To the Ticket Inspector Who Thought I Was Drunk
I have a diagnosis of atypical schizophrenia. I have taken antipsychotic medication since 1995. The medication has a number of side effects, one of which is making me look and feel sedated.
My early 20s were spent in institutions of varying degrees of malevolence, from psychiatric hospitals to prison. I was an isolated, alienated, negatively focused person. I hated myself, I hated the world and I wanted bad things to happen. Thankfully I had something of an epiphany when I was 26 and decided to change my life for the better. I wanted to be part of society and have an education, a professional job, a mortgage and a suit. My parents were my main support through this journey.
In July 2000 I went home to my parents for the first time in many years. I took the train, as it was the cheapest way to get there. I was anxious and worried I would lose my ticket or get off at the wrong stop. The train had a buffet car, and you could buy snacks, soft drinks, coffee and alcoholic drinks. I got a meat pie for dinner and bought a beer as well. I paid for these items and got back to my seat. The inspector came by and checked my ticket. She looked stressed and had a sort of pinched in, frowny face. I fished out my crumpled ticket. The inspector made some rude comment suggesting I had been drinking beer since we started our journey. She made more snippy comments and gave me savage looks every time she passed. I couldn’t work out what I had done wrong. I felt hurt and scared. I was trying to change my life, and here was this person being mean to me when I had done nothing worthy of discipline or judgment. I wondered if I was imagining her behavior and being too sensitive. I started a conversation in my mind around what was going on. It quickly turned into stress. I thought the ticket inspector would call the police, thinking I had committed some crime. I was frightened for my future.
I spent the weekend with my parents dwelling on my experience on the train and completely baffled as to what I had done to upset the ticket inspector. I tried to put it out of my mind. I took the train back home that Monday morning at 8:30. When I sat down I had a rush of anxiety as I saw the same ticket inspector. It was clear she recognized me as she checked my ticket. She seemed confused about something. She was almost civil this time.
I was puzzled, but when I got home the penny dropped and I realized she had probably thought I looked drunk on the Friday evening because of my sedating medication. The side effects of the medication I took to help me be a functioning person had meant the ticket inspector thought I was drunk or on drugs. She did not apologize, but punched a little hole on my ticket and walked off.
I wished right then and there I could tell the woman how her behavior had an impact on me. It left me anxious and confused and blaming myself. It allowed me to go down the path of unhelpful thinking and could have derailed my efforts to move past my former life.
I wish now I could go back and explain to this woman that some medications can make people look sedated when they have not had any drugs or excessive alcohol. I want to tell her I was trying to escape a negative and frightening world, and she put me right back in there with her blame and assumptions. I want to say I had low self-esteem and worried everyone thought I was a criminal anyway. I want to tell her that having a short conversation with me rather than jumping to conclusions might have been a preferable option for both of us. I want to tell her I needed my medication. Even if it made me look drunk or sleepy it was actually enabling me to live life free form the worst ravages of my illness. I want to tell her people with schizophrenia and mental illness experience so much prejudice already and her additional bit was only serving to alienate me further.
We are the sum of our thoughts, experiences and interactions with others. People with mental illness already have a tough time. Prejudice, unfounded judgment and assumptions do not help us. If in doubt, ask. Don’t assume.