Understanding What You Saw
Note: This blog post, and the ones following, are Elizabeth’s personal story of living with schizoaffective disorder. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can help others who are also facing a mental health challenge.
One Wednesday morning at Northview Elementary School in Gas City, Indiana, I was confronted by a fellow paraprofessional about a couple of students I know who currently live in foster care. It did not take long for the whole situation to light a fire under me. It seemed one misstep after another in the lives of these children was not properly monitored to protect them from having to go through so much at such a young age. How could a system think that uprooting a child or children right before Christmas is okay? This made me think of all the people I have met over the years in mental health hospitals and inpatient units, and how often times those individuals do not have anywhere to go or anyone to turn to.
Allowing oneself to go to an inpatient unit is often one of the last resorts for many people with mental illness. If all else fails, it can be a soothing place of relief in a crisis situation. The staff will take care of you, and put you on the road to recovery. As a person with a mental illness, I know it is a place to fall back on, but I gladly track the anniversary of my last inpatient unit stay in hopes that I will never return: a mark of stability and wellness.
Over time some memories become hard to recall, but it seems those memories of when I was very ill linger over time probably because of the impact they made. I remember my first inpatient unit stay was in Fort Wayne, Indiana at Parkview Behavioral Health in May 2008. That was a strange day when I checked in. I had a strange feeling to boot. I so wanted to know what it feels like to want to take my own life like my Uncle Jim did, so I could better understand his story. I know that is hard to grasp, but I did. It was my story.
It was an eerie feeling.
The nursing staff first did an initial screening. Then I met with a doctor. I was asked several questions about suicidal ideation. It didn’t take much to state I was suicidal.
Thinking back it is hard to believe I really felt no pain when I said I wanted to kill myself. I in no way feel that way now, but it was a real scary situation. I needed to rest, be on medication, and to be in a safe place where I could stop writing constantly trying to make my delusions real. It was time to take care of me.
In the spring of 2010, I remember going to the Emergency Room at a hospital in Merrillville, Indiana more than once. Living without sleep, I stayed awake for two and three days prior to each visit to the hospital emergency room as that had been my sleeping pattern since February 2010. Clear thinking wasn’t my own. Yes, I was on medication, but I was not well.
Once, I was temporarily put in a small room with a hospital bed in it in the emergency room area. That day I had penned a thoughtful poem, and I felt eager for assistance to get better. I shouted out and cried out, but I remained in the hospital emergency room area until I was shipped to a mental health hospital inpatient unit in East Chicago.
Quickly, I found out I wanted to be well, and get out of there. A number of other patients in the unit had an addiction to heroine including my roommate. We had all been through a lot, but we needed rest, medication, and understanding and care from each other and professionals to deal with our experiences and quiet our mental illness.
One of the scarier times when I was ill was in the spring of 2011. An announcement was made, Osama bin Laden had been killed. The same day I visited my mental health nurse practitioner. In her office, I sat down, and cried and cried because I thought it was my job to help kill Osama bin Laden. It went back to my delusion of ending the war in Iraq and helping people. With no medication change, I was sent on my way.
Back at my apartment, I went to lie down, and couldn’t help but shake because I feared myself at the moment. I feared I would not be able to get control of myself. I held myself in my arms until I could rest.
As with the case of the two students I know, my school had to step up and be an advocate for those children. Just as we need advocates for foster kids, we need advocates for the mentally ill. There are individuals who have seen, heard, and felt much more scary, stressful, or fearful sights, sounds, or emotions and moods than I have. How can we set a good example for the mentally ill?
Our behavior effects the mentally ill too. How does your behavior effect the mentally ill? Will stigma increase or be reduced?
Everyone needs stability. Just like the students at my school in foster care, we crave stability in our lives. A state or governmental system has to do more than just go through the motions. It should think and feel for those kids. The system for the mentally ill is the same way. It needs to do more than pass people around like paperwork from one person to the next. It needs to feel for their situation, and make a real decision and impact for their future.
Kids from broken homes need more than a roof over their head. They need love. So do the mentally ill. We have experienced a lot in our time. Through peer understanding, we can make sense of what we have seen, heard, felt, and lived through.
Many kids these days enjoy the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Greg Hefley keeps a journal about his life, and the trials and tribulations he goes through as a kid. Journaling was a big part of my childhood, teen years, and the time when I was very ill and in recovery. Reflection allows you to think about what you have been through. You then see power for change, and can garner strength to try to eradicate the issue. When you don’t reflect or review your actions, you repeat behaviors and fall into the same patterns over and over. It is important to reflect on our experiences ill or well, and learn from them. Hopefully, the worst doesn’t repeat itself, and a person can feel stronger the next time any other similar situations arise.
Medication is wonderful, but we don’t just need a pill. The cornerstones are stability and love. We cannot just “walk it off” (our problem or mental illness) as a police officer that was called to my parents’ house said when I was having an episode in the fall of 2011. We need trained professionals to get us past the worst of our experiences.
Do we look at ourselves differently when we have been through so much? How do we respect if we have an unstable home? How do we respect teachers if we have an unstable home? How do the mentally ill respect others if decency and dignity is not given to them? How do we respect ourselves? Who will take care of us if no one else will?
Some children that have been through the foster care system experience emotional disabilities. It is a struggle for those students to cope emotionally due to their life experiences thus far. We as humans can bear a lot, but having chronic instability in life at a young age can set kids over the edge. Luckily, many school districts have programs for emotionally disabled students to receive aide socially, emotionally, and academically.
Let us think of life as a circle with many different ways to cross the center, and get to the heart of the matter. We can think of that as possible ways to impact a foster child or mentally ill person. Think of what is decent. Think of what allows the child or mentally ill person to hold onto their dignity. We act to make a difference because we care enough to do something than see them hurt or experience more pain in their lives.
While being in foster care, mentally ill, or another tough situation, there may be life skills gone unused that we need to help those children, teens, and adults relearn in recovery. For these individuals at times, it seems someone has to care for them before they can care for themselves. Self esteem and confidence will build slowly. The mentally ill or foster care children grow to respect themselves as people again, and respect others in time.
Luckily, Thursday I found out that the two students who were going to be pulled from one foster home to another are going to be adopted by a teacher at Northview Elementary School. Someone was listening. Thank goodness! Hopefully in time their childhood experiences thus far can be comforted and appeased by love, attention, and a new permanent home and family life. As a mentally ill person, it takes time and distance between those experiences to help ease the mind, and see the possibilities in this life again. We have to keep hoping everyone finds a peer or professional to help them through the recovery process.
My name is Elizabeth Schmalzried. I am from Wabash, Indiana. I graduated from Indiana University in 2004. I was a member of the Women’s Golf Team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) during my four years in college. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder in March 2008. I have been through a great deal with my mental illness, and continue to manage my mental illness in recovery. I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana in October 2016, and hope that my contributions to this blog will be relatable and help others who have similar struggles. I enjoy working out, reading, listening to, and watching the news, golfing, cooking, volunteering, watching sports, watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with my boyfriend, family, and friends.