Meeting Ana at Starbuck's on Saturday opened the world to me. I've decided that once I move into a livable apartment, I want to host a dinner party every season with four fabulous friends: Sharon, Zoe, Ana and Merry.
At the coffeehouse, we sat at a table eating lunch and catching up. I first met Ana five years ago. Then, she told me she knew that after she got sick, things were different, so she went back to school to have another career. Ana has a Masters in International Studies, and works full-time now for a non-profit devoted to providing clean drinking water in developing countries.
After a lull in the conversation, I asked her, "Is it easy for you?" She told me it wasn't, yet she wouldn't give up, like she's seen too many peers do: they quit at the first sign life is getting hard. I resolved not to be that way. At home on Saturday night, I thought a long time about why life isn't meant to be easy. We have every hard time to thank for making us who we are.
What makes the pain livable? Just to wake up and live life. It would be a disservice to you to give the appearance that everything comes easy to me. I only make it look easy because I refuse to dwell on the symptoms. I feel I go through what I do because that's the only way I could truly understand what it's like for other people.
That is all I could seek to do, because to understand is to have compassion. God's final plan for all human beings is unconditional love towards one's neighbors. In the fall, Jamie Foxx stars in the film, the Soloist, about a musical prodigy whose schizophrenia cut short his career, causing him to become homeless. A movie already generating Academy-Award buzz, it portrays in a sensitive and enlightened way people who need society's compassion. (L.A.'s Skid Row inhabitants were cast as extras.)
How do these five paragraphs segue into my original intent in writing this blog entry, which was to focus on the necessity of developing relationships and not hiding out in one's room? When we talk with inspiring people like Ana, we get fired up. After meeting her, I went to the gym and did forty minutes on the treadmill at a 4.5 incline and a 3.5 speed. All night, I felt elevated.
By risking being in relationships, we gain the strength, courage and confidence to cope with the schizophrenia. Do you beat up on yourself? Get down because you have a mental illness? The sublime antidote is to reach out when you'd rather go within. If you isolate because you worry what people will think of you, because you feel different, that intensifies the feeling of being a misfit with others.
I titled an early 2007 blog entry "Relationships: Worth the Challenge," and I suggest you go back and re-read it. Everyone worries about rejection, and it's compounded for those of us with schizophrenia who are vulnerable when we reveal our diagnosis to someone we like and want to get close to. Four years ago, I dated a guy who negged on me: he was critical of everything I did, and I felt I couldn't be myself around him. Not surprisingly—though it hurt at first—he called it quits and that was a good thing. It was stressful trying to live up to his expectations. Once I'm settled into the new apartment, I'm going to join www.NoLongerLonely.com and try again to meet someone.
When you're in a romantic relationship, or have a friendship, with an empathetic, respectful person who treats you with dignity, your self-esteem skyrockets. You want to be around the person and miss him when he's gone. Not everyone will accept you or me as we are. So we need to keep moving on until we find the people who will accept us. It takes time, effort and patience. You also could decide that the other person isn't someone you want to pursue, after all. This is the dance of intimacy: practice until you find the one, and realize that in your lifetime, there may be more than one.
If the Soloist film is any indication, Jamie Foxx's performance will move mountains of resistance that others have in associating with people who have mental illnesses. We are neighbors, sisters, friends and supervisors, among other roles. Some of us have wonderful lives, and others have hardships. To find friends and lovers who embrace us without reservation: that is the goal. We are closer to that than ever before.
I've been a member of a memoir writing workshop for close to a year, and have bonded with the other women who accepted me even though at the second session, I presented the breakdown scene in vivid detail. They told me I was courageous to tell my story. Afterwards, one woman disclosed she's had bouts of depression. Everyone meets for coffee on Sundays at Tillie's in Fort Greene, near where I live.
In any arena—work, love or play—people live up to the expectations we have of them. If we anticipate stigma, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ana feels that if she lifts someone up, he will shine. She has taken chances on people, and they didn't disappoint. The ones who discounted her success she took in stride. I wanted to interview her for the Connection, and respected her desire to keep things private. We planned to go out to dinner next week and do other things. I'm confident I could be honest with her. I feel she has come into my life at a good time.
Remember this: the couch doesn't pat you on the back. Hiding out is a temporary solution that won't benefit you in the long run. The only way to grow is to risk discomfort in meeting new people. As the Zen saying tells us, "Leap and the net will appear."
Published On: July 29, 2008