I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t want to drown. I recognized those first waves of panic, and immediately followed the self-care moves I’ve learned to trust. Drew a hot bath and hid from the cutlery. Got in the tub and hit speed dial. I needed a friendly voice – someone to talk to, a foothold in the common world. And really, that’s the goal: to stay connected to the rest of you as best I can. That’s something most people take for granted. I can’t. I won’t. Although I’m not my illness, I need to respect its power. Schizophrenia has a mind of its own. Times like yesterday, I think it wants to kill me.
It’s Day Two now, and I’m grounding myself. Drinking tea in the safety of my writing corner with my books and my raggedy old bear. On reentry I need familiar things, quiet things, magic things playing at everyday object. Something to buffer the aftershock of breaking down alone. Losing one’s mind, however briefly, is not for the faint of heart. Which lets me know I’m one of the strong ones.
I’ve heard it said that the Universe never closes a door without opening a window. In my case, one symptom never shows up without cracking open the whole box. Anxiety invites panic brings terror welcomes madness. It’s the dirty bomb I live with whose unpredictability is akin to catching lightning in a butterfly’s teeth.
Schizophrenia is misrepresented in the media’s shorthand because to depict a story visually, it has to be. It’s a way for them to illustrate the disordered mind. They’re looking for an answer that conforms to the conventional image presented to society for centuries. We butter our popcorn with cultural shame.
There is nothing romantic about a mind in psychosis. To the person trapped within it, the experience is immediate and terrifying. Everything is the same is familiar is not is significant is pointless and ultimately numb. Where’s the romance in that? Is the idea that a mind freed of restraint is somehow liberating? To whom? I was hostage to a nightmare yesterday. The fallout from those thoughts lingers with me as I type.
I do everything available to manage my illness, but there are days when it finds a way out. It slithers around the corners of therapy, slips under the covers of medication, and insinuates itself into my consciousness like the slickest symbiote’s kiss. I believe its seduction: I’m dying. The cynic would say we die each moment of our lives, but I am really dying. Right here, right now. I may already be dead, dreaming a cadaver’s dream of living and listening to this endless loop of a lie.
I am alone. It is the end of the End of Days. There is no love. Love is not real. It’s as fake as the artist’s pain that creates a masterpiece. Lips in a mirror, blood in the sand, the symbiote oozing past the doctor’s orders. That kind of alone. The crushing realization that no one will ever hold you close and listen to your secrets. Because you’re mad. You’re society’s bastard child, the news media’s scapegoat for every unsolved murder. You don’t deserve to be loved. You’re worthless. It’s not a bedtime story to teach you manners. This is it. You’re on your own. You’re outside the capsule, drifting into the cold mouth of space. Ground Control is a lie. Sorry, Major Tom. There’s nothing wrong. We can hear you, we just don’t care.
In the blink of an eye, the bulk of those last two paragraphs can saturate my very being. Persistent. Dull. A suffocating apprehension. There is no escape from thoughts like these. I know this – and my illness knows that I know. I pick up the phone and draw the bath and hide in the dark and pray for connection. I’ve trained myself to do this when the inevitable arrives. Yes, inevitable. And reliably unpredictable. It’s built into the disorder’s DNA. I can no more escape the effects of schizophrenia than I can escape being surrounded by air. We share the same space. It is symbiotic. Acknowledging that fact gives me the upper hand. It’s taken me years to surrender to this truth, and through acceptance I have afforded myself the necessary tools to survive.
I’m not perfect. I’m not trying to be. I work hard to live in harmony with a society that misunderstands me. But I don’t hold them in contempt. Why should I? Because they trivialize my disorder for box office receipts while dismissing mental illness as a myth? Giving in to such misguided negativity would only reinforce the stigma. No, thank you. I’d rather lasso that butterfly. It could change this hurricane’s path in a heartbeat.
I am thankful for you that you have found a method that works for you,a hot bath and a phone call. I hope that there will always be someone, who is understanding and loving, available to answer the phone.
Can you even imagine what inmates with schizophrenia must be experiencing, not being able to get away from their own thoughts?
