Sometimes when I look into the mirror I think I see something behind me, something trailing me and mimicking my movements, like a billowing shadow. There are times when my reflection seems to stare back at me- searching for answers in the lines of my face, meeting my eye semi-defiantly, and always waiting for the next challenge, the next confrontation with the ghost in the machine.
Schizophrenia is a troublesome companion. It has been so for many, many years- an uneasy bedfellow I have been stretched to assimilate and accommodate. I have pulled many internal strings to be able to live with this label, and looked the other way so many times when confronted with contradictions and paradox’s which would otherwise be unacceptable.
It is fair to say that the mind craves stability and certainty- I have had to train my mind to function without too much of either of those things.
A little while ago a friend of mine wrote a blog post on ‘the comfort zone,’ and how it functions in a persons psyche and system of ‘self.’ On reading it I realised how pitiful my own comfort zone had become, and this became a slight preoccupation for me. I wanted to reach a stage where I could claim to enjoy a degree of internal peace and comfort, for at least a small potion of every day. This seemed extremely important, and has been something of a driving focus for me over the last year or so.
Anyway. Schizophrenia has been the monkey on my back for fourteen years, I cannot deny it, and yet whilst I can acknowledge the amount of suffering and anguish it has perpetuated for me, and how adversely it has affected my life; I cannot state, with any degree of conviction, that it has only been a negative phenomenon.
I cannot state for certain that my life has been made worse because of it. I do not know how my life would have progressed if I wasn’t diagnosed at age 20, there is no ‘sliding doors’ method of comparing one possible life path against another, and so I do not know for sure that I would be any happier now- any more self-acceptant, personally fulfilled or realised.
Moreover, I have gained much in terms of perspective from my experiences; I have such better insight than I ever had before becoming “unwell” and have lived through some highs which were so inspired they were profound. So I find it extremely difficult to reduce my schizophrenia to a simple negative classification, or find a definition which can adequately encompass it.
On a bad day it’s a nightmare, on a good day a realised dream. When the symptoms are bad I rant and rage at it, I implore, beg and plead with it to back off, make sense, leave me the f*** alone. On a good day I tap my feet to its rhythm, and let its beats direct my thinking and my writing. Schizophrenia can be domineering, cruel and tempestuous- it has a power to torment which defies rational explanation, and yet as the years have gone by it seems my capacity for tolerance has grown, and perhaps my sense of what is ‘manageable’ has also increased.
I still struggle deciding which language to deploy when attempting to describe or define it. I use the terms, “illness,” “condition,” “schizophrenia” and “set of experiences” depending on the particular aspect I am focused upon. This brings it’s own issues and contradictions- but seeing as the entire phenomenon of schizophrenia is something of a paradox, I can live with this.
Attempting to pin schizophrenia down in any satisfactory way is like trying to remember the dream you had last night; the more you strain to remember it the more likely it will resist your efforts and slip just further away from your mind’s eye, and so I have learnt after many years of chasing elusive echoes and patterns, to resist this process of quantifying and meaning making.
I learnt that the meaning was not to be found by looking inwards, but instead by living, and bringing my own introspective theories and ponderings out into the framework of the external world. As I have brought my inner self out into the light, the pressure and the weight of the symptoms has lessened.
Over time my life has become fuller; the quality of my day to day existence has become richer and so the urge to try and pin down some absolute sense of what all of the madness has been about has lessened. I no longer look inwards with the degree of ferocity that I used to, and yet- there are still moments when I catch a glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, of feel a sense of something following me, something mirroring me which defies rational explanation.
I have lived with schizophrenia for so long now that it has become like some strange, extra phantom limb- or a turbulent extension of my own emotional capacity or conceptual power. I spent many years believing that I needed to leave it behind; shake it off completely so that the monkey fell from my back and was left in the dust. But the intricacy, complexity and profundity of much of the schizophrenic content, meant that I was never truly convinced that that was the right thing to do.
For ultimately, my schizophrenia is a part of me. Sometimes the weakest part of me, and other times the most optimistic, inspired and contemplative- but always a part of me. It took a really, really long time to be able to understand this and accept it, but I believe that this self-acceptance represents anything as close to an answer I can ever realistically hope to grasp from the schizophrenia and all the associated madness.