Don’t be like me

Today was the first day of a months-long disability leave.

A journalist interviewed me early in the pandemic, when I was working from home. She asked me a bunch of questions about how it felt to be living with schizophrenia in a pandemic. And at the time, I didn’t think it was any harder for me than it was for anyone else. I was paranoid, yes, but so is everyone else. Everyone I know is terrified of getting sick.

After about five months of working from home, I was asked to return to the office. A series of events unfolded, and I started to experience hallucinations and intrusive thoughts of death. I tried to hang in there until there was one tiny thread left – even my doctor told me to go on disability long before I actually did. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking care of myself, and I was doing everything in my wheelhouse I could think of to try to hang in a little longer. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. In the end, I had to look out for myself and do the right thing for me.

So I’m on disability for a while. Today was the first day, as I said, and I spent most of it sleeping. I watched a little anime, went out to buy some socks, read a little bit of a comic series I’ve been wanting to start, and ate some food that didn’t require cooking.

You know that thing people put on their resume “works well under pressure”? I used to put that on my resume too. But ten years after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, that just isn’t me anymore, and that’s hard pill to swallow. I’ve always been the person who can handle a thousand things at once. Is up for challenges. Faces stressful situations head on.

But I have to admit to myself that I just can’t do that anymore. Stress severely exacerbates the symptoms of my disorder, and if the symptoms get bad enough, I can’t function, let alone being in a lot of mental pain. And just as much as I take care of myself in other ways – eat well, take my medication, go to therapy – I must take care of myself in this way too. Avoid the stress. Understand the signs. And not wait, like I did this time. I need to stop feeling guilty about not being able to do what everyone else can do. I have a disability, and that means life is more difficult for me in certain ways. That’s not to say I’m not privileged – I am – but I also face a darkness every day, a darkness that’s extremely hard to find my way out of.

So I will take this time to practice some self care, rest up, feel better, so I can take the world on again. I’d like to say “and I won’t feel bad about it either” but that’s easier said than done. I’m very hard on myself.

My wish for everyone living with a mental illness to not be like me. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take care of yourself. Take the time. Do your best, but know your best looks different on different days.