"All alone is all we are."
"This loneliness is just an exile from God."
"We are all sentenced to solitary confinement, inside our own skins, for life."
"The healing comes from letting go and acknowledging that we are not alone; we're all interconnected."
-My friend Kate
Recently I went on a sort-of vacation. Last week for five days. Several family members from Baltimore came down and met with me and some family members here in Florida, at Disneyworld. I can honestly say, I did quite well throughout this trip. I am very wary of going to theme parks like Disneyworld, due to numerous horrific experiences at such places in the past. Many times, I have tried to go a store, such as Walmart or Target, and ended up having so much trouble with all the stimulation from the noises, the lights, the crowds of pushy people, the smells, the stuff, all that stuff.....I just couldn't handle it. I would start hearing things, the delusional thoughts would act up, I would panic, and I would need to leave - immediately leave. Taking that into consideration, you can probably imagine what a trip to a noisy, smelly, over-crowded, brightly lit-up, busy place like Disney would be like, where you have to walk for hours and hours and wait in long lines, and sweat in the 98 degree weather. My issues are not just psychiatric. I don't talk about it often here, but I have some serious physical health problems, and my body is not in the kind of shape a body needs to be in to spend four days walking and standing non-stop all day long.
All that said, I did quite well. I didn't have a lot of auditory or any visual hallucinations. I didn't pass out from heat and exhaustion or anything. I didn't need to immediately leave - until it was later and I got really worn out, but by that time most everyone in the group was also ready to leave. I got to spend time with my grandmother who is 81 years old, and whose husband passed away just last year. It was really great to be able to see her and I didn't care what rides I went on or shows I saw. I wanted to avoid the inevitable family conflicts that come up on trips to Disneyworld, and just hang out with my Nan (grandmother). So that's what I tried to do the whole time. She had not been down here to visit in at least 15 years. I don't know that she will ever be back. I do not have the money to go to visit her much, so it was important to spend time with her.
It has been hard dealing with some of my family issues over the years. I really lost my connections to most of my relatives in Maryland ten years ago, and never repaired them. I think after I became homeless and was living in a homeless shelter minutes from where I had dozens of relatives with homes, I began to deeply resent them for not caring or offering to help (other than my grandparents, who did help). Then, I became delusional, and I destroyed my relationships with numerous people because of the delusions. That will never be something people forget. It has been hard to even explain it to my grandmother, to apologize, to make her understand I am not some evil person who makes up lies about her relatives. I was sick. I am sick. I have an illness that affects my brain. And it's really not my fault. I never would have said the things I said about people if I didn't have the honest belief that those things were true. What I believed turned out to not be true, but I had no way of knowing that when I was drowning in delusions.
I am very sad to this day about how much my mental health, and also my physical health and the financial status that comes from being disabled has separated me from many family members. They also do not agree with me on anything political (99% of them, anyway), and I suppose that is part of the reason why I never hear from them. My sister and brother never hear from them either, though, and so I don't really blame it all on my own issues. Many families are dysfunctional. Mine is not immune. I hardly have any relationships with my relatives up north anymore, and I sometimes wonder why that is. I'm not completely sure. I know part of it is my own fault, but, in all honestly, I don't think the majority of them could care less whether I am dead or alive, and I've felt that way for many years now.
However, my immediate family lives in Florida, near me, and with those people I am much closer than with extended family members.
One of the things that comes to mind when I consider my extended family is how much of a failure I look like, compared to them. At least on paper. I have no spouse - not even a boyfriend (haven't had one of those for over two years). I have no children, unlike most of my cousins who are close to my age. I cannot work full-time, and do not have a career. I have not finished college, and won't be finishing any time soon (accept for my A.A. degree which doesn't count for much to me as I've been working on that 2-year degree for 15 years). I don't own a home, or even rent a nice home. I am grateful and happy that I do have a home I rent, though it is in a really poverty-stricken, lousy neighborhood, and I would never invite most people there. It is known that I have a mental illness. Also, I think many of my relatives assume I'm a lesbian, because I'm a feminist (but this does not really bother me as I have nothing against gay people and it's not my problem if homophobic folks have assumed that I am gay and therefore evil).
