When being sociable isn’t so easy, it’s best to be an actor.

Sorry for the long hiatus from posting, but things have been hectic at work and with my husband and mom recovering from their respective maladies.

Today I want to talk about my dealings with social situations in the midst of significant psychotic symptoms.  Last night, my lab group went to dinner to celebrate the end of our undergraduate interns’ program and poster presentation, which is today.  My husband was invited and came along with us, despite the fact that he isn’t very good in social situations (I was super proud of him).  Lately, I’ve been having trouble with auditory hallucinations.  Whenever there is some kind of white noise, like fans or the AC running, I hear someone speaking on television just out of range of where I can hear exactly what the person is saying.  It’s frustrating, to say the least, and leaves me wandering around my house at night trying to get closer to the sound so I can hear the words, not just the noise.  Needless to say, I haven’t been in top form at work or otherwise.  I’ve been coming into work late because I’m too exhausted to drag myself out of bed, even at 9 o’ clock in the morning.  Thankfully, I work in academia, where there isn’t too rigid of a work schedule.  You can pretty much come and go as you please as long as you’re getting your work done.  But back to going out.  We went to a Japanese hibachi and sushi bar for dinner, which was a lot of fun for everyone except me.  It was noisy there, with all the spatula flinging and tapping and people talking loudly.  I am set on edge whenever I go out in public.  There are so many ways that someone could sneak up on me and harm me or someone I care for; there is no controlling the situation.  I worry about what people are saying about me out of earshot and what they think of me.  I wonder if they can tell how nervous I am or how concerned I am with what they’re doing.  I even wonder if they are associated with some dangerous sect that plans to annihilate the building and everyone in it.  I know it’s silly to think these things and consciously can rationalize why my concerns are unfounded.  But like all other schizophrenics, there is a part of me that never believes that people are safe to be around, no matter how hard I try to deny it.

All the time I am running this thread of distorted thinking, as they call it in the mental health community, through my mind, I’m trying to put up the pretense that I’m enjoying myself.  Allowing the chef to toss zucchini in my mouth and squirt saki at me.  Chatting about my foodie experiences and my familiarity with Asian cuisine.  Sharing laughs over annoying people at work or the strange thing someone did last week during seminar.  People don’t tend to know that I’m acting, or they don’t seem to, and I’m very pleased with how well I’ve progressed as an actor in social situations.  Unlike some of my schizophrenic brothers and sisters, I am blessed to have the capacity to fake it convincingly and consistently.  Before I got sick, I was a gregarious and sociable person, but never felt like I was well accepted by my peers.  Even if people openly lauded my actions and praised my work, I couldn’t get past a deep-seated fear that they weren’t being sincere.  So I learned to pretend I was comfortable with their attention and even to engage people in new friendships outside of my own circle.  When I began my downhill slide during high-school, everything got harder.  I became overly concerned with other peoples’ judgements of me and their honest impressions of me.   By the time I reached the height of my untreated illness as a sophomore undergraduate in college, it became nearly impossible to hide my condition.  I spent days hiding in my dorm room so I didn’t need to face anyone I didn’t know well, even if that meant missing classes and exams.  I even stopped talking for fear that I might say something stupid or suspicious.  So many people with psychotic illnesses are out there doing the same thing as I am though, faking it to make it.  The positive side of this whole equation is that when the medications are right on and I’m not suffering from constant paranoid and distorted thoughts, I can actually let go and enjoy my time with people.  I’ve learned that faking it really does help you to make it work.  Like putting a smile on your face consciously to fight depression, engaging in social situations despite extreme personal discomfort can help you to learn skills that will make it easier in the long run.  It’s taken years for me to make any real progress, but I can eek out a nice outing with my husband or other family members on a regular basis.  I’d like to be more comfortable with people I’m not too close with, but then again, even the most mentally healthy person can struggle with feeling secure in social situations.  It’s just human nature.  I’m no longer putting pressure on myself to perform, like I used to.  I’ve learned that doing things at your own pace keeps you from getting too anxious and having setbacks.  In the seven years since I was diagnosed, I’ve realized that everything will come with time as long as you are willing to take baby steps towards your goal.  It’s okay to go a few steps back every now and then and it’s okay to avoid the things that stress you for a time, but in the end, a little tough love for yourself can go a long way.  Being an actor isn’t the worst thing in the world when you’re struggling with being around people.  On the contrary, it actually might be the best medicine available.

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