A Deliberately Painful Reflection on Addiction, Insanity and Being an Outsider
By Zekria Ibrahimi
Key Themes: schizophrenia, screenplay
Let us be as unrepentantly weird as possible about this play…
We do not want to be respectable and precise…
Schizophrenia is not a neat thing. It is amorphous, it is grotesquely psychedelic, and this play wants you to participate in schizophrenia at its most macabre, all the way to death and beyond…
We are in the underbelly of society, we are where shame and terror intersect, we are amidst the predators and the vulnerable…
This is the story of the System that feeds off the doomed…
This play hopes that you too will seek to be a part of schizophrenia, of what is the ‘other’. Why stagnate in a complacent sanity? Explode into insanity instead…
About the Author
Zekria Ibrahimi (born in 1959) is defined by his schizophrenia. It first hit him long ago, in his late teens. He is fifty years old now, grey and frail, almost a pensioner, with all the aches and injuries of age, and he does not always want to remember how, as an adolescent in the late 1970’s, he suddenly became afraid of everything surrounding him, and, worst of all, of himself. He would run around the countryside and knock at the doors of strangers because he feared the apocalypse was pursuing him … He would pick up rubbish outside in alleys and streets and hoard it in his not very palatial lodgings … He was always wandering away from home, searching for … what would never be found again … the straight route, the level way … He was a tramp, freezing during the nights in public toilets where he had various unsavoury insects as company on the cold concrete …
There were years of pain when his schizophrenia became almost his only companion- albeit a sadistic one, punishing him even as he hugged it. Perhaps, to echo both R. D. Laing and Emily Dickinson, it is the entire globe, it is general society, that is truly insane. Schizophrenics simply burrow all too deeply under the surface. They reach the very core of the savage reality in us all. Most varnish over the anarchic truth within through the superficial sham paraded as ‘civilization’. Schizophrenics prefer to be uncomfortably honest barbarians.
Eventually, after much psychotic shouting on Hammersmith Broadway, the hapless Zekria was confined at the Charing Cross unit in the West London Mental Health Trust. Following the unsafe unstable freedom of his schizophrenia, came the restrictions of Section 3. He would not have survived without the multi- racial compassion of the individual doctors and nurses in Charing Cross. Yet the overall SYSTEM remains an ogre of rules and restraints, and the INSTITUTION of psychiatry can be as cold and vicious as in the days of lobotomy and insulin shock.
Now he is elderly, but still he muses about being locked up, drugged up, about how, with schizophrenia, the treatment can be worse than the disease…
Act One of this purposely unhappy play is set at the Crisis Christmas shelter – actually in the London Millennium Dome – during the frozen Christmas of 2004. The tragedy is emphasized by the tinsel background of the apparent ‘cheerfulness’ of the shallow consumerist Yuletide.
A female heroin addict, Sam, meets a schizophrenic, Douglas. Both are homeless and both are desperate. They seek some consolation and togetherness through each other – in vain. The world, its bustle and its ruthlessness, will never allow them peace and togetherness. Other homeless people, a primly ‘hip’ middle class Crisis volunteer – these all obscure and negate the compassion and passion between junkie Sam and West Indian Douglas.
Eventually, the tannoy has a sickening announcement for the whole shelter. Someone has died of a heroin overdose in a toilet. This bleak event manages to shatter the fragile bond between Sam and Douglas. Douglas relapses into his always simmering schizophrenia; and Sam returns into the sinister, destructive arms of smack. Douglas is an unlikely knight who is ultimately unable to defeat Sam’s own terrible dragon – heroin.
In Act Two, Douglas is sectioned – again. He becomes the rather unstable rebel of the psychiatric ward at south London Saint Poop’s. His rather half-baked attempt at a revolution in a mental hospital is inevitably doomed. He establishes a nervous relationship with another patient, June Tweedy, who believes she is telepathic – although her dubious ‘gift’ of telepathy has not saved her, but in fact been culpable for her ending up in a mental hospital. ‘Telepathy’ is part of the symptom of ‘thought broadcasting’ and thus of schizophrenia, according to aloof psychiatric orthodoxy.
The two chat – the themes being June’s alleged telepathy, and Douglas’s own tendency towards rebellion. The Ward manager is probably suspicious of their closeness from the start. Another patient, Herbert, then emerges, who represents the pathetic acceptance of psychiatric diktat by so many diagnosed as schizophrenics.
Douglas is eventually put in seclusion for having dared to resist the System. After he goes back to his dormitory, June sneaks there and the two have something approximating sexual togetherness. But any sort of intimacy is forbidden to patients in a mental hospital. June is dragged away, and Douglas pretends to submit to psychiatric oppression – but in fact decides to gulp down tablet after tablet so as to kill himself. The Ward manager is unable to prevent his suicide.
In Act Three, Sam and Douglas meet again. Both are dead, Sam having taken a heroin overdose. They discuss what God is and assume that they may be in hell. They disregard a seeming light from heaven and conclude that nothing is real if it is not the love inside themselves.