I’ve heard many people say that 2016 was one of their most difficult years. For me, it started out as one of the most harrowing. In January I had attempted suicide while in the fog of a psychotic break, followed by a stay in the psychiatric hospital. From there I began in earnest a regimen of medications that have had a profound effect on my life. I say “in earnest” because I was finally ready to surrender to the truth of my diagnosis. I wasn’t going to make it on my own.
As I engaged in follow-up care, my life took on new meaning. My case manager helped me to get better medical coverage, get on board with the food stamps program, and increase my disability income. It took some work to get those strategies in place, and it takes some effort on my part to keep them current, redefining self-care in the process. Monthly trips to the psychiatrist were in order—making sure that my body was acclimating to the medications was paramount.
I’d been a staunch believer in the Big Pharma Conspiracy that doctors and pharmaceutical companies were “in it together” and that profiting from mentally ill people was their primary motivation. All it took was riding out the initial minor side effects and finding my sea legs a few months into my augmented treatment plan to realize that my previous noncompliance was unwarranted and quite possibly damaging.
I had been comfortable living my life in the fringe of psychosis. I worried that my art would suffer. But I’ve managed to surprise myself as a medicated man in that my creativity has not faltered. Quite the contrary—my artistic focus has increased, and I feel like I am doing some of my best work to date. Medicine was key in discovering newfound stability.
Admittedly, I don’t like the added physical weight that I now carry, or the nervous trembling that has become a part of the new normal. The somnambulist-like dullness that sometimes accompanies my thoughts is disconcerting, but I’m learning through research and psychotherapy that those occasional lulls in perception have likely more to do with the nature of my disorder than with the side effects of medication.
In therapy I have begun the process of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to treat my trauma issues and reroute my responses to psychological stress. So far the results have been successful, and I look forward to experiencing my memories in a less distressing way.
The public housing authority recently confirmed that they are ready to interview me for placement in a rent-controlled apartment. Hopefully, I might be moving as soon as next spring. It is as if all the parts are falling into place, coming together to make my life more doable, given what I deal with as a person living with schizophrenia.
I finished my book this year and have submitted the manuscript to the right kind of people to help me see publication be something more than just a dream. I’d never have been so bold or brave before the meds. I’d still be second guessing my abilities as a writer, attaching my self worth to that, and generally losing faith as self-stigma increased. Now all I need to do is follow the next indicated step.
2016 saw the formation of The Breakfast Club: two friends who are a part of my support team meet with me at my favorite restaurant every other week. It gives me something to look forward to, and an opportunity to interface with people the way I imagine a normal person would. I don’t worry so much about being the mentally ill guy. I flip the perspective and feel real.
I’m learning to take care of myself. I don’t shy away from a new task because of self-doubt or worry. My anxiety appears to be in check, as does my depression, and my delusional states. Over the past eleven months my personal chemistry has a newfound equilibrium. With the introduction of balance I find myself feeling more capable and serene.
I’m not glad that I tried to take my life, but I realize the gift in my terrible break from reality. I have order where there once was chaos, strength where there once was fear. I have hope where there was none. I have faith.
Looking back, I get to look ahead. I anticipate tough times, but I know I’ll get through them. Paranoia is the first word in my diagnosis, but I won’t let it be the last. I am witnessing the results of my treatment plan in action, something I hadn’t seen until now. So if I keep at it I’m sure that more good things will come. Good or bad, you can count on me to write about it.
Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to a stigma-free future.