In the fall of 1991, I was still working as an administrative assistant. On and off, rumors of downsizing bubbled through the office, but I thought nothing of it.
For about seven months, I’d been on two mgs. of the medication, down from the 5 mgs. I was on ever since I got out of the hospital. At this time in my recovery, I was in active denial that I had an illness. My feelings about what happened to me mirrored the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was at the beginning of the curve. It would be years before I used the last four coping techniques.
Right now, I was blind to the truth. This led me to ask Dr. Santiago to supervise a drug holiday in April 1992. He complied because I was doing so well that he thought it was worth seeing if I could live without the meds.
Shortly after this decision, I was indeed laid off from my job and had to look for new work. With only $1,000 in the bank, I decided to forego COBRA—the extension of my health insurance that I could pay for out of my own pocket, for up to 18 months.
Luckily, I found a job in May. All seemed to be going well, until the end of June when I began to slowly become paranoid. Before then, I had a weird thought or two and considered going back on the Stelazine, but didn’t. I started to exhibit symptoms at work, and on July 2, 1992, my mother again drove me to the hospital, where I was admitted for two weeks so I could get stabilized on the meds again.
When I returned to work, my career at the new firm was derailed. The co-workers knew I’d had a breakdown, and they treated me differently. Only Leah, the account executive I worked for, and Adriana, my boss, treated me with respect. My supervisor was the one who told management to keep me on, even though they wanted to fire me. Because of her, I returned to work instead of a day program.
Though I put on a smile, things were a mess. The hospital bills totaled $5,575, and I didn’t have insurance, so bill collectors rang me on my direct line at work, harassing me for payment. Medicaid denied my request for benefits, and I applied for a re-hearing.
One day, I was in tears at my desk. I went into Adriana’s corner office and told her I needed to take a walk. It was a summer day that should’ve been full of promise: the leaves on the trees were eternal green, and the weather was comfortable. I strolled down to Bowling Green and found a seat on a park bench.
My life was over. Again, the symptoms had disappeared, but I knew I wasn’t free: the schizophrenia would follow me for the rest of my life.
“Christina,” a voice beckoned, and I turned. Leah was walking towards me. How did she know where I was? “May I join you?”
“Yes.” I was grateful. She understood me. She’d told me not to declare bankruptcy, and to duke it out with Veronica Lane, who I was making “good faith” payments to of $20 a month. It was all I could afford, because I was a member of the working poor.
“I had to come out here, too.” She laughed. “Johnson was after me like a dog in heat.” She referred to one of the male account executives who had a slimy reputation as a skirt chaser.
Leah encouraged me to look on the bright side. “You have so much more to offer the world.” How did she know? Leah continued: “You’re a good assistant, but you won’t get anywhere at Morrell & Foster. I suggest you find someplace where your talents will be recognized.”
She offered to be a reference. I mulled over what she said. To be honest, I was in denial of this truth. It would be two years before I forced myself to leave. That day on the park bench, I somehow knew it would be okay. Things had changed, and I would deal with them.
In year five, I hope you make good changes, like finding the job you like or doing volunteer work or moving into your own apartment. In my fifth year, I took the only risk I ever regret having taken. I could no longer deny that the illness was real; it had messed up my brain chemistry. I wouldn’t ever dare to try going off meds again.
From that moment on, I knew that there was a reason I relapsed. I’d have to find out why I did, and make my peace. Maybe Leah was right: I had something to offer the world.
Year six in my recovery was an active yet humble time, and I’ll talk about that next.
Published On: April 03, 2007