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Chess-loving atheist. Mental health writer and poet. I like The Beatles, gothic rock and metal. Living with chronic delusional disorder.

Friendship is a precious gift – maybe, too precious?

Just as I’m writing this, I have my ear-plugs on, not to hear any disturbing sounds from the outside. I need to be alone and to think better about me and others. I know what’s the right way to be. You just decide whether a person is good for you, if your interests coincide, if you have much in common, whether one fits your expectations, if one has a right character to be your friend. Instead of it I’m bothered that people stop talking to me. Worried if I did anything wrong. Promising myself that next time I’ll behave differently, maybe tell more jokes or more interesting stories. Getting obsessed to know whether I made a mistake, where it went wrong. Telling myself next time I won’t say a word about my illness. Never to cancel friends’ meetings because of psychosis. Never to say a word about me interested in psychiatry. Never to talk too much. Never to talk too little. Never to send interesting articles to friends – maybe, I just annoyed them. Never to express my life-views – I might have sounded a bore. Never, never, never.


I don’t really know how to behave to make people talk to me. They seem to only pretend to be friends. I have about five trusted friends, the rest are drifting away. Most people can’t accept me for who I am. They might start to induce me to give up meds. They might not want to see I’m sick. They might meet you and talk to you, then decide to be silent. They might block you from the start or they might abuse or troll you, in the worst case. I don’t find any empathy, when a person stops to talk and I’m left guilty, not realizing what went wrong. I feel sick and I need a friend’s shoulder, love and care. I need it more than normal people, but they treat me worse than those who are stable and mentally strong.


But I’m not strong. On my bad days I’m sure everyone hates me. They think I can only bring problems into their lives. And I’m sensitive. I often feel sympathy for people, while they shun me. I always think, maybe next time with a different person I won’t talk about my illness. But then it happens that people stop talking too. They tell me I’m insincere, that I’m telling lies, that I’m talking too little about myself. They start to suspect something. And they stop communicating to me too. They can’t understand that I had to invent a better life story to attract them. They stop talking anyway, whether I tell lies, or keep silent about myself, or tell the truth. It was the biggest problem for me, when I started to want to communicate, but was denied. It’s been only four years since I began to make friends. And all the more it hurts, that people deny my friendship, when it started to mean something for me. I value a good-hearted conversation and exchanging facts. I can be a good friend. But most of my acquaintances don’t value that. They need healthy friends. They need no extra worry.


Is friendship really a gift too precious for them and I’m not worthy? But how is it going to be, if they don’t accept me for who I am or have no empathy for me? How could they even start to be my friends, if the only thing they care about is if I don’t take antipsychotics?


In vain I ask myself, where’s their humanity and intelligence. They only care if I’m not dangerous for them. Then I start exploring my character and look for my flaws. I judge myself for any little negative thoughts, as if no one else has them except me. I start to think of myself as a potential murderer and a bad person, getting self-stigmatized. I doubt myself. I try to think what wrong I’ve done in life, that some peope want to drive me to suicide or talk among themselves “she didn’t hang herself yet”.


I see I’m not guilty and my life was quite happy and cheerful before the illness. People liked me for intelligence. Now it doesn’t matter. Now they dislike me for being sick. All my endeavours got lost, as I see people value only mental health. They turn away from me, but I feel every contempt, every hateful grin or remark. I’m not without feelings.


There’s no logical way out of it. Just to stop making new friends and stick to old ones. In times of distress I need trusted people to talk to. And making new friends brings so much disappointment and negative outlet, that I got very tired of it.

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Stigma and hate

Some may say I’m too choosy about normals. But most of all I hate stigma, not normal people. Am I really too bad? Wonder how do people feel when they “never have any evil thoughts at all”. They’re telling lies anyway. They have evil thoughts too. I know my thoughts and struggle with them, such people just do harm impulsively.


What’s depressing, there’re people I can’t joke or ironize with about dark things. They will think me bad and get aggressive. Not once or twice I encounted situations, when I was not understood right. I can’t be light-hearted with people anymore, afraid of making any “mistake”. My irony seems vain and lost on them, as I’m not normal and they “can expect anything bad” from me.


What’s more, if people treat me wrong, seems like I have no right to be angry anymore, since I got sick. Have to swallow all insults and never say a word? Looks like I can’t be myself anymore. Only to watch out not to make a bad impression. Is it my imagination or what? And the more sick I get, the more I get insulted and isolated. The more reasons to be angry about. So unfair.


I’ve been trying what I can to reduce stigma of mentall illness, at least in my surroundings. But have I gained anything? Best of my friends are still those mentally ill and fellow shrinks. Talking to normals, I can think a person is nice to me, and then suddenly he starts to say “meds make you not human”, “you’re too silly to study (haha)”, “you’re dangerous because you’re angry with me for things I did”. And it comes not from one person, but from five or ten. I’m a bit tired. They’re so typical. I really try to be friends with some of them, despite their notions and behaviour. But sometimes it’s impossible. I don’t believe anymore, that all people can be stigma-free. I know some really intelligent people can be cruel and uncomprehending. And life can’t be changed by twitter-shitting. It’s about the overall level of kindness, empathy and understanding.

