So the police came. My cousin's dad, who is my dad's oldest brother, was a police captain for this police department. And he came. And another uncle came. They wanted to talk to me about whatever was wrong with me that I would do this to my dad. I was angry. My dad had screamed at me, and scared me, and I really believed he was going to kill me. I remember all this so clearly, as if it was yesterday. And my cousin was sitting in the living room when my grandparents were back home. He was sitting there, when my grandmother, who I loved all my life, said angrily, "You need to see a psychiatrist, Jenny". And I told her that her son needed to see a psychiatrist; I didn't know I needed one. My cousin helped me dig my car out of the snow. And that was the last time I saw that cousin for the next approximately nine years. That was the last time my dad had anything to do with me for six years. I never saw my youngest brother (from my dad's second marriage) until he was five years old, after I got diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and apologized to my dad for numerous things.
So it was meaningful for this particular cousin to come to my birthday party. It was meaningful for my dad to come. It was really cool that both of my parents were there; something that never happens! And I got a picture with my mom, my dad, and my brother and sister who I helped raise after my parents got divorced. I don't have a single picture with all of us in it from my entire life. So that was really neat. The last time we were all together and getting along was when I was about 12 years old. My parents separated when I was 13, and divorced when I was 14. Six months later my dad was getting remarried to a woman I hated before he ended up hating her too. She was a horrible human being in the way she treated me and my brother and sister, but I'm over that now. I never think about her or care about that stuff anymore.
The other thing that was meaningful was that about 46 people showed up for my birthday party!! I got home that night and wrote down the names of all the people there! Oh, and the biggest and best surprise was that my sister came down from Baltimore!! I had seen her at Christmas, but she's been living out of state for about a year and a half or two years now, so I rarely see her. She never calls me, and I miss her a lot. It was so fantastic when I saw her! My mom said she wanted me to turn around, so she could put a hat on me. I was griping about not wanting to wear a stupid hat. She put this goofy tiara with huge pink antennaes that said "40, 40" on it on my head, and put a necklace with big "40" beads around my neck, and put a big, plastic cane that said "Over the Hill" in my hand. Then she said, "Okay, now turn around". I had my eyes closed, so I had no idea what was going on. I turned around, and facing me was my sister. I started jumping up and down like a little kid, screaming, "Oh my god! Oh my god! You're HERE!! You're HERE!!". And then I hugged her really tight for a long time while everybody laughed at my goofy reaction.
It was wonderful, because so many fantastic folks were there! I couldn't even believe that 46 people liked me enough to show up at my birthday party! I was in awe. I think some of the people there were surprised at how many other people were there too. My brother's girlfriend sent me an email saying she was so amazed how many people cared about me and loved me that they would be there for that party. It was really uplifting in so many ways.
We also had music. I invited my former professor and friend's daughter to play the cello, and I asked some musicians I don't even really know from my non-church church to come and play their music, and they did. So when people wanted to have cake, they played "Happy Birthday" with their instruments as everybody sang. Twice. The guy that was the lead musician of the group from my non-church church said, "That wasn't loud enough; I want you to do it again so the people across the lake can hear you!". And everybody sang really loudly. I was embarrassed to have all these people staring at me. These are people I like and admire. But then I looked around for a second at all the people staring at me and took it in. I realized, you know, my life has changed a LOT. I used to have zero friends. I used to spend my life alone in my bedroom - regardless of the location of where I was living, some bedroom in some dwelling in some state - and I literally had no friends except people I corresponded with on the internet. That was it. I never had people to converse with, people to go places with, people who acted like they cared about me much. Not at all. For a very large portion of my life, I was completely alone. The only human contact I'd have was with family members, people I worked with or shared a home with, or whatnot, and nobody who I'd call a "friend". Nobody. I'd stare at walls and talk out loud to myself, and sit at computer screens and write emails because I had no one to talk to, no one who was there for me. Not one person. Zero people.
So now, there were 46 people who showed up, and I know almost all of them (I don't really know the musicians from my non-church church). There are even people who didn't make it who I'd call friends! So if you add that up - my life has made a remarkable turn-around. I am not totally alone on this planet anymore. Those days are in the past. I'd like to say it's because the planet is just full of nice people who always reach out to me, because to some extent there are people who have made an effort to reach out, but really, the reason I have these people in my life is because I worked on my life.
