Psychosis is a lonesome thing. The symptoms set me apart from the rest of the world. Pedestrians become demons, trucks have malicious intent, and music contains hidden messages meant only for me. Even my sleep isn’t safe. Dreams that would be comedies for anyone else become private nightmare worlds. Sharing them is hazardous: will people laugh, or will they feign understanding? I have to choose my audience carefully.
But without an audience, I become truly psychotic. I succumb to the hidden messages, the malicious intent grows ever darker until I refuse to leave the house, concocting manifestos instead of novels. I know better. When this happened on January 5th, I made phone calls - to my psychiatrist, to my therapist, to my husband, and to my parents.
My husband, James, with an art show pending, skipped his Tuesday studio time to take care of me. My mother, retiring on February 1st, took six days off work in New York City to take care of me in Ohio. My father called me every day. I talked to my therapist for an hour on the phone before James arrived home. My psychiatrist called in an increase to one of my medications. Everyone agreed the situation was temporary, set to right itself once the social obligations of the holiday had waned and I was back to my more solitary, less of a butterfly, lifestyle.
I wrote an article on Salon about how important James is to my mental health. I’ve talked to my friends several times about how without my family’s resources, I would be in much worse shape than I am. I know, as a former social worker, the state people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders are in who have to rely on state-sponsored care and the medications Medicaid will pay for. I am one of the lucky ones, and I don’t take that for granted, I’ve helped those less fortunate than me.
I’ve also seen people with mental illnesses and physical illnesses who suffer alone, and how they steadily decline. Without the support of friends or loved ones, the darkness creeps in, and it’s easy to believe the lies your head tells you about yourself, about your friends, about the world around you. I value my friends, they’re all wonderful people, and I would do anything I can for them.
But there’s only so much I can do. On the 5th, when my mind broke, I had to cancel three social engagements and couldn’t go out to eat. I couldn’t go to the grocery store, or even go to Staples to buy a ream of paper, as I’d run out. All of that was too overwhelming. Even today, almost two weeks later, I had to step out of World Market after two minutes because the experience was tipping me over the edge. It was too bright, there were too many things, and I was finding it hard to breathe.
So I had a cigarette outside in the cold. Because that made sense.
Since the 5th, David Bowie died. Alan Rickman died. And James and I celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary. Still, I managed to stay in love with the world by trying to make everyone have a good day. I was more concerned with everyone else than I was for myself. I would get through this the same way I’d gotten through everything else. My role models have always been the Martin Luther King, Jr or Mother Teresa type. People who waged into difficult situations and came through the other side with more resolve to keep Doing Good. It’s why I became a social worker. I want to help people get there, no matter what happens to me.
So when James got hand-picked for an art show next month, I encouraged it. Even if it meant I would be left alone more often. I could work more, buckle down and really get things done. James needs this more than I need him home right now. This is important for him, for his recovery from the loss of his father, to the furthering of his work as an artist.
It’s not only important for me to take care of myself, but also to take care of the people around me. I have to allow myself time to breathe, but for them also to spread their wings and become who they need to be. From my husband, to my mother, to the baristas at my favorite coffee shop, to the woman who sold me my shredder today. Every person I meet, I have the chance to make them have a better day. If that’s the little bit I’m able to do to make the world a better place anymore with my capabilities, I am damn well going to do it every single day.
There’s other things I do to keep the music from talking to me again, to keep devils and demons from appearing to me on the sidewalk, and to keep the nightmares at bay. Those are management, those are things I have to do. All of this? Love. Compassion. Kindness. Patience. Warmth. These are things I choose to do. Because I believe to have people do good, you have to do good yourself. Every bit of good, no matter what you’re dealing with. No matter how hard it is.
So remember, when you're mired in it, whatever IT is: Reach out. Call that friend.
They love you back, and they’ll make you smile.