The Slippery Slope of Spiritual Poverty

I know that when my physical and mental states are in poverty that I fall easily into the trap of spiritual poverty. It is hard to avoid. No matter how excellent the mental health care one receives is, mental health care does not provide any type of spiritual support. There is a small movement, in its infancy, which seeks to change the current model of mental health care to add more spiritual and family support, but it is a long way from any type of implementation.

When my mental illness is at its worst it compels a withdrawal from ordinary social contact, so the I withdraw from my church and my spiritual elders and this begins the cycle of spiritual poverty. When I can not afford to purchase appropriate offerings for my Gods, I lose faith in the simple offerings than I am able to afford, and I cease making offerings at all. When I can not make offerings, I feel ashamed to approach my altars, so they go untended. Without access to my altars, I fall out of the practice of prayer, and I become divorced from my spiritual practices. This separation from spiritual practice is the ugly face of spiritual poverty.

The Orisha calm me on sad days
Obatala from NacionYoruba.com

Living in a state of spiritual poverty removes a lot of joy and wonder from my life, and when this is paired with depression, hearing voices, seeing things that are not there, shame, humiliation, and anxiety I tend to spiral downward rapidly. This pattern of spiritual poverty has been the hardest of my patterns to break. I usually can not break it until I can once again afford to make appropriate offerings. Then I slowly can reclaim my spiritual life, and with my spiritual life restored, gradually the depression will lift. When I am less depressed the anxiety and the schizophrenia will lessen.

And I know this from repeated downward spirals. I know that if I can cling to my spiritual practice that I will not fall so far so fast. And yet I still lose my religion as soon as the spiraling begins. Currently, I have a job that pays decently, so I am beginning to do better. Most of my pay is spent on bills and the things I need to succeed in my new job, so I still can not afford really good offerings, but I can afford small appropriate offerings, so my altars are being tended, I have gotten back into the practice of praying, and I feel that connection with my religion once again.

But we have these patterns so we can learn from them. And I am struggling to learn from this pattern so I do not need to repeat it.

I am coming to accept that if I am going to break this pattern I need to seek help outside of myself. But asking for help does not come easily to me. I have decided that I need to begin praying to my Gods that I don’t get lost from them when things get bad. I have decided that I need to tell my therapist that staying on a spiritually even keel needs to be a major goal of therapy. But these two decisions are going to be complex. I feel very shy of asking my Gods to keep me from getting lost, I fear that losing my Gods shows poor character on my part, and my religion ever strives toward good character. I really don’t want my Gods to think poorly of me. And any discussion of spiritual matters with my therapist is getting into dangerous water. Because schizophrenia often causes inappropriate religious fixations, treatment for schizophrenia tends to be very leery of spiritual matters.

But I must overcome my fears, both the real fears and the imagined ones. I must remember that my Gods love me warts and all. I must remember that my therapist and I have been working together for several months, and that she knows that I do not have inappropriate religious fixations, and that she can help me to find ways to stay spiritually balanced.

Spiritual poverty is a destructive force in my life, and I must use all of the tools that I have to break its hold on me. My life, when it is good, is a spiritually rich place, and when I live in awareness of my spiritual wealth, my life is a joy. When I am in a state of spiritual poverty, my life is a burden, my life is something I no longer want.

I do not pretend to know how spiritual wealth and poverty effect anyone but me, but it is very clear to me that, for me, choosing spiritual wealth is a matter of life or death.

Shooting Star

I come from a singularly unmusical family. My mother loved Elvis for his acting fer crissake. I owned the only record player in our suburban home, and when holidays came around my family would always remind me that I could ask for “something good” NOT just records.

But all I wanted was records…Hell, I already HAD a horse.

I’ve never met a person battling mental illness who did not cling to music as an absolute lifeline. We do without meds, without medical or psychiatric care, without money, food, or shelter…life without those things is part and parcel of being mentally ill. But we can’t hang on without our music. I’ve needed and needed those magical sounds since a babysitter gave me a stack of her ‘outgrown records’ when I was very small. (and I’ve never ‘outgrown’ some of those records…Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” was in that stack.)

But the Christmas when I turned twelve, I didn’t ask for records. I asked for headphones. Because I had heard this music on the radio…and I wanted to ask for the record for my birthday…but I knew if my parents heard the music even one time, that I would never get to hear it again. (Thank you, AC/DC for teaching me that lesson early! I only heard ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ one time prior to high school) Anyway…I got the headphones for Christmas. They were HUGE and heavy and they retained the oddest plastic-y smell. They had a curly cord like a phone cord, but best of all…nobody could overhear what you were listening to. We tested the headphones extensively between Christmas and my birthday to be extra extra sure.

The next step in my plan was to think of a lie. It was necessary. My parents feared black people, homosexuals, sex, and Democrats in seemingly random order. But I knew those things were not gonna fly in our house…so began the longest-running lie of my life.

