I returned to college after a six-month hiatus when I suffered a psychotic break from my symptoms emerging. The psychosis wasn’t as strong as it is now, but I cried and cried wondering what is wrong with me. I did not realize that depression goes hand-in-hand with psychosis and schizophrenia. I went back to college too early but I was determined to finish my degree. My symptoms were different and less catatonic than they are now. I found friends and looking back, I’m surprised that I did considering most of the time I slept throughout much of my time at college. If I didn’t have to shower, I slept. If I didn’t have to attend class, I slept. If I didn’t have to eat, I slept. Depression naps, really: I never knew these things had labels to them in behaviorial health.
I still managed to score good grades and entered a honors program in Washington DC. Throughout I thought people were following me. I would find a seat in a particular place in a room so I can see everything. I have no idea if my behavior was picked up by others, but once or twice I would scream “stop following me!” at random bus passengers or classmates in large lecture halls. Their reactions were bewildering: they’d laugh or they’d yell “so what?” as if they really were following me. I chalk it up to the college environment. I did my best to follow-through challenges. I took aikido, I painted, and I took hikes, listening to the voices in my head throughout and having a conversation with them. The trees would have wires and I would talk to them. I’d scream and moths would emerge from their resting places. I spoke insanity to the woods that surrounded my college. I rested on a cliff wondering why I felt followed, why me? Everything felt like a obstacle course made for me. I would smoke quietly near a bush away from people and cry. I didn’t understand the hold that paranoid schizophrenia had on me.
In class, I would sit quietly, for some reason the voice would subside and felt less anxious as the instructor lectured. I think my hyperviligance attributed to my good grades because I was paying attention to every detail, whether it was the lecture or students or door entrances. I’m glad I made college friends throughout all this and remain friends since, albeit long distant.
At best without obvious symptoms, I have mind blindness: I can’t communicate effectively the mentalization of people’s thoughts and body language. I can skip along without too much worry from the loosening of associative words that develop midway disabling my speech. I’m bilingual and the disorder throws words around in my mind that slow down my reaction time; my code switching is mixed with the disorder’s involuntary code switching.
The tardive dyskinesia, the involuntary muscle movements, can be ignored in public settings but make close-up conversations feel like I suffer from early onset Parkinson’s Disease, a central nervous disorder. Saying Parkinsonism sounds like I’m on the religion of Parkinson, but you can’t make jokes like that during a job interview or waiting in line for groceries. I feel aged as a result. It makes me absorb my surroundings with greater detail, something I never did before, and that’s a blessing I can’t get mad at. It does slow me down, my intuition is at best mechanical and predictable. There’s people that go “hmm” in how I behave and at least they’re openly understanding. When I speak I may have grammar without semantics interfere with how I communicate. Discussing all this to the bank teller is a bit much so I may just sound foreign to the English language.
As I discover more about my disability, science is working on next generation medication that can reduce these symptoms.
I read “Peanuts” as a child; a preview of things to come. “The Doctor Is In” signs coming into full view. I read it as a comic book but it was a philosophy for me really. I never understood psychiatry except through Lucy’s booth. Now I nonchalantly feel the words that come out: I am paranoid schizophrenia with a gamut of positive and negative symptoms. This is what my mind has been fighting against for years. I was genetically predisposed to this as my biological father had suffered from schizophrenia and died early in the decade. I’d like to believe I spent my entire life preparing for this but it’s worse than I imagined. It’s a waking nightmare of a shattered mind. It is a constant process of managing voices that come and go while being sociable and accepting there will be some stigma because people can be stigmatizing. When it all began, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I just know that I have a psychiatric disability.
The main thing is I have never refused a diagnosis as long as it is accurate. What I find interesting about schizophrenic patients and stories I’ve read and discovered, is that they refuse to accept their diseases as such. I saw firsthand through my father how debilitating that is, for it leaves you lonely and angry. After all, it’s like when someone is in the closet, you’re just mad all the time (I can only imagine). So my anger is in my inability to communicate to anyone how to manage these symptoms. I can’t explain to every passerby at a promenade, “Hey, I’m mentally disabled here.” It’s impractical and doesn’t work. “So this must be how stigma starts,” I say to myself as I begin this long journey of understanding my illness and how it affects my family, friends, strangers, and individuals that may never understand, nor want to.