My heart stopped. It restarted. It hurt like hell. But this was what I wanted. Without the jump-start.
I’d lost eight pounds in three days. I could lose more. I wouldn’t stop until I was dead. That was the Suggestion, and I believed it. With all my heart. The one that’d just kicked me like an angry mule.
I didn’t need anyone. I didn’t need me. My friends weren’t friends, they were acquaintances. Less than that, they were replacements. The Voices knew this, so I knew this. Months ago they began their campaign.
I had decided to champion for myself and to share this advocacy with others. Self-esteem and a purpose, that’s what I had. I was reaching out, but the Voices reached further. They replaced my friends with Replicants. They put cameras and tracking devices on every path I travelled. I was under surveillance around the clock – trapped. But I found a way out: I would starve myself. I didn’t see that I was playing into their hands. How could I? I was following my treatment plan. I was starting the conversation. I was practicing mental wellness.
My. Heart. Stopped.
I found a bench in the park a few feet in front of me. Replicants were everywhere. They watched me cry, they listened to me scream. I called my therapist while the robots took notes. I called my best friend while they pointed and laughed. Look at the crazy person talking to himself, the one wearing three sets of clothes and sunglasses in the rain.
There were sirens. There was a firetruck. Two squad cars. An ambulance. There was a lake in the park. I could run. I could drown. I’d been betrayed. There was no love in the world. Only hatred and fear. Of the crazy person surrounded by police and EMTs.
“I’m not violent. I’m not hurting anyone. I have schizophrenia. My heart stopped.”
His face was my view. His eyes pierced my soul. “Look at me, son. Breathe. Can you breathe with me? Slowly: in…and out. That’s good.”
“Please don’t restrain me. You don’t understand. These people aren’t real. My heart stopped.”
“Breathe, son.” Gentle giant. Big face. “Breathe. Slowly. In…and out.” Eighteen first-responders. Sentries. Poised strategically to contain the tiny crazy person shivering in the rain, surrounded by on-lookers, pedestrians, joggers – Replicants all. “We’re going to move you to the stretcher now. Can you walk with me, son?”
“I’m not violent. Please don’t drug me. It’s not my fault. Please let me have my arms. Let my arms be free, please.”
Strapped to the gurney, into the ambulance. Something in my arm. Sleepy. Driving to a secret government location. Cameras. Replicants. Suggestions. Name, date of birth, occupation. “Writer. I advocate for change. I’m under surveillance for speaking out.”
Hallway. Orderly. Alone. Contained. Beeping. Blood draw. Monitors. Curtain. Warm blankets. Paper dress. Sleepy. Out.
Wake up. “Hello, Henry. My name’s Patricia. I understand you have schizophrenia, and that you’re worried about your heart.” Doctor clipboard reading. “Your test results show you to be very fit and in excellent health. How do you feel?”
Adrift. Drifting. “I’m not violent. I’m an advocate. I write stuff. I’m sleepy. I think I’m scared but not really much so much now not really are you too are you scared too?”
“No, I’m not afraid, but thank you for asking.” Pausing now. I don’t want this question. Don’t ask this question. Don’t make me answer this question. “I understand that you wanted to kill yourself. Is this still true?”
An advocate. For others. Be one now. For yourself. Tell the truth. “Yes before. Not now.” Tears. Alone. Is she a Replicant, an Agent? The sleepytube in my arm says no.
“You have some people in the lobby, Henry. Would you like to see them?”
One friend shares the sunshine, another brings the Beatles. A third wheels up and takes my hand, she reads about the Muppets. Smiles light the room. There’s talk about music. I’m reminded to eat. I haven’t shaved or bathed in days, but no one seems to notice. I’m alive. That’s what matters.
I’m alive because people care. I’m alive because there are trained professionals who do what it takes. I am alive because, regardless of the Voices and Suggestions, I found a way to follow my plan. I reached out when I needed help, when I knew that my illness wanted to kill me, and it failed because I didn’t. I survived because I fought back, and I did so in the ways designed by my doctor and my team and me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had an episode this pronounced. Fear and depression have taken me to nightmarish places, but if I were gone, how could I be of service? How could I contribute to the mental health community? Every one of us matters, regardless of how bleak it might get.
I take with me now a new understanding of the strength of my illness, and the power of my heart. The one that stopped. The one that jump-started itself. The sleepy heart that held the hand of a friend when I couldn’t find myself in the dark. I don’t need to be ashamed of who I am, of my illness, or asking for help. This is the way that it is.
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.
Thank you for your honesty and sharing. My daughter Jennifer suffered with hearing voices 14 years ago and your story helped me understand more her fear of the voices.