I was in the bathroom looking down at ten different shades of purple eyeshadow thinking, “Sure I suffer from delusions and hallucinations, but maybe if I’m pretty enough, people will put up with me, right?” When my boyfriend 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. He 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 that 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… But it’s silly to think that I must be attractive to make up for my illness. My illness makes me interesting and unique. I’m not easy to deal with sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not a good friend, daughter, or girlfriend.
Sure, 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 that I should become a photographer with no experience and very little previous interest in it. This is where my friends and family come in. They tell 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 them 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 okay. Life seems absurd. Lights are too bright, sounds are too loud, 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 very 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 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 that I was doing well, even though I’m struggling. But it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be a work in progress. Isn’t that what life is about? Growing and learning?
Choosing the right eyeshadow wasn’t about getting my boyfriend 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 that 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 others judged me like I judged myself. Because I’d been made to believe a girl too sick to bathe or work doesn’t deserve love or happiness. I’m sick, but it’s not acceptable for me to look sick. 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. I am so busy managing my hallucinations and delusions that I can barely remember to brush my teeth. But plenty of people love me anyway, so why can’t I? It’s about time I try.
So forget about learning to love yourself before anyone else can. Accepting love was the only way I could ever understand how to love myself the way I deserve.
August Pfizenmayer is a writer living in north Georgia. She shares her experiences with mental illness on The Mighty, The Odyssey, and her blog, Survival is a Talent. August lives with schizoaffective disorder, OCD, and social anxiety disorder. She hopes to educate and inspire others by sharing her experiences.