In the 1980s, when I was in college, disaffected teens across America dipped into the gloom. I was young and in love with the music; a college disc jockey on the FM dial. Siouxsie and the Banshees were my soundtrack. I wore beaten-on blue eye shadow, streaked blush and crimson lips—imitating Siouxsie Sioux, the iconic Goth lead singer of this British band.
“Look at me! I’m hurting.” That’s what I was trying to tell my mother and others, when I wore this mask. It was a cry for help. I wouldn’t let others see in; the real me was off-limits. Perhaps that was an unconscious way to protect myself from a level of closeness I wasn’t ready for. I’m not of the mindset that my abused makeup was simple teenage experimentation: the illness merely collided with my youth, so you couldn’t differentiate the two. The cosmetics book author, Paula Begoun, got it right: “Blue eye shadow should absolutely be illegal.”
The illness is subtle, and manifests itself in aberrations of personality, thought and mood. The schizophrenia daringly inserts itself into your brain with complete control. I met a woman, Kelly, who suggested that I was a teen rebel and my persona reflected who I was at the time. I’m not so sure, although my first therapist had told me that being a disc jockey—doing the thing I loved—probably stopped me from getting sick any sooner.
I have a mental illness. My brain will never function normally unless I take the medication. It promotes harmony between my feelings and thoughts. The meds allow me to be creative in a nurturing way. A couple weeks ago when I cleared out my night table, I skimmed through some college-era journals I was going to discard. I had proof that fully a year before my breakdown, my writing had become a mess and reflected my emotional state.
I define recovery as the process of becoming my whole self, and accepting who I am apart from the SZ. Part of its destructive nature is to silence us and rob us of our identity. The illness destroys; recovery creates.
In my 20s I worked in corporations, and was cut off from expressing myself. Is it any wonder, then, that I dressed like a punk rock girl in my after hours? I wore a lipstick-red tee shirt, spandex mini skirt, fishnets and ballerina flats. After my relapse, when I spent two weeks in the hospital, I returned to work and my career at the firm was derailed. Everyone knew I had a breakdown, and they treated me differently.
Cycling in and out of jobs, I made the decision to go back to school to become a librarian. Kelly, the woman I mentioned earlier, knew this wise choice was the turning point in my recovery. “You love acquiring knowledge. It made sense for you.”
The illness fears a calm, empty mind and will do everything in its power to attack, the thoughts going off like grenades. It never goes away; the medication simply keeps it at bay. Yet my brain is mostly calm now, and I attribute this to finding the job I love. After I became a public service librarian, things happened in a snowball roll. I joined a writing workshop to begin working on my memoir, Left of the Dial, and then found a support group. These two activities gave me the confidence to query editors about article ideas, and I began getting published; the very goal I had after I graduated college, but couldn’t follow-through on because I got sick.
The circle of my life is now complete. It took me 10 years to revolve and evolve. The theme of my memoir, indeed, is “self-discovery through recovery.” I will say it again, if you give yourself the gift of 10 years, you will be well on your way to having a stable recovery.
In my life, I’ve had ups and downs, and it wasn’t easy in the early days. Over the years, I’ve come to see that living your passion is the key factor in having a happy life.
I love to be creative, and though this talent mutated into weirdness when I was sick, I use it now as the healing drug. I encourage you to express yourself, and not repress yourself. Do the things that give you joy. Some of us are creative with numbers, and are natural-born accountants. Maybe you can re-wire a stereo, or knit a funky sweater.
About two years ago, I told a friend that I felt I had the breakdown because I couldn’t express my feelings, and so they got split off. He didn’t think this was possible, but I’m certain it played a significant role. In the coming entries, I’m going to talk about things rarely discussed as possible triggers for the SZ: environment, stress, and nutrition. Our healing is always on the emotional level. I want to talk about the ways in which where I live and work, my fitness and nutrition, and the relationships I have, all contributed to my recovery.
Using this as a springboard, perhaps you’ll become inspired to make positive changes in your own life. I wish you all the best in your recovery.
What lifestyle changes have you made? Have they helped in your recovery process? Leave a comment below or in the message boards.
Published On: January 23, 2007