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Backfired

Stumbled across such term as “backfire effect”. It clearly explained to me why people react the opposite way in comparison with how they should when they suddenly see evidence, for instance that life on Earth wasn’t created in seven days, or that mentally ill people are not all degraded freaks running with knives and killing neighbours. That’s why people never change opinions, and the stronger the facts are, the harder they hold on to their old beliefs. If we always have in mind backfire effect, how can we possibly convince people in evolution theory or in goodness of people with delusional disorder? Backfire effect just proves my suspicions that people don’t change opinions, no matter what facts they see, and even get more hateful if they see something good in you.

And I experimented a bit on several people. I took six of my friends and six people whom I knew not too well, but who were expected to be suspicious of me. I intentionally put some words about how dangerous I might be, and my friends never believed it, as they knew me well and proved me I’m just sick and need some help, can have aggressive thoughts due to illness, but they can’t say normals don’t have such thoughts too. While those who were not friends, even after me pursuing about my intelligence and reasonable mind, after hours of exchanging thoughts and seemingly happy conversations, continued to believe I’m dangerous and going to kill them.

It occurred to me, that when you’re with friends, you can say anything, make dark jokes and smile, be angry, be sad, be happy, and it won’t shatter their good opinion of you. And with other people it is different. You have to watch out for “mistakes”, and even if you don’t do them, you’ll be considered “bad”. Then I recalled I’ve been doing the same thing – trying to convince people I’m good – for years. At first, maybe four or five years ago, I was stubborn and hopeful and wanted to change the world. But now I got completely calm. If stigma is explained by psychology, it means more struggle and I have to gather more strength for it.

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Is there life on meds?

 

I've come to encounter a very strange view on a mental illness. For instance, people who know I'm taking meds from schizophrenia, saw me improving and told me "you are healthy again, you can do anything", "you will stop taking meds, as your life gets better". When I answered I'm not healthy at all and I'm still having symptoms, they were surprised. As if I became relatively healthy without any medication, by my own efforts. I told them I might need to take meds all of my life, and they answered: "so you're mad! and silly!" As if before, praising my improvement and efforts, they forgot it's all from meds and then suddenly it dawned on them.

Another time, a friend wanted to change me very much, and one of his requirements for me was to take up some study and to stop taking meds. I'm quite despaired when it comes to studying something now. I have my skills in the fields I studied before, but it's hard to remember anything new now. I may understand a lot when I study something, but I forget easily. So the inadequacy of requirements made me desperate.

Giving up meds was the most outrageous of them. I wouldn't give up meds even if they offered money to me. I know this romantic mood, when I thought I was "strong enough" and can control everything in my brain. I gave up meds and was disappointed. Two times I got into a hospital with paranoia and the third time I hardly escaped it. Things seemed to be neat and clear while I had been taking meds. No paranoia bothered me. Rare doubts and suicidal thoughts were dealt with. But as I stopped taking meds, everything was gradually coming to the worst state. People were after me, suicidal thoughts were consuming me, paranoia and mixed emotions were tormenting my brain... There was an illusion of superpower over my mind that meds gave me. I thought myself strong enough to control my brain and I almost believed I'd give up mes and my illness would be over. But it had never happened. No one is strong enough to go against one's own brain. There're few things people are able to control in their bodies.

My friends' points of view had a touch of antiscientific notions. But even relatively intelligent, atheistic people live in illusions they're able to control themselves completely and those who can't - are bad and unworthy.

If you're told you won't be someone's friend till you give up meds, what do they think they're going to get as a result - me in the hospital? I just told them to fuck off. And the other's point of view was: "you are going to take meds for life - so you're a goner, you're getting ready for the residential home".

Can they really be so stupid? They don't say so to people with diabetes or else. Where do they get such notions? And what about some people with schizophrenia working and leading normal lifes on meds? I know some people thinking the same way as normals, they don't take meds and live absorbed in their mad theories and delusions. I also know those who don't get much result from meds, and are deep into their paranoid theories all the same, only high doses of drugs make them a bit out of it. But I also know people for whom meds work out fine, at least for some symptomes, like paranoia, suicidal thoughts or tiredness. And I know several people who gave up meds and are not in this world anymore. They suicided.

We don't get stronger by giving up meds. Symptoms remain as well as the chemical inbalance and changes in the brain. Not all peopel are lucky to recover from schizophrenia. We're not superhuman beings and we can't cope with real illness by words and thoughts. Such views are dangerous for people themselves. Most of them don't experience a mental illness, but if they do, they're stubborn and risk their lives trying to cope themselves. I was that way too. It's even worse when antipsychiatric views come from normal people. It seems so cynical to let people live without medication and see what happens to them! Times of lobotomia and insuline coma are gone, the positives of modern meds are lots more than negative effects, new researches give hope for evolving in this sphere, and still intelligent people don't take the time to explore it and shape their views on facts, they shape their views on their own judgement. Their points of view is created with the help of horror movies and news headlines like "a psycho kills three people". Even though the real danger from mentally ill people is rather low, due to statistics, normals don't go into objective consideration. If one normal person commits a murder, we don't consider all normal people to be fulltime killers. But if one insane person kills someone, they forget about tens of thousands of innocent mentally ill people. Normals don't care for rational views on the mentally ill, they care for bright headlines and pathetic horror movies. Those who make science move forward and those who help patients and promote healthy views - are much less heard in the society.

