While most folks might talk about how well their kids are doing in school, how their vacation plans are shaping up, or how grueling their recent tax audit was, we share stories about therapy, medication tremors, and drooling. And we find humor in it. Because we can. Because it takes out the sting. We find a commonality that we can’t share with the general population, not even our psychiatrists or therapists.
The longer that Howie remained at Greystone, the more he began to be called by different nicknames. The most popular (and, remember, his peers were all 15 to 17 years old) was “Crazy Howie”. Over time, amongst the large group of peers we both knew, I became known, by extension, as “Crazy Howie’s Little Brother”. I didn’t like the nicknames for Howie or for me. I like it even less, at this time, as I recognize it for all of it’s insensitivity and rudeness. It reminds me of the greater level of both a pervasive unknowing and a continued heightened level of ignorance which still exists today.
I have nowhere to go but up. I need to ask questions. I need to be acknowledged with answers. It’s about respect and information. Choices and determination. I have the potential to be a vital and integral cog in society. I tell my story because I want it to mean something. In that way I am no different than anyone else.
There is still a battle to be fought against stigma and discrimination, but my current objective is to subdue the vexation as I step out of the mind’s cage and into the real world. Only then will I be fit enough to advocate unfettered.
It takes a high level of trust to tell your therapist things you wouldn’t share with your best friend. How and when did that trust begin? Not with the initial greeting at the door. That could just as easily have been a ruse. While I don’t claim to own the full property rights to paranoia, it is in my diagnosis as a defining character; I’m going to find a flaw in the trust module until I don’t. Perhaps you’re the same. I believe that trust begins to form the more that we open up in session. It starts when you drop the mic on something as honest as you can muster and watch as your therapist responds to you with kindness and understanding rather than the awful cold shoulder received by so many. To be accepted for who we are by this one person — that’s the key. To feel understood. To be understood.
My parents have since told me that, at that time, Howie was telling them both things that sounded fearful to the point of paranoia, and that he was frequently agitated and depressed. I remember sitting with my parents at the small, round, cluttered dining room table and asking them, “What’s going on with Howie?” They told me that they honestly weren’t sure, but knew that he was suffering inside emotionally. They told me that they had made an appointment for Howie to be seen by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. I remember them looking perplexed, exhausted, and seemingly helpless to what was going on. It was exactly how I felt.
It was hard to accept my diagnosis. It’s been hard to accept recovery. This is something no one can prepare you for; you have to find out on your own. No one talks about it. The subject is virtually taboo. So I’m turning myself over to my community; we have a stake in the silver linings department. It may be a little early to put out the welcome mat, but homesick or not, I’m already home.
I want to belong to a culture that accepts a person living with a mental illness for who they are rather than opting for stereotypes. Those hackneyed institutions need to be challenged, and who better to do that than us, the people with the diagnoses? We have a voice. Let’s use it.
On the other hand, I can focus like never before. All of my ducks are not only in a row, they’re driving the bus and, for once, I’m not under it. The disordered mind has had a makeover. Complete sentences form in my head, lined up one after the other in a nice, sequential fashion, just like real people only more so. Train of thought not derailed? Unheard of until now. Full steam ahead. And listening? Following along? Gotcha covered. I’m all ears. Making me spectacular date material. Nobody “Friend Zones” a good listener.
What we say and how we say it isn’t just about talking in the safety of our friends who agree with us. It’s about putting ourselves out there when the time is right, when the situation will benefit from it. So go eat something healthy, take a nice walk, and keep those conversations alive. The future of change is in our hands.
So we find ourselves in a difficult place sometimes. How brave do we have to be? I’d say the answer lies in how much humanity we have within ourselves. Getting past the symptoms and the stigma is one thing; reaching out and bonding is another. Both are necessary to move us further along the path to self-awareness and support. Let’s keep those conversations going. Initiate the change with one kind word.