Respectfully, Laura, I am never able to get away from my own thoughts, which was the point of my blog. I don’t have to imagine being in jail because I am already imprisoned in my own mind. Understand that I am adamantly opposed to our society’s incarceration of people living with true mental health diagnoses, as they deal with the exact same debilitation that a person like myself, non-incarcerated, does. Daily. Schizophrenia is a prison of its own. It’s not about the walls and the bars, it’s about our cultural stigma and the discrimination that follows. That’s where we need to take the fight. My bath is the equivalent of another person’s blanket – it’s a placebo for comfort when I have none. My phone lets me call out through the bars of my own mental cell to hopefully find a voice out there somewhere. If you have a friend or a loved one in the system, please reach out to them when you can (if its allowed), because they need to know that you can be their friendly voice. Schizophrenia is terrifying alone. We need people who will listen and who care. Thanks for commenting.
Thank you, Karen. I encourage you to share your story, too. It’s how we can all beat the stigma. Cheers!
Amazing words once again—you are my absolute favorite to read!!!
Thank you, Monica – it means a lot to have regular readers; the show of support means we’re making progress in this movement to enlighten the public and eradicate the stigma against mental illness. Kudos to you!
Well said. Although I can’t imagine having schizo-effecive disorder, struggling with major depression and social anxiety I can relate to your feeling of isolation and loneliness. It amazes me, yet surprises me not at all that society and media denies the realness of mental illness. Thank you for sharing your story.
Thanks for commenting, Kevin. Isolation and loneliness are noted cornerstones in depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia (my particular diagnosis), as well as others. I agree with you that our culture has trouble accepting the reality of those documented symptoms, likely because they’re able to select their feelings and related experiences at will; they make the incorrect assumption that we can as well, and therein lies the “reason” for the misunderstanding. This where sharing our individual stories comes into play: those of us living with mental illnesses need to speak out, need to get the conversations going, and need to educate ourselves so that the information we share with them comes from reliable sources and not from personal opinion. The fight against stigma and discrimination will only be won with the peaceful sharing of information. It’s a challenge, but we know we’re worth it!
Henry, That had to take alot to put that out their and explain what you go through and I hope it gives you some freedom from it in doing so. I also hope it helps others to have a better understanding and be able to have more empathy towards people with mental illness. My son struggles with bipolar polar and I understand the stigma and the fact that others have no idea what you go through. Thank You!
Claudia – thank you for your kind words. That you and your son struggle together shows incredible strength. Family connections are so vital to one’s mental wellbeing, and the support is paramount to maintaining balance in a topsy-turvy world. Yes, this blog took a lot out of me – I wrote most of it while I was still under the darkness of that recent episode. I wanted to share a firsthand account of the terror and confusion so that people without a mental illness could get a clearer picture than the stigmatized version too often perpetrated by the news and entertainment industries. I hope along with you that understanding and empathy can win out. We all need to share our experiences, and educate ourselves and one another, about the true lives of people affected by mental illness. BC2M is a terrific place to start! Thanks again for commenting.
Good vivid work. Good rebound. Dont know what else to say.
Thanks, Phil – it’s the rebound that presents the challenge. Finding one’s sea legs, as it were. That’s why I continue to share – so that people can see the process in action and develop a better understanding of what we go through.
Wonderful blog! Thank you for sharing your struggles.
Thanks, Nicole. If you would like to read more of my blogs, while they’re not in digest form anymore, you can click my name on the main blog tab and it should run you back through them in reverse chronology (about 2 years worth). Maybe there’s a few in there that you might like to share. Every little bit helps fight the stigma, right? Cheers! 🙂
Thank you for sharing your experience. I have depression and OCD, the latter of which often gets trivialized by the media. I really appreciate your comment about not holding society in contempt because of the stigma. I agree that it would give the negativity too much power.
I’m thankful for your posts. And you.
Thank you for sharing your journey with me. I see through a major depressive disorder. I also have ptsd. I never was normal as they say,lol, but always the quiet one not really sure what was going on. Because of all the input from inside me, life has so far been very confusing and I wonder at people I know who just get up in the morning and get going and are able to do that. Anyway u inspire me, and I enjoy the way in which u express yourself. Thank u again for sharing.
You capture so magnificently the awful aloneness and piercing
pain of psychosis. Shedding the shame is a daily occupation.
In acceptance there is a measure of peace and for me it gives
way to a subtle defiance…yes, so what that I have been psychotic
with no guarantees that I could tumble into that abyss at
any moment… I’m still me and I am worthy of your respect
My mind is not my master…my heart is my true essence.
I live with mixed severe bipolar and PTSD. You have so explicitly and thoroughly put the feelings of a suicidal experience into words! Thank you for sharing everyone! It helps peers and reducing stigma. I’m working on picking up the phone instead of just staying in bed when things get scary.