I hit the alarm and awaken to a bizarro-world desert island scenario, stranded in a tiny, shallow, pool surrounded by endless miles of sand, with only one thing on my mind: gravity. A fundamental interaction of nature, gravity is defined as the phenomenon by which all physical bodies attract one other. It is also defined as an experience of extreme or alarming importance. Gravely serious stuff.
When my second stepmother received her cancer diagnosis, she did the bravest thing I’d seen a person do: she educated herself. What she didn’t know, she researched; what she learned, she shared with us and others. I took my cue as an advocate from her. The day I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I decided not to rest for a moment. I wanted to learn everything I could about my disorder, to understand what courses I could take to manage my symptoms, and to express to others my drive to survive. My stepmom made it her mission to leave this life stronger, more alive, and more accountable than when she lived it. She set an example.
Suffice it to say that my father was attracted to strong women. Support, humor, commitment, and respect were the ideals that formed the cornerstones of his relationships. I watched from my tiny island as my siblings followed his lead, creating meaningful bonds with their partners, their children, and their community. Robot Tarzan, me, astutely observant, accurately imitating, but never quite achieving, I did what I could: I put a message in a bottle.
Like any human being, I crave contact and connection. I long to know that lodestar I watched my family members follow. I can educate myself, but where relationships are concerned, it’s like trying to teach the dog to speak. Bark is for trees. Arid winds howl. Children of the night – what music they make.
Attachments are something which I understand but cannot comprehend. Complications with them are not unique to those diagnosed with a mental illness; brief attachment challenges can happen to anyone. People who have felt the security and safety of healthy parental attachment in their formative years tend to feel more secure about themselves, and they carry this strength into their relationships. However, when either one parent or the other is neither attentive nor accessible, a distortion in one’s ability to feel secure can create a template for unhealthy or compromised attachments in the future. The ability or inability to form bonds begins with one’s relationship with their initial caregiver.
The experience of attachment is compromised in most people living with schizophrenia, due to the symptoms of social withdrawal, delusion, or avolition – in lay terms: acute isolation, unrelated fears, and involuntary apathy. Disordered thinking breaches the continuum of attachment, and a relationship – which is naturally desired and essential – becomes more unrequited than zombie love.
With each new scintilla of data I feel ever more armed and able to dig into this disorder with fervency. Still, becoming informed does not make me instantly capable, nor does it mean I’m immune to social missteps. I want to connect, but I can’t make sense of it. I don’t know where I end and you begin. What comes so easily to socially healthy people seems as foreign to me as opera to a fish, as gods to monsters.
I tell myself that I can’t meet anyone because I’m undesirable, when in truth the only thing standing in the way of my meeting the right girl is my mental illness. Some days that’s on me, others on her, but more often than not, it’s an obstacle for us both. I get it. In the eyes of the town cryer I wear the hockey mask, the razor glove, the Texas chainsaw, the gun. And we both believe it – until love means more than what the villagers decree.
So let them storm the castle with their pitchforks and torches. We’ll be across the moat, up the crooked staircase, amidst the spiders and the cider – a monster and his maiden, all gowns and gothic and Shelley and shrieks. I’m happy to go bump in the night. I am afraid of nothing. When the riot starts we will be in free-fall. There will be no questioning the kinetic equivalence. Relativity accounts for the difference between what is observed and what is envisioned. Fire: bad. Friend: good.
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 courage work hand-in-hand to combat stigma.