Today, and for many days soon to come, I’m going to engage in a kind of discussion on something that is very difficult for me to discuss. I don’t know if this conversation will ultimately be one-sided (meaning I simply self-reflect as I write and share my pieces), or if people will pitch in to the conversation and make it deep (and probably very complicated).
Indeed, I have started a collection of essays called Visions. It will feature essays about my mental illness, schizoaffective disorder, and all that that mental illness entails. The confused mind that I struggle to understand and not hate. The complex dynamics between me and the rest of the world. The way relationships strain and warp under pressure. The way that my life becomes overcomplicated to the point of destroying me. The way I get profiled, stereotyped, and mentally bullied and abused, even by people that I deeply respect.
I am going to speak for myself; I am also going to speak up for myself. I don’t often talk about my mental illness because it opens me up to so much potential criticism. I can recall so many times where I have brought it up (the topic of my mental illness), and it has ultimately led to much heartache and personal suffering. I honestly don’t know if I have the internal resources to deal with the backlash I will inevitably face for talking openly and even brazenly/boldly about my illness, but it needs to get done. I’ve put it aside for too long. I’ve tried to advocate for other groups that I relate to very much (such as the homeless, of course), but in doing so I’ve put a great need and a great gift aside, out of fear and shame. I need to, indeed, talk about mental illness, and talk about MY mental illness, and stop running away from it and hiding it. I do hope I have the inner resources to deal with the suffering that talking about this will inevitably cause, as indeed, I have tried to start this conversation too many times and it has always ended up destroying me. But that said, I’m ready, whether I’m ready or not.
In short, this is something that is important to me, and that needs to get done. I may make some enemies and strain friendships, but that’s the nature of my illness as I tried to make clear above. But for the people who have believed in me and encouraged me to tell my story (I’m thinking of my friend James, and of course Andrew, though it was James who saw this undertaking of essays and my writing ability as a tool for understanding things a little easier about my illness): Thank you.
I talk about a lot of things. I talk about a lot of things that are hard to talk about but that I think need to be discussed.
Homelessness. Homosexuality. Epistemology. God. Society. Humanity. Cruelty and evil. All the controversial stuff, or a good chunk of it.
But there’s one thing that’s closest to me, that I don’t talk about, except in indirect ways. It is because, it’s painful. Because it makes me vulnerable.
That is, my mental illness. Not mental illness in general, but specifically, my mental illness.
If there’s anything I know to be true, it’s contingency. Definitely in terms of existentialism. They would say that even though we are free beings, we must always be aware of the things that are out of our control, of the things that happen without explanation and that interfere with our freedom. William James, in terms of his conception of mind, would say that the mind is always changing, that that is the stream of consciousness that is essentially an eternal and internal flow of thoughts.
This contingency, in either of these senses or even in a broader sense, makes it difficult to talk about anything, especially things that always matter, because things are always changing. Certainly the Buddha thought so, with his idea of impermanence. The point being, it’s hard to really pause to talk about something with all of this background clutter and clatter going on around us all the time.
But, I’m talking about mental illness now. I am indeed, making it a point and priority.
I’ve talked about it before, in various guises … but I’ve never sought to talk about my mental illness as openly and directly as possible, and with as little theoretical content as possible. I can’t write forever this way, but for this moment in time, that’s how I’m writing about it.
Mental illness hurts. That’s why I don’t talk about it. People that work in mental healthcare automatically assume they know what it’s like to have a mental illness, when they tell you things like, “So you are suicidal?” when you denied such a claim because you are indeed suicidal, but it’s metaphorical too, and it’s hard to separate out how and why you want to harm yourself with the metaphor obsession you have with self-harm.
I have been branded. I carry it with me all the time, the shame. But, I can’t see it, which is the worst part. I can reflect, introspect, but that gets me no closer to seeing and viewing my mind, to seeing the deformity that I hold in my skull, to understanding. I suppose a glimpse is better than nothing, but it doesn’t reveal everything that I need.
Why am I suicidal? Well, isn’t that the whole catch? Because I don’t want to be here, on this Earth. Sometimes I do, but when it boils down to talking about my mental illness, or living with the effects of my mental effects (either social or psychological), I don’t want to live. It’s not the clichéd picture of “just giving up.” It’s not the cliché of “you want to escape the suffering” (though there’s truth to that) or “you’re being selfish.” For me, it’s something much different. How powerful that would be if I wasted all of my potential, knowing it won’t amount to anything in the end, and yet simultaneously understanding that I have made an impact, and that my absence would hurt other people? I wouldn’t commit suicide to hurt other people, understand me. But it’s the praise of tragedy. It’s praising and having reverence for the life I have that I do not respect: Namely, my life.
That, I do not respect because of my mental illness, because of my label.
It has vastly overcomplicated my life (the diagnosis). At least it prevents me from being an automaton, because I have to really work at life and work at my thinking, but even then, I have to work hard to conform, to figure out the rules, to understand what it is I’m doing wrong, and behave. Which is odd, because if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that usually my illness is triggered by social interactions, and bad ones. I have a range of examples to illustrate this point, ranging from when my mother abused me when I was under the grandiose delusion that I was Christ, to when I struggled with mania when I thought that I was being profiled by people because I wanted to play with their kids (I’d rather not explain what they thought I was, because it just further brings me shame, it further brings me down, and makes me further internalize all of the negative stereotypes that exist about me and my kin, people with mental illness).
I can’t speak for all people with mental illness; I probably can’t even speak for one person with mental illness. But I can, and I will, speak for myself about it. I will assert, and overassert; I will tell the truth as I see it, and call out the injustices and the many unfair elements that surround having this illness.
It’s lonely. Not just because living in your own mind is a world devoid of exterior meaning and connection, but because your mind is ostracized and cut off, for being simultaneously brilliant and naïve, intensely intelligent and stupid. Nothing hurts more. But that’s the culture I was brought into, correct? Ranging from the dumb autistic kid hidden by his fanatic parents in a closet down the street to John Nash?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the picture that people have? We’re either ostracized geniuses or idiots to be pitied?
Did I ask to be born into this background, into all of these background assumptions? No.
But neither do I buy any of these stereotypes, either. I by no means have a doctorate in the study of mental illness, but I’ve been around enough mentally ill people to appreciate their intelligence. But it’s a special kind of intelligence that only the cued in and sensitive can understand. And that to me is the point. I can understand it, on a level that no one else can. That is my privilege for being branded and labeled with a disease that has forever complicated my life.
Does that make me feel special that I understand these things? To an extent. I suppose, it kind of does, except I feel ever so left out of the conversation that really matters. I feel ostracized, because no one can see my psyche, they just think they can. They think they see it in its entirety, when they aren’t even seeing glimpses.
But it’s the ones that make an effort with me that make me question such a belief. My friends Jim and Andrew, and their respective families. How they have been kind to me despite my struggles. Jim in fact inspired me to write a collection of essays. I don’t know where I’m going to be in the future, but let’s hope this is the first essay of my book of essays about mental illness called Visions.
I am not a part of the conversation. I am not a part of the narrative. There’s something I’m missing. “I’m glad you overcame those thoughts.” What you’re really saying is, “Your thoughts scare me, stay away.”
Hence why I have a hard time opening up about my mental illness, except in my writing. But it needs to get done.
It needs to get done, and become a priority, and an important part of my life, an important piece. Even it upsets people, and upsets me, brings judgement, causes shame, causes heartache, and destroys my life.
So, I’m going to try.
This is a glimpse of my psyche. Cherish it, because such a gentle cherishing may keep me alive.