I have lived the last 27 years in denial of one simple thing. The thing? That I am mentally ill with paranoid schizophrenia. I also confronted the fact that it hasn’t changed, isn’t changing, and isn’t going to change. I have spent most of my adult life working on, and waiting, for it to go away. I still have it. And the good doctor informs me that it is chronic for me. I’m one of the “lucky” 33%, who respond well to medication, but for whom the illness will never disappear by itself, nor by having me work on it. So, where does that leave me?
While being a bit pensive tonight, I realized that not only that I had to accept the illness as chronic and debilitating, but that others in society see me as disabled. Some are very compassionate. Others, not so much. But it was like a dose of reality did the brain some good. Instead of denying it, fighting it, fighting myself, and fighting others, I just faced up to a reality check. Any reality check brings me this much closer to sanity–though the lines never truly converge, no matter what.
It is liberating. I don’t have to hide. I don’t have to think of myself as someone I disrespect. I am not in need to prove anything (except to myself that I can still accomplish some things though at much reduced expectations,) and I don’t have to argue with others that they are discriminating against my illness. It is what it is. And if I were an employer, I wouldn’t hire me either.
The trick is in negotiating everyday life so that there is meaning; destressing from daily living; managing resources. All of these overwhelms me, but I’ve got to start somewhere. The best advice my psychiatrist gave me was that “I have a say in that.” No excuses. No pity parties. No procrastination (resting or taking a breather isn’t procrastination). There will always be the disability to hinder me, and meaning isn’t always possible every single day. But sometimes, or often, meaning is possible. I just have to run in the opposite direction of existentialism and metaphysics no matter how many books I have on these twin topics. (And I do have quite a few.)
I am almost free, within the limitations of my damaged frontal lobes, and with the help of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, to be myself and explore subjects or hobbies that I enjoy. My mother says that had I been normal, I would have been a workaholic. My psychiatrist tells me to join the “slacker’s movement”. It’s hard for me to accept that work, the very thing that gave me structure, drive and determination when younger, is now pretty much something I have to take it easy with, and, half the time, even avoid.
In a sense, realizing how people see me puts me in my place in society. I am not an outsider. I am part of society wanting to give back but within limitations of my mental and physical health. No longer am I alone. No longer do I have to think of “us” and “them”. No longer do I have to fight, because fighting has rejection as a presupposition. Mind you, society gives out mixed messages. For instance, our outgoing Liberal provincial Premier had frozen our disability rates for 9 years and repeatedly told us we had to find work while providing no retraining or effectual job rehabilitation (the vocational rehab I went to made me suicidal and they told me I could only volunteer with seniors and kids doing crafts, IF SUPERVISED…f*ck that.) So, she cheated the disabled out of a living wage, and sent us on a potentially fatal runaround. When I decided to “come out” in job interviews by telling employers that I’m paranoid schizophrenic, they’d immediately escort me the door. It wasn’t as if I was trying to claim NCR. See, the interviewer previous to them had weaselled it out of me when I said I didn’t want to disclose. Then, upon orders from the eavesdropping big boss, who phoned the interviewer in the middle of our interview, she showed me the door. (Hence, the subsequent pre-empting.) So, where are the jobs? Licking envelopes for $2 an hour? Let’s hope the incoming NDP Premier does better.
But, work stress gives me psychotic flare-ups, anyway, unfortunately. When I turned 45, the year my psychiatrist said 25 years ago that I could eventually taper off meds, he instead told me that my illness is chronic and that work could be a long-term goal. Who on earth would hire a paranoid schizophrenic, someone like myself who can’t perform the on the job reliably, at the age of 50, but a blind fishmonger? Then, he said it’d have to be sheltered employment. Oh no, not licking envelopes. So, I had to concede that I had better take an early retirement and enjoy what I could even though it meant living paycheque to paycheque, and sometimes in debt. I can do some smaller chores and run short errands for a bit of payment. I proactively ensure those sums are reported on my stub.
I’m still me. I just have fewer friends and less opportunities than I started out with. But, if mental illness can drive away the unworthy, is it not useful and worthy, then? ~V.
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