“Seriously, Mom…he’s from India!” (believe it or not, she bought it)

Prince...Godspeed
Prince…Godspeed

So Prince entered my life. And I wore out two copies of “For You” it was so good…still is. All the hospitalizations of my late teens and early twenties were accompanied by Prince cassettes and my faithful Walkman (remember those things?) I have listened to his music on endless cycles of repeat when I was frail, freaked out, totally crazy, and desperately suicidal. That little ‘pop’in the guitar part, that bounce, that thing the experts assure me is funk. The range of the voice, the depths of his songs, the sheer diversity of his creative output.

Prince’s music has always spoken gently to the raw wounded places I keep hidden away from a world that is often cold and unfeeling. He could hang a guitar solo in the air that blazed like a shooting star…and that shooting star was so real that I felt like I could tuck it in my pocket like a good luck charm. And yesterday, that star finally blazed out. And I feel it. Jesusmaryandjoseph I feel it.

I’ve never been in a mental hospital that didn’t have a music listening group that you HAD to attend. And I’ve never seen one of those groups where someone didn’t pick a Prince song. Whether it was “Sign O the Times” or “Thieves in the Temple” or “When Doves Cry” all the crazies would sit quietly and listen. They would nod their lunatic heads. Any other artist might garner some moaning and complaining, but not Prince. Among all his other acclaims, he was a prophet to crazies.

And we sure are gonna miss him.

New Job, New Hopes

So. So I was lucky enough to land a phlebotomist job that pays handsomely. I felt very blessed by the-literally-hundreds of prayers and well-wishes that supported me through the interview process. But the job has a major drawback. I travel to different nursing homes to draw blood. My daily commute is now 177.87 miles.

That’s a lot of driving. And let me tell you a secret, sports fans: I hate to drive. Driving gives me panic attacks. And these nursing homes are deep in the country, out where the cell phone doesn’t ring. If anything goes wrong, I’m totally on my own. That does not help the panic attacks.

Tribal Rhino
Image by: Pamela Alexander
Standing in Hope

And I’m driving twisty turn-y back country roads, so getting lost is something that happens, too. (But less today, as my route is finally getting into my muscle memory.) But, needless to say, adapting to my new job has been stressful. Highly stressful. Did I also mention that I need to stick patients very quickly to stay on schedule? or that I must fight morning traffic to get back to our office in Pittsburgh to drop off the blood? Yeah, that, too.

So I had to think of ways to make the drive less stressful.

Last night I listened to J. S. Bach Chorales and said the rosary over and over. I focused on the Sorrowful Mysteries, if you are interested. It helped a great deal. My dear friend and teacher suggested I give the Luminous Mysteries, instated by Pope John Paul II a whirl, too. I think I shall look them up and give them a try.

But trying to outwit my anxiety makes me think of how anxiety works. Anxiety thrives when we fall too deeply into ourselves. It thrives on silence and solitude. And anxiety loves the darkness. Saying the rosary lifts me up out of myself, it lifts my spirit up. The darkness ceases to be ominous, it becomes close and holy darkness. The silence, when filled with prayer and contemplation, ceases to menace. The solitude of my drive becomes nurturing.

As spiritual practice goes, saying the rosary is not particularly rigorous, but it is enough. And it nourishes the parts of me that still adore the Roman Catholic Church. Tonight to feed my Pagan parts, I shall pull a card from my beloved Stone Circle Oracle Deck and contemplate that while driving.

Anxiety is such a beast for so many of us, and there are very few simple fixes. I’m grateful I’ve stumbled upon something that works for me. I’m trying very hard to let my hopes outweigh my fears as I struggle again to rejoin the land of the living. I really feel that I have walked that Proverbial ‘Valley of Shadow’ and I finally feel that I am beginning to see a light.

I am placing so much hope in that faint light. And in J. S. Bach, but we know he stands up well.

Bullied to Death: The Conversation No One Is Having

A local sixth-grader took his own life after being bullied. He is no longer a sensitive smart boy, he has become a statistic. He was a good kid, but now he is a painful memory. He was an active member of his Church, but now he is a vacant seat in a pew. This kid might have changed the world one day. But now we will never know. He was bullied to death.

I was bullied damn near to death. I made three serious suicide attempts in Junior High School. It was that bad. I was pushed, shoved, punched, hit, and sexually harassed.

Bullying in schools must stop
Panic! By Sri Lankan artist Sujith Rathnayake

And I’m going to say something incredibly unpopular here.

The adults in the school system were aware of it, and they did nothing. Teachers saw what was going on, they heard the jeers and sexually explicit remarks that were yelled across assemblies. Bus drivers saw me shoved and hit, they saw my possessions ripped out of my hands. Lunch ladies saw food thrown on me. And they did nothing.

And you know what? I believe that the school administrators probably saw this boy being bullied. And guess what I think they did? Right. Nothing.

I know that schoolkids now sit through assemblies on bullying…but kids are still bullied, kids are still committing suicide because of bullying. And with the internet, public humiliation has become a spectator sport. It is high time we put a stop to institutional cruelty.

It is time to punish the bullies. It is time to punish school administrators who sit idly by and let the students in their care be bullied to death. It is time to arrest and prosecute bullies as criminals. Before another kid dies.

