Antipsychotics: What I Tell Myself When My Face is a Mask

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12

Part 1: Masked Life – What I lost…

What do I tell myself when my face is a mask?

I tell myself that I am still me and that my soul still shines from within my body, even if its center is now the heart and not the eyes. Even if my eyes cannot sparkle and the wrinkles around my eyes do not respond immediately to the interactions I have on a day to day basis, I remind myself that I am still me, that my heart is full of love and compassion and I that I still matter to God.

Being on antipsychotics is hard. Everyone is different and so I merely share my own experience:

It changes your whole personality and you only very slowly learn how to accept the fact that you cannot command the room the way you did when you were hyper, sparky and sparkly. Your feet drag, your face doesn’t move except with great effort. Conversations lose their immediacy and you feel less persuasive. You flex your jaw, even when you’re not chewing. Your tongue moves. You are in a fog.

“You look over-medicated, Erin,” an abrasive colleague once shouted across the office at the school where I was working. I had confided in a different colleague that I was on medication and this was how I learned that everyone now knew this about me.

But I was numb from my medicine and so this didn’t even sting.

I lost my glimmer as a motivational speaker and high-impact teacher. My relationships with my students became strained. And eventually, I had to leave the teaching profession because I had lost the love and effortlessness of teaching.

Part 2: Thriving Anyway – What I gained…

Trust of others, because I was not volatile.

Confidence, because I was perceiving reality accurately.

Community, because I had the ability to make appointments because I could trust that I would keep them and that I would be well for them.

Safety. Because I felt safe and was safe.

The ability to trust myself. Self-reliance.

Feeling safe and secure.

Employment. Continued employment.

The relief of my husband who could finally relax.

Continuity. My life narrative.

My parents, with whom I had stopped talking because I had imagined all sorts of things that hadn’t really happened in my childhood and was angry at them.

Resolve. I read Elyn Saks’ The Center Will Not Hold about her persistence in the face of a severe case of schizophrenia and took heart that she had survived and that that meant that I could, too. And through this, too, I found … community. A more authentic community than I had ever known. The knowledge that many are on antipsychotics and live fully functioning lives, and the pride in knowing that some of us even have prestigious careers.

Finally

What will I tell myself if my face is a mask again?

I will tell myself that this is what keeps me alive, but that I won’t need to be on this much forever.

A Word About Today

I have no psychosis and haven’t for a while. But I personally will always be on a low dose of mine. I’m on a fourth of what I was on when I was in crisis.

Why would I ever risk going off of it completely? My trick: take it one day at a time.

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