As children, my generation was taught that we can “make the world a better place.” Although I am a firm believer of this statement, a single question arises in my mind – how are we, the younger population, supposed to make a difference when most of our education surrounding mental illness comes from the unreliable and deceptive media?
My folded hands are pointing heavenward and my head is bowed in prayer. A scrumptious meal is spread out before me: cranberry sauce, a basket of rolls, a plateful of mashed potatoes and peas. In the center of the table is a golden, glazed turkey. I am five years old in this photograph. Everything about the dinner is fake. Everything but the prayer. I was praying for real food.
My brain lies to itself. The brain that I rely on for answers can’t always distinguish between the perception and the experience, the here-and-now and the “what ifs”. It cannot be fooled into believing what I tell it, because, as a mind, it has made up its own. A smile cannot turn a frown upside down. A positive attitude is no more a cure than is a sportswear slogan – “just doing it” doesn’t do it. My recovery depends upon communication. At all costs.
Over the decades, I’ve learned that there’s only so much I can do to ward off depression, disguised as ducks lined up in a row, waiting eagerly to march into my brain and screw me up. I should have seen this coming. Had it been summer, I’d have been expecting it, but because of the false sense of security that autumn brings, I let my guard down.
The stigma attached to schizophrenia, especially in children, prevents most families from having their child diagnosed when behaviors of hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance arise. Early-onset schizophrenia can be difficult to diagnose, to distinguish from typical play and imagination. But alarming symptoms like complete social withdrawal, bizarre hygiene rituals, or a pronounced lack of impulse control, should be apparent.
Avolition is defined as a pronounced restriction of initiation and production of meaningful goals. The word literally means “poverty of will.” It is one of the five main negative symptoms of schizophrenia, often mistaken for laziness, disinterest, or ennui. When avolition’s driving the bus, I can want to do something, but I can’t figure out how to do it or why I should. I lack the energy or power to make it happen. As a result, I miss out on life. I miss out on me. I don’t realize there’s a hole until I can’t find the shovel.
In the years leading up to my official diagnosis, I’d been on a journey to find out what was wrong with me. Going under the assumption that anyone with expensively framed degrees made them qualified to evaluate, diagnose, and treat whatever was causing my consistent dark thoughts, extreme anxiety and suicidal thoughts, was, to put it mildly, a big mistake.