I remember the desktop background on her computer more than anything else – it was a soft-focus picture of a flower with a quote by it; probably some kind of inspirational quote that I’ve always associated with people who work at Hallmark. A quote that’s so washed out and disconnected from reality that I have a hard time taking its advice seriously. I don’t remember her name, I don’t remember what she looks like, I don’t remember a whole lot about her. I do remember the tremble in her voice as she talked to me about how she thought I had schizoaffective disorder. She explained that it was like having schizophrenia and bipolar disorder at the same time and that the best thing to do was to seek treatment from a psychiatrist. I didn’t want that. Maybe I just wanted to go home, maybe I just wanted to go back to my studio and paint until I wasn’t so scared anymore…I wanted to talk to my mom. Over the previous weeks, I had reported to this therapist about hearing voices, the one who called herself Myra – my tormentor and obsession. I’d told her I was losing hours of time where I didn’t know what had happened. I suddenly `came to’ in class and I had no idea how I’d gotten there. I also told this therapist about how I’d been chased out of a theatre a few nights prior by a huge half-dragon half-boar creature, that my ex-girlfriend (whom I was trying to make amends with) came out looking for me and noticed how distressed I was. We agreed to go and make some dinner, we got back to her apartment and she told me to just relax while she cooked. But there Myra was: “Chris, she’s poisoning you, she’s going to kill you.” I got up and looked at my ex-girlfriend in terror…the words were forming on my lips but they couldn’t quite make it out. I yelled incoherently, grabbed my bag and my jacket, and stormed out of the apartment. That was the last time I ever talked to her.
As I walked out of the building her office was in I was greeted with the cool, crisp breeze of fall in Minnesota. Everything around me was dying, it was so beautiful…leaves were various shades of yellow, orange, and red and my footsteps made a crunching noise as I started my walk back to campus. I pulled out my phone and called my mom. I figured that my family should probably know about this diagnosis. My mom is such a sweet lady and I think she had a better idea of how serious it was than I did. She wanted to fly out to Minnesota and bring me home to be safe with her and my dad so we could figure out a treatment plan. In the beginning, we thought that all I’d have to do is take my medicine and everything would be fine; that wasn’t the only time we proved to be ignorant in our treatment of my illness.
I told my mom that it wasn’t really a big deal…it was schizophrenia but it wasn’t real schizophrenia. And I wasn’t totally sure about the whole bipolar thing either – I wasn’t easily excited, I wasn’t always bouncing off the walls, most of the time I was pretty calm. Though lately, I was spending more and more time depressed. I didn’t realize that most people who are bipolar spend the majority of their time in a deep depression – my psychiatrist says there’s no depression quite as low as bipolar depression. I talked to my mom and ascended the steep set of stairs carved into the hill that my college was built on. My mom and I chatted as I walked to the Art Center on campus; I hoped that being in the relative calm of that building would help me gain some perspective. My mom and I ended our conversation and I pulled out my sketchbook and made a drawing of electrical outlets. The outlets had a deep significance to me, but now they just remind me of the day I was diagnosed, now they just remind me of the Art Center at a small Lutheran college in Minnesota where my life was completely changed. The change didn’t happen right away. The real change would come later after I’d ignored the problem for so long and everything came gushing out with catastrophic results two years later.
It took two hospitalizations, within weeks of each other, and 6 months of getting ECT three times a week to finally wake me up to the fact that I am seriously ill. It took me going through some of the most drastic measures available in order to make me realize that I needed to be more disciplined about my treatment. It took me losing everything I cared for and loved: my apartment, my job, my fiancé, my ability to paint, my love for books, a good deal of my friends, and so much more. I’m thankful for that wake-up call…I don’t know what would have become of me if I didn’t go through all of that.
Mental illness is a scary and seldom spoken about topic…at least, it’s not spoken about openly. Many people are affected by mental illness (whether it be a family member or a friend) and still no one talks about it. We bring it up when there’s a national tragedy that we only seem to be able to understand by putting the mental illness label on it, but that’s not enough discussion. There are gross misconceptions about mental illness. Moreover, there is a ton of discrimination, and a certain amount of socially acceptable bigotry out there…and I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of not being open about my illness, I’m sick of not sharing my struggles, and most of all – I’m sick of not sharing my successes. I’m really good at having schizoaffective disorder. I know that probably sounds strange; after all, how can someone be good at being sick? Being good at having a mental illness like schizoaffective disorder is rare…I’ve been blessed with a level of insight into the nature of my illness that most people who have as severe a mental illness as I do simply don’t have. I’ve been blessed with the privilege of good health insurance, good doctors, and an amazing support system. I’ve been blessed with so many things that mean I can live on my own, I can take care of myself for the most part (though there are still difficulties), and I can be more independent than many of my peers are. It requires discipline, it requires guts, and above all it requires tenacity…all of which I never knew I had.
It’s my goal, with this site, to share as much information as possible about mental illness. I consider myself an expert on my particular mental illness…so that’s what I’m going to talk about. Everything from what it’s like to have a psychotic episode to pill rebellions, to what it’s like to get electro convulsive therapy, to the little day to day stuff that no book ever seems to cover. I’m so awesome at being mentally ill that I’m asked to speak in front of people about my experiences with it…so this is also going to serve as an additional resource for people who have heard those speeches and want to get more information than my speeches can provide.
This is scary stuff to talk about, I know. But I think it’s only scary because of how much of it is unknown, how much we assume we know about it that just isn’t true and how those assumptions make us feel as though we have a complete picture of what mental illness is like. I’ve been through a lot since getting diagnosed in 2007 – suicide attempts, hospitalizations, ECT, countless traumatic psychotic episodes, depression of the lowest order and mania that leaves me unable to function. It seems like an eternity of suffering – and before I went through it I had so many assumptions and misconceptions about what it was like. Now I know what it’s like…and I’d like to share it with you.
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