Purpose

I was thinking of various purposes for this blog. I don’t want to just talk about myself endlessly as a gesture of self-reference or vanity. Helping to de-stigmatize schizophrenia would be a worthy goal. I think, further, I’d like to suggest and convey that mentally ill people can be highly functioning people.

When receiving a diagnosis, it is often true that a person “drops out” of our society. They stop working, lose relationships, and fall off of the grid. The government sends them a check every month. They deposit it, and get by in a new and reduced way.

This saddens and frustrates me. I am highly able, though schizophrenic, and I know many others who are, as well. Functioning schizophrenics might not make the best bus drivers, pilots or surgeons. But there are many, many other possible roles we could play in society, and some might involve a degree of expertise or leadership.

I think that needs to be said, and hopefully believed. That mental illness does not have to mean that a patient’s life is completely or permanently compromised. There is much more that can be done, more potential.

This is not all on the health care professionals, to witness to this issue. Many already believe it. It is for society at large, yes– and perhaps more importantly for the patient himself or herself. When the world says for them to take a bow, have a seat and become consumers forever, I would ask more able patients to resist the urge to accept this. To believe in themselves, that they can do great things. To make a genuine effort to do so.

The Music Scene

During my more isolated years, I decided to try to become a musician. That had always been a dream of mine, even before my diagnosis. I found myself with plenty of time every day to create and share music, and was fortunate enough to have a computer and an internet connection.

I networked with literally thousands of people, most of them being fellow musicians. At first I did not know, but in time began to realize, that many, many of these people were also mentally ill, or somehow marginalized. Most of the musicians participating in the online music scene, including the netlabel scene, which I was so much a part of, were eccentric in some way, or had characteristics people would define as off-center. They were sexually “different”, living in poverty, and/or coping with addiction or health issues.

The internet music scene evolved into a large-scale phenomenon where connections were made and new and unusual expressions were shared. This seemed both exciting and at times disturbing.

The music scene definitely demonstrated that, thanks to the internet, all kinds of subjective experiences were being created and passed back and forth, often for free, and more than ever before.

One did not have to be a unique talent or millionaire to become a musician. It just took a computer and a few free programs. And so the gates were opened for all kinds of people (like myself) to participate.

Roles

As a schizophrenic with a full-time job, one thing I am beginning to see is that a lot depends on how I define myself. I provide technical support at my job, and to the extent that I can portray myself (accurately) as someone who can help, who has information to share that can benefit patrons, I can assume some degree of leadership.

If I were to continually admit to patrons and coworkers that I was mentally ill, or experiencing symptoms, I would find that to be counterproductive, and I might even lose my job. If I did, I would really miss it.

If I can see beyond the illness, and how it tries to define me, and believe that I can provide assistance to others– if I can in fact realize this aim– then I begin to assume again the mantle of health.

In essence, if I can experience what sane people do on a regular basis, take on challenges such as theirs, and try my best to adapt to them without shooting myself in the foot, I can begin to regain clarity and purpose.

I would suggest that this experience could be shared by many mentally ill people– including many who spend most of their time isolated or participating in various forms of leisure.

A program like Ticket To Work (which I was a part of) allows patients to take on employment without immediately losing their benefits. Benefits are gradually tapered off, as the patient begins to participate more actively in the world of work.

I can’t emphasize how much this program helped me, and how important it is for functioning mentally ill people to find a productive and somewhat social means to occupy their time.

It is important for schizophrenics to appear “above ground”– in the real world, as producers, not just as consumers.

Isolation, Socialization

Sadly, one of my first tendencies as a schizophrenic was to isolate. I moved into my own apartment in South Saint Louis, and spent about 99% of my time alone. Much of that time was devoted to creative pursuits. It doesn’t take a genius to see, though, that, already being a bit eccentric, I slowly slid away from normalcy.

Steadying influences included my family, and my job. Even volunteering once a week was helpful. When I moved on to working part-time, my contact with the everyday world, though awkward and stressful at times, was very helpful.

A movement has happened where lots of mentally ill people are assembled together in a “day program” environment. I tried that out, for a period of time. But– who’s to say that, just because people share the same or similar diagnoses, that they will get along well together? It may be that, at times, they might navigate one another further and further from what is called sanity.

On the other hand, a movement has happened where mentally ill people are treated as being almost completely independent. They live alone, shop for groceries, and so forth (as I generally did). How often is it, then, that the sufferer lapses into isolation, possibly watching endless hours of television, smoking pack after pack of cigarettes?

My most helpful contacts were with sane people. From them, I re-learned some of the language of real life. But, are sane people willing to walk side-by-side with the mentally ill? Would that frighten them? Offend them?

