Many fears abound in my heart, mostly related to memories I have of the past. It’s changed over the years. As a child, it was fear of my father. After he left, it became “PTSD,” which haunted me for most of my adolescent years. In my early twenties, the fears from that experience waned, only to be replaced with schizophrenia. And since then… sheer terror. Flashbacks… not terribly violent ones, but basically recollections of the ideas that once floated through my head.
I am actually grateful for these reminders, because they allow me to never forget where I came from. If I were ever to forget, then I would not have the fuel I need in order to… dedicate my life to challenging mental health stigma.
Especially also, I want to tell the world what it is like to experience schizophrenia. There are many support groups online for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder… but the internet is suprisingly mum about schizophrenia. Why?
Well… schizophrenia is a different beast all together. The nature of schizophrenia is such, that you are thrust into an alternate reality. And when you try to communicate with the world around you, no one understands.
For me… I’ve been in the throes of schizophrenia, but I also have made it to the other side. Miraculously, I am now sane enough to describe what I’ve experienced, in a way that “normal” people can understand. Having this ability… I want to dedicate my life to demystifying schizophrenia. I want to erase the notion that schizophrenia leads to criminality.
Here’s a video of me in 2011, when I had just gotten out of the hospital:
Talking in a childish voice, snapping my finger randomly, and unattractive besides. Unattractive in personality, I mean.
What was going through my head when I made this video?
Well, I had previously been working as a music teacher. My entire life was enriched by a classical music education, culminating in my earning a bachelors in viola from a prestigious school.
But no matter. It was actually terribly pressuring. The only reason I continued with music as long as I did, at the university level, was because I knew nothing else in my life. I had been a musician as long as I could remember. It was my identity. So I fell into it. When performance didn’t work out, I tried to pursue music education, both as a private instructor and as a classroom teacher.
This video is a result from burnout. Burnout from living my life as a musician. Burnout from trying to hide my illness. Burnout from forcing myself to think on the “normal” wavelength, when my brain was anything but.
I was mid-year in my first year of teaching at a school, when I suddenly broke down. I was hospitalized, and in such shambles that I was forced to quit my job. I was also attending a post-baccalaurate program, and had to drop out of that as well. My life came to a stop. No longer was I a productive “adult.” I was forced back into childhood, living with my mother, with no friend but a computer connected to the internet.
Yet I longed to exress myself. While in the comfy hospital, I found solace by writing poems. Mostly “nonsense” perhaps, but to me, it was incredibly meaningful. It was a gesture. A statement. An affirmation that I was not worthless, but that I had something to say. Something incredibly precious.
So when I left the hospital, I wanted to keep this spirit alive and share it with others. I made several of these poetry videos, which I suppose served to embarrass me. My behavior was childish, my behavior was odd, and the words I spoke were “nonsense.”
The worst part was, parents of some of the students I taught saw these videos. Because of this, I was basically shunned from my former teaching community. And when I tried to return back to grad school, I was questioned. “Are you safe enough to teach?”
That question made my answer quite clear. In that, that question does not deserve an answer.
Why should I have to hide what I have been through? Why should I force myself into a profession, where I have to hide the well-spring of my personal sense of wisdom?
I mean… I have been through a whirlwind of circumstances, such that I had the wind knocked out of my sails numerous times. Knocked to the ground. Forced to pick up the pieces of my life, trying to put them together again like Humpty Dumpty, only to be knocked down again. After trying to put yourself together over and over again, you start to just become a glop of inarticulate glue.
And then you wonder, “why bother?” And then you don’t care about yourself, so you become overweight. And then you go on disability. And then you give up hope of ever living a normal life. Certainly, wasn’t my video odd? Of course I’d never live a normal life again. Right?
WRONG. Those people, horrified at those videos I posted… I proved them WRONG. Because now, I’ve lost that weight. I’ve gotten on meds, good ones, and now I can work full-time, for the first time in my life.
And the work I do, as a peer specialist… it’s important! I help people with mental illness, people like myself… and I talk to them with respect. I regard them as people, not walking liabilities. And you know what? I see people transform. I see people smile. People thank me, and tell me they had a good time talking to me. They’re glad I took the time to listen to them.
It’s all very subtle. But it’s so vital. We, the mentally ill… people ignore our personhood. And we wither. But if you talk to us like human beings… truly… we blossom.
Earlier, I said I wanted to tell you what it’s like to experience schizophrenia. I’ll tell you:
It is a world that acknowledges the 6th sense. Intuition. Imagination. And the desires of the heart. The world around you not only surrounds you, but it SPEAKS to you as well. You receive messages. And those messages engage the organ that perceives this 6th sense. We know not what that organ is… perhaps there is none. But when we stimulate our 6th sense, our hearts become wildly fulfilled. Every fibre of our being is engaged and acknowledged.
THIS is what makes a schizophrenic reality more compelling than that which psychiatrists tell us is “real.” This is why we persevere in our “fantasies,” much to the chagrin of horrified onlookers. We perceive ourselves as progressive and in tune with what is “really” going on, while everyone else is asleep in the Matrix.
Movies and fiction probably paint the schizophrenic experience best, in a way that regular people can find palatable. Sarah Connor, preparing her son John for being the leader of the resistance against an apocalyptic robot army: this, a reality only known to her. Real to her, but not the rest of the world. Or… the Sixth Sense: a boy, seeing ghosts. Dead people. No one else sees them.
Many people claim that psychiatric medications actually stifle a person’s expression of spirituality. They say that in olden days, those with “mental illness” were actually esteemed for being in touch with the spiritual world. They occupied shaman positions in villages. Or perhaps in today’s world, many can claim psychic intuition.
Perhaps one day, schizophrenia will be an understood experience. As of now, it is not. What is more comforting: being judged and stigmatized for being abnormal, or “succumbing” to an alternate reality that is life-affirming? Sometimes, schizophrenia is an escape. A much-needed one. The world refuses to change, and so our “broken” brains are clever enough to change it, if only for ourselves.
It’s a survival mechanism.