Sometimes it is beneficial to admit to cowardice. As humans, we are innately imperfect. My generation grew up watching Hannah Montana, and I think she said it best, “Nobody’s perfect.” I am frightened that I do not know what objectives I want to accomplish in a post-undergraduate world. I question my abilities because I am idealistic in what I want to accomplish, but life has a way of guiding us on a path we did not plan. However, one thing I strive for during my time in college is to appreciate learning. By taking my medication and being aware of my health, I will continue to be diligent in my studies. My one year of undergraduate study and my previous awareness of current events have taught me that many people do not have the opportunity to engage in academics because of reasons beyond their control. I take what I have for granted, but it is for my own benefit to use what life has offered me to be brave. For me personally, one thing I can control is to learn from my cowardice in hopes to achieve the ability to do something that frightens me. This is what distinguishes me from many of my peers. I find humility in the things I lack, and determination in what I can learn.
Normalcy is something I want, but instability is what I get. I come out of the shadows once in a while. I get a breath of fresh air and I smile from ear to ear only to be back in the dark in a short while.
“Are you having an episode again?”
And then I know.
These past couple of months I learned a valuable lesson. With chronic mental illness, there is a rhythm you have to follow, but I am only 19 years old. College is ravaged by impulsivity, recklessness, and somehow, still being able to earn a degree at the end of all of it. There is no rhythm. There is no schedule. “Sleep is for the weak” is a common mantra held by students. Then they look back and remember those years as the best of their lives.
I was diagnosed at the age of 16 with schizoaffective disorder. When I went away to college, I was taking my medication. I’m very lucky to have found the right medication, but that never meant I felt a 100% “normal.” There was always something off.
My first semester away wasn’t hard because I was away from my family. I was always very independent from a young age—because I had to be. My mother is mentally ill and that is the only mother I’ve known. I feel immense love for her after my diagnosis because I am closer to her in her sufferings. The reason I bring her up is because of the lessons she taught me without the intent of doing so.
I stopped taking my medication at the end of fall semester. Since I wanted to have a normal college experience, the sleep I was getting wasn’t rhythmic. On top of not getting regular sleep, I also wanted to drink alcohol with my friends on the weekend, but these weren’t the reasons I stopped taking my medication. It was because I couldn’t do the schoolwork. I physically could not wake up for my classes and my attendance came into question with some professors. I knew it wasn’t depression, but I got confused and angry in the midst of the sedation. These were the same problems that plagued me in high school. So, I thought, “to hell with these medications.” I abruptly stopped them. By the end of spring semester, I had a mental breakdown.
Now, there is a constant debate as to whether medications are hurting more than they are helping. It is sort of a sick irony that some anti-depressants have a side effect of suicidal thoughts. The lesson I learned wasn’t to take my medication. It was to take my medication, AND.
I learned there has to be something more to live for. During my psychosis, it really wasn’t far fetched delusions. I only yearned for normalcy, for stability, and for clarity. These medications gave me that to some extent, but beyond medicine, and science, and what experts say there is still a vast unknown. We cannot control outside triggers of our episodes. We cannot control our genetics. We cannot control our medications’ side effects and which will work in our favor. What we can control is having an ounce of hope. A hope that one day we won’t attain normalcy, but we will come to accept and fight with an even greater courage. For those who lost the fight, you are not weak, and I can only hope wherever you are now is the escape you needed from that of your own mind. And to my mother, I am grateful for the life lessons you taught me as a result of your experiences.
I felt myself feeling hopeless, careless, and restless. At the same time, energy drained out of me so quickly. I felt fragile, but also like my body was not even me. It was a version of myself I had never met. My reactions were slower and my smiles turned into forced ones. I never understood what was happening. I did not enjoy the things I used to, and my fear of never accomplishing my goals was real. Not because I had failed to, but because I was not even given the chance to try. This feeling had stopped me from reaching for the stars or landing on the moon, instead I was left on a cold bitter earth staring relentlessly at the stars I had missed.
It was somber outside. I would spend my time sleeping—a sort of escape from the real world. I woke up, and I felt drowsy and not as hungry as I should have been. It started to snow. I watched the very slow process for myself from the bedroom window. It was as if the snowflakes did not dare to hit the ground until their other fellow snowflakes fell too. I smiled for the first time in a while, and it was genuine. It was the first snowfall of the year and I felt an underlying sadness, but with a moment’s joy.
The charcoal colored streets began to turn into a blanket of white. People had started putting up their holiday lights as well, and the white snow, the dark skies, and the bright lights made for a scene that was inexplicable. Mother nature had become my nurturer during the feelings of self doubt and hopelessness. It was the only thing that connected me to the outside world. I couldn’t take up the courage to go out and make the beauty some sort of reality. I watched from my window, daydreaming about all the beautiful aspects of earth I had missed. The only moment I noticed them was when my own selfish world had fallen apart. These feelings had debilitated me and I had no idea the cause. I continued to wish that I could be as free as a snowflake and as innocent as the children playing in the snow.
That official change of season, or rather my experience during the first snowfall changed my perspective. Life was not about wondering why we feel hopeless even if we know that our life was “perfect” with no reason behind the feeling. If we were meant to be happy, we would be; to step away from our own selfish world and to pay attention to our earth that has given so much to us and may just give us a different perspective on our health. The seasons were changing, and I had realized I was changing into someone who felt free enough to talk about myself in a way I hadn’t before. The change from crunchy auburn leaves to empty tree branches was a depressing transition, but I realized winter meant we were nearing the end of the year and the new year meant new hopes.