When I was 18 I spent a lot of time thinking about the supernatural. I believed in spirits, energy, and the power of love to transform and heal. I was an optimist, a bleeding heart liberal, a Feeler. Deeply contemplating the lives of others as well as my own, I felt I had an inside look as to the meaning of life. Spirits were always a part of the conversation for me and I sought answers in the Unknown, the realm of mystery, symbols, and serendipity. I played the Ouija alone, worked with Tarot, cast runes. In our spare time, my friends and I would bust clouds with our thoughts, heal one another with our hands, and wade through the waist-deep hopes about the directions our lives would take.
I often found myself meditating, and on one particular night I sat alone in the large bathroom in the home where my friends and I lived. Set out before me on the chocolate carpet were the representations of the four elements: fire, earth, water, air. I brushed myself with sage and sat for a good hour viewing the images on the back of my closed eyes, feeling sensations in my body that spoke of understanding. After a while I closed my meditation, but my experience was not over. When I joined my friends, I received a call from my boyfriend (surely my soul mate, I thought at the time) who had just broken up with me at that moment. I was distraught, and in my rejection I sought direction and solace.
Writing furiously in my journal about all my past hurts, I had to stop myself–I had a vision. In the vision I saw a Magician who spoke to me, not in words but in images of moving pictures. As the film rolled through my mind I saw the lives of my friends unfold – who was happy, who was sad. And in the vision I saw my own life take unfortunate turns. Unlike the lives of my friends, I saw my life filled with pain and sorrow. I felt true despair for myself and in an instant I made a flash decision to take my life.
Obviously, I didn’t succeed. What was a bad choice resulted in stigmatization from my friends. I became the “emotionally unstable”, the live wire, the cannon ball who at any time could crumble. To this day this is how my friends from that part of my life see me. Cracked. Mentally ill. My suicide attempt, for them, was my defining moment. For myself, not so much.
I moved away, went to college, studied religion and philosophy and landed a job in Corporate America. I was grounded and moving forward leaving my teen drama and emotion behind. University changed me, having explored the Great Thinkers and their thoughts on cosmology and metaphysics. I became a better thinker myself and in the process realized I wasn’t the most creative mind. Sadly, I stopped waxing philosophical with friends and colleges because they couldn’t follow the thread of an argument proper to its logical conclusion. I became overly concerned with logic, clear thinking, and reason. I separated from the emotional, over-reactive, sensitive person my friends perceived as unstable and made a life for myself. I dated managers, engineers, attorneys. I focused on career and at the time my life was brought to a screeching halt by illness, I had just been promoted to manager myself.
My therapist asked me if it was an act of self-sabotage.
That’s stigma. That is the stigma of mental illness talking–even from a Ph.D.-grade therapist.
No amount of “stinking thinking” or angst can bring about auditory hallucinations, delusions of grandeur and persecution, or paranoia. What brings about schizophrenia? Bipolar? Bad genes, a compromised immune system perhaps, brain injury, illness. Honestly, they don’t research it so they STILL don’t know. But I know. What brings about such devastating mental illness is–plainly put–bad luck.
The irony of my own personal life is that schizophrenia took away my love of reason and logic and dumped spirits, magicians, and sorcery in my lap. It took my sharp memories and quick mind and gave me inattention and confusion. And most of all, it gave me back that stigma I had escaped.