When I asked him what he liked about my paintings, my friend answered, “The composition. The wordless poetry.” Not the art-school-confidential color theory choices? “Nope. I just see brown, or what the doctors tell me is brown. I wouldn’t know from brown. I was born this way. I’m color blind.”
I couldn’t comprehend it. “What if there was an operation that gave you access to color?” I asked. “If you could see like everyone else, wouldn’t you want that?”
He pointed at the sky. “Look at this beautiful sunset. The reflections, the twilight melting into clouds, the stars peeking out.” He was happy with brown. With no access to the rainbow, there’s no template for convention. No context to draw upon for contrast. A genetic palette. Born this way.
Six months ago he listened to me babble about dead people stealing my thoughts. He took me to the hospital. I kept that visit secret from family and friends, knowing that another relapse would make me undesirable in their eyes. I’d already been there just eight months before. I thought I’d lost my best friend because of that stay. A shift in my insurance plan cost me my caseworker. My therapist had changed her practice. My support network was morphing, and I was unprepared.
Stress can trigger a breakdown. It usually begins with somatic delusions, that my skull is changing, or my hands have been replaced. Beliefs like these build in intensity until they’re firmly embedded as fact. Delusions of reference get up in there, too. Ideas pilfered from movies and media take root as my own. I lose my identity. I find my way back. Being familiar with the snarl doesn’t make it any easier. It takes work. I need help. I reach out.
Something new is learned with each cycle, but the illness will take much of that away. As a part of my treatment, a support system is necessary to help monitor the course of my episodes. A lifetime of undiagnosed schizophrenia forced a veil of compensation over a sunrise of brown.
Four weeks ago I was back in the ER with a severe panic attack. My friend Coach stayed with me through the process. We talked about the challenges a mental illness can have on a friendship. That evening I made a decision. I would try medicating again. I felt like I needed the external assistance, if only to lift the burden off of the people around me. Something to augment my therapy sessions and support group meetings.
I am not against using medication. I’ve been administered chlorpromazine to stabilize me, and clozapine when I was suicidal. Four years before my official diagnosis, one physician thought bupropion might help my depression. After reading a disclaimer from the pharmaceutical company, a bottle of olanzapine sat unopened in my dresser drawer. Its rote prescription following a truncated psych eval discouraged my hope for health system parity.
Trial prescriptions of clonazepam, alprazolam, and venlafaxine were not very effective in alleviating my symptoms of anxiety. I didn’t take to them well. I felt disoriented and fearful and got physically ill. The only medication that my tiny constitution seems to respond to with any success is lorazepam; it appears to offer some relief from the state of constant worry. My schizophrenic symptoms still operate in the background, I just don’t have to pay them any mind. At least for now. And that’s alright.
The public is unaware of the shame perpetuated by the offhanded remark that a person is “off their meds”. That quip and its inference can’t begin to describe what happens when one’s chemistry is augmented. In my case, it is the clear understanding that I have no context for the common reality. No access to the rainbow, and no template for convention.
Since childhood, I have lived reality informed through schizophrenia. It’s the world that I know, life as I’ve come to live it. From the vantage point of my medicated self, there is nothing inherently wrong with my condition, and nothing in any way wrong with me. Unmedicated, I’m inclined to question that. And there’s the rub.
If you are in danger of harming yourself, any treatment plan that works is saving your life. My position is that we need to work with our professionals to find a plan best suited for us. Each individual is as different as their diagnosis. There is no one generic plan. We don’t need to accept a twilight without stars. We deserve a kaleidoscopic sky.
I am willing to try new avenues because I respect myself. Even if I could be like everyone else, I wouldn’t necessarily want that. There’s a certain beauty in being who we are. I was born this way.