I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t want to drown. I recognized those first waves of panic, and immediately followed the self-care moves I’ve learned to trust. Drew a hot bath and hid from the cutlery. Got in the tub and hit speed dial. I needed a friendly voice – someone to talk to, a foothold in the common world. And really, that’s the goal: to stay connected to the rest of you as best I can. That’s something most people take for granted. I can’t. I won’t. Although I’m not my illness, I need to respect its power. Schizophrenia has a mind of its own. Times like yesterday, I think it wants to kill me.
It’s Day Two now, and I’m grounding myself. Drinking tea in the safety of my writing corner with my books and my raggedy old bear. On reentry I need familiar things, quiet things, magic things playing at everyday object. Something to buffer the aftershock of breaking down alone. Losing one’s mind, however briefly, is not for the faint of heart. Which lets me know I’m one of the strong ones.
I’ve heard it said that the Universe never closes a door without opening a window. In my case, one symptom never shows up without cracking open the whole box. Anxiety invites panic brings terror welcomes madness. It’s the dirty bomb I live with whose unpredictability is akin to catching lightning in a butterfly’s teeth.
Schizophrenia is misrepresented in the media’s shorthand because to depict a story visually, it has to be. It’s a way for them to illustrate the disordered mind. They’re looking for an answer that conforms to the conventional image presented to society for centuries. We butter our popcorn with cultural shame.
There is nothing romantic about a mind in psychosis. To the person trapped within it, the experience is immediate and terrifying. Everything is the same is familiar is not is significant is pointless and ultimately numb. Where’s the romance in that? Is the idea that a mind freed of restraint is somehow liberating? To whom? I was hostage to a nightmare yesterday. The fallout from those thoughts lingers with me as I type.
I do everything available to manage my illness, but there are days when it finds a way out. It slithers around the corners of therapy, slips under the covers of medication, and insinuates itself into my consciousness like the slickest symbiote’s kiss. I believe its seduction: I’m dying. The cynic would say we die each moment of our lives, but I am really dying. Right here, right now. I may already be dead, dreaming a cadaver’s dream of living and listening to this endless loop of a lie.
I am alone. It is the end of the End of Days. There is no love. Love is not real. It’s as fake as the artist’s pain that creates a masterpiece. Lips in a mirror, blood in the sand, the symbiote oozing past the doctor’s orders. That kind of alone. The crushing realization that no one will ever hold you close and listen to your secrets. Because you’re mad. You’re society’s bastard child, the news media’s scapegoat for every unsolved murder. You don’t deserve to be loved. You’re worthless. It’s not a bedtime story to teach you manners. This is it. You’re on your own. You’re outside the capsule, drifting into the cold mouth of space. Ground Control is a lie. Sorry, Major Tom. There’s nothing wrong. We can hear you, we just don’t care.
In the blink of an eye, the bulk of those last two paragraphs can saturate my very being. Persistent. Dull. A suffocating apprehension. There is no escape from thoughts like these. I know this – and my illness knows that I know. I pick up the phone and draw the bath and hide in the dark and pray for connection. I’ve trained myself to do this when the inevitable arrives. Yes, inevitable. And reliably unpredictable. It’s built into the disorder’s DNA. I can no more escape the effects of schizophrenia than I can escape being surrounded by air. We share the same space. It is symbiotic. Acknowledging that fact gives me the upper hand. It’s taken me years to surrender to this truth, and through acceptance I have afforded myself the necessary tools to survive.
I’m not perfect. I’m not trying to be. I work hard to live in harmony with a society that misunderstands me. But I don’t hold them in contempt. Why should I? Because they trivialize my disorder for box office receipts while dismissing mental illness as a myth? Giving in to such misguided negativity would only reinforce the stigma. No, thank you. I’d rather lasso that butterfly. It could change this hurricane’s path in a heartbeat.