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.
As I explore the functionality of loneliness in my life, I also look to accountability. Do I try to put myself out there, and do I do so without expectation of return? Yes, and yes. So why do I feel alone? Is it because others can’t handle the mentally ill guy, or is it self-stigma informing my conclusions?
Sometimes that’s what it’s all about, this life where I work hard to overcome my mental health challenges and blend into the fabric of life. This is where I need to remember that I can advocate for myself as well as others, that we all can, and that the future of how we’re perceived rests solely on our will to be understood and accepted on equal ground.
Is there any other symptom of mental illness more commonly ridiculed than the hearing of voices? I can’t think of an equivalent in the medical world that garners the laughter and demeaning cruelty of auditory hallucinations. Do we universally laugh at a concussion? Does hilarity ensue at the mention of cancer? Absurd to consider, yet we don’t think twice about giggling at a person beleaguered by voices.
Semantically speaking, am I schizophrenic? No, I am not. I have schizophrenia and I am a schizophrenic. I choose to address my illness in the most available way possible. I’m comfortable with the terminology because it’s accurate. It’s also my choice. I’m not allowing someone else to define my personality or my contribution to society by labeling me. I’m simply using a word to communicate something about me. If the person I am speaking to is uncomfortable with that, then they’re the uncomfortable party, not me. I stand firm in the knowledge that I am so much more than my diagnosis. Stigma and discrimination might wear me down, but not at the cost of my self worth.
I used to believe that there was nothing wrong with me, that I didn’t have a mental illness. I never looked at my life through the lens of a loved one who wondered why their brother/uncle/son was so eccentric and obtuse, withdrawn and hyper, anxious and depressed, and socially awkward. It was never me, it was them, or so I thought.
While most folks might talk about how well their kids are doing in school, how their vacation plans are shaping up, or how grueling their recent tax audit was, we share stories about therapy, medication tremors, and drooling. And we find humor in it. Because we can. Because it takes out the sting. We find a commonality that we can’t share with the general population, not even our psychiatrists or therapists.
The longer that Howie remained at Greystone, the more he began to be called by different nicknames. The most popular (and, remember, his peers were all 15 to 17 years old) was “Crazy Howie”. Over time, amongst the large group of peers we both knew, I became known, by extension, as “Crazy Howie’s Little Brother”. I didn’t like the nicknames for Howie or for me. I like it even less, at this time, as I recognize it for all of it’s insensitivity and rudeness. It reminds me of the greater level of both a pervasive unknowing and a continued heightened level of ignorance which still exists today.
I have nowhere to go but up. I need to ask questions. I need to be acknowledged with answers. It’s about respect and information. Choices and determination. I have the potential to be a vital and integral cog in society. I tell my story because I want it to mean something. In that way I am no different than anyone else.
There is still a battle to be fought against stigma and discrimination, but my current objective is to subdue the vexation as I step out of the mind’s cage and into the real world. Only then will I be fit enough to advocate unfettered.
It takes a high level of trust to tell your therapist things you wouldn’t share with your best friend. How and when did that trust begin? Not with the initial greeting at the door. That could just as easily have been a ruse. While I don’t claim to own the full property rights to paranoia, it is in my diagnosis as a defining character; I’m going to find a flaw in the trust module until I don’t. Perhaps you’re the same. I believe that trust begins to form the more that we open up in session. It starts when you drop the mic on something as honest as you can muster and watch as your therapist responds to you with kindness and understanding rather than the awful cold shoulder received by so many. To be accepted for who we are by this one person — that’s the key. To feel understood. To be understood.