“I haven’t heard Henry’s voice in quite a while,” I thought to myself yesterday.
Henry is a yellow ball python who lives inside my body. He is the representation of my psychosis, the voice inside my head who tells me I don’t deserve to live.
It was a pretty normal day at work this afternoon. The first half of my shift went fine. I joked around with my coworkers, enjoyed the nice weather that makes retrieving carts from the parking lot more tolerable, and went home on break to visit my cat, Archie.
When I returned, one of my male coworkers sneaked up behind another cashier and me, intending to scare her. I noticed him, which alerted my other coworker. We all laughed, and I said, “Don’t you know better than to sneak up behind me?” That’s the running joke with me: I’m jumpy. What people don’t realize is that this is a residual symptom of Tim attacking me from behind in 2016. I still cannot handle having people (especially men) behind me, and I absolutely am never okay with anyone touching my neck because of the nature of the attack.
Suddenly, it seemed like the whole world was behind me. And Henry reappeared, shouting, “[Your coworker] is a Bad Man! He’s a Bad Man!”
“I don’t have enough eyes,” I thought. “Not enough eyes… not enough… eyes. If I just had a few more, I’d be able to see all the Bad Men, and I’d be okay because I’d be like God.”
A few more minutes passed. The store was becoming busier and busier as people came in after their 9:00-5:00 workday in search of dinner. Between the chaos in the store and the chaos in my head, I could barely put two words together, let alone carry on a conversation with a customer. One of the customer service associates who I’d been talking to earlier in the day about work-related things came up to me and subtly asked if I was alright.
When I’m in a psychotic episode, even if it just lasts a few minutes or hours, I tend to blink very rapidly, shake my head as if to dislodge the source of the voices, and rock back and forth. To the untrained eye, I probably looked like I was on drugs, which was definitely not the case.
I am lucky to have the uncommon gift of insight into my psychosis. I can usually determine what is appropriate to say and do in public. For example, I’d tend to opt for “Is plastic okay?” at work rather than, “Are you a real person?” However, this insight is getting a bit shaky. I genuinely did not know what to tell my coworker, so I just said, “No, not really,” in response to his question. He asked if I wanted to take a break, which did not compute, and I snapped, “I just got back from break!” He walked away.
As the customer service manager was leaving, she waved to me and I responded with a blank face. “You okay?” she mouthed to me. I shrugged and returned to scanning items. After I’d finished with the customer at hand, the manager came over to me and asked, “What’s going on?”
I had no idea what to tell her, standing at the register with customers and other employees around. “Sometimes, I hear things that aren’t there, and it’s can get a little scary,” I said. “I’ll be fine. I’ve got about an hour left, and I’m not going to let you guys down on a Saturday night.” At this point, a customer on the register behind me bumped into me and I jumped and nearly screamed.
“If you need to leave, go ahead. Your health is more important,” said my manager.
I clocked out, shaking my head violently, apologizing to everyone in my path. “It’s okay,” they all said. “We understand.”
I broke up with Chance last week, but we are back together now. I broke up with him because I was angry about a situation that could have easily been fixed with a rational conversation, had I been capable of rational thought at the time. I very quickly realized how much I missed him.
A few days ago, we went for a walk on the beach in the evening. I had this whole monologue planned out about how I’d made a mistake in breaking up with him, and how sorry I was that I’d put him through yet another one of my insane breakups. About two sentences into this, he stopped me with a kiss and said, “It’s okay. I love you.”
Last night, we sat on the couch and had a heart-to-heart, a real conversation between two adults. This kind of thing is hard for me. Vulnerability is scary. Ultimately, we agreed that the next time an issue like this arises, as it is bound to do, that we need to talk to each other about how we’re feeling and what we need. I told him that I can be extremely impulsive, and that I’m a very all-or-nothing thinker. When things are temporarily bad, it seems to me that things always have been and always will be bad. I broke up with him because I was angry and didn’t know how else to express that anger. But feelings are not facts, and anger dissipates.
It is this deep-seated anger and impulsiveness that I am hoping dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) will help me with. These are both major characteristics of borderline personality disorder, a diagnosis I am not sure I agree with, despite the fact that I meet many of the diagnostic criterion.
DBT basically restructures thought patterns from unwanted thoughts to more desirable thoughts. It’s a lot of worksheets and exercises, and while I’ve dabbled in it in the past, I think I am ready to actually do the hard work and get out of my own way.
I met my new therapist, “Suzanne,” yesterday. She has two lapdogs in her office. Suzanne is young, direct, and kind. I have a hard time opening up to people, and I kept thinking, “I’m talking too much,” as she took notes on my history on her laptop. I gave her a rundown of my various hospitalizations and treatment stays, a vague idea of some of the traumatic events I’ve been through, and some relevant family history. She said she’d make up a treatment plan, which we will go over next week.
