Every now and then, out of the flurry of scraps and papers that seem to fly around my room, something that was written and forgotten will fall into my hands as if they have been sifted and sorted by the angels who live in my room.
frequently know they are some kind of special delivery, either to grab my
attention to something or for purpose that is greater than I know.
Two weeks ago, something fluttered at my feet. It was an old bookmark.
was made of cardboard, but it cast a great light as I read what it had to say,
“The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
William James wrote it.
As I held it in my hands, I asked myself, “what gift do I have that will outlast me, something that will not fall away or be diminished as only a passing breath of beauty?”
Then the light dawned. My own story is a lasting light of hope and encouragement for those who live with a serious mental illness, as I do.
I have lived and breathed with schizophrenia and depression most of my life.
Out of all the lost years, there is a light rising from my life that is greater than I.
It was the first of 17 hospitalizations and the beginning of 25 years of my life that would fall to the double -edged sword of chronic mental illness and the old antipsychotic drugs.
Every day for two and half decades, I was pushed up against a solid brick wall of despair by the crushing hands of hopelessness; before the new medicines, suicide was the only way out.
Most of those years, the same psychiatrist stuck with me.
This saint of a man, Dr. Walter J Muller, refused to give me up to the darkness of this desolate illness.
Every week he held onto me in the arms of a support group for people living with schizophrenia. After years of prayer, faith and hope pouring into my account by my family and friends, Dr. Muller finally hit a homerun with newly minted medicines.
After failing on over 30 different drugs, stabilizing on new medicines was like waking up to see the sun for the first time in my life. When I woke up into the light of life I never forgot the sunrise or the people who have been left behind in the shadows of America, untreated, forgotten and desperately need. I could not walk away with my healing and leave them behind this darkness.
With my intentions to advocate for those who have no voice, I turned to my friends at the National Alliance on Mental illness of Greater Orlando.
They gathered me unto themselves, supported, and mentored me as a writer and speaker.
The National Alliance and I go many places with a message of hope that our stories bring.
We speak to college students, law enforcement officers, and families who are struggling with loved ones. In addition, we reach out to teachers and state legislators.
personal experience we teach our students
about the disorders of the brain that cause severe mental illnesses.
Before we go into a roomful of people, I step aside for a minute, close my eyes and pray we will not leave even one life untouched. Then, in our own words and through our stories, we show our visitors the breakaway roads of the journey that no one ever chooses. I always watch the faces in the room as we speak, to see what they have to say.
Most the time, I see fascinated faces, leaning forward to join us “strangers in a strange land”. We take them down the dark and difficult back roads of severe mental illnesses where people lose their way and sometimes lose their lives.
We travel together into psychotic illnesses were every road is mismarked or has no name or direction. And then visit the visions and voices and constant misperceptions that keep telling you even your own senses can't be trusted work true. In the confusion of these illnesses, even reality is of no use as a road map.
There is a place though, beyond which we cannot take them on any parallels of human experience or even in the words of a shared language. It is the catastrophic place of sheer descent into the psychotic abyss, a free fall so terrifying there are no frames for words.
The last stop in our walk is the desolate place where time and suffering warp into infinity and all hope surrenders to despair.
the place where final decisions are made and lives are changed forever. All too many people with treatable disorders of the brain are walking this way and are walking alone. Without
timely and effective treatment there are no bridges back.
At the end of the day, my greatest reward is watching the light of compassion and recognition flash across the faces of a room full of people as we tell our stories, and in that instant, know they have become our torchbearers and keepers of the light.
Every day of this life is another step in the light of my journey.
My deepest desire is that my story will bring hope and healing where there is despair and darkness and that my life will be a light in the night sky where stigma and discrimination still have their hold.
bookmark in my hands again, the light of its truth fell forth, “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” And I
Peggy J. Symons Copyright Pending