Today’s photo shows a view from a bridge where many people, in a state of hopelessness, have jumped to their deaths. Not the new barriers to prevent people from doing this. There is also a telephone at either end of the bridge, with a sign stating, “Together We Can Cross This Bridge”
I have always had a hard time making and keeping friends going way back. Time and circumstance make it difficult for a mentally ill person in general to keep friends. There were some times when I really felt that I knew someone and that we would be friends for life and it just didn’t work out that way. I don’t really think this is a reason to hate anyone, but I do know it can be hard to get through.
To talk about one friend I dearly treasure, I knew this one person in high school and we sat next to each other for an entire year, worked at the same restaurant for a while, and we would get into the most interesting, heated arguments about everything from government to music. When I first became mentally ill, because I was no longer in school, we lost touch. One day I was riding my bike downtown, probably as much as five years later or more, and a car stopped in front of me. I went to go around it and the door opened, and out stepped this friend. Over the next years we communicated quite a bit, had dozens of the coolest conversations, and all seemed well.
Then the time came when I got sick again. It happens to those of us who take medications. A lot. It makes it very hard to do anything that requires stability or dependability. My friend from high school stopped talking to me, and after trying a few times I think he had my number blocked. I felt very slighted by this, but I was to learn years later that a doctor who I didn’t really like had told him he should stop associating with me totally. I didn’t know this. I simply thought he couldn’t handle my illness when the truth was, he did a great deal to try and help me in contacting my doctor, much more than many people I knew. Fortunately, years later I picked up the phone finally. This is such a shining example of how, despite things that seem unfair, it is so important not to judge people, and not just relating to mental health stigma, but to many things. It can hurt a lot to go through these things, but it will hurt less if you forgive and move on.
There was another incident I had where my self worth came into question. Some years back a friend introduced me to his girlfriend who literally turned out to be one of the most amazing people I have ever met on the face of the planet. She was so many things, teacher, manager, executive. She had a master’s degree and a black belt in a martial art. It didn’t take long for me to get to know her and get to really like her. Then one day a worker in the building I live in was asking me why I looked down and I stupidly told him I was thinking about this woman. He offered some not-asked for advice then literally told me, “did it ever occur to you she’s out of your league?” wow. What a great way for a mental health worker to boost a person’s self esteem! Although this opinion hurt, I didn’t stop being friends with this person, and a long while after this I told her about the advice I had gotten and right away she told me he was wrong and that she didn’t particularly like the guy. I was never to have any kind of romantic relationship with this person, but we have a very cool friendship that lasts to this day. The moral of this paragraph? Be the person you are inside, be real and honest and gentlemanly and let it be your heart not your face that others see in you.
There is much to be said on this topic. Unfortunately though, I don’t have a lot of new advice for you dear readers. Mental illness, especially autism or schizophrenia robs us of our ability to relate to others. But there is never a time when you should give up trying. When I used to work a lot more for the schizophrenia society, we had psychiatrists come along to our presentations for a while. They showed on a chart that even severe illnesses are very often overcome in time. I personally think that is what is known as recovery time and you need to fill it with time for plenty of rest, plenty of exercise, being open to self-improvement, and of course getting your medications right so that you don’t deal with being too sedated or too restless because of any of your medications. Once again I really feel for people in the US who have a hard time affording insurance, but there are ways to get help that won’t break you. While many psychologists will work on a sliding scale, some will donate their time free to a particular organization. There are also organizations out there who pay their psychologists but don’t charge clients. Once again, my magic formula looks like this: you may or may not need to be in the hospital to get diagnosed and treated properly with medications. Make the most of this time, go to occupational therapy groups, go to support groups. Learn all you can about your illness and ways to treat it. But be a little wary of making friends and simply don’t start romantic relationships in the hospital. Once you are released, put your housing needs as priority one. You need to find a place to live and to make sure you pay the rent on time every month. Once you have a place to live assured, look into ongoing support groups in your area and do your best to go to them. A lot of people will end up living close to their city centre because rents are lower there. Use this opportunity to get some great fresh air and exercise, and walk everywhere, taking the bus as little as possible. This is not only a money saving and healthy alternative, it will make you sleep better and feel better. You will surprise yourself how far you can walk after just a little practice. The next step is to get involved in a life skills group, and if you feel up to it, volunteer for a few hours a week. You will find this time invaluable and it will pay you back many times over when it comes time to polish up your resume. After you take a life skills (communication and more) class or two, decide where you are academically and where you want to be. Some may be older and like the jobs they have had and are good at them. Some may be younger and want to train for a job they dream of. Either is okay, the important thing is that the time will come when you want to transition yourself away from supports or even simply supplement them with part-time work or apply for job training. The next step is one that a lot of people don’t think they will ever make. I certainly didn’t think I would. That is your normal/freedom phase. I have a normal job, make a little extra money, and I am free from the constraints of being in the hospital. Although nothing is ever 100%, I feel great and I know that if I just work at things a little bit as I can handle them, always keeping my goals in mind, I know that I will have accomplished significant things by the time I have to retire.
I have just one last comment to make. On average, 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenia. 4 in 10 will attempt suicide due to stigma and isolation. 1 in 10 people with schizophrenia will eventually commit suicide and die. These numbers have to change. When I look at the 4 in 10 number, I think of a friend who jumped off a bridge and broke both of his legs after a doctor almost directly dared him to do so. I think of the fact that as a youth I became so depressed after stopping a medication I took an overdose of acetaminophen and did serious damage to my liver. It isn’t worth it. Please reach out when you are hurting, please connect with a local agency such as the schizophrenia society. Each of us are wonderful human beings and worth so much more.
USA Suicide Prevention Helpline 1(800)784-2433
USA Mental Health Helpline: 1(800)273-TALK (8255)
Canadian Mental Health Helpline: 1(416)646-5557
Canadian Centre For Suicide Prevention: 1(833)4566-4566
My personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org