For most normal people, when the alarm goes off they wake up, get out of bed, and head for the shower. They wash up, towel off, brush their teeth, and comb their hair. Getting dressed for the day usually follows, along with breakfast and a little screen time. They walk, ride, or drive to work, clock in, and go about their workaday duties.
On a coffee break they might chat with coworkers. At lunch they might read a book or go for a walk. After work they may hit the gym, or stop by the grocery or grab some take-out. They eat dinner, unwind, relax, and put the day behind them. If there’s pets or kids, it’s time to tuck in, and then it’s lights out. On the weekends there’s recreation, movies, sports events, and TV.
For them, “managing” means “being in charge” or “maintaining control.” It’s different for the one-in-four people internationally who live with a mental illness, especially when it comes to managing said illness. Here it might mean “success in doing, achieving, or producing [something],” or even “coping or dealing with [something].” The ordinary often seems overwhelming. The odds are often against.
I’m one of the 1.1% of Americans living with schizophrenia. I’ve managed my illness on my own for many years now, most effectively in recent times. I get an injection every twenty-eight days to control my psychotic symptoms. I take eight pills a day for anxiety, depression, and OCD. I see my therapist every week, my psychiatrist once a month, and I meet with my case manager about every six weeks.
It may not sound like much, but with the memory malfunction and low grade confusion that accompanies schizophrenia, I’m sometimes hard-pressed to remember when to take my meds, if I’ve taken my meds, and when to make my appointments. It’s all in my phone and on stickies and 3×5 neon note cards, reminding me at every turn that I have a responsibility to myself, and—oh, yeah—that I’m mentally ill.
My day goes something like this: my alarm goes off and I sleep through it because my nightly meds pack a soporific punch. When I wake up, I’m disoriented. It’s a challenge to recognize my surroundings, even though it’s the same bedroom I fell asleep in hours before.
Once I come to enough to get myself out of bed, I stumble into the bathroom and take a shower. Sometimes I have trouble maintaining my balance due to the sedative nature of my meds. I towel off, count out loud the number of times I run the deodorant stick under my arms (equal numbers on both sides, and if I screw up I have to start over). I finish my routine by brushing my teeth. Ordinary things managed. Success.
I have my sweatpants and tee-shirts arranged near my bed so that I can get dressed without thinking. If I decide to put any thought into what I’m going to wear, I do so the night before, and surprise myself in the morning with the choices I’ve made. I’m still sedated when I get to the kitchen to take my medications before making breakfast, typically just coffee and toast, even though I plan on putting something more substantial together.
My social media check turns into a technological torpor and I lose track of the hours that pass until it’s time for my midday meds. My feed is peppered with posts from a handful of mental health sites, and I’m often reminded by cartoon or meme that I’m doing the best that I can. I take it to heart. I tell myself I’m ahead of the curve. After all, I woke up, got out of bed, showered, and got dressed—with a headful of cobwebs, confusion, and chemicals. Managing my life despite the odds.
I’m not the only one.
I know there aren’t awards given for waking up, showering, and getting dressed, but there needs to be some form of acknowledgement. Performing the simple, daily tasks that normal people take for granted isn’t easy, especially while simultaneously managing a mental illness. Depression might keep you from getting out of bed because a reason to do so just won’t materialize. Anxiety might have you frantically examining your wardrobe, unable to make a choice, and ultimately giving up and going back to bed. Cognitive dysfunction might hijack your memory or your concentration, making remembering to take your meds seem like an impossible task.
We do all the normal things while overriding the insecurity and uncertainty that self-stigma hammers us down with. We manage that, which takes a certain strength. So be proud. Take time to practice some self-care in your own inimitable way. Live your best life. You deserve it.