Someone has recently asked me what lessons I’ve learned from my journey through life as a mentally ill person. In other words, “what have I taken from my experiences?” That is an interesting question.
think number one would be: “Don’t trust yourself.” Often what I see,
think, hear, feel, smell or taste, is not really factual. So I live
constantly questioning my perceptions of reality. The part which is
most disturbing to me is my inability to trust my thoughts. Sometimes
an idea that I get will seem SO rational, SO logical and completely
supported by fact…and several days later, I will look at an email I sent
based on that presumption…and think, “How could I have thought that?”
Or someone else will inform me that my thinking is completely paranoid
based on something I’ve said….when it seems perfectly reasonable to me.
That is a horrible way to live. But I suppose that there are some good
things to be said for it.
For one, it is a real pride
slayer. It is a very humbling experience to discover constantly that I
have made a complete fool of myself because of something I’ve thought or
said or done as a result of something I’ve perceived that isn’t true.
And even worse is to have to admit that to people. It’s like the Fonz
struggling to say “I was wrrrrong”— and I have to admit that a lot. And
of course there are times when I cling to my beliefs and refuse to
admit it, and that usually leads to conflict or people walking away
shaking their heads.
It also has taught me to depend
more on God, to know that not only am I fallible, I am likely wrrrrong.
So I sometimes need to delay my impulse to press “send” and pray about
it for a while first.
It has also taught me something
else…That senses are not infallible and they cannot always be trusted.
In other words: Reality may not be as we perceive it to be. This idea
is helpful…in thinking about God, in relationships, in thinking about
Heaven …etc. There is more (or other) than what we know (or think we
What else have I learned? To lower my
expectations. There are people who would say this is not a good thing
to have learned….and maybe it isn’t, but it certainly makes living with
this kind of disability more tolerable. When I was in high school, I
dreamed big…I had full scholarships to any college I wanted to attend. I
was recognized by all who knew me as academically, musically, and
artistically gifted. I expected to conquer the world…and others
expected that of me too. My yearbook was full of notes from students
and teachers expressing their high hopes for me. And less than a year
later, it all fell apart when I had my first psychotic/depressive
The problem was, for many years after that, I
could not let go of those high hopes…the anticipation of a notable
life. And that was the source of much agony for me. I’ve had to learn
to measure the successfulness of my days by a wholly different set of
criteria. Now, if I take a shower and brush my teeth and wash the
dishes, it is a successful day. And I’ve had to learn to take pleasure
in those small victories—or at least to find some satisfaction in them.
Or at least, not to be disappointed that I didn’t win a Noble prize
While some people would argue that it is not
healthy to lower our expectations or to give up our dreams I would
respond by saying that it takes a humbler spirit to be content with what
we have. I heard once that happiness does not consist of getting what
we want, but in being content with what we have. I could name many
wealthy, famous people who are miserable….despite their accomplishments.
So what really have they gained?
Now I don’t want to
give the impression that I am happy that I have this disease….I really
hate it….I hate what it’s done to me, my life and to my family. But
people can come to accept something that they hate (like having cancer
or the death of a loved one) and still go on to find some happiness and
satisfaction in their lives.
So (and I’m still working
on this by the way) it has been important for me to firstly, admit to
others and to myself that I HAVE schizophrenia; and secondly, to alter
my life expectations because my old ones were making me miserable as I
failed, over and over to attain them. Years ago, I could read a 600
page book easily in one day. Now, if I finish a book at ALL from cover
to cover, that makes me very happy…regardless of how long it took me. I
have a choice there. I can be miserable because what was once easy is
now difficult, or I can take joy in the fact of my accomplishment
considering my limitations. There are still times when I think sadly of
the might-have-been’s and I do avoid reading my high school year
book….but I am learning this lesson slowly and persistently.
finally, this disease (accompanied by my health problems) has given me
an acute thirst and longing for the New Earth (or Heaven)…. I so much
anticipate the time when I will be free of this and able to realize some
of the potential I was born with…and much more besides. This longing
helps me in that it affects my attitude toward this life it gives me
Hope. And Hope is a valuable gift to gain.