It is a wonderful privilege I enjoy, having a full-time job. In fact, it is a sheer miracle, given that I am diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder. This is a combination of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I have suffered from tactile hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, depression, mania and anxiety. Such crippled me mercilessly for years, and I was unable to hold down any job. I went on disability, prepared to never work again.
Yet I recovered against all odds. Four years ago, I started the drug Clozapine, and it completely reformed my life. No longer do I relapse and fail, repeatedly falling to square one. Instead, I can climb higher and higher each day, dedicating myself to my profession. And my current profession? Mental health work and advocacy. Namely, I work as a peer specialist at an agency that provides housing for people with mental illness disabilities. Given that I am diagnosed myself, I am able to understand clients on an equal level. A degreed professional cannot do this.
Now that I have a profession, I enjoy going to trainings and conferences where I can meet and network with other similar professionals. It feels good to belong to such a passionate community. I also now sit on three committees with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), sitting at the table as a representative for those who receive Medicaid health insurance for a mental illness disability. My insights and opinions are well received.
As I devote myself to mental health advocacy, and as I encounter professionals with masters degrees, I realize that the “world” of consumers in the system is much different than the “world” of well-off, working professionals. Working professionals can assume a cushion of sanity within their their minds, while those struggling with mental illness suffer from being robbed of stability.
Mental illness can be difficult for an unafflicted to fathom. Why would a person behave paranoid without provocation? Why would a person spend thousands of dollars wildly at fruitless investments, without being able to discern imminent failure? If I could explain succinctly why I personally once behaved this way, I would say thus: I had no choice. Thoughts attacked me, and I had to express them outwardly if I was to have any emotional release and releif. Bottling thoughts up is unhealthy for anyone. If insanity is what comes out, then just imagine what that person’s internal condition is.
For some people, only Christian hell can compare.
Looking back at my own unstable years, I realize that I had no capacity to learn from past experiences. I was unable to learn from the people around me, and I was unable to grow and develop as an adult. This is because the voices in my head never evolved. Thus, the same conditions afflicted me year after year. This lack of change served to keep me at the same age and maturity level for many years. I failed to age emotionally.
This is why I often feel younger and less mature than others my age. At age thirty-one, I only have worked two years full-time, and have not yet earned a master’s degree. (The latter is not so terrible.) I see friends from school now working as doctors and lawyers, and I feel dreadfully behind. What makes me different from them? Why was I afflicted, and not they? I suppose it does not matter. I have survived.
That is all that matters in the end. I have survived. And now, I want to help others survive.