It is time to let people like me run school assemblies on bullying. People who will stand up and say, “I was bullied damn near to death in school and over thirty years later I still struggle with it. And I challenge school administrators to make the schools safe.”

Honestly it is time that some teachers, bus drivers, lunchroom attendants, and administrators lose their jobs. It is time they were prosecuted for willfully endangering a minor. Because they do. Our children, our most precious and vulnerable national resource are being bullied to death while they are in the care of these people. These school officials would probably do less harm if they drove drunk. (Of course I do not advocate drunk driving, but I’m just saying)

Bullying is not an invisible crime. Kids are not very subtle. They pick on the kid that seems weakest, the kid that seems slowest, the kid that seems poorest. Is it too much to expect that these kids be protected from bullies? I really don’t think so.

There is behavior that is commonplace in schools which would get you fired in the workplace. Let that sink in a moment. Ask yourself why nobody does anything before there is another child dead by their own hand. Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2013 CDC WISQARS)Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 suicide attempts by young people grades 7-12. An incredible number of young people, that is to say, schoolkids, are attempting suicide. And a lot of those attempts are successful.

Think back to your own school days. Did you ever attend an assembly that changed your behavior? What’s that? No? Right the fuck on. But for most school districts, the only anti-bullying program is an assembly. And the behavior of the bullies is unsurprisingly not changing.

The question is how many kids have to die of bullying before real laws with real teeth are enacted to protect them? Too many have died already. And the school personnel do nothing. Nothing.

And I am just one tiny voice on a blog that very few people will ever see. I’m screaming into a void. But I’m screaming. Maybe you could scream too.

Suicidal: Conversations on the Edge

This is a collection of observations based on times when I or a friend was suicidal. Do not freak out. I am not suicidal now. My thinking is, I admit, a bit disordered because of my toothache, but I’m quite safe.

Many of us, in the course of a lifetime will either talk TO a suicidal person, or talk AS a suicidal person. And I think we all wonder what to say or do…as usual with these posts, there is no one answer that is always right. And sometimes, an answer I list here as a wrong answer might be the right answer in a particular situation. You see, humans are capable of infinite diversity.

Scarred forearms of a schizophrenic.. Suicidal people might engage in self harm
Photograph by: James G. Owen

As always, I advise you to take suicidal persons seriously. If you have no idea what to do call this number. If the suicidal person is unable or unwilling to talk on the phone, they will talk to you and tell you what to do. Don’t get alarmed or frustrated if the suicidal person will not talk on the phone. It’s not just me, many suicidal people get weird about the phone.

Remember, when you are talking to a suicidal person, you are talking more to an illness than a person. Their illness has already shot down any positive thoughts they might try to cling to. It rarely helps a suicidal person if you approach them with the ‘Think of all you have to live for’ line. That illness, that depression, that bi-polar, that schizophrenia has already undermined all the good bright things in life. The ‘Think of all you have to live for’ attitude may only increase their sense of guilt, shame, and depression.

Another thing well-intentioned people do is try to play John Wayne playing a good-hearted Army sergeant. They grab you and say ‘Talk to me!’ This approach can scare or intimidate the suicidal person badly. A better tactic is saying “May I listen?” Remember that a suicidal person is living in a realm of rapidly diminishing choices. Their tunnel vision is tapering down to a single point. Inviting them to talk adds a new option, and it sometimes can change how they view the world.

Sometimes suicidal people engage in self-harm. Most cutters, burners, and scratchers only engage in these behaviors privately. But when people are very suicidal, they can become disinhibited, so you might see these behaviors. And they are not pretty things to see. Everyone who sees self-harm wants to say “Stop that!” and that is a reasonable impulse. But curb that impulse. Ask them, instead, “Are you doing that so you don’t do something worse?” Now, that might seem like I’m giving you poor advice, and it is poor advice, but it is also sound advice. Weigh the consequences. You would prefer to have your friend as a live cutter than as a dead friend who will never cut again.

Suicidal people often quit sleeping or eating. And that isn’t good. Try tempting them to eat with hyper-palatable foods…try ice cream, milkshakes, twinkies, doritos, whatever you think they might eat. Don’t worry that you are offering them unhealthy choices, just try to get some food in them (and if it’s me, offer pork rinds!) If they aren’t sleeping, try to get them to take a nap. They will be resistant. Build them a blanket fort to nap in, let them put their head in your lap to sleep, promise to stay while they sleep…again, do whatever you can to get them to sleep.

When you are dealing with a suicidal person, realize that they are still ‘in there’ they are just very small, very scared, and nearly voiceless. Their illness has grown large. It occupies all the space where the person normally lives. The person you know has been crowded into a very tiny corner. So speak slowly and clearly. Be prepared to repeat yourself. Your voice is a tiny whisper, the illness is roaring.

Remember, too, that the illness is the enemy. This sick, suffering person is not the enemy. You are not trying to outwit the person to get them to a safe place, you are trying to outwit the illness. The struggle is real, but you will make a mess of things if you do not know what you are struggling with. Also remember that getting the person to agree to go to the hospital can be very difficult. It is even more difficult if the person has been checked in before.

