Today (Monday 10th October 2016) is Mental Health Awareness Day. (Or, as I’ve just realised, typing this – mad, said with evil laughter – “M-had! We’re all m-had here, my dear!”)
No one needed to tell my brain that. In the past few days, I’ve been, as my wife put it “very much out of it.” I’m still certain I walked past tables-full of dogs outside a cafe in town, sitting up, drinking coffee, in one case wearing a pale green gilet. And I’m not sure where the penguin I saw in the bath this morning has got to – I’m worried it’s too hot, or that it’ll frighten the budgies.
The past two days, I’ve barely been able to focus on reading one of the “chick-lit” novels I keep for the times my processing abilities decide that more literary works – or, in fact, anything with much of a plot – are being firmly kicked off the “tasks we can handle just fine” list. I’ve not been able to get on with the novel I’m supposed to be writing the second draft of, or do any further work on the poetry collection I came up with a concept, and the first few poems for, a week or so ago – although I have made a start on another novel, which introduces the “voices in my head” as characters. (I like unreliable narrators, both reading them and writing them.) Because of the ongoing impact of “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia – things like apathy, difficulty focusing on a task, problems processing information, including information around how to get started on even relatively simple tasks – which I’ve been dealing with for several weeks, I’m behind on a project I’m working on. I’m hoping I can make up the time I’ve lost. I’m hoping I’ll be granted a reprieve, the ability to focus, to process what I need to do and how to do it.
Mental health issues deny you help from other people, more than anything – the belief, whether spoken or not, is that you should just accept that you’re not quite good enough to take on projects, not quite capable of managing on your own. There’s the suspicion that, somehow, you might infect the nice, normal people. There’s an edge of “But perhaps you’re just stupid or lazy? After all…” After all, John Nash. After all, Jack Kerouac. After all, all those others who are managing to succeed despite their diagnosis.
After all, all those other people who weren’t blacklisted from the financial services sector for “working while crazy”, filed under those two, damning words: Gross Misconduct.
After all, all those other people who had a strong support network, a network of people who didn’t just drift away once their lives were filled with jobs and marriages and children and promotions.
I don’t know why most of my “work”, these days, is trying to get one over on my own brain. And I don’t know why that brain needed to rebel in the first place. I’ve never taken cannabis, or any other “controlled, recreational drug.” I don’t drink more than others of my age group who drink. I only ever smoked lightly, and briefly, for 2yrs over 12yrs ago. I’ve never worked with dangerous chemicals. I don’t eat much junk food, or a lot of processed meat.
I do know my mother, maternal grandmother, and, more than likely, my paternal grandmother were all schizophrenics. I do know that a second cousin killed herself because of the illness – she was only about my age, when she died.
I don’t know what caused the faulty wiring in the brains of my family.
I don’t know why no medication regime has ever really been able to “fix” me. I don’t know why Risperidone made everything worse.
I do know that CAI Norwich 2017, the event I’m working on, will succeed despite my schizophrenia. I do know that schizophrenia won’t stop Blurred Around The Edges, the novel with the schizophrenic narrator, or All of Us, the novel I’ve just started, with the constant characters of the cast of voices in my head finally getting out of my head, from being written. I do know that schizophrenia will not destroy my marriage, that it will not keep me chained to the margins of society. I will not end my days unemployed and uninterested in life, as my maternal grandmother did, as my mother seems to be drifting towards doing. With every last breath in me, I will dare this illness to take my life – and yet I will live quietly with the knowledge that it will do, probably, given the results of various studies, and the mortality of males in my family, within the next 10-30 years.
I hope it’s the higher end of that time bracket, but I accept it may not be.
I live with schizophrenia – it is a lodger, not a landlord.
Or at least that’s what I try and tell myself, the days things aren’t so bad.