As summer fades into fall I think I have passed through the toughest time of year for myself. Other than a couple problems I have escaped this summer without any kind of serious breakdowns. I consider this a victory. Perhaps it means that after fifteen years of dealing with a mental illness diagnosis I’m able to manage even the worst parts well.
I have heard from my psych doctors and other people in the know that problems with schizophrenia often lessen with age. When I was going through the worst of my illness in the early years I didn’t pay any attention. I was hurting bad enough with the depression, hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, and paranoia that any possible improvements years later seemed a hallow promise. I was barely able to function for much of my twenties so the prospect that things would start to get better in my late thirties or early forties didn’t matter at all. All I knew was I had lost every dream I ever had because of schizophrenia and I would be living on the fringes of society for the rest of my life. It was no consolation that I might get better in twenty years. I knew that my prospects for a productive and meaningful life were over.
At least that’s what I thought a dozen years ago when it became obvious to me that I would never be able to hold any kind of meaningful full time employment. I filed for disability insurance through Social Security and moved into HUD housing. During my stay in HUD housing and my two stints in a mental hospital, I met many people who were in worse shape than I ever was. I met people who still didn’t want to take their medications even after twenty years of a diagnosis. These people refused to take their meds even when it was obvious they weren’t functioning at all without them. I met people who had severe physical health problems because of smoking and drug abuse in addition to their mental health problems. I met some people who were just angry and irritable all the time and a few of them even had a mental health diagnosis.
Over the years I also met some pretty cool people with mental illness and or living in HUD housing. I met one lady who had a pretty high end corporate job until her problems started in her forties. She was quite an artist too. I met the pastor friend of mine who knew Hebrew and Greek in HUD housing. While I miss him and haven’t found any friends like him since he died two years ago, I imagine someone just as good will come along in my apartment complex given enough time. We have had a few jerks and cranks move in during my ten years here. We have had many move out or get evicted too. On a long enough time scale the jerks and cranks usually get what they earn. Even the ones who didn’t get evicted got shunned by the tenants at large. One way to make a stay in an apartment complex really unpleasant is to always be mean and or act like the rules don’t apply to you. Fortunately I haven’t had those problems. I know that some of the older tenants were resentful of me moving in to the complex ten years ago when I was so young. Previously my complex had been reserved for the elderly. But, seriously, where else was I going to go? Long term hospitalization isn’t a highly utilized option anymore.
Of course as good as some of these psychiatric medications have gotten over the last couple decades, long term hospitalization isn’t needed for many psychiatric patients. Of the three medications I am currently prescribed, two of them didn’t exist even five years ago. And the DNA tests I took earlier this year indicated that these medications would work quite well given my DNA. Sure enough these tests were right. Since I can’t process stress and anxiety well enough to hold a full time job anymore, I’m approaching my life much like a retiree. I am grateful for the time I have. I am grateful for being able to live a low stress life. I am grateful to be able to come and go as I please. I am grateful I have learned to live on not much money. And I am especially grateful that I am still able to write about my mental illness and be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. It’s been an up and down last fifteen years with a diagnosis. But I think I have seen the worst parts of the illness and am settling into middle age. I can hardly wait to see what the next fifteen years brings me personally and the treatment of mental illness at large.