To love me is to essentially love two people: my normal self who’s kind, responsible, and self-controlled; and my sick self who can be verbally abusive, quick-tempered, and can reduce you to tears with his cruelty. The word “schizophrenia” literally means “split mind” and this is very much one of my experiences with the illness – my mind is split with this dichotomy, there’s a daily struggle between the ‘good’ Chris and the ‘bad’ Chris; or, perhaps more accurately the Healthy Chris and the Sick Chris.
I’ve spoken of the rage monster before: that creature waiting inside me to come out when I’m weakest, when I’m most vulnerable to lash out against the people I love the most, to hurt them and drive them away from me. And it all came to a head this summer when the rage monster came to its full height in its attempt to gain control over me.
If there’s one thing I could have changed about myself this summer it would have been my rage monster; that unquenchable fire inside me that hurt those that I love so much. It took control of me at the worst possible times and used the worst parts of my personality to try to destroy the relationships I have with those I love the most. The rage monster didn’t see me getting angry at everyone – just the people I was closest to, namely my mom and dad. My dad commented it was a twisted sort of honor to be the target of my rage because it meant I was close to you, that I loved you the most, perhaps that I trusted our relationship could weather the brunt of my irrational and petty choler.
I often got angriest with my dad when he came over for our noon-thirty walk. I’d be happily typing away on my computer, working on my novel and he’d knock on my door, like we’d agreed he’d do if Kerrin and I weren’t outside waiting for him, and come inside and I’d lose my precious train of thought (which is so easily lost these days). Our daily walk is an essential thing; it gets me out of the house and walking around the neighborhood – I need the exercise, I need the fresh air, I need the time with my dad, and I need to get out of my tiny apartment and not be trapped inside of it all day. But since my precious train of thought had been wrecked so suddenly it left me so absurdly angry that I wasn’t able to talk. We just walked along and I fumed while dad tried to guess if it was a situation where he should be talking to me, or if I needed silence. Invariably he always guessed wrong (and I suspect no matter what he chose he would have chosen incorrectly) and an otherwise perfectly pleasant walk with my dad was spoiled because of my psychotic selfishness. I would snap at him, I would be cruel, I would tear him down no matter what he said, all because he’d tried to help me out by going on a walk with me.
Realizing this pattern of having my train of thought interrupted was causing the rage monster to surface, I imposed a rule wherein I finish up my work at noon, so that I have half-an-hour to wrap things up before my dad comes over. I set a reminder on my phone to wrap my work up and I sit in my chair, eat my lunch, and listen to music I don’t mind turning off as soon as he comes over. This puts me in the mindset that I want him to come so we can go on our walk. My train of thought isn’t suddenly severed, it’s been purposefully recorded so I can resume my work when we get back, and I don’t have the sensation of having been interrupted because I’m waiting him to get there.
In nicer weather I wait outside with Kerrin and I usually end up chatting with the head maintenance lady at my apartment building while she’s on her lunch break. Feeling the sun beating down on my face, watching my little neighborhood teeming with life as people hurry about on their lunch breaks, talking to other people who are walking their dogs – it’s been a great way to feel more connected with the world at large. When you have an illness whose main purpose seems to be to isolate you from the rest of the world, it’s such a bless to actually feel connected with the people around you.
I don’t snap at my dad nearly as often during walks and we’re back to joking around and coming up with absurd product ideas like we usually do.
Unfortunately, as time went on and summer turned to fall, my rage monster found new things to turn its attention to. I realized the rage monster, the smoldering fire inside of me was turning to flames more and more often and, as soon as I quenched one outbreak there’d be another. It was getting to the point where, if I received what I felt was one too many text messages from my parents as they were coming to pick me up I’d be so mad at them by the time they came to pick me up I couldn’t speak to them when I got in their car. I realized that I would be quenching one fire and another one would be popping up, it would be an endless cycle of always managing the anger and never treating the root cause of it. So I turned to my psychiatrist.
Dr. Carlson came to the conclusion that my anger was most likely driven by psychosis. The rage monster would have me go through what I can only describe as these scenarios wherein I would hallucinate having intense confrontations with the people I was angry with. This is completely normal behavior (as my theory goes, I don’t experience anything completely unique in having a mental illness – everything is just amplified and more complicated) but my brain didn’t know these confrontations didn’t actually happen – I took them to be completely real and so I treated my dad, for example as though we really had said all of those nasty things to each other even though all he’d done was send one extra text message about his progress in coming to pick me up to take me back to Aurora. I was living in my own little temporarily deluded reality and it was having a hugely negative effect on those around me.
The ultimate treatment was to move part of a dose of one of my antipsychotics to my morning dose. The additional medicine has made me sleepier but I also feel much more like myself. I’ve been joking around a lot more, I haven’t been irrationally angry, and I imagine I’ve been all the more pleasant to be around. I can once again participate in my family’s group text message conversation because I don’t get so fumingly angry about getting too many text messages.
I’m a big proponent of trying to manage my illness through discipline, tenacity, stubbornness, and good ol’ fashioned ingenuity. I have plenty of little hacks in my day that help me better deal with my illness. I still have the rule that I wrap up my work at noon so I’m ready for my dad by noon-thirty because it’s been such a benefit not only for the rage monster but also for my writing. Living with a mental illness demands that we live stubbornly and thinking ingeniously – it’s a part of our lives because life doesn’t accommodate our idiosyncrasies.
But there’s also a time to, not so much admit defeat as much as realize we can’t ingeniously engineer our way out of a particular problem. And this is a difficult thing for me to admit. For as much as I like my pills, I like even more to not have to resort to changing medication to deal with a problem. Despite myself, I have to realize it’s not a failure, the only way I can fail is to let my illness walk all over me, is to stop fighting. Those pills exist in my toolkit for a reason and so I ought to use them. My rage monster was putting not only my mental welfare at risk, it was also putting undue strain on my relationships. Sometimes it’s best to realize that it’s not so much about “outsmarting” the illness as it is about subduing the illness – there’s a time for everything, as the Bible says, and in this instance it was a time for a more heavy-handed approach.
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