Growing up I was always a bit of an outsider from my peers. I had very pronounced issues with anger, trusting others and a tendency to dissociate from reality. I was very different from most others around me. I knew it and so did everyone else. But somehow I made it through high school without serious incident or any diagnosis of illness.
After high school, I went to George Mason University where I changed majors several times. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I drifted aimlessly without purpose or direction until finally settling on the study of philosophy.
Philosophy was something new to me. It inspired me because it asked questions that I realized I didn’t have answers to but were very important. Who am I? Why am I here? What ought I to do? These are questions central to the study of philosophy and they were also questions to which I needed answers to find direction in my own life. So that’s what I studied in school. Of course philosophy tends to raise more questions than it answers and so I still felt aimless and without direction in life.
I never graduated with a degree in philosophy. About mid-way through my Bachelor’s program I developed a severe psychosis. I was having paranoid delusions, completely losing touch with reality. I was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Arlington, Virginia where I was first diagnosed with Schizophrenia. My diagnosis changed several times over the following years to bi-polar and now to schizoaffective disorder which is essentially a combination of the two. I am now largely stabilized on meds, at least from the psychotic episodes.
I tried going back to school to finish my degree several times but just couldn’t muster the will to finish. I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling isolated, out of touch and distant from others around me just as I had as a child. I’ve worked on and off at various jobs for 30 years now, most of them lasting no longer than a couple years before I would lose all motivation and move on to something else. I’ve had a lot of difficulty forming long lasting friendships or relationships. And to this day I still live with my parents and have done so all my life.
I have felt at times like the world would be better off without me, like I just take up space or use scarce resources which would be better used by someone else. At times it was difficult to come up with a good reason to continue on in life. Perhaps I kept on just out of habit or perhaps because I had nothing better to do and the alternative seemed much worse to me.
About a year and a half ago I discovered NAMI. A counselor I was seeing at the time recommended them to me. I called the local NAMI office and started attending their free support groups. I became a NAMI member. I’ve started to make some friends and feel more connected to a community of people who share experiences similar to my own. I’ve become a NAMI volunteer and am gradually becoming more involved and more familiar with the mental health community in my area.
There is still road to travel ahead but finding a community of similar individuals has given me a sense of hope in a better future and has been an essential piece missing in my life. I feel less and less like an “outsider”. Where before I had no aim or purpose in life, I have come to know what it means to have some direction and a sense of connectedness. I feel like I have found my tribe. It’s a good feeling to belong somewhere and I am grateful to all the wonderful people who make NAMI possible.