Stability is subtle. If you knew me when I was sick and struggling, you’d see enough of a change in me today that I might appear normal. Not pretending to be normal to blend in, but less awkward, less preoccupied, more present. That’s what I want, to be free to be mentally ill and still be a part of the landscape of human connection without the pretense of convention.
I believed that it was somehow normal for insects to live under the skin. I was too embarrassed to seek help because I never thought anything was wrong. Even after I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I kept my bug problem to myself. It’s only recently that I’ve opened up about it in therapy. I’ve dealt with it since my first break at twenty-one.
Since getting my medications adjusted sixteen months ago, I’ve become incrementally capable of responding to the common reality despite schizophrenia’s influence. I’m more keenly aware of the difference between what I think is happening and what is actually happening. I’m growing more adept at handling reality as it comes to me, carefully sidestepping any mental pitfalls that might otherwise derail my ensuing thoughts and reactions.
When I was fresh out of college and struggling with my symptoms, my brother was there for me, listening without judgement as I shared my stories of paranoia. His compassion and strength helped calm me down. He was an anchor in the chaos of my volatile youth. A lover of life, he thwarted my suicide attempts and helped me rediscover my own will to live.
Society still paints with a broad brush when it comes to The Other. We’re raised from an early age to be aware of our differences rather than our similarities, which, when misdirected, can result in such ugliness as racism, sexism, and ageism. Mental illness is the last target for intolerant behavior, the last quarry for the cruel, because mental illness by its nature knows no division.
I am always living with mental illness. It doesn’t magically go away because I take medication. The drugs help me manage my symptoms. Therapy helps with questions about the effect of the symptoms on my psyche. Psychiatry helps with the basic practical details of the meds. It all keeps me out of the hospital, which I appreciate. Medicated, I’m better suited to navigate life’s challenges. I can almost feel normal.
Even though I’d been going to the ER regularly for panic attacks, I hadn’t accepted that I was struggling with mental illness on any level. Stigma confronted me at every turn; I was dealing with the same stereotypes that anyone influenced by culture would. I couldn’t make sense of my life.