Suicidal People might be afraid to go to the hospital
Health does not always feel as comfortable as illness.
Image by ♥KatB Photography♥

The hospital will take the person’s complaint very seriously. The hospital will go to heroic lengths to keep the person safe. But the hospital is, first and foremost, a hospital. The scared, sick, suicidal person will be subjected to indignities, they will wait a long time in an ER bay (waits of 2 days to be admitted to psych are not uncommon) The hospital is good at what it is good at, warmth and comfort are not areas where the hospital excels.

But getting the suicidal person to get help, getting them to go to the hospital should be a major goal. BUT do not lie to them to get them to go. Find another way to get them to agree. Understand that they might very well know exactly what the hospital will be like. Understand that they are scared to go to the hospital. Understand that they do not want to put up with the indignities of the hospital. Just keep truthfully bringing it up as the best option. (and, sadly, it is the best option, in fact, it is the only option.) Try to offer to take them to a ‘better’ hospital. Because we all know that some hospitals are better than others. We all know that the better hospital might transfer them to a hospital that is not so good, but going to the better hospital greatly increases the odds that they will be admitted there.

Finally. A suicidal person is generally not seeking attention. If they reached out to you, it was the last desperate act. Reaching out to you took tremendous effort, probably it took all their energy to do it. They are being suffocated under the weight and volume of their illness. Do your level best to get them help. There is something about you that the suicidal person believed and trusted in with the last of their will. If a suicidal person asks for your help they are telling you how highly they think of you.

In very rare cases, some types of illness use suicidal threats and behaviors as a way to manipulate others. These illnesses are more rare. And being used like that makes YOU feel terrible. You can feel angry or betrayed. Try to put that confusion and those negative feelings aside. Remember that this person has gotten so sick that they are threatening themselves to be heard. Get them to a hospital, get them help. They are really sick, and they are a very real danger to themselves.

Basically, helping a suicidal person is the same as being a good friend at any other time. Have empathy. Listen intelligently. Use your head and your heart. Put yourself in their shoes. And act decisively to get them the help they need. The world is a hard and scary place sometimes. We need all of our friends healthy and alive as long as normal mortality permits.

Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts: An Inside Perspective

Remember:

Oppression thrives off isolation. Connection is the only thing that can save you.

Remember:

Oppression thrives off superficiality. Honesty about your struggles is the key to your liberation.

Remember:

Your story can help save someone’s life. Your silence contributes to someone else’s struggles. Speak so we can all be free. Love so we can all be liberated. The moment is now. We need you.

~Yolo Akili

A dear friend of mine shared these words with me a while back, and I took them personally. They reminded me of why I chose to come out of my shell a little bit and write this blog. They reminded me that I have a responsibility to save my own life first and foremost. They reminded me that if I save my own life, I might then be able to help someone else save theirs.

I’m in sorry shape right now, holding in there with this toothache that has been horrible for over three weeks now.  I told the housemate the other night that I was having a hard time with the toothache. No one wants to live with a bad toothache. I don’t want to live with a bad toothache. But I have to be clear with myself that there is a huge difference between the words ‘I don’t want to live with this toothache’ and ‘I don’t want to live.’ I got caught up in the toothache and lost sight of the difference between the sentences for a short time. But I climbed back on the horse. And I really don’t want to live with this toothache.

Voodoo doll with large clamp on her head. An image of suffering.
Voodoo Doll Tatto Flash by S. Grice, colored by me.

 

But even as recently as this past October I could not differentiate between ‘I don’t want to live if I have to feel this sick’ and ‘I don’t want to live.’ And I got lucky on that one. If I hadn’t gone to the hospital crying ‘I don’t want to live’ I may have died from a near-fatal lithium level. You see, the lines get blurry and there isn’t always a right or wrong answer when someone is feeling suicidal.

I believe that every person to some degree or other has a suicidal impulse. I think part of free will and self-determinism is exploring the idea of NOT living anymore. Some people will only ever think of suicide in the most abstract fashion, “I was so embarrassed I wanted to die.” Some people react to many conundrums with some kind of suicidal impulse. I must admit that I fall into the latter camp. If I am brutally honest, even on my best days, suicide crosses my mind at least once. On bad days, it is the only thought I can hold in my head.

I don’t like to talk about this. Probably no one does. Someone who constantly talks of suicide begins to look manipulative, and even if they aren’t manipulative, the topic is pretty much a downer. Whether I like to talk about it or not, today I’m going to talk about it.

Now do not, I repeat, do not get freaked out. I’m talking about my thoughts here. I am not talking about actions. I’m fine, I just have a toothache. I’m not letting a toothache push me off the Dravosburg Bridge. So remain calm, remain seated, keep your trays in the locked upright position.

