I awoke to a gorgeous, crystal-foggy morning…and no coffee in the house. I needed espresso, lozenges, and guy-liner, STAT. My band was playing a sold out show in less than eight hours. It’s only rock and roll, but I like it.
My carbo-load cornucopia of fruit, rice, and veggies belied my avidity. The checker paused to consider my shadow pencil, and asked if I liked the brand. I told her it was my favorite. She asked if I was a musician. I said yes. She asked who I played with and I told her. Her demeanor insta- switched to glam fan as she gleefully informed me that she and her friends all had tickets. I didn’t get to revel in the compliment because the Voices denied me access. So I shrugged shyly and tried to change the subject. She wouldn’t have it. Her enthusiasm kept me focused. Color me thankful.
Through the past five months of rehearsals, band members who had grown up together were learning new things about one another. Eventually my mental illness became a topic at a post-practice dinner party. Our manager, Kitty, had known me since we were teens, and had watched schizophrenia dismantle my life, but only recognized my disorder a year ago when I went public with it. She contacted both my sister and my friend, Coach, to learn more about what was happening with me and asked how she might help. By telling my story in print and in public, my circle of trusted friends grew larger and more intimate.
Team Kapok – named for the cotton-like substance used as stuffing for cuddly toys and life preservers – was formed to keep me tethered and freer from harm than when I had been battling my symptoms alone. Our rhythm guitarist had read my blogs, and he and his wife both support BC2M. He asked to meet Coach and join the team. I was finding compassion wherever I turned. For a paranoid schizophrenic, this “being loved” notion is a huge leap of faith, believe me. By educating myself about my condition, and by advocating publicly and fighting the shame and self-stigma I ofttimes associate with being labeled ‘crazy’, I had created a safety net around me for those times when I couldn’t manage the unanticipated twists and turns of my illness. Like the surprise ride I unknowingly took twenty minutes before my slot in the show.
Our makeup artist chatted amicably as she worked, interrupting herself to tell me when to look up for the waterline and down for mascara, while exchanging stories with the other performers in the Green Room. When everyone’s touchups and tuneups were completed they hit the stage, and I found myself alone in my chair and still out of costume. Voices filled the empty chamber and manifested as specters. Abruptly, like a bad film-splice, I heard my name, applause, guitar, drums – fragmented shards of a shattered kaleidoscope. The next half-hour was a euphoric blur of rock and roll rapture; an ocean of music fans, and So. Much. Fun. But rewind that tape and watch the backstage roller-coaster derailment up close. I had to. Something just seemed wonky.
Over brunch the next morning, Coach recounted the missing details for me. Kitty entered the dressing room and discovered me talking nonstop gibberish to no one, seemingly oblivious to the gig and, more importantly, to myself. She stepped back out and found Coach in the audience, got some helpful advice from him, and returned to her Chatty Cathy doll lost lead singer. She brought me back to this world from mine, where I’d been struggling with the puzzling demands of people no one but me could see. Those demons didn’t need to be at the show, and they didn’t deserve to steal me away. Kitty’s soothing voice and choice of helpful questions and suggestions calmed me down. She rubbed my neck and shoulders, soothing and “containing” me as Coach had recommended; her years of parenting skills honed to help a child through a “time-out” now applied directly to the showbiz implosion in red skinny jeans and reflexive dissociation. Monsters melted away and the carny barking Voices let me off the ride. The show was a huge success. I got to live my dream of working with some of the best people I know. In spite of having a mental illness.
Resolution (noun): the quality of being determined or resolute. Resolute (adjective): admirably purposeful. Purposeful (adjective): having or showing resolve. Resolve (verb): the course of harmonic change.
Change (noun): a refreshingly different experience. Experience (verb): feel. Feel (verb): be aware.
Aware (adjective): have knowledge, understand. Understand (verb): comprehend, mind.
Happy New Year, everyone. Bring change to mind.
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.