Content warning: schizophrenia, self-deprecation, swearing
A chemical imbalance, they said. Miss Lena with her brain recipe that has too many strays and can’t take a hint. One keeps asking to go to Six Flags.
Apparently I can be categorized as a lighter-case schizophrenic, a title that’s both insulting and complementary since it means I can hold down a job just like any of the normies but they’d have me locked up somewhere if my condition was any worse.
I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was just 13. Experiencing puberty and a mental illness at the same time was like doing stand-up comedy while being waterboarded. When you’re that age, being embarrassed was the worst thing that could ever happen to you. Luckily, my parents were supportive and didn’t view my diagnosis as a death sentence. They even joke that I didn’t need to have friends, I had plenty inside my head.
Jawbreaker (1999) said it best, “-This is high school…What is a friend anyway?”
I regularly took my medicine; quieting the shouts to whispers, keeping the hallucinations at a minimum, calming the schizophrenic paranoia into regular teenage angst – no one suspected a thing.
A drama queen. The girl that’s just a bit too much. A histrionic pick-me.
Better than “that girl that’s a danger to the school”. Quirky is better than crazy.
It was both exhilarating and terrifying when college came around. I was excited to meet new people, explore different opportunities, the whole nine yards. A huge college campus like this was special. Anonymity was a gift, no one gave a fuck about how weird you were. It was amazing…but very lonely after one week without my family, my dog Jellybean, or anyone really. I had issues staying focused because the bubble that served as my sanctuary was gone, forcing me into the driver’s seat, the girl who can’t even get a word out when people ask her a general question. I rehearsed my “a little about myself” speech in class when it became my turn, only for everyone to snicker at my lack of volume control and racing thoughts that prevented me from finishing a sentence right. My echo chamber became louder and louder. Without my support system, the headaches were getting stronger. The pressures were all pulsating in my head, my heart, my stomach-, I wanted it to stop.
“You got what you wanted, no one’s looking at spazzy Lena now, huh? You know why? At least in high school they cared enough to point and laugh. Now they just feel sorry for you. You’ve changed the location but not the situation, you just have a fancy room to cry in after you spent the day inconveniencing your professors and classmates.
How’d I even get into college, was it a pity acceptance letter? My grades blew so did my parents offer a donation or something? Does everyone know except me? Is that why no one’s looking me in the eye? I knew it.”
After some much needed dorm breathing time after my Chemistry class, I went downstairs to the courtyard and mustered up the courage to ask this cute guy around the corner for a cigarette to match my coffee in an effort to look effortless. Must look aloof and only spoken to if I approach first. The campus club fair was happening, and I knew this was my time to make some friends before I lost my head. Mom and Dad already paid extra money for a private dorm, so I’d have to repay them with reassurance it wouldn’t be a repeat of high school.
I took a deep breath, held my head high, and spurted out what I’d been practicing for the past 10 minutes in my head.
“Hi, I’m interested in learning more about the college Drama Club? Do I have to be a Theater major?” Fuck. Maybe she thinks I’m practicing my projecting for the stage? Goddammit, I’m an idiot.
To my surprise, the blonde with the kind eyes just smiled and said, “Not at all! We are open to everyone! Please sign your name right here, auditions will be tomorrow afternoon at 4! I’m Emma, the Club’s Campus Ambassador.”
Who’s gonna tell her about our situation?
Oh she knows!
It’s so obvious.
Why spoil the surprise?
She can spot crazy a mile away, she’s just smiling so you won’t use her for an ashtray. You’re trash.
I nodded my head, took a drag out of my American Spirit, and furiously scribbled my name on the clipboard. “Thank you, see you tomorrow.” I saluted for some reason, maybe to signal ‘I’m awkward as hell, please don’t question it ‘and then I walked back upstairs to my floor.
As I looked into the mirror, I didn’t realize making it into the Drama Club was more important to me than I thought. When you’re on stage with a script, you’re part of a collective goal while still having the freedom of putting your own spin on the words.
Words, WORDS! I’m always battling tip-of-the-tongue syndrome whenever I have to cultivate a response. I need to get it together. Do I need a stronger medication? Would regular beta blockers even work on me?
Right then and there, I decided to save myself the torture of explaining to everyone what having a schizophrenic college student in the club would be like and wrote everything in an email to Emma. I was already dreading the inevitable questions, but I had to drive this into a positive direction if I ever wanted to be successful in, well, anything. And I think that starts with total transparency. I wanted to be forthcoming and explain that all of these symptoms (intrusive thoughts, paranoia, affected speech, disorganized behavior, hallucinations-MY FAVORITE), can be distressing and disruptive to my daily life, but it doesn’t mean I am “crazy” or abnormal.
You’re not defined by this. You’re defined by your strength. Fuck what they think.
Last but not least, I made sure to drive the point home: My schizophrenia is a mental illness and not a personal failing. With the proper treatment and support, I can manage my symptoms and lead a fulfilling life.
I am more than what hurts me. I am who I am because of how I overcome it. Sent.
HERE WE GO.