I think there are a surprising number of people who go through their entire lives being quietly passively suicidal. For the most part, they just buckle down and get on with it. But life can be hard and a big enough stress, or a bad enough situation (say a toothache that is over 3 weeks old) can push that suicidal inclination from background noise right to the forefront of their awareness. That person’s interior landscape changes dramatically. Suddenly the background noise has become a looming presence right in front of them shining a flashlight right into their eyes, blinding them to anything else. I’m sure it is different for everyone, but that it how it is to me.

Suddenly the person finds themselves in direct conflict with their very self. The will is screaming ‘DIE!’ while the body is screaming, ‘LIVE!’ The body becomes the enemy that must be defeated. Some people attack the body directly-they become the self-harmers, the cutters, the scratchers, the burners. Some people begin to quietly plot elaborate revenge on the body-they become the smokers, the drinkers, the hard drug users. Some people strive to outwit the body-they begin to pay careful attention to the contents of their medicine cabinets, they take careful note of tall buildings they encounter, they observe every rope, every bridge abutment. And some people try to retreat from their body completely-they withdraw, they become unresponsive. I’m a mix of all four, and probably most people are.  And look, I’m not saying that every person who exhibits these signs is necessarily suicidal, most probably are not…but if your friend gets weird in a way that you find scary, never rule out that they might be suicidal.

There is good news and there is bad news about suicide. The good news is that most people fail at it. The bad news is that some people do not fail at it. Every person experiencing suicidal thoughts and urges should be viewed as a potentially successful suicide. They should be gotten to a safe place like a hospital or treatment center with all possible haste, and they should be helped to feel safe with themselves. If you don’t know what to do for them call this number.  And don’t feel bad about calling, sometimes the smartest thing you can do is call an expert. Please don’t mistake my next words. Suicidal people should be helped. Please don’t mistake my next words.

BUT.

BUT.

For some of us, we need to think these things all the way through. Sometimes alone, sometimes with help. But we have the right to our thoughts where we might not necessarily have the rights to our actions. I told someone here at the house that I was feeling suicidal. I explained why the normal actions were not appropriate in this case (if I am locked up in the looney bin, I might miss the dentists appointments that can fix the toothache, duh) and I retreated to my room to think it through. And my friend checked in on me regularly. I thought about things this way and that way. And I was able to realize that suicide is not an optimal toothache cure. And that sounds funny and obvious when I write it here, but it was not funny or obvious while I was arriving at that conclusion. It was big and dark and scary. But it was only big, dark, scary thoughts. There were no actions. “Just” thoughts.

I feel like I should tell you things to say or do for a suicidal person, and I promise I will in another post. What I want to say to you right now instead is this. I think there are a lot of people out there who are passively suicidal. I think if science were ever able to study that number, many people would be shocked at how many there are. And I think people have a right to be passively suicidal, they have a right to their thoughts, and they have the right to think them through. BUT. If someone tells you that they are feeling suicidal, then they are no longer passively suicidal, they are actively suicidal, get them to help and safety with all possible haste. BUT sometimes life gets weird. Sometimes a person IS actively suicidal, but being in the hospital could actually make the situation worse (say they have a toothache that has gone on forever…) then keep them safe yourself if there is no alternative. Be an intelligent friend. Give them some space, but be present, check on them, be prepared to interfere. Believe me, if I had taken one suicidal action, I would be writing this post from inside a hospital. I am blessed to have intelligent friends.

A Cure for Schizophrenia: Genetics Versus Angels

Currently there is no cure for schizophrenia. Currently, there are not even actually anti-schizophrenic drugs. Most schizophrenics are treated with anti-psychotic drugs. Those drugs are used, often in combination with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and drugs for bi-polar conditions. These ‘cocktails’ of medications can lessen symptoms, but they carry a host of side effects, and they are far from a cure for schizophrenia.

Since the 1970’s, doctors and scientists have searched for a genetic link for schizophrenia, and even earlier, they were seeking hereditary factors for the disease. Science today seeks out root causes of illness in order to treat and cure that illness at its roots. ‘The New Yorker’ published this article which shows that dedicated scientists are growing ever closer to establishing a genetic link for schizophrenia.

But I am not jumping for joy.

tumblr_lzcsv8iBPY1r5q04zo1_500 The cure for schizophrenia might be worse than the disease.

The question that burns in my mind is ‘how much of my Self am I willing to trade to be cured of schizophrenia?’ The answer, it turns out is that I am completely unwilling to trade any of myself, the good, the bad, or the ugly in order to seek a cure.

Schizophrenia is not only a condition I ‘suffer’ with, it is a huge part of who I am. There are dangerous lows which I must traverse with great care. And there are crackling highs where my priestess-self emerges incandescent from the flames of madness. In the lows dwell my voices, my hallucinations, my angels. From those lows come my poetry my word-weaving…from those lows, I can tear my heart open and hand you the verbal viscera of my soul. And science offers me…a cure?

