The life expectancy of a person with schizophrenia is twelve to fifteen years less than those without.
I am standing in the park. I look to the trees. I have a question that they cannot answer. Nannies walk their strollers, skaters wheel on by, a normal afternoon by all accounts. Frisbees hover, bikinis shimmer, dogs and joggers lope along. A couple beatniks strumming out of tune guitars. But nothing has a shadow. Everything is flat and silent. Find your heartbeat. Breathe.
The primary cause of death among schizophrenics is suicide, attributed to the psychoses and extreme depression that accompany their illness.
I am standing in the park. Or not. It doesn’t matter because it has no meaning, no value, no intrinsic connection. I understand this is breathing because my chest falls and rises, but I can’t feel the air filling my lungs, can’t hear it escape through my mouth. In. Out. Nothing. Breathing is a fallacy. This is how it starts.
Derealization: an intrusive detachment, a subjective experience that the world around you is not real. That moment in a car crash when everything slows down, details intensify, and you feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Imagine that sensation being the only one you know. Time frozen. Distant, unreal. Try telling someone how it feels without having them dismiss you. If it’s not in their index of experience, they judge it as hokum and you as a liar. We all die. But what if you’re dead alive? Caught somewhere in between, a visitor.
Compared with the general population’s rate of 0.01%, an estimated 40% of people living with schizophrenia attempt suicide. Approximately 12% succeed.
Depersonalization: self-awareness disconnected, a jet-lag of the soul. I am outlandishly clumsy, physically inarticulate, careening into walls, falling up when I sit down. I am as pointless to myself as the trees and the joggers and the sunbathers and wheelers. I have lost contact with the Common World and my mind hasn’t caught up to that fact. After so many years of being a platypus it hasn’t occurred to me that I am a wingless, hairy, venom-spitting duck, that I am cobbled together from spare parts salvaged after the Creation. Rubber Ducky, you’re the one. This is how it starts. I lose you, then I can’t find me. We’re colorless now, vague, and set adrift.
The human mind enjoys a puzzle, if only because it’s child’s play. A question is presented and an answer brought to bear. Cause, effect. In, out. Without variety, certainty, or color, the mind searches its data base for a solution. But what to do when left askew? We ask the Oracle. We shake the Magic Eight Ball. Its tiny black triangle reveals the augury, question and answer both one and the same. Those three little words: “It Is Uncertain.” So we turn to the Hive.
With early treatment and care, a good longterm recovery from a first episode of psychosis has a 42% success rate, with an intermediate outcome of 35%. Many people living with schizophrenia experience independent and productive lives through solid community support. It is a matter of working together and understanding one another.
I encourage you to find a therapist. Amazing things can happen once your trust levels are secured. You can help each other follow the trail of breadcrumbs to safety and solution from that place you’ve been ashamed to explore on your own. When I am unaware of my symptoms because I’m living within them, my therapist picks up on the subtleties and we tether. It’s her job to pay attention to the rhythms. I have learned to let pride evanesce. This simple action gives me the courage to speak when I am lost in my illness. My clumsiness and flatness become clues for us both. We work together because I am worth it.
I have a handful of trusted friends on my speed-dial. I’ve learned to be bold when my symptoms flare up. I have instructions for my team to help them help me, to prevent things from worsening. This solution works for me. I build trust, make friends, and practice surrender, no matter how difficult it seems. The park is still flat, the walls are still hard, but I am not as afraid when I’m reminded that I have been here before, that I will find my way back, and that they will be there to welcome me. Be honest even when you think you can’t be. Tell the truth. Your recovery depends upon it. You are worth it.
One last statistic: in 1934, French entomologist Antoine Magnan applied the laws of aerodynamics to insects and concluded that bumblebees, with their chubby bodies and tiny wings, were incapable of flight. Try telling that to the bee.
Henry Boy Jenkins is a Seattle artist, writer, and musician living with schizophrenia. He received his diagnosis in 2010 and has been managing his illness with a passion ever since. He is currently writing a memoir chronicling his experiences with schizophrenia and trauma in the hope that people living with a mental illness – as well as those who love and care for them – will find something in his story that compels them to share their own. Publicly open in his advocacy for awareness and change, Henry focuses on education and communication as the most effective tools in any superhero’s utility belt. Honesty and humor work hand-in-hand to combat stigma.