The lizard inside

Resultado de imagem para The lizard inside

Joel Sartore/National Geographic Creative

Like a reptile lodged within me, paranoia hatches unbelievable conspiracies that my mind embraces with stunning naivety

Roberta Payne is a writer and educator who has taught foreign languages at various colleges and universities. She received her PhD in comparative literature from the University of Denver. Her latest book is Speaking to My Madness: How I Searched for Myself in Schizophrenia (2013). She lives in Denver.

Hatred is different from paranoia. Hatred can engulf a nation in a millions-strong frenzy of self-righteousness. Hatred can be held by one person all the way to the grave. It can be suddenly relinquished (sometimes beautifully); or it can just wear itself down like an overused axe blade.

Paranoia, on the other hand, is a matter of self-defence: it assumes malice on the part of the other.My department chair, Torrone, wants to fire me. He’s planted a graduate student in my Latin class. I’m thinking primarily of schizophrenic paranoia, such as my own. It is a red-hot drive that inhabits an individual and feels like it wants to take over his mind.

When I’m paranoid, I travel on the horizon’s edge, the line between all and nothing, between ‘them’ and me. That student is to observe me, to report back to Torrone. I travel that edge alone. Aloneness is of the essence. Paranoia has nothing to do with loneliness which, after all, seeks union. And it’s seemingly forever. Paranoia doesn’t dissipate, run down, run out of steam. Logic is almost always pointless against it: I can no more will my paranoia away than I can will my thinking straight. Just yesterday I saw Torrone, out walking, all these years after the incident. I ducked down a side street.

And paranoia is far more complicated than hatred.That’s because paranoia is a whip-snapping combination of anger and fear. It’s often a reaction to a perceived slight – one that suddenly seems to hide a conspiracy behind it. A conspiracy involving distant relatives, creatures from outer space, even God. Paranoia hatches involved, unbelievable, soap-opera-like plots that the mind readily embraces with stunning naivety.

Paranoia is sneaky, secretive; it hides inside, often known to the paranoid individual alone. Thus its expression sometimes comes as a complete surprise to others. It can be like a crocodile lying low in a watering hole for hours, only its nostrils showing, until with great splashing and lunging it suddenly takes down a water buffalo – or a gazelle.

Starting out as fear of another’s malice, my paranoia morphs into layers of anger over fear, over anger over fear. It doesn’t occur to me to question the validity of the malice or the appropriateness of my reaction. I don’t recognise that the problem is largely inside me, that I’m projecting it onto someone whom I’ve judged out to get me. I have signs on the bulletin board behind my computer, to alert me at just such a time: ANGER IS A SYMPTOM and ASSUME THAT IT’S PARANOIA. But in the heat of the moment, I find the idea that I might be paranoid, well, ridiculous.

Words, tones of voice, facial and bodily expressions, apparel, any way at all that humans seem to be communicating, are at the heart of it. Of course, it’s never possible to understand another’s modes of expression perfectly. We all mishear, misread and misview to some tiny or huge extent. So we’re all sometimes confused, miffed, frightened. Some of us solve the problem by crediting good intentions to the other. Some of us ask for clarity. Some hold a simple grudge that will likely fade. Some misinterpret through habits of sarcasm and cynicism.

A few of us become paranoid.

I recently invited a friend to my house for tea. This friend has given to me from her heart for decades. To that invitation email she replied that her sister was in town. ‘No time for tea!’ she wrote cheerfully.

I heard in those words: ‘No time for YOU!’

Then my paranoia added, no time for her to go across town to my modest digs, no time for someone of my socio-economic status, no time for someone of my politics, no time for a schizophrenic.

Paranoid ideation grows like cauliflower, in all directions. One detail makes a flower for another to grow on, and so forth…


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