I have a box of Christmas decorations that has sat unopened for over ten years. I have another box filled with holiday CDs and some two dozen videos. I’ll load up my iPod with hours of joyful, nostalgic music and listen while I exercise and take my daily walks. Every evening, and on the more inclement afternoons, I’ll watch a holiday movie and get lost in the story. What I can’t do is make a connection between what I knew and what’s happening now.
It’s like object permanence in reverse — my disorder short circuits at the memory bank and the deficit costs me the fullness of the experience.
I can’t keep a thing in mind for very long. When an experience is over, I can barely remember it, if at all. Medicine and therapy don’t change this. It’s a function of my schizophrenia, right in there with cognitive impairment and attention deficit, symptoms that sometimes get overlooked by the professionals.
Medicated, I may be more objective, but this phenomenon remains unaffected by the introduction of chemicals. In a Zen sort of way, I have a blank, open mind, but whatever follows rarely sticks. It’s not charming, it’s frustrating—for me and people who know me. The emotional context is what really gets me; I have no continuum to count on. I’m simultaneously dead in the water and all at sea.
I focus on managing my illness. I work with my therapist, my case manager, and my psychiatrist. I try to eat right, exercise, and keep in touch with the few friends I have. We go out together and, after I get dropped off at my apartment, it’s as if we’d never seen one another. I’m suddenly back in my room with only vague impressions of the camaraderie, images which fade out quickly. I can’t stress it enough: this is the loneliness that can accompany a mental illness, and in my specific case, this is the mechanism by which I find myself locked behind the gate.
On the upside, things are almost always new. On the downside, one thing does not lead to another. So I survive on ritual, and sometimes changes to my patterned life can cause a disruption.
I get chided for being reluctant to change when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I appreciate and welcome change, I just need to blend it into my patterns. Spontaneity comes naturally to me, and I appreciate it as a value in others. It’s exciting and human, but it can also create a state of stasis should one focus solely on the impulsive. To maintain my mental health, I need consistency and reliability of people, places, and things. Without such, chaos might ensue, and I know where chaos takes me: to restraints, plastic bed covers, and heavy medications.
As I explore the functionality of loneliness in my life, I also look to accountability. Do I try to put myself out there, and do I do so without expectation of return? Yes, and yes. So why do I feel alone? Is it because others can’t handle the mentally ill guy, or is it self-stigma informing my conclusions? Is it this memory module that I have awareness of but no relief from? I wonder if it’s a possible combination of all of these components. I wonder if there’s an answer at all.
I don’t just “feel” alone…I am alone. This is a daily experience. I work on it with my therapist, but the organic piece isn’t something that can be altered with psychotherapy, nor with the medications my psychiatrist prescribes. I am not frivolously exploring this territory. I am trying to understand something about myself in order to better myself.
The loneliness took me to attempt suicide a year ago. My journal chronicles my four month path to that conclusion. I began planning before Halloween and continued through the holidays. I truly believed the spaces in between my moments of contact and nothingness, where memory served me not. I listened to the voices that psychosis brought. I gave up. All these months later I still ponder the question of loneliness. It’s a puzzle, and it’s one that I intend to solve, but solve in a proactive way rather than succumb to the darker thoughts and feelings which directed my actions a year ago.
If the holidays or the long winter months bring depression with them, remember: it’s a better thing to reach out for help than it is to suffer in silence. If things get bad, call the Crisis Line (or the Warm Line if you have one in your area). Someone will be there to help you. That’s something worth remembering.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800.273.8255 (TALK) — a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. All calls will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you.