It’s easy to get caught up in the effects that being mentally ill imposes on a person’s life. Even with all the medication and therapy, I have to accept that, as evidenced by the semi-racing thoughts and quasi-obsessive impulses—not to mention the occasional voices and delusions—my schizophrenic symptoms still run in the background like the sixty cycle hum of electromagnetic fields from appliances and wiring in our homes. It’s something we almost never notice.
Power was recently out in my neighborhood. I walked downstairs to the lobby of my apartment building and was struck by the odd silence. Hearing is one of our first senses to awaken. Even in our sleep our ears stay alert to audible input. It’s one of our primary defenses, protecting us from the wolves at the door. Remove the hum and we’re open to attack. Some might find it peaceful, and I can see that: the urban whine erased, lending a certain sheen to the invisible sonic cushion electricity provides. Like the common misconception of the promise of medication, that it somehow eradicates symptoms like a power outage shuts down a community. That’s not necessarily the case. Although often inactive these days, my symptoms are always present. Which means that, in a manner of speaking, I am always sick. I’ve just learned to manage it as best I can. I live with a serious and persistent mental illness.
There will be times when my symptoms break through the protection afforded by medication. That’s where therapy comes in. Talking with someone about my experiences lets me see other ways to address them. If I didn’t have ten years working with the same therapist, I might not have the level of rapport that lends itself to solution. I might still be struggling to understand the ways in which I have the power to help myself when I feel my symptoms emerging. While my psychiatrist helps by adjusting my meds, my therapist helps by adjusting my view. What role can I play in my recovery? Am I grounded enough to participate? Is it time to go to the hospital? I’ve been able to answer these questions better after years of dealing with my symptoms, and receiving the kind of help my psychiatric team provides.
I’m grateful for the relationships I’ve maintained with these professionals. I’m aware that I am lucky to have them. I understand that not everyone receives the right kind of care to help them maintain their mental health. Stigma and a lack of educational resources get in the way.
Many of the symptoms of mental illness can make asking for help difficult. Sometimes a person may not even know that they are sick; when they get over the cognitive hurdle, there’s still so much work to be done. Like obtaining referrals for primary and psychiatric care, getting blood draws to coordinate with medications, and choosing a case manager to help navigate the procedural Ps and Qs required by hospitals and insurance companies. Finding the right therapist to gain perspective on, and comprehension of, one’s disorder; helping make sense of what the doctors tell us.
Coming out as mentally ill is hard, or it can be. It’s one thing to discuss symptoms and solutions with a doctor; it’s something altogether different to disclose a diagnosis to a friend, family member, or coworker. Making the decision to be open about one’s mental illness can help strengthen already solid bonds of friendship and familiarity. Conversely, it can create distance between people, depending on their levels of comfort, education, and acceptance. One may become estranged from one’s family, leading to isolation and loneliness, two aspects of life that are challenging enough for a healthy mind.
A strong relationship is based on trust. Those relationships can be lifesavers when a person is in crisis. I have a treatment team in place, people I can call on when managing my symptoms becomes too much for me. I can ask for simple things like a ride to the grocery. I can ask for harder things like support when I need to go to the hospital. Because I can’t do everything on my own no matter how ideal that might seem.
Sometimes there’s a power cut, sometimes there’s a surge. Some days are harder than others, and some days are golden. I never know from one moment to the next, but I can plan for things to go right, and I do. I try to remain positive about the future. Considering the past, that’s not easy to do, but I’ve learned that taking a defeatist attitude does me no good. Adversity is impacting in a negative way, but it’s not the only way. Once I find my balance again after a break, I can be thankful and look forward to the times when schizophrenia doesn’t weigh me down. And that’s the point.