Part of me wants to have high hopes that DBT therapy will be the magical fix for my non-existent self-esteem. On the other hand, I kind of feel like I’m bad at therapy, considering how I’ve been in therapy for about ten years and am still engaging in a lot of the self-destructive behavior that landed me in therapy in the first place. Time will tell.
“Am I making sense?” I wondered, as I ranted to Chance this evening on the drive back to my house. “It’s just… the Bad Men again. [Coworker] sneaked up on me and [other coworker] was there and I know what he wants to do to me. I just… don’t have enough eyes. Not nearly enough,” I said.
“What happened after [coworker] came up behind you guys?” Chance asked gently.
“That little girl who lost her mom in the store last week,” I began, haltingly. “She was trying to tell me something. She knows.”
“Knows what?” Chance said.
I couldn’t answer him because I did not fully know. Thoughts of “saving the children” and being the “female Jesus” have plagued me for years now. I have this half-baked idea that I am personally responsible for all ills against children all over the world–everything from human trafficking and child brides to illegal child labor and babies born to addicted mothers–and that if I set myself on fire, my pain will take away theirs.
I’ve had psychiatric practitioners poke many, many holes in this idea, but it still remains in my brain. I’ve even been told that the fact that I worry about this proves I am a good, caring person in a world where many turn a blind eye towards these kinds of issues.
Chance and I got back to my house, and I crawled into bed, listening to Henry scream about how to kill my cat and others that I love. I cast my eyes all over the room, scanning the ceiling for anomalies. Like many people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders, I can be very paranoid about cameras, trackers, and other electronic devices that may have been planted by those who wish to harm me. For example, Chance has a fan in his bedroom that has a green light which indicates that the fan is on. I hate that green light. It mocks me, it taunts me, and it watches me. Logically, I know it’s just part of the fan. But sometimes logic abandons me.
Psychosis means entertaining every bizarre thought that comes into my head. My cat makes a strange noise? He’s clearly possessed by a demon. A customer gives me a funny look? They’re out to get me. Someone gets into the car next to mine in a parking lot? They’re going to follow me home and kill me. The real kicker is this: most people with disorders like mine and the practitioners who treat us agree that there are very few coping skills we can use to shut off the voices, delusions, and paranoia.
I am very grateful for my parents and Chance, who have taken the necessary time and patience to understand as much as they can about how my brain works (or doesn’t). When I first adopted Archie, he went missing for a day, and I finally found him under the kitchen sink. I was so relieved when I found him because I’d been convinced that Henry had eaten Archie. During the search for the cat, I ran the idea that he’d been eaten by an invisible, talking snake past Chance, who simply replied, “Not possible.” No judgment, no laughter. Just reassurance.
I get the same kind of support from my mom, who encourages me to suit up and show up. She has come with me to countless psychiatrist visits, not to mention arranging a trip to Minnesota so that I could be seen at the Mayo Clinic.
When my mind starts playing tricks on me, telling me “No one will miss you if you’re gone. Nobody needs you, nobody likes you,” I can turn to my parents, my brother Adam, and Chance for evidence that this is not true.
A few weeks ago, I was sobbing in the passenger seat of my mom’s car as we drove the Loop. “I don’t want to die. I just want to stop feeling this way,” I said. I’ve been hospitalized for suicidal ideation more times than I can count. Every time I’m released from the hospital, I always feel glad that I chose not to die.
I can get macabre and self-pitying, thinking about the logistics of the aftermath of my untimely death. Strangely, I thought of my former coworker, Miranda, who I did not even know until recently, reads this blog. I have lost a few friends to suicide, and one to a hit-and-run car crash. I wasn’t especially close with these people, but it still shocked and saddened me when I logged onto social media, expecting to see cat pictures and memes, only to find that someone I once knew was no longer on Earth. So, I thought of Miranda logging on in the morning and seeing a post sandwiched between someone’s selfie and an ad for dog food saying that I’d passed away. She’d receive no explanation, no goodbye, nothing.
That is not the legacy I want to leave behind: a family minus one member, a handful of friends who’d wish they’d reached out more, a congregation at my synagogue who never knew anything was wrong, and a cat without his mommy.
There’s a novel sitting on my computer’s hard drive. There’s another one sitting halfway between my heart and brain. There are two punk concerts in Orlando to which I already have tickets. There is a Spanish class I’m starting in two weeks. There is a boyfriend with whom I want to see the future. There is a cat who needs attention. There are my parents who support me every step of the way. There is my brother’s wedding in a few months. There are plans for my mom and me to travel to Savannah at the end of this month. And most importantly, there is a whole life to live.