I can remember when I got the news. It was 2006 after a period of almost two years of the irrational fear that people were making fun of me, which then elevated to agoraphobia and delusions that I was a prophet and that the TV and the radio were talking to me and sending me secret messages.
It all came to a head when I was unequivocally convinced that I was tasked with saving the world from it’s ills. I went on a cross country trip to the U.N. to spread a message of peace thinking it was my divine ordination. When I got home I was greeted with a mandatory seventy-two hour hold at the psych ward in the community hospital. That seventy-two hours turned into seven days and somewhere around the fifth day I was told I had a chronic incurable brain disorder called schizophrenia.
This was a condition that had to be managed, I was told, I would have to take powerful antipsychotic medication every day for the rest of my life and I had to accept that the things I thought were so real were just tricks my brain was playing on me.
There’s an instant disconnect when people are told that they have an incurable disease that manifests itself as strongly with the various stages of grief as a loved one dying. The only difference is that the grief is for the life you had before everything changed. In a sense, once confronted with a serious diagnosis, the person you were before has in fact died. What’s left is a shell. Yes you are still alive, you still breathe, eat and sleep but it wouldn’t make much of a difference if you didn’t. As far as living is concerned, your life was over the moment they said those words. I can only speak to schizophrenia in this regard but I imagine the same could be said for any chronic incurable illness.
The months pass and nothing matters, you take your meds of course because there’s still a small part of you that wants the paranoia to stop and the delusions to go away and you begin to accept the fact that life would be ok if just those two things happened.
You don’t need dreams of success or happy relationships anymore, the only thing you need is to feel ok. You’re not going to kill yourself because you don’t think you could do it and you know your family would miss you but, to be completely honest, you are ready to go. You’d be fine with dying if something were to happen and there are moments where you wish a car would swerve into you or that the train would derail and there are nights where you hope that you’ll just stop breathing and you won’t wake up but you always do. You start to live just for the act of living because it’s all you can do and there really is nothing more if you really think about it.
Friends have come to wish you well but then disappeared because they see that you’re different, defeated and just different.
I can’t quite remember the point at which things changed, the point where I decided I wanted to live instead of just breathe. Maybe it was after feeling a loneliness so profound in my own house that I decided I had to be around people. Going to the same coffee shop day after day people started recognizing me and asking what I did and I never had an answer. Maybe the day I started living again could be traced to some point near the beginning of starting to write a book about my experience, only because all I’d ever done was write and people kept telling me it could be cathartic to write it all down. I’m sure there was some small point where I realized that my writing was still pretty good and maybe this thing could happen. Maybe I could write a book and be an author. That was when hope crept into the picture. It was a singular point or a series of points that compounded into a desire to find some success in life however small it may be.
Hope is a powerful thing, it keeps you going when you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and it keeps you on your feet even after they’re bloodied and blistered and so painful that it hurts to even stand up. Hope is that thing that makes you remember better days and wish that things could be like they were again.
Slowly the apathy of just breathing gave way in me to a desire to keep working, to keep fighting for a semblance of normalcy, stability and maybe even happiness.
It took years of practice to re-learn how to live, how to function normally and to put a smile on my face and a semblance of hope and concern in my voice but eight years down the line I’ve written two books, had my work published in a variety of high profile magazines and have lent my voice to several radio interviews about mental illness.
At times I’m fearful that I talk about it too much, and at times I regret my decision to admit my highly stigmatized condition, it very well may have cost me a couple of jobs or relationships due to ignorance and fear but I keep talking about it for some strange reason and, at least in my circles, it’s no longer a big deal. I’m still kind and humble and the same person I was before, I just have a condition.
I think that’s what the world needs to see, that it’s just a condition and it doesn’t make killers or bombers or axe murderers, it’s just a disease.