t’s not easy being paranoid. Or rather, it’s not easy being in a relationship if you suffer from paranoia. Every comment has a flip side, stirs up memories, produces repercussions. Words, questions, phrases, and comments are held back to keep things under control, to stay the course. Ideas and doubts burgeon like poisonous mushrooms, pushing up at the soil. Sometimes they show themselves only to decay back into the undergrowth of the everyday. Your mind wants to advance but is governed by discipline or reason (is there a difference?) and retracts, recoils. Periodically you give in: you dip the bucket into the well, and when you wheel it in, the water inside is fetid. And thus you learn.
So you seek the salve of physical affection; it breaks through the thin glass shell that the paranoid person erects to surround, protect, and isolate herself from the imagined. It is one remedy for the all-consuming pain. But there are others: activities, planning, diversions, and so on.
This weekend I celebrated six months of being in a relationship. I have not known the joy of spending time with someone for a very, very long time. G. brings me a sense of possibility and the complicity of togetherness. Every day that goes by — whether we’re together or apart — he subtly (unwittingly, maybe?) reassures me of his desire to be with me, of his appreciation for me, of his understanding of my life, and the desire to build something together.
I don’t really know if he knows how much I suffer. I try not to let it show. Why should I? I try instead to accept the feelings I have and put them in a back pocket, in a drawer. I try to coast or to pedal uphill in a low gear. I want to be coffee art on the foam of a cappuccino. I want to engage him in conversation, not flagellate myself before him. I can do that on my own time, in writing. I am learning to accept the surface of things, which may at first sound negative but which for someone who lives with paranoia, for whom the notion of merely accepting the surface is tantamount to a deep offense, is the recipe for living well.
Do not begin to think that I lack in confidence. I know who I am and why I feel the way I do. I have built myself up on this quicksand of being. Words, books, art, affection, laughter, and friends have sustained me. My brain is strong, and could even be exceptional, if only my memory wasn’t so weak. And my memory is weak because I have to use my entire thinking processes to work at survival, and not at remembering. This is how it works: the brain produces a certain number of ingredients each day, each hour. I must use them to create, recreate, concoct, invent and constantly design. It’s like cooking for a crowd with only the ingredients you have on hand. Now and then a dish comes out perfectly.
This art of arranging with flair is just one of the coping skills that I use to survive. Until I met G. and decided to build a relationship with him, the only other skill I had for coping was solitude. Ah, the ease of solitude! Not having to explain anything to anyone: what time I go to sleep, what I eat, how much money I spend. Now it’s about sharing. Not everything, but a lot.
The man that I choose to love — because it is always a choice — is also flawed, but in a different way from me. His negative qualities make him loveable. I do not indulge him and I have my limits, but I accept who he is. I have looked at him across the dark divide — and I want him. His qualities far outweigh his flaws. Then again, maybe I am only imagining his flaws. I can never know for sure. This, too, is paranoia.
Paranoia rakes and scrapes over the thin and delicate surface of life. It’s like a skinned elbow that takes time to heal or a small, nagging wound in your mouth. It is a constant presence. It asks to be dealt with. But it can only be tolerated and managed.