A watercolor painting of a man sitting in a chair and writing. Friendly looking alien-like creatures lurk in the background.
(Enera Wilson/Youth Spirit Artworks)

I am a person in long-term recovery from Schizophrenia, Paranoid-type. My most recent episode was about this time of year, in 1996. When I say “episode” I mean that when my disease was untreated, I would become acutely psychotic, which meant that my personality was split off from reality.

My psychotic delusions would put me into an alternate reality. I would believe things about the world that were surreal, that were wild, and that a “normal” person would never imagine.

Such an episode might last a month, until I would reach a point where authorities would put me into involuntary treatment. At those times, medication was reinstated, and I would be in a safe environment at a psychiatric ward.

During my second to last episode of psychosis, medication calmed me. Yet, emerging from delusions into reality was triggered by a video being played, “Field of Dreams.” It is an old movie from the 80’s or 90’s, it was well made, and it had the effect of giving me a glimpse at the non-condemnation of a man who heard voices, which was healing.

During that episode, a woman at the time named Joanna Freeman, now named Joanna Bragen, took care of me while I spent long hours in sessions of journaling in notebooks, smoking tobacco, and listening to the radio—much like the activities that many people are using to make sense of the pandemic we are currently experiencing. This was how I found my way back, over a period of months.

The current pandemic makes it seem as though the world has gone insane. This time, I’m not crazy, but neither are other people. Reality has taken a surreal turn.

Following two of my four episodes of psychosis, upon my return to reality, there was money waiting for me. In 1984, I’d amassed a good savings account from work, I’d deposited two paychecks that I’d neglected to cash, and the man from whom I’d rented a room refunded me about four hundred dollars because I was leaving. In 1990, I returned to find a large retroactive Social Security check.

It was almost as though the universe was congratulating me for getting through hell and wanted to give me a gift.

The current pandemic makes it seem as though the world has gone insane. This time, I’m not crazy, but neither are other people. It is simply an unforeseen dire situation, one that humanity has never encountered before. Reality has taken a surreal turn.

When I was psychotic in my past, my diseased brain would conjure up comparable outrageous events, and I believed these as though fact. For example, I believed I was in telepathic contact with extraterrestrials. While extraterrestrials haven’t landed in Times Square, current events are almost as inexplicable and strange as that. This is the stuff of science fiction. You go on your permitted necessary trips, and your town appears abandoned. Small businesses are rapidly going under. Where a month ago everything was prosperous, now it appears we’re headed for another Great Depression. We have a disease that is extremely contagious and has the potential to kill millions. The President doesn’t grasp this and is concerned about his reelection. You can’t buy toilet paper. Everything has been turned upside-down.  

These are not only strange times, they’re frightening times. The human species is in for some hardship. It will get worse before it gets better. And, the world that we return to will never be the same. Yet, human beings could be in for a reward, if we get through this episode intact. The “reward” will take the form of human beings finally working for the common good—something we haven’t seen thus far on a global scale. And if we do that in this instance, it will be a first, and we will know it is possible to do this in many other things.

Jack Bragen is author of “Revising Behaviors that Don’t Work,” “Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia,” and “Jack Bragen’s 2021 Fiction Collection,” and lives in Martinez.