The Day My Life Stood On End and Changed Forever
Accepting My Life With Mental Illness
One day, in the middle of drawing storyboards for an advertising job, I picked up the phone, my face drenched with tears, and told my agent that I was in danger of ruining all of our reputations, and to remove me from the agency roster.
Then I drove to a remote Orange County parking lot, locked my car door and marched into the desert.
At some point during this woozy wobbly haze, I was on my cell phone, telling some man that no, I could not make it until Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.
I was finally in a room with someone who seemed to hear me. The words out of his mouth seemed a true response to what I had just said or exhibited, not just like reading off of some cue cards.
Over the next few months it was no work and all therapy.
Although the details varied from doctor to doctor, (PTSD, schizoaffective lapses, clinical depression, etc.) the verdict was clearly unanimous and solidly official. I was broken.
Not a year later, increasing suicidal ideation and time spent glued to the bed turned into admission into a psychiatric emergency facility, followed by a month in, shall we say, a very quiet place with scheduled meds.
I attended groups, slowly trying to get used to the idea of being a member of a community. Surely, it was like being a member of a stranded castaways club, but it was a club.
Even if I didn't feel completely understood in these groups, the beauty of it was that nobody pretended to. Nobody acted like they knew more about my experience than I did, or that my experience was some kind of laziness or put-on.
I haven't experienced as much grief from the “stigma” of mental illness as I have the proselytizing from people who think they can relate to me because they were once really bummed out for having lost some really great job. They've never slept in a bed next to a guy who screamed all night because of the voices in his head. They've never had a med side-effect that made their body feel as though it was trying to shake its skeleton out of it.
I now seem to spend whatever lucid time I have strategizing how to make whatever I'm doing with my day reinforce my recovery, maximize my chances at functionality, at happiness. I seem to do best when working from a "to-do" list. It gives some shape to my day and a sense of measurable accomplishment.
One thing that is a marvel to me is this: before the freak-outs and the meltdowns, I saw gauging this sort of thing as one might with a thermometer. Just how mentally ill are you? What's its level? Is it high? Is it low?
By now, I have been through an astonishing variety of experiences, wildly differing levels and flavors of mental pain, motor functionality, fuzzy thinking, speed wobbles, a mind of firecrackers, foam, wheels locking up, feeling like a glop of tar...the list goes on.
I now live in a one-room cabin duplex in a flood zone in the Northern California Redwoods. I share a paper-thin wall with an angry and volatile neighbor. It is the only place I can afford. I rarely leave the house, and when I do, it is truly an ordeal. I hobble to the kitchen or bathroom with a cane. Bathing is a laborious and bizarre spectacle. Groceries and other goods are purchased online and delivered. Doctor visits are now only for the most urgent and dire instances. I haven't attended a group in nearly a year.
These days, I'm limited to mostly poetry writing. My head can't seem to handle the stress load or sustain the focus to do much in the way of drawing or writing of any real length. I can sometimes play my guitar or keyboard for 15-20 min. at a time. Any more and my brain just locks up.
I take whatever meds are my doctors' current best guess and struggle with my now considerable weight.
My thoughts are mostly dark and it takes effort to repeat more positive phrases during certain types of meditation, but I do it.
I don't sit, wishing and hoping for the restoration of a former quality of life. All I shoot for now is a good day. Sometimes, a good day is made up of a temporary reprieve from pain, a few good laughs from a TV show and getting the dishes done.