Sometimes I wonder if my friends and family think of me, and if so, what do they think? They are on my mind every day. I reminisce about time spent together. I think about how their days are now. I miss them. Sometimes I call, but more often than not I worry about interrupting their day. I wish we could get together. Easier when they live nearby, not so easy when they live far away. The thoughts are always there, though. I wonder if it’s a two-way street.
Do they remember who they thought I was before they knew my diagnosis of schizophrenia? Do they understand that I might have trouble connecting because of it? Sometimes I do, and that frustrates me because I miss out. I’m afraid to take the light rail. I’m wary of changing restaurants.
Does the diagnosis alter the way they perceive me? Nothing is different, but everything has changed. I’m still the person they experienced life with, I just have a name now for the things that occasionally set me apart. A word which defines my fears and loneliness, my quirky behavior, my sometimes obtuse communication. Maybe the name itself scares them off. That I could see. After all, there’s a lot of misunderstanding around the term.
Do they get tired of me talking about mental health issues? I wonder if writing my blog shows them how much advocacy means to me. I would hope that they are proud of me for what I can contribute and that they don’t feel awkward about me publishing my thoughts for the world to read. Who am I to them, and how will I ever know?
These are the kinds of questions that run through my mind, questions born of insecurity, self-stigma, and shame. Shame for being mentally ill, for not being normal and fitting in. Shame for not working a nine-to-five job, not having a family, not owning a home. Insecure for the years of listening to voices tell me how to act and what to think about myself and the world around me.
Medication helps to keep my symptoms under control, but they still bleed through when stress rears its ugly head. Anxiety finds a crack in the surface and pushes its way in. The questions follow.
I don’t feel sorry for myself, though. Far from it. I’m proud of the work that I do. When I receive compliments on my writing, I am more appreciative than I have words for. Knowing that, in some way, something I’ve written may have helped another person is enough for me, a form of thanks in and of itself.
Things that seem commonplace to the rest of society can be major achievements for someone living with a mental illness. For example, when I get the laundry done or prepare a meal, I feel accomplished. What others take for granted in their day-to-day living, I feel daunted by and proud to overcome. Sometimes I think that I’d like a little recognition for it, for doing something as trivial as making the bed or scrubbing the tub, but I’m happy just to know that I managed to do it. Self-stigma would tell me I’m not worthy of that pat on the back, that I should just suck it up, that everyone else can do for themselves and that it’s no big deal. But it is. When my symptoms derail my thoughts and actions, it’s a very big deal to be able to overcome those obstacles and accomplish even the most menial of tasks.
Valuing myself isn’t enough. Everyone enjoys some recognition. I’m no different. Except that what I need to do to get to the finish line might, on the occasion, require more of me than it would a normal person. I’ve accepted this conundrum even though it annoys me. Sometimes I feel like a complete fool, going about my apartment doing my chores and feeling somehow special for completing them. Maybe I’m the one who needs to see myself differently. I know I’m more than just the talkative friend or the absent-minded brother, but when I think of myself I see myself through what I imagine are the eyes of the people that I love, and I hope they see a person accepting his challenges head-on. Because that’s the truth.
The questions are a puzzle I consider to help keep me right-sized. I need to reach out from behind the illness. That’s where I need strength. That’s where my treatment plan and my phone tree come in. That’s where I discover the answers. Outside myself, where I’m afraid to look. In the eyes of others where the heart speaks volumes.