Sometimes the symptoms of my schizophrenia cut through unexpectedly. I’ve grown so accustomed to my days being level that the interrupted flow of life seems more pronounced than when disruption was the rule. I’ve asked my psychiatrist about this and he’s been supportive and informative, letting me know that it’s not uncommon for symptoms to break through some small percentage of the time. After all, I’ve been ill for much longer than I’ve been medicated. The effects are still new to me and most days are symptom free, but recently I experienced a lapse in my continuity which gave me pause to consider.
My thought processes were jumbled and chaotic, which didn’t make sense. My sleep was sufficient, my diet balanced, and I wasn’t isolating. I got out for exercise, walking three miles or more per day. Calories in were higher than calories out, consciously evading my eating disorder. For all practical purposes, I was doing the right things. The obtrusive incidents caught me off guard by being so out of the ordinary. I would speak to someone and watch as a look of confusion spread across their face. I listened carefully to my speech, wondering if I were presenting coherently, even to the point of being excessively self-conscious, which only amplified my discomfort. I’d grown accustomed to holding up my end of a conversation. I started feeling like I fit in. Maybe these were some of those breakthrough episodes my psychiatrist had mentioned.
When I hear voices now, I can take them in stride. Not to suggest that it doesn’t startle me every time. It does. Having audio hallucinations is always jarring—the initial shock never wears off. I don’t have the voices that are kind and reassuring, only the disturbing and derogatory ones. Occasionally I’ll hear something in the walls, or experience the odd delusion that people in a video are talking directly to me, but these days those events are less frequent.
I can only judge the difference between being symptomatic and living a more balanced life from the perspective of being medicated today. It’s like waking up to reality from a vivid dream and, for a fleeting moment, feeling as if those two domains weren’t so much apart. As if they were distinctively unique yet on the same continuum. Are the two really that separate? Is the breakthrough merely bleed-through? How do the lines delineate? Where do I end and the medicines begin?
Six months ago I was coming home from the hospital after spending the season battling the worst bout of psychosis since my illness disrupted my college years. Much of what I experienced last autumn was lost to amnesia, and has had to be pieced together from accounts by my friends who were there. All I have on my own are vague memories, like half-forgotten scenes from old werewolf movies, both before and after transformation. I was falling down and speaking in tongues; I’d gone walkabout in a fugue state and suffered a concussion. There was no way to tell my psychotic condition from my healthy, lived experience. They were so keenly cleaved that one would assume they were worlds apart, yet in my mind, I was as seemingly together as my roommates. I was just “having trouble standing up.”
Today, I experience a new normal. For one thing, I’m a vertical man—I no longer concern myself with falling. That was terrifying. During my stay at the hospital, I made do with a walker. When I got home, I used a cane to steady myself. Now I take hiking trails with confidence. I can hold a conversation without second-guessing myself. My thoughts don’t race or lapse into stream-of-consciousness babble. I don’t talk to myself in public or laugh uncontrollably at nothing with no one. I’m more self-assured. It’s easier to navigate daily life, like grocery shopping or taking the bus. It may seem simple, but I’m proud to be able to pay my bills and check my bank balance. If a symptom sneaks in under the radar of medication, I’ve got to be vigilant and check in with my psychiatrist or my therapist to right myself. Finding the wherewithal to do so is a part of the new normal, whereas before I would have been baffled and just avoided doing anything to help myself.
I look forward to the day when balance is run-of-the-mill. I’m stable now and I hope things continue to improve. I’ve got it pretty good compared to how things used to be.