What it all boils down to, at the end of the day is, I'm ashamed of how I live. Ashamed of my status. I do not measure up to my cousins or other people my age who I respect. I have not achieved a lot of the things people are supposed to achieve to fit into some kind of acceptable status at some age in their lives. Sure, I have been through hell. But nobody really knows about that. The people I'm related to have no clue what I went through, and probably wouldn't understand it if they did. It wouldn't serve as an explanation to them. I guess, even to myself, it does not always seem like an adequate explanation. I get angry at myself. I am ashamed of myself. I get incredibly lonely, and I know that I may be that way forever, because I'm surely no good at making friends, or at dating people.
On top of mental and physical illnesses, I have this weight problem now, which makes me feel quite ashamed. I always get angry at the societal expectation that women must reach some unattainable standard of beauty and thinness, but even as I resent that message from society, I have internalized that message for most of my life. I do not like being fat. I hate it. I hate the fact that I am not attractive anymore - in my own opinion, and also in the opinion of others, such as my ex-boyfriend who told me multiple times that I was no longer attractive after I gained weight (nice guy, I know). I wouldn't dare to even try to meet someone for some sort of romantic relationship. That is truly ironic, considering that when I was completely psychotic I had dates all the time. I had a couple short-term boyfriends. I was thin then, and attractive. Those factors somehow outweighed the fact that I had no sanity.
I even had a boyfriend who was great, who I really liked, even though I only knew him for a few months. I was living in this horrible situation, renting a room in a house with an ultra-religious weird woman out in the boonies, where there was literally nothing within walking distance. I had no car. I had no job. I did not know I was psychotic. I was totally delusional. And yet, I had this bright, really bright, and very kind boyfriend. Who, of course, I lost. Because of my illness. Sometimes I look back on things like that and wonder, "what if?". What if I wasn't psychotic at the time? What if I had managed to live as a fully functional human being at that time? What if I was diagnosed and medicated before I met him? What if I never became obese, and perhaps someone like him would like me again, now that I have my sanity back? What if? Considering that this highly educated person would go out of his way to pick me up to go places when I was clearly not all that mentally stable and not succeeding at anything at all, I can't help but wonder how much better things might have gone if I had met him when I was doing well.
Of course, living in a world of what-ifs doesn't accomplish anything at all. I will never be somebody else who I wish I was. I think I can become a better person, who I would rather be, but I can't trade in this body and this brain for somebody new, who would be so much more likable. I think, most of the time, that I'll be really alone for the rest of my life. I don't think with all the medications I take that I could have a child, even if I had someone with whom to have a child. I couldn't go off the medications because I'd end up a suicidal basket case again, for sure. I couldn't risk a child's life by having it develop itself on 1200 mgs of Seroquel every day and a shot of Risperdal every other week for nine months. Who knows what that would do to a kid? No one really knows. Research has not even been done on that.
So I'll never be somebody's mother. I'll probably never be married. It's quite possible I'll never lose the weight I've gained, and very possible I'll never date anyone again. It's also possible I'll never manage to finish college. I am trying, but it's very hard. I do not have the ease of taking a class and breezing my way through it anymore. I am discouraged by how long it has taken me to get to the point that I am at. I have a hard time feeling like anything I do is worthwhile. I get discouraged. I get depressed. I lose hope.
Two days ago, I met my new therapist. I don't know if he can help much, but I decided to see him and try it out just in case. As much as I miss my old therapist, I have to accept that fact that she's out of my life for good. I cannot see her because of government insurance issues, and there is no way around it. She let me keep seeing her for almost a year without being paid for it. That was amazingly kind. But at some point, she had to say I must see the person who the insurance will pay for me to see. And so it goes. The first person I met with, who the insurance would pay for me to see, actually quit her first week or two at the job. So then I didn't make an appointment with the other person, partly because I've never had or wanted a male therapist, and partly because I'm not sure it is worthwhile to start therapy all over again with a new person. But I did it, after a few weeks went by and it became more and more obvious to me that I was needing someone to talk to and having no one there. On the positive side, the male therapist has a long ponytail, and a coffee mug with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. on his desk. So I'm hoping that we will having something in common in so far as how we view the world. I had a lot in common that way with my former therapist, and I truly like her as a person, which made trusting her and listening to her advice much easier than it probably would have been if we had no common views on life. This therapist said I can see him every week, to start. He asked me if I wanted to go to a group twice a week and see him the other two weeks, which is sort of what I did before. But I wouldn't be in a group like the one I was in before - which was a "group" of me and one other woman, no one else, and after a couple years, we knew a lot about each other. The groups that are available now are bigger groups, and I am not really interested in them at this time. I know that I can get more work done in individual therapy where I can really discuss the delusional thoughts openly - as soon as I get to know this therapist and I am able to trust him enough to do that.
