Elephant Talk

By May 14, 2015Blog

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.

13 Comments

  • Phil K says:

    Your eloquence and honesty set a brave example for those struggling to come to terms with their health.

  • Renee B says:

    I write to commend you for speaking out. My brother suffered from bipolar disorder that involved only manic episodes at first but ultimately cycles of depressive episodes began, one in particular that stole his hope and ultimately took his life. At that time he suffered terribly, living in world filled with fright of evil. Evil was everywhere.

    During one manic episode people were not people, they were robots or perhaps aliens sent to this world to do harm. And he was the. only. one. who. knew. Police came to his residence to intervene (one of many interventions); their lack of training, ignorance, or perhaps lack of compassion for human condition lead to arresting him for his behavior. During arrest (certainly scary as all get-out because the other-worldly things were out to get him, grabbing at him), he struggled in protest and accidentally hit a female police offer. That carried a felony charge, since the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea had been stripped from our State’s judicial books. The felony lead to inability to find a stable, meaningful job. He was stripped of dignity through that arrest, insult to the injury of dealing with his difficult-to-treat illness. I love him, I miss him. I so wish we had done more for him. Mental illness needs compassionate treatment, not vilification.

  • Monica says:

    You are and remain my favorite to read!!!! You speak with such care but also with a knowledge so well written and with utter confidence of where you were…where you are and where you are headed in this world of mental health!!! You truly help in ways you may never really know and or how many you touch!!! Keep writing I will keep reading!!! You are amazing!!!

  • Kerry M says:

    I am schizoaffective and it started in 1995 (probably earlier but I could no longer function “normally” by 1995). For years I accused everyone of harassing me and I thought all my problems would end if I could get them to stop. So I yelled, acted out and hid in my room paranoid and scared as hell. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally realized that it wasn’t everyone else. I was arrested in 2007, given a 6 month state mental hospital sentence, forced to take medication, embraced my mental illness as an excuse for my behavior to the public but I still believed I was harassed by people. In a nutshell I think the hardest thing to come to terms with is that the problem comes from your mind not others. It has taken me 17 years to accept this and that is what I think is one of the most important things to realize. Once you accept this your life gets better. So I think an important point is talk about paranoia and delusions because the message does get thru…eventually.

  • Slavica says:

    wonderful articles are super helpful. Very much appreciated. You are amazing . Thank you. Slavica

  • Liz B says:

    Henry Boy, You are an inspiration. Thank you for writing about your life and your illness, and for being such a champion for others. I share your posts. It matters. You matter.

  • Kim says:

    You are one of my heroes, Henry Boy Jenkins. I have PTSD with anxiety and depression. The few times I’ve lost control from panic attacks and freezing (particularly in public) were demoralizing, but I am floored by your struggle and bravery. I wish I could be that brave.

  • Cheryl says:

    To all of you, I am happy to have found this site. My son is 30 and has been suffering with bipolar schizoaffective disorder since he was 17. He is amazing and has been well for 2 years now ,finally finding the right doc and moving back in with his family. He does well now that we all understand his feelings. I hate the way the media tries to talk about this illness . nobody really knows unless they experience it or live with it.

  • Mrs. Rami B says:

    My beautiful and bright daughter first told me she wanted to kill herself when she was eight years old.She said the pain was unbearable. We live in a city with a leading hospital in research and treatment of mental illness, Vanderbilt University. She began treatment immediately.Despite treatment and a good support, the typical social anxiety,decline in grades, and substance abuse, all came into play.She is now 24. The inability to complete higher education, make friends, and keep a job, led her to attempt suicide recently. Somehow, reaching that frightening low, led her to a new resolve to truly speak with a therapist about the things that haunt her. A more recent diagnosis of bipolar depression has also clarified that she was not previously medicated properly.I share your thought about the need to inform society about the largely forgotten segment of our society, who by the way, are some of our smartest, and most talented members. Thank you.

  • Nathan says:

    Cool there, I live with loads of people and yet I can’t talk about certain things because it gets others so angry. I’m also very tired of not being believed. Life’s not about making sense.. Seems like balance and caution are big. Thanks for the story!

  • RonaldF says:

    HBJ – You seem to have the gift, and burden, of speaking to both sides of our world’s definition of normality. I don’t know the answer to the problem; however, I can surely attest to the hopeless cause of pretending nothing is wrong and hoping mental illness will just go away. We are a foolish people, but we can learn if we just try. Thanks for making me try all the harder.

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