Some might suggest that it is already the case– that society is sick enough, and contains enough sick people, that the world is like one big outpatient clinic.

A friend shared with me that there are sociologists (such as Hartmut Rosa) who see essential flaws in modernity– that the pace of life has accelerated to the degree that most people are simply unable to cope. Stress is a huge problem in our society– with its mental, emotional and physical effects. Further, my wife and I often discuss how often it is nowadays that a friend or acquaintance admits to being depressed, maybe having a bi-polar condition. I would guess that a larger amount of the population takes anti-depressant medication than most people realize.

Schizophrenia And Modernity

I wanted to mention an interesting paradox created by mental illness. As a patient, I am told that my mind does not function properly. Since it is my mind, I have to accept this– that what I think is “not right”. Yet, I have to survive in this complex and ever-changing world. Any mind should probably doubt itself– but if it doubts itself profoundly, that makes survival difficult.

I have secretly had faith in my mind and my functionality all along. I have a high iq and and a great problem solver. I am glad I have this faith in myself, and hope that people in this world can find a way to avoid applying this paradox– suggesting that a person reject their own most basic thought processes.

Interestingly, this profound self-doubt is said to be part of the modern condition. An awareness of self, a rejection of several or many impulses (even essential or vital ones) is necessary for navigating this world. I realize that I am not alone– I am part of my age.

Ouroboros-dragon-serpent-snake-symbol

Introduction

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

It started with the following Facebook post. I decided to admit to the world at large that I suffer from paranoid schizophrenia. Here is what I told my friends, family and acquaintances:

“Hi folks. I think it’s time I share something with you all. This is in the wake of a number of my fellow friends and musicians being honest about their lives and struggles.”

“I am living and having been coping for years with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.”

“As a child and teen, I was deemed healthy and was a very successful student, among other things, graduating near the very top of my high school class, receiving the highest ACT score in the state and attending a prestigious university.”

“Something began to go wrong during my college years– possibly triggered by the use of marijuana and LSD. Or, it may have just been a part of my genes, triggered by my age.”

“In 1995, I received the diagnosis.”

“My early years with schizophrenia were quite difficult. I lost nearly everything I had. I felt that my life would never be normal again. My status dropped in every way. My family provided me shelter for some years, but there were also many years when I lived alone, with little money, on a government check and food stamps. I was quite isolated, shunning social interaction, spending most of my waking hours engaged in my own particular forms of creativity (notably my main and eventually very successful musical act, ‘Mystified’). I got a lot of joy and fulfillment from writing music, even though times were hard in other ways.”

“Through my years of isolation, I kept my diagnosis private. When I met the woman who would later become my wife, I shared my condition with her. I did this at an early point in our relationship. She was accepting and supportive from the very beginning. I am grateful to have found someone special like her.”

“Typically, paranoid schizophrenia is regarded as ‘degenerative’– i.e. it just gets worse with time. But with the proper medication, treatment and support, I have seen a slow but steady improvement. Now that I am 46, I am happy, happily married and steadily employed. My main and only major symptom, that of hearing voices, is kept in check with the love of others and a single pill I take every evening in small dosage.”

“I would like to clarify that, in spite of my condition, I have a high i.q. and am capable of clear logic and deductive thinking. I have strong spiritual beliefs, and they are not strange– rather they constitute Protestant Christianity. I am capable of giving and receiving love, and do so every day. Though I have a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, I now realize that my illness does not define me.”

“To give some examples of famous schizophrenics, John Nash, Syd Barrett (of Pink Floyd), and Jack Kerouac all lived with the diagnosis and achieved great things.”

“I wanted you all to know this, as I feel that keeping such issues quiet is not fully honest. I also want folks to see that conditions like this can be dealt with, and people who struggle, though they have their struggles, really can live full, happy, creative lives full of joy and value.”

“I believe there are those who may have guessed (or already knew) of my diagnosis. This may only confirm what they had suspected. Others may be surprised.”

“This goes to you all, as I believe in love and in the truth, to my fellow courageous artists who suffer too and who have revealed the truth, and especially to my family and wonderful wife who have helped me get to this point.”

“And here is to continued growth and improvement, towards the best, healthiest and happiest life I can achieve, with God’s grace.”

“If anyone has any questions, I am open to engaging in dialogue about the subject. Feel free to ask.”

That was the post, from October of 2017. I would like to add that the reactions to that post were universally positive and understanding.

From here I would like to begin sharing some thoughts on my illness– first-had experiences with schizophrenia, rendered as lucidly as possible.