I know that our society does not value the lives of the mentally ill very highly. It is a struggle to jump through all the hoops to simply remain in treatment. Sometimes I am not in any mental shape to vault through those hoops alone. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: if it were not for the love and dedication of my housemate, I don’t know where I’d be right now, but it certainly would not be an improvement on where I am…but anyway society does not value the lives of the mentally ill. We must struggle to get the care we need, often if we are able to get care the hospitals and outpatient services are so understaffed we get only the most brusque and cursory care. And that is hard, so hard to deal with when we are suicidal, delusional, vulnerable and frightened. A percentage of us will not make it. And that is hard to live with.

Black and white painting of a figure running through clouds of nightmare. The cure for schizophrenia might not be an answer.
Panic! By Sri Lankan artist Sujith Rathnayake

But when you offer us a cure that is based on genetics, a cure that is based on preventing the onset of the disease that might be perpetrated on children who have shown no symptoms of schizophrenia you start scaring me, Society. I know you hold my life and the life of others like me to be of little value, but you might be surprised that I do value my life greatly. I value my life enough to go to endless appointments, to check myself in when I know I’m not safe, to call this number if I can do nothing else to save myself. It may surprise you, Society, to learn that suicidal people value their lives enough to use these resources, but we do, we do.

So would I trade my personality for a cure for schizophrenia? No way. My living Gods created me to be as I am. And I believe that to the very fiber of my being. I believe that my schizophrenia, in some small way, serves my God’s higher purpose. I work with my treatment team to manage my symptoms, but even there, the treatment is not designed to turn me into a mindless Thorazine Zombie, I remain somewhat symptomatic, but much more functional. And my personality, the rhythms of my illness remain intact, albeit somewhat blunted. And, yes, I live in the world of side effects. My mouth is perpetually dry, I have tooth loss and gum disease related to years of dry mouth, my intestines have a will of their own, I am dizzy, drowsy, and faint by turns…and the list goes on and on. But I have my Self for good company on this journey through life. I have knowledge of my Gods. I have still my voices and my angels, and much less of the dangerous voices and much less of the dangerous hallucinations.

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s excellent book “The Fellowship of the Ring” Frodo offers the One Ring to Galadriel. Here is what happened:

“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”

And that is how I feel about a cure for my schizophrenia. It has the appeal, the power of the One Ring. I think of all I could do even yet…I think of how I would be, the dragons I might slay. But then I consider the cost, the loss of my Gods, my angels…all of my spiritual self might be traded for that elusive cure. I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the West. I will remain Pam.

 

Loving a Narcissist: Speaking Ill of the Dead

He was a big good looking man. Not tall, but broad, his shoulders seemed to go on for miles. His hair was sandy brown, and his eyes were a deep laughing blue. One of his front teeth was chipped, and that just gave his smile that perfect devil may care spark. A big good-looking man. And I’ll be the first to say he was way out of the league of my homely ass. I never understood why he started paying attention to me, but he did. And I fell in love with him so fast, so hard. The internet itself is bogged down with the pages and pages I’ve written about how much I loved him. This is not a page about how much I loved him.

He told me he was a ‘recovered heroin addict.’ I did not know then that a ‘recovered heroin addict’ is a junkie who hasn’t been able to score for a few days. I know it now. He told me I was the love of his life. I believed him. But now I know at least three other ‘loves of his life.’ He told me never to worry about him being unfaithful, that I was all he’d ever need. Except for his insatiable appetite for cocktail waitresses, bus stop boys, and bimbo real estate agents. He said he’d protect me, keep me safe. He pushed me down a flight of stairs. He blacked my eye. He shoved me into walls and bookcases. He tried to close a car door on my arm once. On purpose. And I could still bog down the internet writing pages about how much I loved him.

TomThe heroin finally killed him. I always knew it would. After all those times I sat through those stupid meetings, all those times I crammed him into rehab, all those times I ‘saved’ him. He up and died anyway.

And I was devastated. I still am devastated. Even after all these years of life without him, I’ll still catch myself crying that he is never coming home again.

But there is another chapter to this story.

You see, I wasn’t the perfect lover. I didn’t appreciate the heroin. I didn’t appreciate those bus stop boys, and I sure didn’t appreciate that realtor. I wasn’t properly grateful for being pushed down those stairs. And I never did like those stupid meetings. The hard visitor’s chairs of rehab units bruised my tender ass. The reproachful eyes of a woman who I had called a friend-the ex- before me-those great brown eyes shamed me. I guess I’m never satisfied. What woman would not be delighted by such delectable offerings?

The truth is he was a dyed-in-the-wool son of a bitch. The truth is is spent just as much time praying that the heroin would kill him as I spent praying that I could somehow save him. The truth is that I always felt guilty about being glad that he was dead.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know his name came up in therapy. Not shocked? Oh, go on.

The first time his name came up, I was still being perfect. I kept telling the therapist what a great guy he was. But, then I couldn’t tell her a single great thing about him. I tried to think of all his many wonderful qualities, but I drew blank after blank. The things I could think to tell the therapist were not wonderful things, and the wonderful things, I could not think of. At a loss for his wonderful qualities, I produced a photo. The therapist took the photo, and said the only unprofessional thing I’ve ever heard her say. She said, “Oh, myyyy…” like that, with the ‘my’ all drawn out at the end. Nearly a decade in the grave, and the looks are still turning heads.

