Let Them Eat Cake

By August 6, 2015Blog

Eating out of the garbage can is never a good thing, but it didn’t register as an unhealthy choice. Scraps are scraps. If they’d have been paper, I could’ve made a collage; cloth, and I might have sewn a quilt. Instead, I get to embarrass myself. In perpetuity. Because I just told you that I ate from the trash.

That was nine years ago. I’d been homeless for four months. Those days are behind me now; I work hard to keep it that way. I have schizophrenia, and I do something each day to manage it. That’s probably not what you expected to read after seeing the words homeless, eating garbage, and schizophrenia in these opening paragraphs, but I’m an advocate for mental health. Honesty is my bedrock. Breaking clichés is my jam.

Still, there are times when the stereotype fits. My emotions are more synesthetic than instinctive. I walk without awareness of my body. I talk to myself, and I see things you don’t. None of that matters. I take care of myself. I pay the rent on time. I buy the groceries and take my meds. But when my symptoms are active, the mistakes I can make place me smack in the middle of a paradox I like to avoid: am I my illness or not?

I’ve accepted a truth which challenges my sensibilities. It is empirical, and I’d be a fool to deny it. While it’s obvious that I am not my diagnosis – that’s metaphysically absurd – I live with schizophrenia, the result of a mutation in my DNA. I didn’t get schizophrenia. It’s not acquired. It exists before birth.

A person doesn’t come down with schizophrenia. It’s not the flu. Yet confusion surrounds this concept of contagion, due in part to the romanticized incidences of temporary psychosis caused by the abuse of controlled substances. Pop culture’s obsession with instant consciousness expansion has lead to a false impression of what it’s actually like to live with an organically disordered mind. The belief that choice plays into the equation because a celebrity got high and “heard the colors of the music” denigrates every individual struggling to survive the adverse effects of a living in a neurominority.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that addiction is a serious social and mental health concern. Numerous factors contribute to the experience of substance abuse and dependency, but for the one percent of the world’s population born with schizophrenia, we had no more choice in the matter than we did our eye color.

Society appears to ignore this dichotomy. In the eyes of the law, criminal activities associated with addiction are prejudicially equated with mental illness. People born with schizophrenia are routinely lumped together with addicts and alcoholics for the convenience of our policy makers. The dismissal of either group creates more conflict than it does resolution, inadvertently discouraging treatment while encouraging discrimination.

Adapting to a cultural stigma running counter to the creed of this country – a doctrine which promises that “all men are created equal” – means I am expected to exist outside those liberties, without those rights, and beyond the love of a Creator who fashioned me – same as they – but for the genetic anomaly which led to this life I have, the one where garbage is a gift and loneliness a privilege.

I have a disabled pass for the bus. When I take a seat in the designated section, the vets and grandparents scowl at me and tell me to go sit in the back. My illness isn’t any more apparent to them than it is to the representatives putting the squeeze on public assistance. So I take a beat, then share my story with respect. They listen and share. We unify because we have something in common.

I speak across age, race, gender, and disability, because the culture we share treats us disparagingly, eventually pitting us against one another if we let it. And for what? So we can live below the poverty levels established by the entitled few? So that those of us overwhelmed by the red tape of social health services, or too impoverished or stigmatized to buy and take our meds, can be considered less than human?

I think not.

The pen is still mightier than the sword, even when that sword is cutting public programs to ribbons. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses that the Statue of Liberty claims as her own: that’s us, “yearning to breathe free,” writing, reading, and talking nonstop about the injustice our clumsy buccaneer will never know. Eventually our stories will have turned the tide, and future generations won’t have to feel the sting of that blade. Because it will be thrown out. Tossed in the trash. Where no one has to dig for supper ever again.

12 Comments

  • Monica says:

    Yay yay yay —- you’re back and once again the words speak volumes and I concur!!!!!! Your writings keep me enthralled with a bit of deep thought to carry me through!!!! You speak words I see in the life of my son who is one of the lucky ones who has his moms full support and fights this system with him for him that we call health care for those who live with a mental health issue!!!!
    Thank you once again for your writings…can’t wait for the next one!!!!
    Be blessed!!!!!!

    • Henry Boy says:

      I am happy for your son that he has the support of his mom while he navigates his mental illness. It’s so vital to have people we love there to help. Bless you both. And thank you for letting me know that you appreciate the blogs. Getting feedback helps keep me in the game. Thanks, Monica!

  • Jocelyn S says:

    Thrilled to have you back with us, @HenryBoy! Your words and sentiments flow as they ever did! Your eloquence is pure music to my ears! I am deeply moved by your description of your bus rides. That moment when we are the recipient of scorns from those who know not who they see. Having a mental illness doesn’t make us visible. This has been one of the challenges when advocating for my son with a mental illness. When do I step in and let the scowler know that, in fact, they are in need of some compassion and education. When, and this is some tricky footwork, do I step back and allow the natural course unfold and see what evolves? What a journey this thing called life is…. I’m grateful to be traveling with you!! Thank you for always making my life much more meaningful and rich.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks, Jocelyn. Yes, those social interactions can be a challenge; knowing when to respond, how to respond – it’s never easy for me, either, but whenever I feel brave enough, I approach the scowlers with an open heart. When they find out that I have schizophrenia, they are more often than not surprised. Kindness is not what they expect because the stigma against mental illness is so ingrained in our society. The outcome, as illustrated in the article, is often one of mutual understanding. I hope that you and your son can experience this, too, as it is encouraging and empowering, and makes the journey all that more rewarding. Keep up the conversation!

  • Carol says:

    Yes, yes, yes!!!