I'd actually had more pity for a psycho who killed someone in a fit of madness, than to a normal murderer who killed in cold blood and with good consideration. He was conscious, so he is responsible. Consciousness is not a synonym of kindness. Sadly, fully conscious people promote cruel views that shape opinions and change lives of millions of mentally ill people to the worst. Stigma surrounds us everywhere. Why should I feel guilty in taking meds for my illness and to think, "oh, he wouldn't give up on me if I didn't take meds"? It seems some people like my intelligence, but not the way I attained part of it. They think it's "artificial" to be on meds. I'd say it's artificial to take any meds, and those who care only for absolutely healthy people, are not worthy themselves. I care for a person, no matter if one is physically or mentally ill. The person matters, not the illness.

 

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© Elena Grebennikova

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Childhood dreams

I remember myself from the age of four. We were standing near the house of my mother's friend and chatting with her daughter. We were wearing the same caps. Then I actually don't remember much. I knew we had long walks with my mother and father, went fishing and mushrooming, swimming and visiting our datcha, but it's vague. I only know I had a good childhood and I was happy. At five I started to read and my father showed me how to play chess. These two things were always the best in my life.

When I was eight, I went to school. There life wasn't so cheerful. Pupils bullied me. I didn't want to talk to them. Was afraid of teachers too, so I could hardly answer their questions. Only in writing I could do well. I always wrote good essays at school. At home I was studying chess and reading a lot of books. Started from fairy-tales, I soon got to more serious literature, and it was my main joy. I hardly ever socialized. I never had any friends at school. I was just sitting and reading books for hours. I met people in books. I was writing short stories and poems from the age of seven.

I had been going to the art school for seven years. I actually wanted to attend music school, but had no money for instrument. Music was always the most beautiful thing in my life. No one bulled me there, but still I couldn't manage to make any friends. I was always alone, drawing some pictures in my corner. When I was thirteen, my granny, a biology teacher, gave me some books among which was Brehm's Life of Animals. It determined my interest for biology. I started to grow fishes and snails at home, dreaming to create a new gorgeous sort of guppies. At thirteen I started to have notions that God is watching me everywhere and that there’re cameras somewhere in my room.

The problems at school started about at the age of thirteen too. I was so afraid I couldn't go to answer teachers questions in front of the whole class. Pupils laughed at me. When I was at home, I could hardly remember the things we had to learn by heart or paraphrase. I was so afraid to go to school I sometimes went for a walk instead of lessons. I was horrified a teacher might ask me and I couldn't recall anything. Often teachers asked me if I study at home at all. They didn't believe I was tediously preparing for every lesson. Once I got so exhausted by preparing for exams, I felt unable to do anything. I was just sitting on the bed and sorting out some ribbons for hours.

Pupils bullied me or ignored, as I wasn't able to talk to them. And they thought me silly. I got some good grades for subjects I liked most and those that didn't require learning things by heart. When I was fifteen, a chess club was opened in our little town, and I went there to get acquainted to lots of nice and intelligent people and to attend tournaments. Also I continued to write poems. At the age of sixteen I started to have strange notions. I started to have severe insomnia from seventeen, was prescribed meds, but they were too sleepy, and I gave it up. So it became typical of me to go to bed at 3am. At that time I was only good at math, literature, English and biology at school. It restricted my choice for further education. I entered a good university not far from my town to become an English teacher. It saved money too.

 

At university things got a little better. I started to have some kind of memory. I was getting ready for examinations, I learned how to remember things for a day or two. Then everything was erased from my memory. But I managed to pass exams well. Sometimes things got shown when I was passing some psychology tests. I was avoiding public speeches. Teachers suspected something. Sometimes I was not very logical when writing my papers. But that was all. Things changed when I was twenty two. My father got sick with cancer and died in a year. At that time I became paranoid and started to think people were after me on the Internet. I suspected lots of people to chase me. It went on for about three years, till I finally had a psychosis with voices and was sectioned. I had to give up chess from tiredness and memory lapses, and I've not been playing for three years already. Had to give up some good jobs too. Now looking back at all this, I see I might have been ill since childhood and was struggling all the time to be "not worse" than others, though it took all my energy. I couldn't manage to keep sane, but at least I managed to grow into a person. I managed not to do much harm in my life and be intelligent enough. I gained some good friends when I started to take meds. Meds made me socialize more. Life wasn't perfect, but I had some joy, and it's still not over. Pages of my life aren't counted yet.

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© Elena Grebennikova

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