I Wish My Mother Could Retire..

I feel like a failure sometimes.  I had a late start to my career, given my mental illness.  And now I work in mental health.  Being a mental health peer specialist is great, but also…I feel like this is the only job I could handle.  Because this is the only place where I can publicly disclose my condition, and be praised for it even.

Indeed, I am not a failure.  I have triumphed against all odds in spite of my illness, schizoaffective disorder.  I am disabled, yet I work full-time.  I am now an advocate, dedicated to helping others and fighting stigma.

Part of me feels like this is enough, but part of me also wants more.  I would like…success.  A higher salary.  More prestige.  Recognition.  Is this prideful?  Vain?  Should I instead settle for less, merely being satisfied with what I have?

Perhaps.  But I think my notions are noble.  I would like a higher salary, because of my mother.  She is in her late 60s, and still working her hardest.  I see how exhausted she is, and I wish nothing more than to see her retire in comfort.  Yet we have no savings, no “nest egg” to rely on.  She and I work together, hand to mouth, paying each other’s bills, sharing money so that we both can live in comfort.

She is my best friend too.  She has seen me in all my hours, from birth to present, and has shown nothing but unconditional love.  She sacrificed everything in her power to give me the life I had.  She scraped pennies together to put me in a private school, when I became suicidally depressed in public school.  She gave me viola lessons.  She bought the video games and toys that my brother and I wanted, sometimes paying $8 each for packs of Pokémon cards we begged for.

And even now, she continues to drive me wherever I  need to go.  For a long time, I’ve been unable to drive due to anxiety, potential sedation and overall sensory perception issues.  But rides with her in the car are the best.  Over the years, we’ve racked up thousands and thousands of hours merely chatting.  Talking about life, our pet peeves, stresses, wishes, desires…

I wish she could retire.

This is far more important to me than “finding a boyfriend.”  I do not need romance or “true love” from a significant other to create completeness in my life.  I already have it.  It’s a great time, when I see my mother on the weekends.  We’ll watch a movie and have a barrel of laughs.  We go to the grocery store together.  Occasionally we’ll go to a restaurant.

And then there’s my mother’s dog, Moonie the corgi.  A very kind, chill dog.  He is an added expense admittedly, especially because he is old at thirteen, but he brings joy and much wisdom to our lives.  Animals are pure love, and they challenge us to slow down from life and really be present in the moment.  At times, pets can be the best medicine.

I admit that many, many people do not have this experience of parental love as I do.  Certainly it is unfair, because everyone deserves this kind of experience.  If not for my mother’s love and support, I might have ended up locked away in a hospital unit.  Or living in assisted living, my face flat and my body obese from medications.  Maybe I would have ended up homeless, living in a shelter with fifteen cots to a room, a target of extortion and bullying given my passive nature.

In any case, given my extensive, long psychiatric history, doctors and the government would not have had high expectations for me.  I could have easily been shuffled around in the government assistance system, living my life out without the freedoms that working people enjoy.

It is this reason that mental health advocacy is so important.  People suffer, and many are estranged from their families because they are difficult to care for.  I hate saying this, but this is likely the perspective that the “unafflicted” have.  We are an “annoyance.”  We “stifle” other people from living the free lives they want.  We get pushed aside, housed in homes or hospitals where others don’t have to worry about us.

Certainly, it is a difficult situation to discuss, and some people are in need of more acute care.  But why do those in need also have to be stigmatized and insulted?  People have to learn the skill of speaking their opinions and needs without offending others.  Instead of using “you” language…

“You’re getting in my way!”

…people could speak more “on the I.”

“I feel overwhelmed.”

In any case, I want to care for my mother as she gets older.  Because she cared for me.  I love her, and I don’t want to see her lonely and alone in a home.  I want her to retire in comfort.

Some way…somehow…


My Spiritual Quest for Happiness

Years of depression once weighed down on me heavily, beginning in my grade school years. Suicidality affected me as a teenager, and I was managed on medications throughout high school and college. While I was rehabilitated to the level of normalcy, I felt my existence to be anemic. Watching others socialize with smiles and laughter confused me. Such happiness seemed alien to me. I frowned often, and deemed jollity to be a product of immaturity. Naturally, I was miserable.

And yet, I knew there was something beyond constant misery. Though I had never felt it before, I knew something was out there. Something I didn’t get. I thus deemed it “the key,” and dedicated myself to finding it. It was this sentiment that caused me to turn to spirituality. In my senior year of college, I joined a meditation group on my college campus, that was affiliated with a guru in India. Earnestly, I applied myself to meditating in the mornings and evenings, going to group satsanghs and retreats. I wanted nothing more than to be freed from my mental fetters.

After meditating for a full year, I figured myself healed from my depression, and so worked with a psychiatrist to get off of my medications. It seemed successful enough, although in retrospect it was not. Right when I got completely off of my meds, I developed an obsessive crush on a student at school and had a brief fling. Summer vacation occurred right after, so I soon left college to perform at an orchestral festival in Texas.

It was supposed to be enjoyable.  It was supposed to be like summer camp.  But I couldn’t get my crush out of my head.  I couldn’t articulate or express to anyone, the fierceness of my obsession and…devotion?  My bliss soon turned to worry, and I was tremendously fearful and paranoid that “he hated me.”

All of this suffering occurred inside of my mind. From the outside, no one would have noticed that I was off. Of course, there were hints, yet no one connected the dots that I was suffering from mental illness.  I was mostly perceived as a miserable weirdo.  During the music festival in Texas, I was assigned to rehears with three other musicians, forming a string quartet.  I got into fights with the other members, so badly that the quartet ended up disbanding.  During one of the concerts, I put bright green and blue eye shadow all over my face as a “mask” of makeup.