  • Julie says:

    Henry, as expected your words are strong and true. I had the pleasure of meeting you briefly several years ago. My daughter, granddaughter and I joined you and 100’s of others on the NAMI walk in Kirkland. You amaze me how gracefully you walk the line you walk daily. Strong, outspoken advocate and unique, often ridiculed for who you are and being able to show it.
    Thank you for speaking out, your message always hits the core for me. I may never walk the same path you do, but you’ve certainly taken me there often with your words.

    Julie

  • Henry Boy says:

    Thank you, Julie. I remember the NAMI Walk with Team BC2M as a lovely Pacific Northwest morning, complete with gray skies and hot coffee. I experience my life as images and sensory data mostly. I remember smiles and how and welcoming the team was. I’m a stronger person today, and in a general way, less frightened than I was that morning.

    Thank you for the kindness in your comment. What you say is true about the ridicule; I used to try to ignore it because it hurt. These days, not so much. I’m more prone to address it, and live my life in a way that, hopefully, others can benefit from my standing up to my demons, even the ones only I can see.

    Maybe we’ll walk with NAMI again, but for sure we can walk in kindness and education daily. Thanks for your support – it means a lot to me today.

  • Karen says:

    Thank you for sharing. My son spent his 18th birthday in an adolescent psych ward. OCD, psychosis, along with severe anxiety & depression became part of our daily vocabulary….and then the scariest of all…schizophrenia. Heartbreak does not even describe how we felt and are still feeling, however it has been 4 months now and we are learning that this is manageable. Blogs like yours give me hope. At a time when my son should be thinking about college and dating and other young adult activities he is trying to survive the crippling waves of anxiety and the adjustment to his meds. Even though I wish we weren’t on this path, I am grateful for the understanding of mental illness and the compassion that I feel for those with it. Thx again and may you continue to be blessed.

  • Henry Boy says:

    Thank you, Karen. To me, sharing our stories is essential, and a great way to deal with our individual circumstances.

    I am glad that your son was able to find care and management so early on. Kudos to you as a parent – that’s awesome! I hope your son is finding his balance, and I know from experience that he will feel better with time. I lived without a diagnosis – and the help that comes with it – for a very long time. I still have my rough days. Weekly sessions with a good therapist, along with my medicine, are helping a lot.

    When I receive comments from parents and friends, it helps me to understand what life is like on the “other side” of my mental illness. It’s encouraging to know that people really are there for us; it’s not always something that I can remember or an idea that I can trust (my symptoms see to that, unfortunately). So thank you for sharing because it lets me see that there’s hope outside my own brain – and others who share my diagnosis can take comfort in your message, too.

    Thanks again, Karen! Keep on sharing! And a big thumbs-up to your son. Bless you both. 🙂

  • Julie B says:

    I’m so grateful I “stumbled” on to this site tonight. I say stumbled because lately I’ve been blessed with so much. I pray alot and yell at God alot and then He blesses me and I realize he’s there though he won’t tell me why I’m bipolar and who knows what else. I recently made the huge mistake of going to the ER when I was feeling quite manic and kept picturing driving off the cliff like Thelma & Louise. I didn’t want to die I just want all the racing thoughts and trying to hold everything together to stop. I called my psychiatrist who said yes go to the ER. I laid there in the ER in the Psych section with guards waiting and waiting to see a psychiatrist to.tell them I was manic & having a reaction to meds or needing meds. It was a nightmare then they out a 72 hr hold on me to take me to this lovely facility in Pasadena that would be Bipolar Disneyland with psych and therapist and medication management & at the last minute broke the Devestating new my insurance denied me going there now there were trying g to ” find a bed” for me. It was such a horror it’s set me back months in my mental path and now a smack of PTSD. I was taken rest aria med to a nasty unsanitary geriatric hospital where I witnessed the worse kind of elder abuse. It was so transiting I’m just now able to speak about it. It was literally right out of the Cuckoo’s Nest with the screams for help and threats of ” the shot”. What they did to one lil sweet lady who was my roommate, if I’d seen on the street it was be a mugging and call 911 but no they throw her in cold shower rip off her clothes put a gown on her and restrain her in a bed for 9 hours. They wouldn’t let me help her but she said she couldn’t breathe. I finally went over and just held her until she stopped shaking and begged them to let her up just to stretch. Horrible. I’ve tried to find her daughter to tell her. When she calls they say she’s eating or napping. It’s such an unspeakable nightmare. I have nightmares of the cries all night abd screams and the threat of “the shot”. Please check on your elders, really check. For bruises broken ribs etc. You have no idea what really happens and I will never be the same nor ever go to another ER. Sorry for rambling but it’s the 1st time I’ve told anyone.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Julie, I am glad you “stumbled onto this site”, too, and I hope you get a chance to explore the other blog entries and maybe check out some of the other information made available here.

      Your story is very impacting, and I would encourage you to submit it to our Stories section. The staff takes some time to read them all, but eventually many of them get posted and I have found them to contain bravery, courage, and hope in the midst of the many challenges that people like us, living with a mental illness, face daily. Yours is a powerful story; it needs to be heard.

      I am not a psychiatric professional or a counselor; I’m just a writer living with schizophrenia. Many of the people in the BC2M community are people just like you and me. We advocate for change in the way the culture views mental illness. I hope you find some comfort and encouragement in the pages of this site and the community outreach programs where you live (like through a local NAMI chapter, maybe).

      I’ve been through the ER experience many times, and it’s not pretty. Your story is one I believe many could learn from—I know I found strength in it. Thanks, Julie. Be well.

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