Just because I’m medicated doesn’t mean I’m “cured”. I present as more confident, more at ease, and, as I practice the art of communication, more comfortable socially. But by no means am I “fixed”. I have schizophrenia, a chronic and debilitating mental disorder. It’s not curable.
With my treatment plan in place I can navigate life easier than before, but to talk with some of my acquaintances, you’d think that modern medicine had performed the ultimate miracle and recreated me as a normal, flawless, human being—emphasis on “normal”. If I’m on my meds I’m symptom free, right? No. Not right. The chems help control the outbreaks of symptoms, but they don’t erase them altogether. They still occur. Stress usually triggers them, and the medicines can’t anticipate those fluctuations. They’re chemicals, not sentient nano-bots.
I mentioned last month that I was moving, and that has taken place. There’s still one more move to go before I’m in permanent housing for low income residents, but for now I’m in my friend’s basement. The whole of the past two or three months leading up to the move were very stressful times for me. Anxiety and fear riddled me with some regularity. I was thankful that my treatment plan kept me together, but I also relied heavily on the kindness of my friends. I had to practice something I’m not very good at: asking for help.
Because I’m more stable than I’ve been in years, the contrast between my days pre- and post-medication are, from all accounts, markedly different. I was always honest and upfront about my worries and concerns, but I rarely asked for help, save for a ride to the hospital. I would try my best to avoid calling anyone when I was in crisis. This thinking was counter-intuitive. Calling when I needed help was what we had agreed upon, and my friends were prepared to be there for me. I just had this whole lie I was telling myself—likely born of self-stigma—that I wasn’t worth their time. More to the point, I didn’t want to cause them any undue stress.
Today this dynamic takes on a different shade. With my medicines in place and my regular visits to my psychiatrist, case manager, and therapist, I’ve got a pretty good handle on things. But I still need help when there’s an uptick in my symptoms, like there was during the months of prep for moving. I found myself fighting not to use the phone, trying to remain invisible, but calling anyway and rambling on about everything but what was bothering me. I just didn’t want to ask for help. Not because I’d appear weak or needy, but because I couldn’t disconnect myself from the constant lie my mind tells me: that I’m not mentally ill, and that if I am no one believes me. That’s compounded by the evenness that the medications provide, almost as proof that there’s a wolf and a lot of crying going on. My solution? Ask for help. But how?
First I need to focus. Why am I calling, and what do I need? Taking into consideration that I have made good friends, I set aside my fears that they might dismiss me for whatever reason. I explain my situation to them. This might be difficult at first, but I use my words. A lot of them if need be. I get my friend up to speed. With the “why” firmly established, I have to get on with the task of asking for help. I have to trust that my friends are honest with me when they tell me that they’re there for me when and if I need anything. A ride to the pharmacy, a trip to the grocery, a conversation to engage in when loneliness weighs me down.
For some, choosing to not ask for help might be a matter of pride. It can be embarrassing to admit that you’re on the down side of things. Still, if you’ve been open and honest with your friends and family, the willingness to ask for assistance might come a little easier. Trust that they understand that you’re in need. Be accountable for communicating those needs. That’s a better use of your pride than being embarrassed. Rely on yourself to get the ball rolling. Just put it out there. If you’ve done the groundwork to have an open channel of communication, the rest will fall into place. You can’t be afraid of rejection no matter what lies your brain tells you. You are worth every act of help that you request. The key is simply to ask, no matter what. Your mental health depends upon it.