On My Own

By Henry Boy Jenkins

alone-shoesI had asked the filing clerk for help, and she was very accommodating, given that I had explained to her that I was experiencing the morning through the lens of schizophrenia. So later, when I was alone in the restroom, why did I feel like crying? My head hurt from the complexities of the paperwork and the protocol, but it wasn’t something that I couldn’t handle. After all, I’d ridden the elevator twice, a big step considering my claustrophobia.

The old, familiar feelings of shame and self-stigma came flooding in. I knew what I was up against and it bothered me. I felt vulnerable and small. Having to go through the challenges of making sure that my paperwork was in order and that all the requirements were being met was wreaking havoc with my short term memory. I got out my notebook and wrote down my personal shorthand for everything the clerk said to me. This included instructions on walking two blocks outside the court house to get to the bank so that I could withdraw funds for my filing fees, another hurdle in the busy downtown streets. Two blocks. An eternity.

Anxiety was compounding the situation for me and I could feel myself reverting to the motherless son of my illness in short order. The signs were there, delusions were peeking through. Vehicular noise was assaulting and overwhelming. People lunching in the park outside the court house were all talking about me. Standing in front of the ATM I froze, believing that I didn’t know how to use it. The noise wouldn’t stop until I was back in the court house, sitting safely in my chair, awaiting acknowledgement from the clerk, who reacted as if nothing had happened in the few moments that I was gone. I went to the restroom to wash my face.

I had completed my paperwork to the satisfaction of the attorneys save for explaining that I lived with schizophrenia, as per one line in the paperwork with regards to mental health. And with that one line I felt like the whole house of cards I had so carefully crafted as self confidence seemed to crumble. The clerk was supportive and walked me through the legal morass with efficiency, all the while making sure that, according to my request, there was room to pause and question the proceedings should my memory fog over and I find myself lost.

I felt the beginnings of an anxiety attack coming on again when she said she’d be going to lunch. I’d lose my tether to the To Do world. I’d be on my own with a different clerk. Would he be as gentle a soul, as understanding, as accommodating as she? I had no idea. I excused myself to go sit alone in the empty waiting area. I texted my friend Jeff about pancakes, two components of my stability: my best friend and my favorite food. Thankfully he responded right away. I needed the familiarity.

With time, I calmed down and reminded myself that I had new chemistry at play, that my anti-anxiety meds were available to me as my PRN, and that eventually everything would slow back down to manageable. In my pre- medicated days the trip would have required a friend or two just to get me into the elevators, let alone through the paperwork maze. The ATM adventure would have escalated to the stuff of nightmares, and the coping mechanisms that I’d have had to draw upon would have been unwieldy. So I could give myself props for having gone through the entire experience on my own, alone, like a normal person.

This is what it’s like for me to live with a mental illness. I have well- meaning people telling me that I’m fine when that’s their uninformed opinion. They tell me that events like my court house experience are simple processes to go through, yet I find them extremely challenging to complete for all the symptomatic reasons that I’ve lived with for so long. I try. A lot. And often things work out. But it’s the process of getting from Point A to Point B that brings up issues of fear and anxiety, self-worth and facility, that I all too often find myself wondering: am I ever going to be better at life?

I have to remember to be kind to myself. Navigating the so-called real world takes more for some than it does for others; each case is as individual as the person experiencing it. No two are alike. If I can get through any one thing with some semblance of grace, then I deserve to pat myself on the back for having completed a job well done. And that includes a moment out for tears in the washroom.

12 responses to “On My Own”

  1. Monica says:

    As I read this one HBJ…it takes me to a time where I tried to guide my son through an event, that for me, was second nature but for him presented itself much like yours; only thing is it was going to a football game so even at that, the complexity of it, to you and he, deems the same! See first of all he said I’m not going — I always ask again prior to the time to see if he changes his mind and most times he does but all the while talking himself into it.. Is it gonna be okay..will i do okay…what if this or that bothers me…can we leave early if I need to… and so on with his doubts all the while my trying to help in any way that soothes him–this time he said Mom, I just don’t get why I make things such a big deal and i want it to stop…this to me was a break thru–the realization of it and the wanting it to stop — he amazes me every day with the strength he has to overcome just as your life story does too..your strength and your writings always show me the ways you cope and manage and they always give me insight even more into the feelings of my child!!! I too fill out those papers for him you speak of since I’m his Guardian as well as his mom — first his mom … And I couldn’t even imagine him trying to do that paperwork on his own—I will always be there for him and I am so thankful you have your friend to get in touch with to give you that sweet distraction to get back to the process!!! Prayers for you and the continued work you do in these writings!!! As I say every single time–your words OUR GIFT!!!! Thank you again—I always always look forward to your blog!!!! Take care HBJ!!!!!

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you, Monica. It means a lot to hear from a parent, as I’m sure it would have meant to me had my father lived to see me working hard today.

      I love your comment. Illustrating your son’s worries and then his overcoming them is just huge! I go through that, too, even with the medications. I’m so glad for you that you two have such a strong connection.

