There are days when I want to believe that I do not live with schizophrenia, that every professional evaluation is incorrect, and every diagnosis I’ve been given is wrong. There are days when everything that happens points me in a different direction, days when my compass is affected by solar flares and witchcraft. I feel myself being pulled apart while attempting to blend in, trying not to be a burden, and doing everything I can to appear normal. I imitate the behaviors that I see around me, but the way I talk and walk and interact with others is a dead giveaway that something is wrong and the pros were right. These are the days that I fear the most.
I find myself believing that the stigma and discrimination associated with being mentally ill are justifiable, and that I am a person without relevance, value, or worth. I wrestle with the inequity. I struggle with the truth. Sometimes I can’t separate the two. This is the real straightjacket.
I try to remember what I’ve learned, bringing to mind every solution from years of therapy, my research data, every corner illuminated, every spider swept away. Yet somehow, even in those sparkling quarters, my soul spins forever like Dominic’s top. This is the frozen moment. This is the trap. This is the life of the mind.
Because of one mutant chromosome, my neurological system creates a pattern of belief in which I have nothing to offer, a life without meaning, useless and empty. I am invisible, even to myself. I am unseen, unheard, and unloved. I am not entitled. I am untitled.
Whatever happened to that gifted child, the eager young prodigy with a life full of promise? Where does a heightened IQ take an art school dropout when chaos is driving the bus? To washing dishes at a diner while he anxiously talks to himself? Cashiering for customers that were never really there? Counting raindrops at lightning speed before the recount starts again?
How many cardiologists will it take to confirm that his heart is robust, and that the panic attacks would be an acceptable response in the face of real fear, but are relegated to a mental disorder when there is no existing external threat? Who is going to pay for the rising cost of the hospital visits? How many people will hear him cry “Wolf!” when the Voices redact and the creeks don’t rise?
How many times will the staff psychologist implore him to reconsider that the various plots to surveil his movement, steal his thoughts, or take his life were lifted from an espionage blockbuster and never really an actual danger? How is strapping him to the bed in his better interest? Why the benzodiazepine drip? Why the paramedics? Who are these impostors?
What happened that forced his family and friends to distance themselves, when it’s clear to the doctors that his thoughts and actions are not based in a common reality, but are significant only to his fractured mind and its debilitating symptoms?
What happens when the work-up doesn’t work out, when the side effects are both daunting and damaging, when the automatic mandate that the pills should be taken for his own good is replaced with the logical concern that it’s the societal walls of disapproval that cage people in a haze of corrective medications?
Why is he considered even more of an outsider for listening to his own body, to that strong heart, to a power that built him in its own image – an image that includes false sensory experiences, the loss of a working memory, reduced executive control, disorganized speech and behavior, a limited range of emotions, and little to no insight into his state of psychosis? What deity would deign to design such a thing, and who would elect to live in this hell?
Where is the culture that speaks to equality on the issues of race, gender, and religious practice, the society that votes on humanitarian rights and the needs of the individual, where quality of life is a level playing field?
Where are the philanthropists, the altruists, the movers and shakers who pledge to put a chicken in every pot, and keep the enemy in lockdown? And why is their chosen enemy this fragile person in second hand clothes, a shaman filtering heteroclite chatter from radio ghosts, the stories of other people’s lives strained through a chemical baptism of dopamine and serotonin?
If I were only being despondent, this puzzle would grow tiresome. I would snap out of it simply because I would find it so incredibly boring to be with myself. No, these are the questions that run through my mind while I work my Houdini voodoo and listen to the straps slide off my back.