There’s a disconnect between me and you. I don’t know if you can sense it but it’s glaringly obvious to me. I don’t know if you’re looking at me and analyzing my speech patterns. I don’t know if you can hear the wobbling nervousness in my voice but I can, and it’s all I can think about.
I don’t know if you’re looking at my eyes and the contact their making with yours. I don’t know if you’re thinking, “This guy isn’t looking at me right, I wonder if there’s something wrong with him?”
I don’t know if you can see the fear on my face as I try so desperately to appear normal to you, but I can feel it there and I can feel it in my body and in my bones and I know you’re wondering things about me. They could be bad things or they could be things that compliment me and although I hope for the latter I have a suspicion it’s the former.
When you have schizophrenia, the overarching plot of the experience is the inability to tell whether the things you are thinking are actually taking place in reality. Was that inflection in your voice a signal that I should be more friendly or more reserved? Was that laughter I heard over my shoulder about me or something totally innocuous? What are you thinking about the way I’ve smiled at you today? Does it indicate that I’m weak or that I’m crazy? These are things I ask myself on a day-to-day basis, and although you probably can’t tell, I’m kind of having a hard time with all of this, so please bear with me.
There’s a reason you can’t tell though. I’ve worked harder than you can imagine trying to perfect that state of normal. It’s become an almost second nature. Part and parcel of my experience interacting with others is the analysis that goes on both during and after the interaction. Sometimes for hours or days. It happens in every interaction too. Even greeting the pizza delivery guy when he comes to my door or the attendant when I’m buying a pack of cigarettes at the gas station down the street from my house.
I know that if I do it right, and successfully connect with another human being, I feel giddy, but if something goes wrong and the execution wasn’t perfect, the tinge of regret will stay with me at least until I focus my mind elsewhere.
I’ve had many of these of these interactions though. Some successful, the majority a bit off, but otherwise not the end of the world, and some horribly catastrophic where the only thing I’ve wanted to do afterwards was curl up in my bed and flip a bird to the world.
It should be obvious by this point that dating is hard for me. Parties are hard for me. Even having a beer with the guys is hard for me. I push though, and I put myself out into the world everyday because that’s what a normal person does.
In my schizophrenics anonymous group the sickness is obvious on the other members. I don’t want to put myself above them in any way because I’m in the same boat, but the drawl of their voices, the little tics they exhibit, the half stutters and the difficulty with getting their words out is more obvious to me than I’m sure it would be to anyone else. I have a feeling once I reach my fifties or sixties that the years of anti-psychotics I’ve put into my system will dope down my voice a bit too, I can actually already sense a slowness of thought and expression in my voice, but aside from that you wouldn’t be able to tell. Or at least I hope that you wouldn’t be able to tell.
I’ve lived with schizophrenia coming up on nine years now and the ability to relate to others has been a driving force for me. Shortly after I was diagnosed I was essentially dead socially. I couldn’t even go into a grocery store because I was so paranoid what people thought of me. I can remember being pretty popular in high school and having friends from every different clique, every group and every grade. The ability to connect with people seemed so effortless then and it’s a goal that I’ve been striving to re-attain for the last eight years.
The paranoia about what people think of me and my tiniest actions has been with me since then, and I imagine it will continue to walk by my side until I’m an old man, at this point though I’m ok that it’s there. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not friends or anything but it’s provided me with a rich, incredibly deep self-reflection and a concept of myself that others would have a hard time even imagining.
I know who I am whether you like it or not, I’m just worried that you don’t.