Pieces of Love
Sometimes I find it hard to reconcile my past with the present. Schizophrenia can be a cruel interrupter of life in all it entails. I found myself on a journey I did not choose and never expected to take. I never dreamed of not graduating from college in 2003, four years after I enrolled at the University of Southern California. I also never expected to become homeless, let alone for four years, and in the same city where I had once been a dedicated student. Prior to my psychotic break, life was filled with targeted accomplishments, friends and hope for the future.
Occasionally, I hear people with schizophrenia say that they have experienced the disorder their entire lives in some form or another. More commonly, however, schizophrenia presents as a ticking time bomb. Until it explodes, there are often no distinct warning signs.
While in high school, I was safe, happy, and thriving. Everyone in my life anticipated that as an adult, I would be successful. Sadly, because of my schizophrenia, it seemed that would never happen.
Stored away in a cardboard box, I found a variety of treasures from my childhood, and before schizophrenia changed my life. I found little figures made of rocks that had been glued together and painted. There was a green frog and a bright blue creature with big eyes. Both made me laugh and remember youthful joy. The figures reminded me of church summer camp when I was a child, where we made a variety of interesting crafts. Each day, when summer camp was over, my brother and I would return to our house and go swimming.
In transferring these long-forgotten friends from the box to a place near my dresser, I blended them into my present life. Daily, I am greeted by love and joy from my childhood.
I also found old notebooks, t-shirts, badges and “olympic medals” from a girls’ club that three of my friends and I had “founded.” The materials were all painted with our club logo. The “olympic medals” were from a competition we put together with multiple events including a biking course, a swimming competition and an obstacle course, running through our five acres of property. I remember the youngest girl, Annie, won gold. My medal was silver for second place. There was so much love in the friendships of my youth before schizophrenia interrupted my life. The tokens of days past fill out and complete the circle of my life from wellness, into illness, and then back again through recovery.
I found a dried-out pen from Israel, a gift from my first-grade teacher who had recently visited Israel. It fascinated me. I remember holding it and dreaming of going to Israel. Unfortunately, I never would have guessed that I would one day be deluded to believe that I would help secure peace in the Middle East, as my mind was failing me.
Near the bottom of the box, I found coins I collected as a child from all over the world. One coin, from Hong Kong, had a hole in its center, surrounded by Chinese characters. I used to hold the coin and dream of visiting Hong Kong one day. I never expected that I would indeed visit Hong Kong, but only while suffering from psychosis associated with schizophrenia. Now the coin is joined with my passport which contains stamps from all the places around the world where I have traveled.
As I look through these old treasures, I reflect on my years symptomatic with schizophrenia and isolated from love. The treasures remind me of the love I experienced prior to the illness. While I was mentally ill, homeless, and isolating myself from family and friends, I suffered from financial poverty as well as a poverty of love. Years later, I would once again allow their love to flow into my life.
As painful as it may be, I realize that my life is a composite of all the different chapters together, and every chapter matters and finds greater significance in a cohesive, ongoing story. When people are affected by a serious illness, a pause or gap is created. For me, difficult things and good things have joined to make me a more complete, and compassionate person.
My porcelain doll, given to me by a friend, is now in my bedroom on display and brings me joy. She has been freed from the storage box.
Reclaiming the pieces of love from the past and bringing them forward has enriched the healthy life I now live.
Today, I am thankful for my antipsychotic medication which has enabled me to recover completely, returning to a thriving and purposeful life. My life took unexpected turns that were more difficult than I would have ever imagined. But the greatest surprise has been the little pills I take every day that brought me to recovery and enable me to work, volunteer, study, and revive meaningful relationships. I am thankful every day for the chance at a restored life I have been given on medication. When I look at the pen from the Middle East, I no longer aspire to help create world peace.
Schizophrenia can indeed be a cruel interrupter of life. But today, there is hope for a return to the things we care about most and help us define who we are.
I am a survivor of a brain disorder. I hope that others affected by severe brain disorders can also bring pieces of love from their past into their present in order to nourish and complete the story of their lives.