I know what it’s like to feel stuck. When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia I felt like I was a waste of space, I felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my life and I felt like I couldn’t get anywhere because of my illness. Then I remembered that I enjoy writing. Within a couple of years I had written a book about my experiences. Then there were years where I couldn’t seem to find anyone interested so I gave up trying to get it out there and instead settled on self-publishing it. I was stuck again.
I got a good sleep last night, that may be one of the keys to contentment but I’m not sure. I know it helps. It seems like a lot of people are looking for happiness though, they’re looking for a feeling of peace in their chest and a mind that’s free of clutter. Is that happiness though? Is that what happiness looks like? I imagine happiness to be sort of a manic state where you’re trying you’re damndest to wipe the smile off your face because you know that a constant smile can be unsettling. I think the better thing is to look for contentment. Essentially, you have to find that place, that feeling where you can relax.
I’m pretty normal, for a person with schizophrenia that is. I’ve said many times before that you wouldn’t know I have a mental illness if I didn’t tell you and that’s because of years of social practice and self-therapy, ultimately in an attempt to reclaim the personality I thought I lost during my first major psychotic episode. I function fine, I can go out in public, do the things I do and for the most part it’s fine except for one thing, the paranoia.
It’s an all too common fact that a good majority of homeless people have some kind of mental illness. Whether it’s diagnosed or not there’s a good chance that the reason they’re on the street is because they can’t hack living in today’s society. The economy is hard for everyone but it’s even harder for a young person with schizophrenia. A lot of the time, jobs are impossible because of the severity of a person’s symptoms. It’s either too stressful, or they have a hard time performing the necessary tasks, or they have strange behaviors that lead their employer to fire them. I know this all too well. That’s the reason writing is the perfect job for me. I’m only accountable to myself, I can work at my own pace, and I don’t have to worry about working with other people.
I’ve been living with schizophrenia for almost nine years now and I’ve been privy to many moments of exasperation. I know what it’s like to feel so overwhelmed by the things in your head that you project them onto the world around you. The paranoia in particular can make it feel like nobody’s listening to you, or even worse, that instead of listening, they’re persecuting you. I’m no stranger to feeling like you just want to stand up in a crowded place and scream. There comes a point though when you have to restrain yourself. I’ll get to that later.
I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I can’t do everything. For a long time I’ve been haunted by this notion that I’m not good enough and that no matter what I do it will never be enough to prove myself. That said, I don’t know why I feel like I have to prove myself. It could be my upbringing or it could be the fact that once I was diagnosed with schizophrenia this notion appeared that I had to be just as good if not better than normal people. In the last nine years I’ve written two books and have been published everywhere from Scientific American to The New York Times. Still though I work myself into a tizzy about doing more and more and more still. I’d like to say that this feeling dulled a bit as grew closer to thirty but it’s still there and the only thing I can do about is try to fill it with more work. That’s a problem.
For the last couple of months I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of activity, I found an agent who was interested in my book and I took on a couple new writing jobs simply for the sake of earning money. It all seemed to be going so well, aside from the fact that I was working myself ragged for these things. The fact is I was neglecting my mental health. I’ll get into that later. I was busy though and things were looking good. I was even jumping to possibilities that weren’t there yet, things like buying a house or at least finding a better apartment, buying a new car and all this stuff that would be possible if I got my book published.
We all have things we need to do on a day-to-day basis. These can range from huge work tasks to simple little things like showering, eating three meals and brushing your teeth. I may be speculating here but even the small responsibilities are tough for people with a mental illness. I know that to be true just based on my own experiences living with schizophrenia. Here’s the thing though, a few days ago I had a mini breakdown sitting in a coffee shop because I committed to several very large projects with mighty shadows that are now looming over me. These huge projects in addition to the probably fifty or sixty small responsibilities I have to worry about everyday caused me to essentially snap as I sat there looking staring at my computer unable to focus. Here’s what I did though, I immediately left the coffee shop, went home, had a cigarette and essentially stared at the wall for a good thirty minutes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Then I decided to do something about it. That something was small but I knew I had to get these numerous stressors off my mind so I did what I do so naturally and wrote them down, one by one delving into the depths of my routine and recording every tiny responsibility that gave me stress. After about an hour or so I had a list of about sixty things that I naturally worry about throughout my day. I purged and it seriously helped.
Ever since the New Year, I’ve bogged myself down in worries. There have been worries about work, about relationships, about friends and about social anxiety. It got to the point where I was obsessing about things I couldn’t change, losing sleep over insignificant details. Finally, I decided it would be good to get away for a few days. I made a reservation at a condo in a small mountain town thirty five miles up the road. During the summer the town is bustling with tourist activity but during the winter it’s as calm and as quiet as can be and I think I needed that.
I’ve lived with schizophrenia for almost nine years now and if one thing is for certain when it comes to schizophrenia, it’s that worries seem to get lodged in the folds of your brain. You can have a worm in there that will eat into to your mind and it can be incredibly hard to let it go. Some of these idea worms are temporary and some of them are extremely long lasting and can affect you subtly over the long haul and spring at a moment of insecurity. My recovery has been one long course of coming to terms with these kinds of ideas and learning to let them go, I’ve had to work my butt off to not only find some semblance of normalcy for myself but also to project an ideal version of myself onto society.