Today is my nine-year anniversary. While my wife is off working and before the kids wake up for school I thought it an appropriate day to talk about my support network.
I didn’t understand the need for a support network at first. When my therapist first mentioned it and I researched support networks I thought to myself, “I’m an introvert, this isn’t for me.” I kept on trudging along with essentially a support network of one: my wife.
I am an incredibly lucky man. I am married to a truly, completely, supportive wife. I know she is there for me no matter what. For the most part I’ve been a great husband too. My failings come in that the disease and The Dragon often gets the best of me and forces me to withdraw completely at times. At The Dragon’s worst, it sews seeds of doubt to try to convince me that my wife has become sick of me and can no longer stand my disease. I know The Dragon will never be right about this.
After a month-long intensive inpatient psychiatric hospitalization, I began to see things differently. I wasn’t naturally introverted but my disease was making me this way. But my wagons had already worn deep ruts in introversion and I am now extremely slow to trust people and to let them in. It was beginning to become painfully obvious that my wife had taken on a care-taker role for me. Making my wife the sole member of my support network is probably the cruelest thing I have ever done.
It has taken a lot of effort on my part, but I now have let a few more people in, my brother and a trusted friend. I also have a few more people that I’ve brought in partially but with less success. It has been great to have a few more people to turn to when I’m in need or just having an off day and need a friendly ear.
Here are some things that make it tough for me to invite others into my network and what I can do about them. Please add your comments below what some of your challenges are.
I mistrust everyone except for my wife (my kids get a pass because they are kids). If my brand of schizophrenic symptoms were to be categorized I would be a paranoid type for sure. I am sure that everyone is out to get me and anyone out there could have some sort of malicious intent against me. Heck, I’m even sure that you, dear reader, would destroy me somehow if you were to pull back the veil on my anonymous blog.
This requires a forced faith in my fellow man. To confront this I’ve had to take a few leaps. I’ve told a few people that I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and tried to initiate conversations about what that means. Usually this turns into an awkward topic change or the person commenting that I seem like I’m doing okay. I’ve yet to be met with any of the imagined persecution. But this brings me to my next point.
People do not know what schizoaffective means. I’ve discovered that it is much more simple to say schizophrenic. But schizophrenia as a term comes with a trap of a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions. People still seem to think that this means I have multiple personalities. Sigh. The only way through this is to talk it out
But I’m still not sure how to introduce this conversation. I’ve tried referring to myself as crazy (a term I’m oddly comfortable with) with moderate success. I’ve also tried likening myself to the tortured genius of the mathematician John Nash featured in ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Although I do test into the very top tiers of every assessment I’ve taken including graduate school placement exams, I’m no John Nash in terms of genius or affliction. The other hole in this tactic is that this movie is a Hollywoodization of the man and the disease. But it still can stand as a solid footing that you can both stand on to discuss.
I’ve been trying to practice this on strangers. There is no easy way to do this. This takes a lot of bravery. But you must jump out the plane door and trust that your parachute will open (I’m a paratrooper that is terrified of heights). Just last night while walking my dog I told a stranger that my dog was a support animal and that I was schizophrenic. It is oddly freeing to admit this and it gives me a little chance to train myself in a few dialogues that may be helpful when trying to expand my support network.
I ask what people think. This is an important thing for me. In pretty much every conversation I have there is a series of shadow conversations happening in which I am imagining a few steps ahead. It’s like playing multiple chess games at once without knowing where all the pieces are. If you have an entity like I do, then the pieces are even being moved around. This makes me look, at best, socially awkward, disinterested or aloof. This all really comes down to one thing: I’m trying to ascertain what the other person is thinking. A normal person could just focus on the conversation or maybe just relax a little bit. I’ve only found one way to really slay this demon. I just ask the other person what they are thinking. But this is a bit of a Catch-22: the only way for it to work is for me to believe that they are telling the truth, and it is a general mistrust that got me here in the first place.
I’m beginning to understand what a huge topic this is so I’ll leave with a parting thought. I believe that most people choose the easiest path to their conversational goals. And talking about mental illness is a swift river. I must make them realize that swimming against the current is worthwhile. Next time, when initiating a conversation trying to expand my support network or a relationship I’m going to elicit a little bit of their own buy-in. I’m going to try “you are really important to me and I want you to be part of my continued success. I need to talk about my schizophrenia a little bit.” That should get their attention.
So, on our anniversary I’m going to concentrate some effort on expanding my support network so maybe my wife doesn’t have to spend so much time in a caretaker role. She reminds me all the time that she loves me and that the tough times are worth it. I owe her the respect to believe her.
I’ll mention again in this post that I am an individual sufferer and what works for me might not work for you or the person you care about. When it comes down to it, we all need to guide our own boats. But we can learn from and help each other.
Take a moment and comment with some thoughts how I could improve my own processes. Tell us about how you build and expand your support networks. And, if you are as lucky as I am, tell us about the main person in your support network.