I had asked the filing clerk for help, and she was very accommodating, given that I had explained to her that I was experiencing the morning through the lens of schizophrenia. So later, when I was alone in the restroom, why did I feel like crying? My head hurt from the complexities of the paperwork and the protocol, but it wasn’t something that I couldn’t handle. After all, I’d ridden the elevator twice, a big step considering my claustrophobia.
The old, familiar feelings of shame and self-stigma came flooding in. I knew what I was up against and it bothered me. I felt vulnerable and small. Having to go through the challenges of making sure that my paperwork was in order and that all the requirements were being met was wreaking havoc with my short term memory. I got out my notebook and wrote down my personal shorthand for everything the clerk said to me. This included instructions on walking two blocks outside the court house to get to the bank so that I could withdraw funds for my filing fees, another hurdle in the busy downtown streets. Two blocks. An eternity.
Anxiety was compounding the situation for me and I could feel myself reverting to the motherless son of my illness in short order. The signs were there, delusions were peeking through. Vehicular noise was assaulting and overwhelming. People lunching in the park outside the court house were all talking about me. Standing in front of the ATM I froze, believing that I didn’t know how to use it. The noise wouldn’t stop until I was back in the court house, sitting safely in my chair, awaiting acknowledgement from the clerk, who reacted as if nothing had happened in the few moments that I was gone. I went to the restroom to wash my face.
I had completed my paperwork to the satisfaction of the attorneys save for explaining that I lived with schizophrenia, as per one line in the paperwork with regards to mental health. And with that one line I felt like the whole house of cards I had so carefully crafted as self confidence seemed to crumble. The clerk was supportive and walked me through the legal morass with efficiency, all the while making sure that, according to my request, there was room to pause and question the proceedings should my memory fog over and I find myself lost.
I felt the beginnings of an anxiety attack coming on again when she said she’d be going to lunch. I’d lose my tether to the To Do world. I’d be on my own with a different clerk. Would he be as gentle a soul, as understanding, as accommodating as she? I had no idea. I excused myself to go sit alone in the empty waiting area. I texted my friend Jeff about pancakes, two components of my stability: my best friend and my favorite food. Thankfully he responded right away. I needed the familiarity.
With time, I calmed down and reminded myself that I had new chemistry at play, that my anti-anxiety meds were available to me as my PRN, and that eventually everything would slow back down to manageable. In my pre- medicated days the trip would have required a friend or two just to get me into the elevators, let alone through the paperwork maze. The ATM adventure would have escalated to the stuff of nightmares, and the coping mechanisms that I’d have had to draw upon would have been unwieldy. So I could give myself props for having gone through the entire experience on my own, alone, like a normal person.
This is what it’s like for me to live with a mental illness. I have well- meaning people telling me that I’m fine when that’s their uninformed opinion. They tell me that events like my court house experience are simple processes to go through, yet I find them extremely challenging to complete for all the symptomatic reasons that I’ve lived with for so long. I try. A lot. And often things work out. But it’s the process of getting from Point A to Point B that brings up issues of fear and anxiety, self-worth and facility, that I all too often find myself wondering: am I ever going to be better at life?
I have to remember to be kind to myself. Navigating the so-called real world takes more for some than it does for others; each case is as individual as the person experiencing it. No two are alike. If I can get through any one thing with some semblance of grace, then I deserve to pat myself on the back for having completed a job well done. And that includes a moment out for tears in the washroom.