“Someone forgot to take their meds!” the man shouted to the riders on the bus. “Happens every time!” he laughed.
I felt a sickening jolt in the pit of my stomach and wondered briefly, “Is it me?” but it couldn’t have been. I have a note stuck to the fridge which I put in my empty cereal bowl the night before, like I do most every evening, to remind myself to take my medicine. One of the most common downsides of living with schizophrenia is having to deal with working-memory loss, those immediate short-term memories that help us navigate the day. I still have little-to-no retention, even medicated, hence the drawer full of Sharpies and three-by-five notes pads. It pays to be prepared. I had nothing to worry about, but the boisterous comedian concerned me for a moment.
The passenger he was referring to was a non-English speaking individual riding the bus with her dog for what appeared to be the first time. She didn’t seem to understand the instructions regarding fare payment, or the rule of not allowing pets to ride on the seats. And for this, the comic cracked wise. I felt compassion for the woman. It wasn’t that long ago that learning new bus routes was an ordeal for me, too.
I was on my way downtown for an appointment at the state courthouse. This was a big deal, turning in my paperwork early for a case. That I managed to fill out all of the forms correctly made me feel like a real person and not the schizophrenic that I am sometimes ashamed to be. I say ashamed because I want my mental faculties to operate at maximum efficiency and not at a slower pace than another, non-mentally ill person. I want to be able to focus, to compartmentalize. My medications help with that, but it’s a process that I constantly need to review and renew. I’m never entirely out of the woods. Where I used to freely associate I now slog along like a tortoise, so I let self-stigma influence my self-image. I’m not proud of that, it’s just true. Accomplishing something challenging makes all the difference in the world. I walked into the courthouse with a little pride in my step. I’d managed to do something others take for granted. That felt good. However, the feeling didn’t last.
The security guard at the gate treated me like an outcast. Maybe it was my clothing or my stride, but, for whatever reason, he regarded me with a certain amount of disdain that he hadn’t shown to the other people entering the building. I kept my composure and followed the rules. Belt off, wallet and phone out, keys in the tray, coat on the conveyor belt. Standard operating procedure. When he invaded my personal space in an attempt to move me along, I tried to neutralize the tension by asking him a question. I showed him my stainless steal medical ID bracelet and asked why it didn’t set off the alarm. When he read the word “schizophrenia” printed across the band, he abruptly backed away from me. The name of my illness caused a disturbance. It was an uncomfortable moment.
I stepped out of the queue to put myself back together, and headed for the elevator. The staff in the office I was visiting were pleasant, reaffirming my belief that people are basically good. On my way out of the building I smiled to the security guard and said that I’d see him next week. He nodded but didn’t smile. The other officers did. Perhaps he was having a bad day. Maybe he didn’t like my looks. Or it could’ve been that the word “schizophrenia” startled him. It didn’t need to affect me either way. Still, I found it troubling that I’d had to encounter two types of stigma in one morning, from the man on the bus and the guard at the door. Two instances where I questioned my self worth because of someone else’s agenda.
The comedian was clearly making fun of the new rider, but nobody laughed at his jokes. He was the only person who thought he was funny. Of all the things he could have said, why did it have to be a slight towards mentally ill people and their necessary regimen of self care? His air of superiority showed the kind of person that he was—condescending and assuming. The security guard’s recoil when he read my bracelet gave me pause to wonder—was he taken aback and feeling wrong for riding me, or did it fortify his position that I was an undesirable person? I’ll never know. It just made me think.
Sometimes that’s what it’s all about, this life where I work hard to overcome my mental health challenges and blend into the fabric of life. This is where I need to remember that I can advocate for myself as well as others, that we all can, and that the future of how we’re perceived rests solely on our will to be understood and accepted on equal ground.
My friend you are not mentally ill. You as I have a brain difference and it makes us unique. We cannot measure ourselves with others or we will continue to find flaws. Just remember that “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine. 🙂
Personally, I choose to say, “I have a mental illness” rather than attempt to whitewash a definite defect in my brain circuitry. Although I manage my symptoms well enough to have a career, friendships, and an active, happy life, there are still occasions when events will trigger a relapse. A relapse can be serious and require weeks of missed work, lost income, and of course, meds and therapy. For this reason, the label “mental illness” is appropriate. It allows me to be mindful of the chance for symptoms to emerge again if I’m not careful; it allows me to plan for that possibility accordingly; it allows me to discuss and explain with my employers and friends a situation that I may need assistance with managing in the future.
Thanks, Martha. I love that quote about “normal” – it always makes me smile. 🙂
Thank you for sharing …have a blessed day and a great big
Thank you, Kathy. Sharing our stories is key to progress, both socially and in the medical world, too. Bless you.
Henry—so sorry this type stuff still takes place in our society and you were made to feel any of this—I see it all the time–I guess because I’m looking for it and prepared like the momma bear I am to (yes an adult with a brain difference) to pounce on the first person who looks at him sideways for his many individual beautiful ways of life….I just wish somehow someway every individual used the compassion and empathy I know God instilled in them! Makes me angry when I see such behavior in making another individual feel less but I also have learned through the eyes and heart of my child that everyone just doesn’t get it and even though hard—I have to show love and kindness no matter what and in that mean time–that speaks volumes to them as opposed to my wanting to just tell them off!!!! Although I’ve done that a time or two as well…
Yes, you yet again open the eyes of folks with your blog and I say it every time— YOUR WORDS…OUR GIFT!!!