      If you haven’t already, you should consider writing in to our Stories section and sharing the journey you and your son are on. I’m sure that plenty of parents (and their children) would benefit from the love you show in comments such as this one. I’m really touched. It was the perfect thing for me to read today.

      Take care. Bless you and your son. #EndTheStigma

      • Monica says:

        Henry, I’ve considered the writing in and I even sent in a poem before!!! Somewhere in this journey God gave me a gift–I write poems about things I’m passionate about and my son tops the list!!!! I will eventually do just that–write our story—waiting for My child’s approval first– I’d like to shout it to the world his progress but I want to consider his feelings first—he’s almost there, ready to share, that is and oh what a story it will be!!!! It was nice to read your reply and thank you– my son and I do have a special bond taking it one step at a time to help him through every step of his life!! My mission–to see him happy…it’s been a journey of many facets — he changed me and he changes people just by his presence—my Angel walking this earth!!! And yes Henry it would be wonderful had your dad been here on earth to experience this life with you…rest assured he’s up there guiding you making the way!!! Take care…many blessing to you!!!
        Monica

    • Henry Boy says:

      Monica—here’s the link to share your story, in case you’re interested: http://bringchange2mind.org/stories/share-your-story/

  2. Suzanne Lea says:

    What a great post! Thank you for sharing!

  3. smileandrelax says:

    Reading this leaves me almost speechless. My response is not at all thought “through” or “out”, for the question you asked – “why did I feel like crying” – is the question that I personally need to explore in terms of my own experiences.

    I’ve got a friend now for ten years who has a schizophrenia diagnosis. I’d say that I spent most of the first eight years of our friendship instilling him with my conviction that recovery is possible, and doing so quite diligently. He has told me that he benefited greatly from this.

    Incidentally, the two of us reach impasses very often, and when that happens, it isn’t always certain that the gap will be overcome. We fight, in other words, and it can be pretty challenging on both sides to surmount our respective egos.

    Getting back to your piece, though, it reminds me of how utterly obtuse I have been for most of our friendship towards my friend’s anxiety. He hid it extremely well, so that it came into view to me as hesitation, as reluctance, as lack of motivation, and also, often, as lack of effort. Sometimes when we’d fight, he’d yell “if you knew what I was dealing with, you would understand”. I think in some ways I behaved like a drill sergeant, and I still do at times, and perhaps it has been effective, at least in part, because it provided a counter-weight to his internal monologue, which I now understand is very self-defeating.

    He’s come a very long way in terms of recovery, symptom management, and in identifying worthy goals and achieving them. Perhaps I have as well, as a friend, for I have come to see in the past two years that making space for him to share his misgivings, fears, doubts, and insecurities, is essential to seeing the person that he really is behind the mask.

    I’ve been fortunate to have trained in martial arts intensively in the past and that mindset has enabled me to remain confident in the face of extreme duress and uncertainty. Still, there is a pronounced necessity to be able to share with another human being our worst fears and most anxious moments without being subjected to humiliation, degradation, or ridicule. All feelings and experiences are to be embraced in the Buddhist traditional psychology, and the shadow of fear must be met with the light of compassion. Of course, this cannot happen “out there” until or before it happens “in here”, in out own persons, our own hearts.

    I search myself more often now for places where I may be hiding from my own experiences of shame, and practice more regularly at recognizing myself within that experience, and treating myself kindly.

    Your essay is beautifully written and intimate, and reminds me to recommend to you the collection of autobiographical essays called “Bad Dog!: A Memoir of Love, Beauty, and Redemption in Dark Places” by Lin Jensen.

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks for writing in, smileandrelax. I apologize for the late response. It’s been a trying month.

      The story of you and your friend reminds me, to some degree, of the dynamic between me and my best friend. With us it’s not so much about egos clashing as it is me hiding my anxiety, as per your friend in your description. I think that we can get so accustomed to hiding our feelings than we become quite talented at it, much to our ultimate dismay when we find ourselves misunderstood. Thankfully, my friend has patience on his side (as well as a degree in special education). He’s allowed me to make that mistake often enough that I’ve managed to rinse much of it out of my system and can now rely on his ability to comprehend what he can when I’m stuck, and he allows me to make my way out of the complication. It’s a very helpful relationship. We offer one another a good deal of insight, as you and your friend clearly do. Nothing is more rewarding than a good friendship.

      Thanks again for your comment. Cheers!

  4. Susan says:

    Thank you for your story. As the mother of a son it’s nice to hear someone tell me what he is going through as he has a hard time verbalizing it. It helps me to help him navigate his journey so much more. Thank you for sharing and may your days be blessed. And yes always give yourself compliments.. you shared this insight and that is an amazing accomplishment and takes so much courage..

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you, Susan. I can totally understand your son’s challenges in verbalizing what he’s going through. I am faced with that quite often (I seem to do better with my thought processes when I type). Thank you for the reminder to compliment myself. It’s easy to forget that we all deserve some credit for even the smallest things sometimes. My best to you and your son.

  5. Claudia says:

    I always look forward to reading your posts. Henry, you give hope to so many and I thank you for that. Blessings.

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