When I’m in my hospital togs I feel connected to those days when I stayed in the wing with ten other patients, each battling their own demons, each stronger because of it. For many of us, the common denominator was suicide. So much sorrow in one room could prove cathartic once the sharing began. The stories would start and the faces would change from withdrawn and sullen to hopeful and brave.
I think, in part, that I was hoping for a miracle cure, that I would eat these magic beans and become a Normal Person, but I know how unlikely that is. Still, it’s the dream of almost every person living with a mental illness that they will somehow attain balance and stability and lead a normal life, and I’m no different.
Being told to calm down and get over it implies that the person experiencing the panic attack is doing so by choice, a common misconception in the day-to-day world, and a stigma that needs to be smashed. Between three and six million people in the U.S. struggle with some form of panic disorder. It can come at any age, but it most often begins in young adulthood, and often run in families. Some people may only experience one panic attack in their lifetime, while others may develop a disabling disorder if the symptoms go untreated.
There are times when, if it’s brought to my attention, I can notice that the natural exuberance is missing, that the interconnectedness of everything is minimized by the meds. The talent is still there, but I’m delivering it through reduced affect, an emotional blunting that appears regardless of whether emotion is actually reduced or not. This is rock and roll and I’m leaving it all on the stage, except that it’s only noticeable if you close your eyes.
So what does it feel like to be included? It’s a rich, rewarding connection. Inclusion feels like the kind of acceptance that I dream about, where I can just be the best version of me and have that be all right.
The hard part is remembering that I’m included. I can’t always do that and I don’t always trust it. Negative symptoms tend to scrunch all that insider- ness into a ball and toss it in the wastebasket.
I had been comfortable living my life in the fringe of psychosis. I worried that my art would suffer. But I’ve managed to surprise myself as a medicated man in that my creativity has not faltered. Quite the contrary—my artistic focus has increased, and I feel like I am doing some of my best work to date. Medicine was key in discovering newfound stability.
Then there’s working memory and episodic memory. I can’t hold onto a phone number, much less a name. Storage, retrieval. How am I supposed to recall the details? Just smile and pretend that it’s the same for normal people. I pad my excuses with self-depreciating humor. No one’s the wiser.