At the age of 22, I was hospitalized.
I had just been diagnosed with Schizophrenia. The doctor believed I needed to be placed in a private hospital. My mother agreed. And so I went.
Once locked into a hospital room, the doctor pumped my body with medication. Initially, I was sleeping ten to twelve hours a day. I was allowed moments of lucidity, moments when I could use the bathroom on my own free will, make an attempt at reading a book.
Then the dosage was pumped up, and the hours spent sleeping increased. Fifteen hours a day. Then twenty hours a day. I'd wake up, if only briefly, to find my pillow soaked in drool. See that I'd soiled my pants. I thought I was dying.
I had no friends. And now even my imaginary friends were fading. I'd try to read – the one habit I was desperately holding on to - but one word at a time was as much as the medication was allowing me to process. One. Drift off. Word. Drift off. At. Drift off. A. Drift off. Time.
If this was bad, unbeknownst to me, there was worse. My brain was being permanently damaged. My medication was making me stupid, and I wasn't lucid enough to notice.
When I was released from the hospital, I discovered that I'd lost the ability to button shirts. Tie shoe laces. Tie a tie. Fill a form. Perform simple mathematical functions. It took a decade to earn some of those skills back. My intern recently taught me how to tie my shoelaces again.
But my tryst with mind-altering modern psychiatric medication had only just begun. I developed brain tumors – they were surgically removed in 2011, nine years later. I had begun to experience epileptic seizures. And in 2013, anti-anxiety medication caused a psychotic episode that ended with my attempting suicide. (Warning: Side effects may include homicidal and suicidal ideation.)
My story set me free All of this is to say that the war I – and so many like me – are fighting, is being fought on too many fronts. I have to fight the voices in my head. I have to fight the stigma of being a Schizophrenic. I have to fight cultural apathy. I have to fight legal disempowerment. (Did you know that as a schizophrenic, I cannot legally board an airplane without being sedated?)
The only tool I can use to wage all these wars is my mind. And even that has been crippled by psychiatric medication.
But the human mind is surprisingly resilient. It evolves new ways of resisting the assault. It will find it's way. Mine did too.
I found other therapeutic ways to deal with my condition: I wrote a book, I made a film. I paint. I practice martial arts. I perform breathing exercises that help me stay calm. I try to re-examine my every predicament with fresh perspective. I have learnt to think of every psychotic episode as one where a part of me needs to break down so I can make sense of my grief again.
In 2016 I experienced a two-day long spell of psychosis after a break up. My partner had cheated me on. When the spell ended, I was able to see the psychotic experience for what it was. My mind struggling to come to terms with my loss. The process of grieving expedited by the psychosis.
The clarity my mind found somewhere in that psychotic state was able to relieve me of the pain. I returned to normalcy, with far more lucidness and understanding than I had had before. The psychosis was my defense mechanism. My closure. It was my mind's way of processing grief.
You may find that it resembles yours. For my classmates, friends, strangers – and for those who have shamed me, called me "crazy," rejected me - I am not my schizophrenia. I am an activist, a writer, a person struggling on multiple fronts, aspiring towards a fulfilling life.
I have been hurt by apathy, I have been wounded by the label of "crazy", I have suffered much abuse, before and after my diagnosis, and I have grieved.
But like you and everyone else, I will keep the pursuit of happiness alive.
The mind you may consider "diseased" will fight on.