The second time his name came up in therapy, I quit trying to be perfect. I tried to tell the good and the bad. Not all of the bad, though. Some of the bad, I will take to my grave. But I tried to tell a more balanced truth. There was still a lot more bad than good. But in telling the bad, and my guilty feelings, I was able to remember some of the good, too.

Sometime between therapy appointments, I stumbled across this article. It’s not the sort of thing I would generally read, but a close friend went through Hell after being abused by a narcissist, and I was seeking a way to have greater empathy with her. But the article was like looking in a mirror. I was shaken. Badly shaken. I threw up a couple of times. I tried to tell myself that I was wrong. But I knew I wasn’t wrong, or not too far wrong anyway.

At my next meeting with the therapist I asked if she thought he might have been a narcissist. She said that a personality disorder had crossed her mind. Of course, it is really impossible to diagnose the deceased, but you can make an educated guess. And our educated guess is that he was some kind of abusive narcissist. But he is past all help of this world now.

Which is fine, because it looks like I need all the extra help I can get.

Undermining Myself: Schizophrenia and Loss of Self-Confidence

Schizophrenia is a mental condition that can lead me into dangerous or disastrous thought patterns. Over the years, it has done so repeatedly. I can’t trust my schizophrenic thoughts to ever lead me to a good place. The problem with schizophrenic thoughts is that I can’t generally distinguish schizophrenic thoughts and thought patterns from healthy thoughts and thought patterns. I can’t trust that my own thoughts are in my best interests. This is a bizarre way to live. I have no self-confidence in my simplest thought or observation. I can’t. If I want to finally break the endless cycle of suicide attempts, hospitalizations, ruining my life, and starting over each time with a little less then I need to minimize the potential harm of schizophrenic thoughts and thought patterns.

Generally, this means I’m neurotic on a day to day basis. I bother my friends, seemingly ceaselessly. I need corroboration of my simplest experiences. Is it too cold out? Does this taste awful to you? Can you understand me? Did that make sense? I ask these kinds of questions repeatedly. I don’t ask these questions because I need validation. I ask because there are times-lots of times, sadly-when I honestly get the answers to these questions and many others wrong. And that’s just the little petty irritating stuff.

Bigger, more important issues have traditionally caused me much bigger problems. And my track record with bigger issues is even worse than with the petty stuff, and, of course, the consequences are disproportionately larger. Let’s face it, if I eat something that tastes yucky, so what? If I go out on a cold day without a coat, I’ll be uncomfortable, so what? But when we come to decisions-like how poorly I handle money, like whether I’m going to make a suicide attempt, like if I manage to get fired from my good job; those consequences in my life are cataclysmic.

The long and short of it is that I have no self-confidence in my thoughts or decisions. And there is a lifetime’s history of good reason why I don’t.

Drawing of schizophrenic robot sitting in total isolation
Image by: mailowilliams

So I develop adaptive behaviors. I ask petty irritating questions, and my friends forgive me. My friend accompanies me to appointments. He patiently sits through appointments with the social worker, the psychiatrist, the therapist, and others. I think his support and insights deserve much of the credit for this round of treatment going so well. His presence has been tolerated by most of the professionals I see, but the social worker seemed wary of his presence at first. (When she learned that he was not there to interfere, she relaxed.)

But some places, some appointments just make you feel like bringing another person into your appointment is inappropriate. In those circumstances, I have trusted in the professional capability of the people there. Thus, I have successfully gotten mammograms and PAP tests done with no issue. I also anticipated no issue when I began seeing a dentist in January.

I could not have been more wrong.

At first, it seemed fine. The office was super clean, state of the art, although there were never any patients there when we arrived. At my first two appointments, the dentist seemed kind and competent. Then the dentist pulled four teeth and sent me home with a prescription for Tramadol. I have had Tramadol before for minor pains, and it worked well enough, and though I had never had it after dental work before, I trusted it would work adequately. It didn’t. But I just toughed it out. At the next appointment, the dentist was going to fill 4 teeth. As soon as he began drilling, it was clear to me that my mouth wasn’t numb. I told him he was really hurting me…and he just picked up his drill again. He never acknowledged my pain, and once told me roughly to ‘sit still!’

Any sane person would have run away from this dentist at this point, I think. But not me! I convinced myself that I could not be perceiving the situation correctly, I blamed the schizophrenia. I blamed the anxiety. I blamed everything except the dentist who was hurting me.

Twelve hours after those fillings, my teeth hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Of course, by then his office was closed. I got in touch with the office the next day (a Wednesday) and was told he would see me the following Monday as scheduled, but not before. When I explained that I was in a lot of pain (which seemed to be getting worse) the receptionist offered to ‘call something in.’ What was called in was more Tramadol. It did not help at all. I spent a Hellish 5 days. And let me clarify, I’m no wimp when it comes to pain, I’m heavily tattooed, I had a baby on a sofa, this was real crippling pain. When I got into the dental office on Monday, I explained that I was in more pain than I could stand. The dentist just picked up his drill. Not the Novocain, the drill. There are no words for how bad his ‘improvement’ hurt.

