An Ode to Schizophrenia

By Steven Wilson | Dec. 23, 2016

 

I suppose all people who are affected by mental illness have that moment when “it” happens—the moment when their condition makes itself known. My moment happened when I was an undergraduate in college. It was in the form of voices, hallucinations and paranoid thoughts that one of my professors was trying to kill me.

I was scared and acted like it. I was in trouble, but I acted like everything was fine. My mind split, but it seemed to repair itself enough to get by. I learned one thing that proved to be true in the real world: When you struggle with an invisible disease, many won’t believe you. That realization hurt the most and still hurts to this day.

Many years after college, my father passed away on Jan. 2, 2007, due to natural causes, then my sister died the very next day in a car accident on her way to the funeral. I cannot express the pain and anguish that came over me.

The months that followed brought back all of the horrors of my collegiate break, but this one seemed much deeper. My mind split again, but this time there was no repair. I decided to get away from everyone, moving into a serene house in the woods with a pond and vocal wildlife. I loved to gaze at the moon and listen to an orchestra of fireflies and bullfrogs.

It was here that I took up art again. I was 12 years old when I first entered my own world of creation. I was a plasterer’s apprentice at the time, and I used construction materials to create works of art before I even knew they were works of art. I did a few “headstone portraits,” as I called them, using discarded sheetrock. Only my sister would ever see these works, as I would quickly and quietly throw them out. I did hide a few upstairs every now and then, but I always found that once I created a work, it stayed with me.

I cannot say when or why I decided to take art back up so many years later. One day, I bought canvas, brushes, knives and other materials and transformed the living room into a full studio. I did not fight the voices or hallucinations, as they were my partners in this new endeavor. I created things from my mind and from my pain, and with every piece, I got a little better. I eventually showed my work in various shows. I joined art clubs and art organizations. I began to socialize again. I started to feel alive again.

Then things took an unexpected turn. I was working on a book of poetry when my symptoms returned. It was the old fear returning again, and this time I was no match for it.

I attempted suicide but somehow managed to (I don’t exactly remember doing it) call a hotline number I had been given and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. I was admitted to a psych unit and was given meds and a caseworker. The therapy and the meds helped almost immediately, and after just four months I started to feel better.

In the year-and-a-half that has passed since that attempt, I have again rebuilt my life. I rejoined more art-based activities and became active in mental illness groups. I had known about NAMI for a long time but had wanted no part in it. Now, things are different. I am different.


                                     "Ode to Schizophrenia" by Steven Wilson

I had been approached by Capital Arts Board members and asked to be the featured artist for its Go Green Art Exhibit, which celebrated Mental Health Month as well as the environment. When they asked me, I sat in my chair for a few moments and thought it out. I felt myself shake my head a few times “no” before I said the word “yes.”

Over the next few days, I filled my allotted exhibit space and wrote a speech I was asked to give at the reception. The day of the reception came, and people trickled in. I walked around gathering what strength I could. After a few hours, the show director got everyone’s attention and I was in the spotlight. I took a few deep breaths and started my speech. The consensus was that the reception was a success, and the director received a lot of positive feedback about my speech in particular.

Maybe it was because I held nothing back: I spoke about my past in full bloom. I told them about the suicide attempt, the hospitalizations and the medications. I shared true stories about the works hung before them. I expressed how none of my successes would have been possible without the many people who helped me along the way. I told them who I am—who I really am.

My name is Steven. My diagnoses are schizophrenia, PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. But I am not my diagnoses.

I am an artist. I am a human. I am.

 

Steven Wilson is an artist who works in visual and written form. His work has been seen in over 20 exhibitions. He is on the NAMI Jefferson City Board of Directors and is a member of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. Steven also orchestrated a booth for NAMI Jefferson City at Project Homeless in Jefferson City, which enables those less fortunate to gather information about NAMI and its programs. Visit him at www.stevenwilsonart.weebly.com

 

Note:
This piece is a reprint from the Fall 2016 Advocate

Your support helps us publish stories like Steven's—​
consider becoming a NAMI member or donating today.

 
Comments
Theresa
Thank you for your bravery, openness, and gift to the world of art. My daughter is 28 and has schizophrenia, rapid cycling bipolar with psychotic features, PTSD and generalized anxietydisorders. So often do I feel alone in my battle to help her and my 2 grandkids. Her first symptoms began when she was 11 and forceably removed from home and school. It was all a nightmare, the mental health system has taken many steps backwards so I am happy to learn it's moving it the right direction for now. Thank you again ... she still canno get the help she needs but tries her best to fight. My deepest darkest fear is I will looseither her. My only child. I worry about her kids 6 & 9. But each day is new and each day brings hope. I applauded you for sharing your story and hope that one day, my daughter, who is also artistic and creative can do what's she wants with her talents.
12/29/2016 2:53:29 PM

Sephora
I recently had my first psychotic break. I thought people were out to kill me. I lost 15lbs in two weeks. Attempted suicide. I am mother of three. Wife. Business owner. Facing life's down time I broke mentally. It's real. It happens. The weeks before my suicide attempt I called the police for help, went to the hospital where I was put in a room untreated and released several times. Turned away because of inadequate staff....not seeing a physician. And ultimately attempted suicide because I was so scared and depressed. I called for help. Now on meds and facing my mental illness I am overwhelmed, but reading that others suffer the same is giving me hope and makes me feel not alone. I am painting again too for the first time in a year. Meds are giving me my life back. Thank you for sharing. Sephora.
12/28/2016 11:23:38 PM

Amanda
Thank you for sharing your story. It is very inspiring and unique. Continue to display your talents.
12/27/2016 4:48:50 PM

jrose22
thank you for sharing your story. my mother has schizophrenia but refuses treatment.
12/25/2016 3:49:11 AM

Donna
Thank you. For my son, who is forever 29. He did not make it. He died 10 years ago. This New Years Eve would have been his 40th birthday.
12/23/2016 11:06:07 PM

Tammy
GOD BLESS you Steven Wilson. thank you for sharing your story and your art. Beautiful!!!!
Our pain, someone else'gain
12/23/2016 3:16:56 PM

Subscribe
 Security code