Take care my friend—I always have a prayer for you!
Thank you, Monica. Stigma and discrimination toward the mentally ill community are all pervasive, it seems. I posit that it’s likely due to ignorance, a lack of actual contact with mental illness, and probably insecurities on the behalf of the naysayer. I believe, as you do, that people are basically good, which makes the prejudicial remarks that much more disturbing when we hear them. Love and kindness are the best tools at our disposal. We use them to assist one another, and they work as implements of forgiveness, too. That’s why I offered a smile to the security guard. We need to share our stories and be bigger than the ignorance. I think that’s the only way we’ll see any changes or reform. Blessings to you and yours!
How I look forward to your posts Henry! Your words speak for my family member, who is still unable to speak for himself. My lighthouse ♡ My hero , you !
Thank you, Carol. I’m glad that my writing helps some. I hope the best for your loved one. It took me a long time to find my voice, and it showed up in print (I still have trouble face-to-face, but medicine is helping that). Keep the faith! 🙂
You wrote “I want my mental faculties to operate at maximum efficiency and not at a slower pace than another, non-mentally ill person. I want to be able to focus, to compartmentalize. My medications help with that, but it’s a process that I constantly need to review and renew. I’m never entirely out of the woods.”
I so appreciate the effort you are making to explain to people how this illness impacts your cognitive functioning. I’ve mentioned to you before in my comments that I have a friend who was diagnosed with schizophrenia ten years ago. He, too, has a variety of cognitive challenges, and he is using medication to manage them. He is also now, to my incredibly huge pride, attending law school at a very reputable university. Despite living with the daily burdens of an illness, he operates at a level of efficiency that allows him to pursue a meaningful and rewarding life, and to work towards an emotionally fulfilling future.
When we first met, my overriding goal was to demonstrate to him that recovery is possible. (Since I’d been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder years before that, and had completed a BA and an MA and been working for years, raised a son, etc., I felt my own life offered adequate proof of recovery.) I’d like to say that our friendship has been a steady stream of insight and new awareness for me but that would only be half the truth! It’s been that, and it’s also been a steady stream of confusion, frustration, sadness, anger, forgiveness, and hope. I can say with certainty he feels the same way.
We who struggle with these diseases are no different than any other people who long for a satisfying life. We deserve no less than others who struggle with illness – better care, better treatment, and the prospect of medications that allow us to reach our full human potential.
Thanks for highlighting this so precisely in your blog.
And lest I avoid revealing more about my own battle, let me just say that I need a TON of “downtime” to keep myself functioning smoothly. I work full-time in a busy office and interact all day with clients, but to do that requires that I be able to go home and reflect in a calm, peaceful environment. I often spend the entire weekend in semi-seclusion, and that allows me ample space and time to encounter myself – my inner world of feelings, needs, and longings. I don’t know many other people who need so much “alone time”, other than maybe artists or academics. For me, it is essential. But for each person in recovery, there is a unique path to wellness, and others may find they need something else – immersion in music, the arts, social gatherings, or any variety of other experiences – to live a healthy life.
All the best.
Smileandrelax, thanks for writing in.
Good to hear that your friend is making strides forward in school. I have a friend with bipolar disorder who recently graduated college. Here’s to them both!
Over the years that I’ve written for BringChange2Mind I have covered a wide variety of subjects, but I always return to cognitive functioning, probably because it is so important to me. When, in my crazier moments, I freely associate to a degree that’s almost un-trackable, the contrast medicated is so pronounced that I feel it’s worth sharing about in print. I appreciate that you noticed this. It’s easily overlooked.
You’re correct in that recovery is possible. You’re also right when you address, as you did to Martha, that symptoms can emerge again if care is not taken. I keep my regimen up religiously to avoid a relapse, as I gather that you might as well. The wisdom comes in our experience of the difference. Diligence is key. It’s a good point that you brought up.
As for the “downtime”, I totally get it. I find it in my own ways—dining out with friends, relaxing at home with a good book, taking a long walk through the park—and it helps. I find myself energized when the medications would otherwise have me feeling dulled, and the time allows me to reset my mental health clock, as it were, so that I don’t fall prey to the things that pull me under (self-stigma being the major culprit). As you say, paths to wellness and a healthy life.
I empathize. Words like “crazy” bother me, for instance, even though I like songs that have it in there, too. So, I have mixed feelings about that one. I also was rejected from a 3-month winter retreat, recently, due to my having schizoaffective disorder. I’m still dealing with my disappointment about that I believe doing that retreat would have changed my life, and I’d have felt fulfilled in my calling to seek enlightenment, at least for that time being. My therapist, Soonja Kim, has said that if I had a more friendly relationship with my feelings, then I would not be mentally ill. I ponder that, sometimes. I try to have a better relationship with my feelings. My psychiatrist seems to think I will always need some kind of her treatment, though.I am currently using Louise Hay’s wonderful book, “Mirror Work,” which is amazing. It is a 21-day program, using affirmations, writing exercises, and meditations. I notice a BIG difference, after just 5 days. I woke up feeling great, this AM.
Vivian, thank you for your comment.
I think that with a word like “crazy” it’s all about the context. If a person is being thoughtless or cruel, then it’s the wrong word for sure.
There are many treatment paths that people choose, and they are as varied as the person making the choice. It sounds like you’ve found something that works for you. I am sorry to hear that your retreat plans didn’t come together—that sounds disappointing. Hopefully you will get another opportunity to explore enlightenment. My best wishes to you.