I talk about mental health because no one is invisible. Because everyone has a story to share. I talk about mental health because I can. There was a time when I couldn’t.
In January 2010 I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Until that morning, I’d spent my life thinking that the rest of the world – not me – had gone mad. I’ve lost friends, jobs, and loved ones to the workings of my private universe. There are days when those losses threaten to tear me apart. I have to remind myself that it’s a daily process, one which includes describing my experiences and sharing my feelings. Schizophrenia depletes my resources for interaction. I rebuild them by talking.
A semester spent in psychosis derailed my college career. I was admitted to hospital, administered medication, and dismissed without further treatment or follow-up – just another art student too crazy for his own good. Had the staff been better trained and our culture better educated, the many years of pain and heartache to follow might have been avoided.
I dropped out of school, moved into an attic, and lived like a recluse. I ate nothing and slept even less. Music, poetry, and painting consumed my waking hours. At night I roamed the streets in search of living gargoyles. My “eccentric ways” were attributed to my being an artist. If anyone had their suspicions, they wouldn’t speak up. Mental illness was the stuff of gossip, grist for the playwrights and newscasters.
My songs caught the attention of a local record label. I was signed to them shortly thereafter. I recorded in the wee hours because I didn’t sleep. Not eating helped me fit into my costumes. My battle with anorexia went undiagnosed in an image oriented industry. Public opinion was that men didn’t suffer from eating disorders, a lie America still tells itself.
The pressures of the music industry eventually took their toll. I watched a black ops team arrest the district attorney, unaware that it wasn’t really happening. I stood helpless as violence engulfed Hollywood Boulevard. Ritual mass suicide at the video arcade. I was terrified. In reality it hadn’t happened. My bandmates were plotting to drown me in the pool behind our motel – which they weren’t. I was propositioned by industry bigwigs in dark places for dirty money. Which did happen, sadly, because my life had become that secretive, that desperate.
The label dissolved our contract due to my unstable behavior and increasing isolation. I felt the world slipping away. My fiancé broke off our engagement for similar reasons; she’d endured my paranoia and incoherence long enough. Pulling her out of bed and into the street because I believed a plane had crashed into our apartment was the last straw. On the train ride back to my empty attic I came up with a plan to kill myself.
I had no comprehension that my thoughts weren’t normal. The rest of the world had gone mad, not me. My father demanded I be voluntarily committed. Stigma and shame put us at a distance that took years to resolve. On his deathbed I told him I was finally getting help. I kissed his forehead and told him that I loved him. He was nearly deaf by then. He couldn’t speak. His body was shutting down, but he managed a single tear. In that moment, in our own way, we talked about mental health.
Eight months later I received my diagnosis and began the long trek of self- education. Two years into treatment I found BringChange2Mind. Because I understood that most basic of tenets – that people share their stories to know one another better – I decided to submit mine. I hoped that another person living with schizophrenia might take comfort in knowing that they weren’t alone.
Our world is stigmatized because our disorders are invisible. But we’re not. You can’t put a plaster cast on a broken mind, but you can tell your story. Yes, it’s daunting. That’s the challenge. You might have concerns about being misunderstood, especially if people have judged you before. But if they turn out to be an ally, that’s a worthwhile gamble.
I encourage everyone to talk about mental health. Tell your family, your friends, your therapist, your doctor. Tell them exactly how it feels. If they’re really there for you, they’ll listen. If not, it’s good practice for you. They’ll never know you the way you know you if you don’t talk about it. Living with stigma is a lonely gig. Mental health is better. So talk about it. Someone who cares is going to listen. Someone who cares can help. No matter how weird it gets, you’re not alone. That’s your illness trying to take control. Take it back. It’s your life. Talk about it.