After four years of tests, imaging, and hospitals, my doctors said, “You’ve got Schizophrenia.”
I remember how ungodly still I sat before this last doctor. In fact, only part of me that reacted were my hands. I wrung them out like they were rags made of wet fabric. You know the same hard way you squeeze all the water out of the dishcloth before you call quits on the dishes? That’s how I felt. About ready to call it quits.
I knew I had it. I had known for years. The boa of psychosis had become a familiar tightness in my head. I thought it was an awful waste of time and suffering to take so long to diagnose me. By this point, I was homeless and had ruined the majority of relationships with family. I’d tried to kill myself. I had been mistreated in hospitals and in school. I’d been through so much and after all this time I’d finally figured out what it was.
I can still remember sitting in that stiff chair asking, “What comes next?”
Her answer wasn’t important. She didn’t know what came next, not really. She wasn’t Schizophrenic. She was just the messenger and I was just a piece of news. The same as the other Schizophrenics she’d diagnosed.
“A group home maybe…”
I had a sob caught at the back of my throat. I thought that maybe if it had been cancer or Epilepsy or an infection or anything else I wouldn’t have been alone for this. Maybe I wouldn’t have been homeless, maybe I’d be happy, even if I was terrified. A group home…a group home….
“Medication….” she said.
I left the appointment feeling that my Schizophrenia was very much my own fault. Medication. A group home….what comes next? What comes next? What comes next?
As it turned out a blur of medication was what came next. An almost max dose of Seroquel. More hospitals. But illness is different now because nobody listens to me anymore. They just look at me and I know that they are all calling me crazy. I’m now a Schizophrenic after all. Even though in reality, I’m still the same nervous person. Still quiet. Still reserved. I still have same set of symptoms that doctors were once rushing to treat. Only now every symptom is blamed on Schizophrenia.
Now they just dismiss me by stabbing shots of Haloperidol into my upper leg. Because now the Seroquel isn’t always enough. Now instead of praising me for keeping up with my schoolwork despite being sick I am asked to leave. I’m unsafe now. Maladjusted. Now I’m considered the violent psychopath America fears. I’m a statistic. A Halloween costume. A movie villain. I’m not a person anymore. I’m just a thing that needs to be medicated so that nobody has to see or hear me. I’m the thing that people agree needs to be locked up, hidden away. I’m a thing now. And people say, “Oh God, keep that thing under control. Keep it medicated. Keep it away…Oh God, Oh God.”
At my worst, I could hear the thoughts of people around me. Scary thoughts, painful thoughts which induced incredible paranoia. Spies following me wherever I went. I was sure I was being abducted by aliens that wanted to control my mind. I suspected some huge conspiracy that I couldn’t name. I tore apart my dorm single in the grip of a desperate search for a bug. I was convinced that it had been planted in there to spy on me. I cried. I felt alone. I was scared of myself. Scared that I couldn’t resolve this unraveling life of mine.
I don’t need help, I need help, please God someone help me. Don’t touch me! There’s nothing wrong with me! Something’s wrong with me! Oh God, what’s wrong with me!?
My thoughts were so fast I didn’t have time to think them. I began drowning in the riptide of depressive episodes. Made attempts on my own life. My medication left my brain feeling full of sand. I couldn’t think straight.
The hardest parts though were the fleeting moments of introspection. In these moments, I found myself aware that I was losing this battle. So for me, Schizophrenia soon became a degenerative experience. That’s the difference between Schizophrenia and other illnesses. Schizophrenia is a disease that we are expected to fight alone.
A clap of thunder suddenly, much louder than the rest, roused me from my thoughts.
My cat is woken up too. He stretches his way up my legs and midsection. Purring onto my chest, and collapsing in a sleepy heap of orange creamsicle fur. I shook off the dust of late night, thought induced depression. And I quietly remind myself that everything is OK. I remind myself of how it’s been over a year since a hospital admittance. About how my medications are working. I tell myself that my illness is even more pinned down now. My Schizoaffective Bipolar type squirming like an insect pinned down under a microscope. I’m able to learn more and more about this illness every day. I remind myself that everything is OK. That I am OK. That I am not alone. That things really do get better. I press my thin lips together and push the voices back, focusing on the quiet breathing of my cat. Then on the breathing of my husband, curled fully into some dream beside me. His face pressed into the pillow. I focus on his breathing and then, finally my own.
My cat lets out a long sigh and some of my anxiety is dismissed. I watch as my cat gives into sleep. And after I close my eyes, I can’t help but follow suit, my brain giving way to a Seroquel-induced sleep. One more clap of thunder and I’m nearly there. Schizoaffective Disorder makes me so very tired and without warning manic again. I’m always trying to sleep. One second a great lumbering, hibernating bear, the next a hummingbird with two heartbeats and a mouth full of language.
Syrena Clark is a Maine-based writer and artist. You can read more of her story on Odyssey, and find more of her work on Vice, The Mighty and Tumblr. Syrena serves on Partners for StrongMinds’ Youth Leadership Board.
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