As you may know, I've written a memoir, Left of the Dial, for which I seek an agent to represent me. Moving towards that, I've signed on with a professional editor who's critiquing my 241-page manuscript. She treated me to lunch at Spring Street Natural in Manhattan, and hit a sensitive spot when she asked about the schizophrenia's effect on me. "It must have been confusing, and troubling, to go through that at a time in your life when you were just forming your own identity, just starting out in the world."
As we talked, my mind flooded with memories of how the hospitalization cut my life in half; halted this individuation and budding self-confidence. That's why I urge people not to co-opt the term "schizophrenic" to describe themselves. We deserve better because ultimately, we recover by discovering ourselves, and we discover ourselves by recovering. If the end-point of our lives is to be a schizophrenic, it reinforces the stigma.
In 1987, when I first got sick, I had no role models to guide me and offer hope and inspiration. I felt like my world had ended. Struggling to pull myself together, I rebelled because I didn't want to live in "the system" the rest of my life. I pushed the truth out of my mind because it was too painful. I didn't want others to find out about the schizophrenia because I wanted to be taken seriously in the real world.
Sometimes you can't make it on your own. I did all I possibly could before I needed to go on the Stelazine; and I recently tried to change things again on my own until I realized my best effort wasn't enough, so I needed to switch drugs. Dr. Altman has started to cross-taper the new pills with my original medication; gradually raising the new at the same time he lowers the old.
Already, my thoughts are quieter and I'm able to calmly accept myself without the harsh self-critical narrator blaring in my head like a fire engine. On a balmy Sunday I attended a luncheon at the Grand Prospect Hall, and it was noticeably easier to hold my own at the table where I sat with the volunteer I had nominated for an award. Though other people sat across from us, I didn't worry that they thought I was looking at them.
I felt it was easier to think rationally about what goes on in my head. The first drug I was on had stopped working as effectively as it used to, and so I had begun worrying more. The night my psychiatrist decided to switch me to a new drug, I told him about how I use the image of a "VU Meter" to deal with anxiety. On a disc jockey's mixing board, a VU Meter is a device that measures the level of sound intensity. The left side is calm, and if it dips into the red, on the extreme right, you have to adjust the volume.
Dr. Altman loved how I used this to monitor what goes on. "There's a spectrum, starting on the left with insecurity, moving to self-doubt, rising to worry, dipping into anxiety, and if it goes into the red, that's when you have paranoia and then symptoms," I explained.
He said I'm not psychotic, and when I asked him how he thinks I'm doing, he was honest. "You're doing remarkable." This cheered me.
The day before the volunteer luncheon I was in a card store buying a birthday greeting for a friend whose party I was to attend in the evening. While browsing the hip selection, I was attracted to one with an Asian print of olive, turquoise and brown with a floral scroll, a stamp, and in the middle a beige fortune cookie from which an actual fortune stuck out.
It said, "Who cares what everyone else thinks. Be true to yourself."
And so I took it home and framed it, and hung it in my living room to uplift me. Taking the medication is the sure-fire way I know to be true to myself. It clarifies my thoughts in much the same way my eyeglasses bring the world into focus. The switch to a new antipsychotic feels right because the drug pacifies my mind. I accept that I need some form of psychotropic to do the trick.
In five days I see Rose, the pro editor, who returns her first critique and gives me ideas about how to continue with my book. She knows my memoir is important. I see things with a compassionate eye. I write about people who have wants and needs just like anyone. It's so much more than a ward story.
When I publish the book, I'll amp up my public speaking. I feel the need to clarify the misunderstanding about schizophrenia. I've been at my job seven years now, and I've been a librarian for 10 years total. So I have something to say about recovery that I want the general public to know: treatment works. I'll be on some form of medication the rest of my life. Yet the drugs alone weren't what saved me. I had an indomitable spirit. And I have faith in my vision of a better life for people living with schizophrenia.
So far, I feel pretty up on the new drug. I've come to care less and less what everyone else thinks. I'm true to myself. And isn't that the ultimate goal of recovery: to like yourself? At Enzo's birthday party, I chatted with someone I didn't know, and also my friends. I could've been tempted to worry, and I didn't.
At midnight, I got in the cab and rested easy as the driver took the long way home. In my mind, I had already arrived where I wanted to be.
Published On: July 16, 2007