I also abused Klonopin in a very specific way.  In the middle of the day, I’d take a Klonopin right before taking a nap.  When I awoke, my mind was woozy and my body felt rubbery.  I would go to rehearsals, sedated like this.  One musician did notice my odd behavior:

“Neesa?  Are you ok?”  She had a skeptical look to her.

“Oh yeah…I’m just fine…”  Her noticing actually fed into the excitement of me being drugged.

After Texas, I traveled to India to attend a meditation retreat with the Master himself. 50,000 abhyasis (aspirants) were present. And yet, meditating had become fruitless. I could only obsess about my crush 24/7, even in front of the Master. Thoughts of my crush now became a virus I could not escape.

When I returned to college to begin my Masters degree, all hell broke loose.  I suddenly began receiving messages from inanimate objects.  People had auras: invisible energies that spoke messages about that person’s character.  Very often, the auras would contradict the person, which confused me.  Former friendly acquaintances now had auras that spit daggers of hatred at me.  Anyone who had bad auras were now enemies of me.  I never told them, of course, but they still were.

Even my viola professor, formerly beloved, now communicated an aura of unsupport and indifference.  Though faithfully devoted to him for three years, I suddenly turned on him.

“I don’t want to study with you anymore.  I am switching to ___’s studio.”
“I don’t understand.  We have been working very well together for a long time.”  He was confused at my attitude.

“I don’t care.  This is over.”

I started developing eccentric behaviors.  I went to a party wearing pajamas under my clothing.  When I arrived, I took off my outer clothes and walked around like I was at home.  At another party, I saw my dreaded crush socializing with his friends, and so I started crying uncontrollably, bawling in the street.

I wonder.  Did anyone figure that I was suffering from mental illness?  Was there a shred of compassion in the mix?  Or was I just seen as batty, and to be avoided?

Likely the latter.

By the time I was playing chamber music over winter break, my mind was lost and destroyed.  While commuting to and from Manhattan to my home, my mind was overstimulated with everything along the way.  The subways and trains beeped with intelligent, hearty gladness, speaking messages to me with understandable words.  Dogs I passed conveyed human messages such as sexiness and loneliness.

My physical health was also very bad.  I weighed 125 pounds, standing at 5’10”.  It was not the issue of being so thin which was a problem, since that was my natural condition at the time.  But I was abusive to my body still.  Amidst the heavy snows and a blizzard, I wore only a thin coat, and sucked on lemons to “stay warm on anger.”  I also fancied that I was immune to heat and cold, as a sort of spiritual superpower.  On two occasions, I had nose bleeds while riding the train.  I figured that my heart was sad, and literally crying.

Flimsy spiritual inclinations were very much my guide.  I’d go wherever the “energy” led me.  I went into a clothing store and sniffed the merchandise, determining which pairs of clothes were “married.”  At an appliance store, I sniffed merchandise to see which appliances were “heterosexual” and which were “homosexual.”

On a snowy evening, in the wake of a blizzard, I had plans to see an evening concert at Carnegie Hall.  Enroute, I was hungry, and went into a pizza place.  I was cold and tired.  I realized that I felt incredibly weak, given that I had been a vegetarian for the past year and a half.  I ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza, effectively ending my sobriety from meat.  But I was too overcome with emotion to find comfort in the pizza.  My mind was confused and filled with panic.

Much of my turmoil was likely due to organic reasons.  Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not necessarily sprout from New Age-ism.  And yet, my mental illness was incredibly intertwined with my spiritual inclinations.  I neglected to care for myself physically, by using rationale that it was a spiritual quest.  I wandered around aimlessly because I considered it to be an intuitive, meditative process.  All of this was in the name of “achieving Enlightenment.”

Over the years, I have encountered many diagnosed people who express themselves in spiritual terms.  Some are in a constant state of prayer, and so their words are removed from reality and incomprehensible.  Some people adopt beliefs that they are God, Satan or perhaps a reincarnated being.  I myself once thought I was the reincarnation of Beethoven and the Antichrist.  As one who has experienced this personally, I will say that these convictions were fixed and convincing.  The messages that my mind received confirmed these identities absolutely.  No one could change my mind otherwise.

My recovery story from mental illness is incredibly long.  There is recovery and relapse, again and again.  Yet I am not alone, and certainly have not suffered as much as others.  Many people spend their entire adult lives in the system, cycling in and out of hospitals, living in hospitals for years on end, having their freedoms taken away because they have been deemed unable to care for themselves in the outside world.

In my own life, I have teetered on the edge of falling into this sort of fate.  My history is long enough, and for a long time I ceased to recover.  Miraculously, I am rehabilitated with Clozapine, Effexor, Lamictal and Ativan.  If not for these drugs, I’d be living in a hospital.

I am grateful that I can pass as normal now.  And most of the time, I really do feel normal.  When I see people laughing, I can appreciate their merriment.  (While I personally find things amusing, it is difficult for me to actually laugh out loud.)  I am open to people I encounter, and now have many friends.  I have a job, and aspire to have a career in social work.

I also realize that my inclinations towards New Ageism are akin to an addiction.  I have lost a lot of money over the years, paying exorbitant amounts, thousands, to charlatan healers who promised to get rid of my mental illness.  I confused my mind by playing with tarot cards and crystals on end.  It was a world that promised answers and power, neither of which benefit me.

All I desire these days is healing.  Wellness.  Recovery.  Reiki has served me well, and I’ll just stick to that.  And there’s the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000.  That gives me a lot of profound laughter too.  Then there are my Facebook friends!  My loving and supportive mother and brother.  The apartment I live in, with its warm bed and goose down blanket.  My neighborhood, on the outskirts of Queens in a green area with nice neighbors.

THIS is wellness.  Groundedness, far removed from spiritual hunting and error.