Self-Expression: The Healing Drug

  • 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.”
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    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.
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    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