I think the fact that I went to see this therapist at all underscores something that is lacking in my life: close relationships. I have a close friend who I've known online for 13 years, but she does not share the mental health issues I have, so they are not something I talk about with her, not because she wouldn't care, but just because it's too hard to try to explain it all and I really don't want to be a burden telling someone about my issues when they have their own life difficulties to face. I have another friend who does share a mental illness and lives near me, but her mental health issue does not include psychosis, and so there are certain things I don't think she can understand. I am grateful for her friendship, however, and we get together a couple times a month usually to go to a movie or have dinner, or something like that. Other than that friend, I have no one who lives near me who I ever spend time with, friendship-wise. I've always been an introverted person, as that is just part of my personality, but serious mental illnesses serve as a division often, between one's self and the people around her, who, usually, don't have a clue about her internal world. I think I realized years ago that it's much easier to keep some things to myself - or only discuss them on this blog, or with a therapist - than it is to try to explain it all to someone who has never been there. For one thing, it's hard for other people to understand, and for another thing, I'm afraid of what they will think of me because they don't understand. Also, I don't like to feel like I am being too "negative" and burdening people with information they don't want to know about in the first place. For this reason, many people who know me do not know that I have a mental illness. I wish it was easier for me to share that information, because I do believe that in the interest of combating stigma, we do need to become more transparent and "come out" about our illnesses, to educate the public. However, that is much more easily said than done. And not everyone is interested in me educating them, of course.
I think what I long for, that is missing, is a feeling of adequacy. I would like to feel like I was genuinely likable, and that I wasn't such a failure at accomplishments. I try to feel that way; I try to be confident. It's not really something you can "try" though. You either have confidence, or you don't. Much of the time, I just don't. This is not to say that I have no opinions, or that I never speak up about things that matter to me. I like protests, and writing letters to raise awareness about the issues I care about. I'm not afraid to be unapologetic about those issues. I don't particularly care if people think I'm some wacko liberal feminist socialist, or whatever. Those people don't really know me; their opinions don't really matter to me. But what does matter, what I am missing out on, is the close relationships that everyone is supposed to have according to the possibly mythical societal perception of what creates happiness and what is normal. Sometimes, despite my best feminist intentions, I miss being skinny and attractive and having someone like me. Sometimes I miss being a person who had no psychosis too. Actually I miss that a lot. I miss being one of those people who thought Schizophrenia was related to being a serial killer and not something that would ever happen to a nice girl like me. I miss that ignorance, which, as they say, was bliss. I miss believing that I would be able to do all those things that people expected me to be able to do, because I was intelligent enough to do them, and because I wasn't psychotic then (or if I was, nobody knew it). I miss being 24 and being in an honors program at the community college I was attending, and getting a huge scholarship to go to Smith College - right before I completely fell apart and never got there. I wish I could be that young woman again, so full of promise, hope, and owning such a future that I can only visit in my dreams now.
I'm sorry this post is a bit of a downer. Just the other day, when I met my new therapist, I told him I don't really have a problem with depression right now. But as I write this, I realize, perhaps that was an inaccurate statement. I am not feeling particularly happy. In my mind, though, I associate depression with the real deep depths of suicidal despair I have visited in the past. I don't think of it as being down. I'm not sure that being down and lacking hope mean I have a disease process going on. I'm not sure that it is abnormal for one to feel this way, considering the circumstances. I still get up every morning. I go to work. I work on my classwork. I'm not thinking about killing myself. I guess, really, I'm just lonely.
Do you ever feel this way? I'd love to hear your thoughts. I also want to say, thank you, for coming here and reading this post, or regularly reading the posts here, or just stopping by. I do appreciate very much every person who reads my writing here, and particularly am grateful for those who have left comments or connected with me via email. There is something to be said for strength in numbers, and I continue to learn from you and am happy when someone says they feel less alone because of this blog. I feel less alone because of each of you.