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Learning to Accept Love (From Myself) as a Girl With Schizophrenia

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I was in the bathroom looking down at 10 different shades of purple eyeshadow thinking, “Sure, I have multiple mental illnesses, and I don’t have a stable job, but maybe if I’m pretty enough…” when Justin walked through our front door, home after hanging out with his friends. I desperately hoped I looked good enough to get his attention. Lately, I’d been crying a lot and generally been delusional and paranoid. Justin would wake up to me hyperventilating next to him in bed, put his hand on my chest, and tell me to take a deep breath. I felt like I was annoying and dramatic. I wanted to remind him I was worth all the effort, but I didn’t really believe I was.

Who would want to be with a girl who has schizophrenia?

I thought maybe my looks could make up for the fact that I had been hopelessly moody and hard to deal with lately. Oh, and that I’ll always be mentally ill because there is no cure. I mean, in movies, people still like the “crazy” girls if they’re cute. Take Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad,” for example. I’m also a delusional blonde with blue eyes. But there doesn’t seem to be a line of people waiting to date me… I don’t wear glittery underwear as pants when I go out in public. But hey, maybe one day I’ll have the confidence to do so and not let movies that glamorize mental illness bother me. Or maybe I won’t feel like I have to be attractive to exist as a woman in society or feel pressure to look beautiful even when I’m deeply depressed and struggling to shower on a daily basis.

I’ve been with Justin for a little over two years. In some ways, our relationship is like everyone’s our age. We are trying to figure out who we are and what we want to do with our life. But in other ways, our relationship is very different from what you’d expect from your typical young adults. For example, has your partner ever thought you were the devil? Been afraid you were going to murder her? Has she woken up from a nightmare and been unable to distinguish the dream from reality? …No? Well, those are just a few things Justin has had to deal with when I’m experiencing psychosis.

I have schizoaffective disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety disorder. Each disorder seems to exacerbate the other. Paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions are all symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. My OCD is characterized by violent intrusive thoughts. And my social anxiety disorder? Well, I tend to come off as rude, angry, or extremely shy. A first day of work is always accompanied by stomach problems and a migraine. Body and mind connect in sheer terror. My fight-or-flight kicks in, and usually I just run from people and things.

But let’s factor in the mood disorder. Sometimes I’m on top of the world. I have so many ideas, and I’m the life of the party. It feels like I’m the funniest and the smartest. Suddenly I have no reservations about dancing in public. I’m making 200 cookies for Thanksgiving when I’ve never cooked before. I’ve decided I should become a photographer with no experience and very little previous interest in it. This is where Justin comes in. He tells me to “sleep on it,” to sleep on whatever big idea I have today, and if I wake up feeling the same way, I can act on it, buying new books or craft supplies for whatever activity I want to master next. But if I don’t feel the same, and I usually don’t, then I thank him for preventing me from selling everything I own to become a farmer or deciding to audition for “The Voice.” That’s mania.

Depression is the opposite. Sometimes I’m angry and irritable, and I really don’t want to go out. I don’t feel like dancing. I don’t see how anyone anywhere could ever feel OK. Life seems absurd, sounds are too loud, lights are too bright, and even the wind seems to hurt my bare skin. I’m no longer invincible. I feel like a dead tree. One gust of wind and I’ll fall to the ground. I cry easily, and I’m overly sensitive. I’m a coin with two distinct sides that no one really seems interested in. I’m either too excited or too boring. I talk too fast or not enough. I’m too loud or too quiet. I’m too happy or too sad. People can’t keep up with me running at the park or shopping at the mall, or they think I’m lazy because I stay in bed all day. I’m never quite what people want me to be.

And Justin? Well, he has bipolar disorder. We’re two moody peas in a pod. Or, we were, but lately Justin has been doing great. And people grow at different rates. Some berries take longer to become ripe and ready to pick than others do, and I guess I’m just still a little bit sour, which is fine, but watching Justin hang off the branch, fat and sweet and deep blue, is hard. Just a few months ago, he couldn’t walk through Walmart without having a panic attack. When I took him to my old high school, he held onto my hand for dear life, only letting go to hide in the bathroom until I agreed to leave. Getting Justin to leave the house was hard, and his grades were suffering because he was too nervous to go to class. More than once he drove to school and then sat in the car instead of going in, struck with fear that his peers would make fun of him. Now he has no problem going to class, and he’s even made friends. He’s busy with school work, and I feel like I’ve been forgotten, like I am part of a time in Justin’s life where he needed extra help, but now he doesn’t. So, he must not need me anymore. And that’s why choosing the right shade of eyeshadow seemed so important. I wanted to look pretty and accomplished and confident. I wanted to create the illusion I’m doing just as well as Justin. I want him to know I’m good enough to wait for because I’m still hesitantly taking my first steps while he’s already running at full speed. I feel left behind. He used to sob into my lap about how school was too hard. I used to race home because he would send me cryptic text messages about life being meaningless and I was afraid he would attempt suicide again. When he would shower I would make sure to let him know I noticed because even daily hygiene was hard for him. Even going to the mall was a big deal for him. He was so sad for so long, and I patched him up, stitching up the tears and holes that had gaped open for far too long. ‘Cause that’s what I do. I’m drawn to people who need help, and then I fix them, or I try to. But it’s been two years, and Justin doesn’t need fixing anymore.

What does that mean for me?

It means that it’s time for me to stop trying to fix other people and work on myself. It means I can put as much love and time and effort into my own recovery as I did helping Justin recover. I don’t like needing help. I loathe anything less than independence, but here I am, finally admitting it’s my time to cry, it’s my time to be held, it’s my time to accept all the love and support Justin has been trying to give to me since we met. Because that’s the thing: I don’t need the perfect eyeshadow to impress Justin. And he’s not falling for any illusions. I’m not tricking anyone but myself. Trying to make it seem like I know what I’m doing is pointless because Justin knows I’m struggling, and he’s ready to be there for me. I just need to be there for myself.

I finally fell apart when he actually did mention that my eyeshadow looked pretty. I felt stupid for thinking it would make me feel better. It wasn’t even about that. I blurted out the truth, sobbing, “Who would want to be with me? Who would want to be with a girl who has schizophrenia? You’re doing so well, and I’m going nowhere.” “I do,” he said, “I want to be with you. I love you.”

Choosing the right eyeshadow wasn’t about getting Justin to notice me. It was about getting me to notice myself. As I brushed the color onto my lids, I looked in the mirror and remembered the girl I’d forgotten about, the one who had been trying for so long to get me to notice her. She was hurting, and I only noticed her when she was pretty enough to get my attention. I was afraid Justin judged me like I judged myself. Because I’d been made to believe an “ugly, lazy” girl doesn’t deserve love or happiness. I’m depressed, but it’s not acceptable to me to look depressed. My greasy locks hang off my head. My dark roots have grown out despite another box of bleach sitting under the bathroom sink ready for me to use. My breath stinks, and my face has broken out. Justin loves this girl, the one who won’t shower for a week and who lost her toothbrush, so why can’t I?

Am I ready to love myself the way Justin loves me? Am I ready to be there for myself the way I have been for him? Forget the bullshit about learning to love yourself before anyone else can. Falling in love with someone was the only way I could ever understand how to love myself the way I deserve. It’s time I put the same amount of effort into my own recovery as I have with Justin’s recovery. It’s time I congratulate myself for showering just like I do when Justin showers. It’s time I love myself as unconditionally as I love him. He may be a few steps ahead of me, but his hand is outstretched behind him. He is waiting for me to take his hand.

This article originally appeared on The Odyssey.

Thinkstock image by fungirlslim

Originally published: November 16, 2016
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