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.