My bus is full past capacity and I’m sleepy-headed because it’s early. My morning meds give me this sort of blanketed warm fuzzy that evades any anxiety, so the sardine-packed passenger load, which would normally give me a panic attack, seems to blend into the rush that is the freeway commute. I sink into my seat and stare out the window, concentrating on my breathing just in case. I wouldn’t want to let stress take me to places I’d rather avoid if at all possible.
We empty out of the back doors to a section of town known for its sketchiness. Drug deals are going on in plain sight, panhandlers are working the tourists. My calm starts to slip away like it does almost every Friday when I ride this bus downtown to my scheduled therapy session. For some reason it hits home harder than usual, again, I assume, due to stress. I know these streets, I’ve walked them all my life.
A man passes by shouting inanities. My ears prick up and my breathing exercise cuts short. I’ve been him on those really bad days. He’s yelling at another man who’s engrossed in his phone. I’ve hollered at passersby in the shopping district, and screamed at cyclists on the urban pathways. He is kin and I’m hyperaware of it. I see myself reflected in his agitation. I’ve weathered that storm, bewildered and confined to the life inside my skin.
I get to the building where my therapist has her practice and begin to climb the stairs to her eighth floor office. Once inside, I regain my deep breathing and find my center. Not that it helps much. I’ve just taken a six block walk through my own life and need urgently to talk about it for fifty brief minutes. This is a step in the direction of keeping me integrated and stable, relating on-on-one with my therapist of eight years. Together we try to untangle the wiring of memories and current experiences that collide with one another to create my day-to-day. As we talk, the morning’s events get unravelled and revealed to be outside my control. Still influential, they inform my synapses, and trigger states and certain topics I’d rather not discuss, but do because it’s the path to a healthier me.
In the house where I live now, I feel more like a visitor than an occupant. With time that might change. When I walk in the neighborhood, though, I’m tense and hyper-alert. I’m feeling like I’ve lost contact with the sensible me and am faced with fear and “fear of fear” as one of my hospital friends puts it. I perform seemingly meaningless tasks to ground myself. I fold my clothes and organize my drawers, make my bed and work at my computer, intently performing mini-versions of the everyday things that used to make up my life. These actions create a stable mood for me, bring me solace when I’m in confusion. And the meds help. One for anxiety and depression, another to slow down my brain, and a third to keep the delusions at bay. I am managing my schizophrenia with everything at my disposal.
Then there are circumstances, those tiny trials I go through in order to fit into the normal world. Ride the bus, buy the groceries, do the dishes, clean the bathroom. Simple tasks to keep life simple and yet I feel like I could be pulled apart at any given moment.
The house is silent when I hear a voice call out my name. I go upstairs to the living room and ask my housemate if he called for me. He hadn’t. I head back downstairs and wonder how I could have heard my name so clearly when no one spoke it aloud. Back in my room, I hear a conversation in the hallway, but there are only the two of us here this afternoon and he’s not on the phone nor is he just outside my room. He’s upstairs working on his laptop in total silence. He did ask me, kindly, if I was feeling okay. I told him I’d been stressed and hearing voices. He understood. He’s on my team.
So. The edges of reality can bend. They aren’t set in stone. In effect, they can do as they wish. I’m learning this, how to function within a new parameter, with new variables and familiar memories commingled. I will get through this because I want to. Because I need to if I’m going to stay healthy. I have something to prove to myself: that I can do this thing called Life.