In the immediate sense, there’s nothing I can do to avoid the funhouse ride of cascading symptoms once it begins. I strap in and practice my circular breathing. I close my eyes to get in touch with my body, to turn inwards and hopefully calm myself. If I can’t, my obsessive-compulsive disorder surfaces and my personal ritual of counting and cataloging begins, making my bus ride more of an endurance run than a simple crosstown commute.
If a symptom sneaks in under the radar of medication, I’ve got to be vigilant and check in with my psychiatrist or my therapist to right myself. Finding the wherewithal to do so is a part of the new normal, whereas before I would have been baffled and just avoided doing anything to help myself.
Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, I found myself feeling unnecessarily ashamed that I receive help from our state. Even though I have friends in the same boat, even though these programs are in place to help individuals like us, I still hang on to the self-stigma that shames me, or more succinctly put, I shame myself for.
At the end of the day, I found the reason for journaling, then as now. Keeping a record of my thoughts, delusions, and hallucinations, as well as my day-to-day experiences, offers a window into my illness, empowering me to take action toward my recovery.
Sometimes people will ask about the content of my writing. When I tell them that I focus on living with schizophrenia and related issues, they inquire about my involvement with mental health, and I have, as a result, shared my diagnosis. So it’s a chain of questions that gets me to divulge. I only go there when I feel it’s appropriate, but I won’t shy away from a little stigma-busting when the opportunity arises.
Explaining to someone why I was out of work and on disability was often more difficult than describing the terror of psychosis, probably because everyone understands what it’s like to have a job, and maybe lose one, but almost no one understands schizophrenia.
I saw the struggle she was going through and hoped, as her friend, that this would help her express the emotions she was feeling. After I finished choreographing my piece she told me, “This really helped me see through my uncles eyes.” I also believed Belleza’s personal connection with my piece would help her express my aunt’s emotions more sincerely through my choreography.
To the uninformed public, the word “schizophrenia” seems to provoke more fear than understanding. It carries with it years of stigma, from images of horror movie stereotypes, to coverage of mass shootings. As far as the media’s concerned, when it comes to such negative imagery, I’m the Big Bad, and yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m afraid of monsters, I’m not one of them.