I asked for something for the pain, and was accused of drug-seeking behavior. I was hurting so bad, and was so appalled by the drug-seeking accusation, I finally told my friend what had been going on. He suggested that I not mess around, but that I do what I needed to do in order to see a different dentist. I think I cried with relief.

I saw a different dentist who explained that the first dentist had drilled extensively into the roots and nerves of my teeth. He wouldn’t touch it. He wrote me a prescription for Vicodin, and sent me to an oral surgeon. Now I am awaiting major oral surgery. And hoping Medical Assistance does not force me to return to the first dentist.

Mental illness undermines my confidence that I can properly respond to my thoughts, my feelings and situations I find myself in. I feel angry, betrayed, and frustrated that my distrust of my own perceptions led me to continue seeing a dentist who was causing me so much pain. I worry that if I am unable to respond appropriately to a situation as clear-cut as the dentist, am I really doing as well as I think. I feel deeply ashamed and fearful that I might never be able to have true control of my life. Now I am acutely fearful of meeting an abusive person. I distrust my decisions. I distrust my schizophrenia. I distrust myself.

 

Kicking the Closet Door

Sometimes I really wonder why I do this. I don’t like being so very public about my private life, and my schizophrenia really does not like this level of publicity either. But I guess for me, it is a form of coming out.

Like homosexuality, mental illness has been in the closet just about forever. I have been in the closet all my life. And as I have grown older, I have watched my GLBTQ friends come out. I have watched them begin to LIVE their lives, instead of living a lie. And I was envious. I was even envious when they did not get support from their friends and family. At least they were free to be themselves. At least they were free to find friendship and support for who they were.

Me, I stayed in my little box. It never dawned on me that there could be friendship or support if I admitted I was schizophrenic. Publicly admitting to having schizophrenia never crossed my mind. I never imagined a world where I could be myself and have my illness and be honest about it. So forgive me. The lies come easily, and the truth comes hard.

And my whole life was a lie until I was nearly forty years old.

When I was a kid, even a very small kid the lie was that we had a normal happy family. We were never to admit even the smallest truth of what a cesspit of abuse and dysfunction was there.(or ELSE!) I never told anyone about what went on at home, I was afraid to. Even now, I only give a sketch of how it was. I’m still afraid to tell. I have had no contact with my parents for years, and I feel ashamed of that, but not so ashamed as to jump back into the cesspool. I still obsessively search for an obituary for my father. In my mind, when he is dead, and I know he is dead, I will be able to live free of fear at last. (and I am aware that is not true; probably I will fear him till my dying day)

When I got older and began to exhibit psychiatric symptoms that required treatment, everyone was told I had ‘strep throat’ or ‘mono.’ I probably have the only case of strep throat in medical history that was cured by haldol. Even as a young adult, I got the distinct impression that I needed to keep my illness hidden. Every psych ward I was ever on went to great lengths to reassure me of their ‘total discretion.’

Art by Alice Rex
Art by Alice Rex

There are no great schizophrenic role models or mentors. If you hear the word schizophrenic on TV, it is probably on the news, and the news is probably not going to be good. Even going through the mental health systems for all these years, I never met another person on a psych ward who admitted to having schizophrenia. Not one. And in all my years of life, I have met one other person who admits to being schizophrenic. One. I’m sure I have met many other schizophrenics, I have met a lot of people in my life, and 1.1 percent of the US population suffer from schizophrenia, but the disease remains largely invisible, and its sufferers remain deeply secretive about it.

Somewhere around my fortieth birthday, I made a conscious choice to try to live more truthfully. I decided to be more open and honest about who I am and what I have. Honestly, I fail most days. Being who I am is often uncomfortable, and sometimes unbearable. But I am still struggling toward those goals of openness and honesty. I try to be patient with myself when I fall short.

So I write this. And I put it on the internet where anybody can see it. Not because I think I’m doing a particularly good job of it, but because someone has to. Someone has to start punching and kicking at those closet walls. Someone has to want to take a breath of air as a free person. And that someone seems to be me.

I have accepted that schizophrenia is as much a part of me as my spleen. I can deal with the reality of my illness, and try to learn better ways to live with it. But I don’t have to live in a box in the dark because of it.

I’m not deluding myself either. Schizophrenia DOES have a stigma attached to it in America in 2016, and some people won’t want anything to do with me. They have that right, and I’m not going to be judgmental about it. (I remain judgmental about racism or homophobia, though) Unlike Civil Rights or GLBTQ Rights, mental health advocacy in this country has had very little success in educating citizens that mental health patients are not dangerous. I think they are working on it, but I think they have a long difficult path to bring about those changes in perception.

The only thing I know for sure about beginning to live openly as a schizophrenic is that I am lucky to have some amazing, supportive, and tolerant people around me. Because of their myriad gracious deeds, I am still here struggling toward the light. I hope they know who they are.