In all my years of learning to cope with this disease, nothing has helped me as much as having someone who has real compassion and support.
I’m a paranoid schizophrenic.
Breathe. I’m not armed. I have no intention of eating any of your children, appendages, or whatever it is the media is blaming us for this week.
Anyone in the mental health industry will quickly tell you we’re more likely to be the victim in most situations than the aggressor, but that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about.
It’s actually a little something about relationships.
Yeah, we can have those too.
I’m actually married. I own house. I have a full-time job.
You might wanna pick that up — it’s your jaw, on the floor.
No, I’m not heir to a fortune (despite my name being Nordstrom) — none of this was handed to me. I worked for it. And I worked hard. Most likely harder than most people have to work to get here.
But it’s been worth it, and that’s what I want to talk to you about.
Aside from the usual stuff that normal people have to deal with on a daily basis, I have to constantly monitor my stress level, as it can cause my symptoms to act up. These symptoms can range from difficulty concentrating to hallucinations of bugs, lights, shadows, and evenpeople if I get really bad.
As you might expect, this can be tricky when it comes to relationships. Most people can’t let go of the fact that you don’t hang up your towel or do your share of the dishes.
Toss in hallucinations? Well, let’s just say not everyone’s the most comfortable around me.
But my wife is amazing. Her love and support help me have an easier time maintaining control — that’s what’s most important.
She may not understand what it’s like, but she asks questions often, checks to see what she can do to help, and never judges me. That’s more than I can say for a lot of people in “normal” relationships.
Illustration by Kevin Nordstrom
Here’s a perfect example: In order to maintain my mental health, I keep my body healthy and work out regularly, as does my wife.
She loves this combat class they have at her gym and asked me to go with her to give it a try. I figured, Why not? I get a workout and more time with my wife. Score!
We arrived to find it was dimly lit, with loud music. There was a woman yelling instructions through a microphone.
It didn’t take long for the hallucinations to start. It’s happened to me at concerts before, and even sometimes with loud music in a car.
Before long, I was having difficulty following the instructions; my wife instantly noticed. I’m usually good at covering up when something’s wrong (I’m paranoid, remember?) but my wife knows the signs.
She asked me if I was all right. I said I was fine (I’m also a stubborn man, sue me).
After a few minutes she asked again, and I admitted I was seeing things. She asked if I needed to leave, or if she could do anything to help. I didn’t think there was and told her I could do it.
She continually checked on me, never losing her patience when she had to correct what I was doing.
I managed to make it through. When it was done, she asked me again if there was anything I needed. I needed water and quiet. She made both happen.
She bought a bottle of water, drove us home, sat me down on the couch, and gently caressed my scalp and shoulders with her fingertips (a soothing method she’s perfected) as I slowly went through the mantras and meditations that calm me down so it doesn’t feel like there’s lava oozing through the folds of my brain.
After about an hour I was back to normal. We even had a laugh because I often see little black bugs that aren’t there. I’ve learned to ignore them. I thought I saw one but then she swatted at it and I excitedly said, “Oh! That one’s real!”
I can be goofy, messy, or a schizophrenic disaster and she still loves me and supports me, because she knows I will always do the same for her.
In all my years of learning to cope with this disease, nothing has helped me as much as having someone who has real compassion and support. There’s never an ounce of judgment or fear — just calm understanding and patience.
So what does this mean for your relationship?
I mean, you can go to your significant other’s gym class no problem and you don’t have imaginary shit flying at your head.
The point is, my wife is the only one who’s ever shown me such compassion in a relationship — and not just in terms of my schizophrenia.
It’s for everything.
I can be goofy, messy, or a schizophrenic disaster and she still loves me and supports me, because she knows I will always do the same for her. I see so little of that in people anymore, a trust and love so deep and intimate you are never afraid to reveal who you really are.
Pablo Neruda wrote a beautiful poem that says, “You among all beings have the right to see me weak.”
A person whom you feel safe to be yourself around, wholly and completely, can change your life forever. Just be sure you return the favor.