What My Illness Means To Me by Michael Hendrick
Over the last ten years, as I’ve experienced the heartache of ups and downs, the stress of dealing with side-effects and learning how to build a career on writing about my illness I’ve been asked a lot questions about why I do what I do and what I’m trying to achieve by being so open about my illness. I’ve had myriad answers for all of these questions ranging from trying to buy a house, to just working with the hand I was dealt, but there is always one question all these vagaries seem to come down to and that’s what my illness means to me. What exactly is the biggest thing I’ve learned from having schizophrenia?
While I could talk about a bunch of stuff, I think the one thing it all comes down to is the fact that I can deal with life now. That’s the biggest blessing I’ve received. A lot of people have a hard time with stress from work, family or relationships and this drives a lot of people to therapists and doctors and gurus and any manner of other guidance as they try to seek answers for why life is the way it is.
I think the biggest thing to contend with is the fact that we have little to no control over what happens to us on a day to day basis. A lot of people drive themselves up the wall trying to maintain some semblance of control over everything, when in truth, it’s impossible.
The fact of the matter is that life is crazy. We don’t have any say over what happens or when it happens and the best we can hope for is contentment and maybe even a bit of happiness. That’s what my mental illness means to me. It means that I’ve been through the ringer more times than I can count. I’ve been hit by a metaphorical truck hundreds of times in day to day life with schizophrenia and I’ve learned that life’s little inconveniences, stress, work, all that stuff, while it is hard, is nothing I can’t get through. I’ve seen the worst of it and I know that whenever, wherever it could always be worse.
A lot of people complain for trite reasons about the things they can’t control, they gossip about the things that are alarming and they judge people for the things they do, but if they lived with mental illness they would realize that pretty much any of that is worthless. It serves no purpose other than building them up from a place of insecurity.
Throughout my ten years of living with schizophrenia the main thing I’ve had to contend with has been paranoia. Essentially I’m worried a lot of the time that people are out to get me, I worry that they think bad stuff about me or that they’re making fun of me. But I’ve come to realize that unless people are deeply poor people they don’t consciously do that stuff, so I’ve been able to build a wall up against my paranoia. I don’t know why that notion was so impactful to me, the fact that they might be making fun of me but I’ve wanted all my life to be accepted. It was only when I gave up trying that I was able to breathe.
Schizophrenia has taught me that the opinions of other people don’t matter. It’s taught me that I can deal with the worst of what could happen every time because I’ve already created that scenario in my head.
The truth is, it’s been a long, slow, laborious process of recovery and learning. I don’t have to worry about little stuff because it could be so much worse. That’s just one of the blessings that’s come from living with the illness. No matter what people say, no matter what they do, no matter what your brain tells you is going on, none of it matters because it could always be worse.
I can’t forget the heartache I felt when I got out of the hospital. About the fact that essentially, I was crazy. I was certifiably insane. The things that I had thought were real for such a long time were just figments of my imagination, and that was a relief, but it was also all I could think about. How could trust my own mind about anything if I was crazy? That point, that lowest feeling of not being sure what was real set me up for the realization that no matter what happens in my life, at least I’m stable.
It’s been a long, painful and educational process to learn how to live with mental illness but through it all, the fact has always remained that it could be worse. I just thank heaven that I’m not out on the street, that I have a roof over my head and that I have food to eat, a computer to write on and a bed to sleep in. Nothing else matters because at least right now, in the here and now, I’m comfortable and it could always be worse. I think a lot of people would do well to come to that realization.