacked? Am I injured? I hastily scan all parts of my body for wounds—shoulders, arms, legs, neck. But there aren’t any. “Where did they go?” I question my parents.
“Where did who go?” my dad asked back.
“Them! The bowler-hatted man and his posse,” I try to explain but they don’t look convinced. I see tears coursing down my mum’s cheeks. My dad is holding back an expression of dejection. I can clearly feel the tense atmosphere in the room, but I cannot guess why.
Dr Madore breaks the prolonged silence, “Alice, I’m here to ask you a few questions. Consider it as a mini-test about life, in general. If you pass, you’re free to go. If not, you’ll do as I say,” his eyes darting mine. Reluctantly, I agreed.
“Okay! Here we go,” I can’t tell if the doctor is actually excited or if he is being utterly sarcastic. “Alice, who makes you happy?”
“Mom, Dad,” I say with complete certainty.
“What makes you contented in life?”
“A novel day,” I say without hesitation.
“Who was the last person who spoke to you, apart from the people in this room?”
“What do you do for a living?”
“Have you published a novel yet?”
No, I cannot tell him the truth. I cannot tell him that I ran to the publishing house a week ago and practically begged the editor-in-chief to stop the printing. I even paid him some dollars to stop the printing; “penalty charges,” that’s what he called it. No matter how much I endeavoured to become a best-selling novel writer of NYC, I could not put my life in danger. Not even my family’s life. The secrets must never be revealed.
“Alice, have you published a novel yet?” he repeats himself.
I gathered all my courage and blurted, “yes but no” I could not lie. I know that. Moreover, my parents know very well that when I lie, I break eye contact. And here I’m sitting in front of a psychiatrist, he’ll find out sooner.
“What do you mean by that?” my dad leaps forward. His palms holding mine—firm and worried. He knows how much my stories meant to me. He is my biggest fan. He has read every single piece I’ve written so far. From the age of two when I held a pencil for the first time to all my teenage fantasy stories. He has read them all and still cherishes those silly stories. Hearing that my book is not going to be published sure is breaking his heart. I can see that.
“Alice, what was the story about?” Dr Madore asks, ignoring dad’s question.
“No. Kill. You, me”
“Who will kill us?”
“Hat-man,” words are slipping involuntarily. I don’t want to tell them anything. But I’m unable to keep all those secrets bottled inside of me any longer.
“Do you know anything about the government?”
“Shh… novel. Publishing house.”
Dr Madore immediately turns to dad and mom. He asks them if they know anything about the story that was sent to the publishing house.
Dad knows it thoroughly. He explains to Dr Madore every detail of the story as if he is the author. “The story is about the government’s work. It revolves around a detective who has gathered all information about the corrupt actions of the leaders, the amount of money they’re looting from the poor, and so on. Later, the detective is stalked by a group of goons and soon they attack him. They threaten him to play dumb at the court hearing else, his family would be murdered. The detective does not comply with their words. Soon the government authorities are changed, and the ruling party lose their power. The goons ultimately kill the detective. The detective is portrayed as a character who has sacrificed his life for the welfare of his country. The goons and everyone from the former party-in-rule are brought to justice. The detective’s family receive compensation for the loss of the only earning member of the family. The end.”
I can feel my cheeks heat up. My heart is racing at a pace that might blow up a pulse oximeter. Everything has been revealed. They are not going to let me live anymore. The voices begin to creep back in my ears. I can feel them walking towards my room. My gut tells me, they are waiting outside in the hallway. I am done for.
“Alice, you have passed the test,” Dr Madore says. He indicates to Dad that he would like to have a word with him in private. Dad follows him to the door.
“Doctor! He waiting outside,” I almost shriek in fear. “Don’t! He kill!! Goons”
“Alice is experiencing an acute level of schizophrenia. She is imagining herself as the detective from her story,” I can hear every word he says to Dad. “She can hear the goons and she can visualise them following her and threatening her. They whisper in hushed voices to her and that is terrifying her. The secrets are in her novel. That’s why she withdrew her publication.”
I cannot believe this is true. But I would be lying if I denied it completely.
10th December 2019
I have successfully learnt to control Hat-man and his posse. The last six months have been relieving and relaxing. Everyone including Mom, Dad and all my friends whose calls I ignored, have been supportive through this battle. They were in disbelief for a long time but after all, they couldn’t stay away for too long.
Attending group therapies as well as one-on-one therapies with psychiatrists and psychologists keeps me calm. I still visit Dr Madore every month to make sure I’m only getting better and the medications are effective.
In July, I went back to the publishing house and told the editor-in-chief the dramatic experience of my life. “What eyes cannot see, ears cannot listen; mind sees and hears. Attend to it and understand. Follow this inner-voice faithfully,” he quoted Dr CR Chandrashekar.
I knew this time, I had to follow my passion and my strive for my goals.
‘The Concealed Truth’ was published and I’m looking forward to collecting my best-selling novel prize next year. The voices and visuals surround me, but now they blend in with the background like they are the clouds in the sky which sail unnoticed.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from schizophrenia, you can contact the following:
- Phone numbers: 91 – 44-2615 3971/91 – 44-2615 1073
- Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
Schizophrenia Awareness Association, Pune-
- Phone number: 020-24391202
- Email ID: email@example.com
Written By Tulika Somani and Vaishnavi Karkare for MTTN
Featured Image by Ishika Somani for MTTN