Living with schizophrenia, I sometimes find it challenging to share my observations with others. Probably because I’m never really sure about what’s happening and what I think is going on. To that end, I work hard to discern the difference between reality and fantasy. It’s not always that cut-and-dried. Sometimes it’s a blur, a watercolor wash that makes things hard to distinguish.
Standing outside the mental health facility as I waited to see Jackie was the most profound moment of my life. My mind became filled with happy memories of us playing four-square at the bus stop, walking to middle school together, and speeding off to high school in her rundown car. But, suddenly those images were interrupted by the intense guilt I felt for failing to help her and the fear of seeing her in such a harsh place.
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.