The Tempest

By January 29, 2015Blog

What is it to be misunderstood? According to my dictionary, to misunderstand is to “fail to interpret the words or actions of [someone] correctly”. To some, this definition may imply guilt or blame; I don’t support either as effective tools for any situation. Rather, I turn my attention toward accountability, that is, the ability to account for something, to consider or regard it in a specified way.

To come to an understanding requires a team effort. At any given point in communication, both parties share equally in the responsibilities: one presents, the other receives. In a perfect world, it’s a win-win situation. Our culture employs the term “relationship” to describe this dynamic.

Meanwhile, back at the dictionary, relationship is defined as “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected”. Not guilty, not blamed. Connected. Active, receptive. Desired, and delivered. To ship is to transport; to port is to transfer. These words convey the act of giving. When we relate, we move the possession of some thing to some one. We narrate. We tell our story. Our stories define us in the eyes of another. In this way we find truth. Often, we find healing.

A relationship can be seen as an intimate system, a loop. So what breaks this circuit and invites misunderstanding, and what is it to be truly understood? As a person living with schizophrenia, it is the difference between profound loneliness and a semblance of life. For those of you born with a standard neural network this may sound like melodrama, but to think so would be a mistake. Whereas you are in constant control of your thinking, the thought disordered person is not.

If you have a friend or family member diagnosed with schizophrenia, you may find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional. They could offer insight into how hard your friend is working to communicate with you, to relate to you.

Studies have shown that levels of dopamine and glutamate in the schizophrenic brain are released in excessive amounts. This can cause abnormalities in cognition, thought, and behavior. For someone like me, a “normal” conversation can be a formidable task; for the person listening, incongruence appears to be my forte. At best, I’ve been told I’m guileless or charming; at worst, jarring and abstruse. I have come to accept that I’m better in print than I am with the casual chat. I don’t always make sense when I’m anxious or frustrated.

This winter had been difficult for me, my symptoms of anhedonia and depression reaching near unmanageability. Pleasure had eluded me and hopelessness set in. I struggled to articulate my frustration, and believed that I was doing a good job. Until a friend shared with me that I had lashed out at them, that I was on a rant. Raging. And it hurt.

The assumption might have been that I had taken aim, when in truth I was completely unaware. There was no damage control. I just didn’t know. I was terrified.

It was never my intention to upset someone I cared about. Hearing this was painful, my greatest fear gaining ground. Was I the monster from my childhood, alone in the center of the storm, snow-blind, mute, and roaring? No words, just pain. Mine. But I am not the threat. I’m the dead canary.

“For Anxiety And Agitation.” I wish I’d never read that phrase at the bottom of my prescription. Relief from fear keeps psychosis at bay. I take my medicine when the demons have me cornered. “For Anxiety” was all I ever read – the rest of the words had gone out for a smoke. In my hand, the tiny plastic bottle seemed as Caterpillar-welcome as any teacake marked EAT ME, and being rightsized got me through the door to crystal calm and clarity. The agitator in my washing machine shakes loose the grease and grime. I’d overlooked that property of the scrip. How had I gotten so dirty?

There are not enough tears in the human body to rinse that cycle through.

In the common reality, my negative and cognitive symptoms left the canvas of me blank, but internally, the absent emotions, disrupted thoughts, and memory deficits slammed together like an abstract expressionist blizzard. I had failed to interpret the words and actions, not by choice but by the nature of my wiring. I wondered how often this had occurred, how much I may have lost to the maelstrom of my mind.

Despite this heavy heart, I want to offer solace. If someone you care for is trudging through their own unspoken tempest, perhaps the question is no longer “What is it to be misunderstood?” but rather “What is it to love unconditionally?” I am doing my best to understand.


  • Cheri says:

    Unconditional love sometimes isn’t enough. This has been my argument with mental health practioners. I need them to be the bad guy when psychoses takes over my loved one. When the support system also has to be the person that calls the police and emergency psychiatric personnel, we are no longer the loving family member. We’re the warden that locks them up against their will. We need to work as a team, with all caregivers having specific roles. I am completely burned out, and cannot continue as anything but mom. Others need to listen when I call with concerns and take the actions necessary to save my son from himself and allow his family to be the safe place.

  • A Fan says:

    This is a wonderful blog entry. I volunteer at a family support group as someone who has been in recovery from mental illness for 30 years. (I have experienced some episodes of psychosis.)

    Many family members I meet in the group find it difficult to fathom the intensity of certain feeling states or the chaos of disorganized thinking. Family members can sometimes be angry people whose anger strips them of understanding and compassion. I believe that your willingness to share your inner world is courageous and with time, will help educate people so that they become better able to respond with genuine support to those in crisis.

  • Henry Boy Jenkins says:

    Thank you very much, A Fan – in one succinct paragraph you have shown me that “someone out there is listening”; that is encouraging to me as both an advocate and a writer, not to mention as a person living with schizophrenia. I hope your volunteer work keeps you engaged and satisfied, and that your heartfelt insights like this one you’ve shared makes life more meaningful for others. It has for me. Thanks again.

  • liz says:

    “how much I may have lost to the maelstrom of my mind” describes my thoughts about my son – i try really hard to own how hard he is working. Your articulation of your experience helps me to understand, thank you for sharing them.

  • Roxanne says:

    There are definitely people out there listening, Henry Boy. Every time I come across a piece of your writing, I am amazed by your insights and how well they describe experiences our family has had with mental illness. I can’t wait for your memoir to come out so I can hold in my hands a collection of your thoughts, for comfort and for wisdom. Thank you for your work! It’s helping many, many people.

Leave a Reply