It takes work. I believe strongly in the power of medication, but I can also tell you with no uncertainty that medication alone does not solve the problems of mental illness. Medication alone is not enough, and never will be enough. If you have Schizoaffective Disorder, or any other serious and persistent mental illness, maybe even any kind of mental illness, you really need a therapist, maybe a case manager, and you also need to work on yourself and the ways you manage your daily life. I think I need NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), too. I think I need the other places these friends came from too. They come from places I've gone to specifically because I did not want to spend the rest of my life in isolation. I went to NAMI because of this in 2007. I went to the National Organization for Women for this in 2009 or maybe a bit earlier. I got on the board of directors for the state of Florida for NOW in 2009, and I started doing volunteer work for NAMI in 2008. I went to my non-church church as a visitor a few times starting around 2008, but didn't officially attend on a regular basis until this past August. That's just six months ago. So even in six months things have changed dramatically. I have to say I have put major effort into this change. I'm not saying that because I'm trying to make myself sound better. I'm saying that because it's just true. I also had people at my party from work, where I've been since 2008, and my best friends who I've known from when we lived in a group home together, which was in 2005. What happened in 2005 is that I got diagnosed and put on medication, and I got a fantastic, irreplaceable case manager who changed my life and stayed in my life as my case manager for seven long years. Those things meant a lot.
I want to tell you these things, because I want you to know that if you are alone, and if you are suffering, you are not alone, and you will not always suffer, because you have the ability to get help and get better. You absolutely have to have one critical element to survive an illness like Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder, and it doesn't come in a bottle or an office. It comes from within. It's called HOPE. You absolutely have to have hope. No matter what happens in your brain, no matter what traumatic experiences you go through (I've been through countless ones), no matter where you live or if you're homeless, no matter if you're assaulted or abused, no matter if you feel like killing yourself, no matter if the voices and visual hallucinations assault your mind and drive you to want to do horrible things to yourself, no matter if the delusions and paranoia terrify you every single day for years, no matte WHAT. You absolutely have to remember that there is hope.
I'm not saying people will "recover". I read a good article recently by someone who said she didn't like the term "recovery"; she just liked the term "hope". And there are valid reasons for someone to make that argument, because not everybody does "get better". I'm not "all better". I'm improved, but I still have symptoms. I started getting overtired and overworked lately and I've been having some mild paranoia and hearing some of the "doublespeak" that used to plague me on a daily basis. This causes anxiety because of the dreadful thought, "I'm going back downhill again after I've been doing so well!" But I'm not going "back downhill". I'm just having some perceptual problems, and they are there, but I can deal with them. I can do reality checking with myself, talk myself out of the paranoid thoughts, and I can keep doing what I'm doing. I'm working, going to school, going to doctors' offices, going to therapy, going to a chiropractor, going to church, doing research and writing and reading (and my mind is actually working well enough to do these things well!), and walking for exercise three times a week or at least as much as I can, and taking care of my cats, and basically, well, living. It's a lot to take on, and maybe that's why my brain is acting up, because maybe I'm doing too much. That's what therapy is for. With a good therapist you can get assistance in monitoring yourself and get reminders of what those coping skills you have in your mental toolbox can do for you.
Today, I have hope. I have friends, and a decent life too. I have my family that actually speaks to me and doesn't all hate me or ostracize me......I have more than myself. Life really kind of requires having more than yourself.
My oldest friend who is not an internet friend is a former professor of mine I met about 19 years ago when I took my first college writing class. Actually it was my only college writing class. He convinced me I was intelligent. That was no small task. To this day he'll remind me I'm intelligent when I need to hear it. We mostly corresponded via email over the years as I ran around the country, going from hospital to homeless shelter, to hospital, to assisted living facility, to rented room, to hospital to group home, etc., etc., etc. for years. And he was at my birthday party. It was his daughter, who was not born when I met him, who played the cello. It meant a lot for that family to be there. He said, when he was leaving, "I'm really glad you made it to forty, because there were many times when I really did not think you would." And I said, "Me too."
I'm really glad I made it to forty. Hopefully, I'll make it to 87 like my grandmother who's still alive. That would be cool.
A month ago, at a NAMI meeting, two women were talking about the horrible, hopeless situations of their daughters. I went up to them. I said, "there are great support groups and Family to Family classes NAMI offers, you could attend". They looked incredulous. One of them said to me, "Do you even know anyone with a real mental illness?". I said, "Yes, actually. I have Schizoaffective Disorder." They looked shocked. "But, how can you stand here talking to us like there's nothing wrong??!!". I said, "I'm on medication. I'm in therapy. I've gotten treatment." I told them I was on the NAMI Board of Directors. They asked me if I was able to work. I said, yes, I've been working since 2006. I said, I'm in college and about to graduate later this year with a bachelor's degree. I told them, "things can get better". After we talked for a minute, they both thanked me. One of them said, "You've just given us more hope than anyone else ever has in all these years". Both of their daughters were about my age and both of them had Schizoaffective Disorder or Schizophrenia. Both lacked insight into their illnesses because they weren't getting the help they needed. I did not change that. I just shared that things can improve. Then, there was a third woman who told me her daughter was traveling around the country, psychotic, and she didn't know what to do. So I talked to her for a minute. After I left, I was glad I went to that meeting, because when you can offer a sliver of hope to someone who is feeling really hopeless, it really makes you feel like something as simple as going to a meeting was worthwhile.
So if you are feeling hopeless, don't give up.