There are ups and downs to trying hard to appear normal (whatever that may mean). One downside is that it’s easy to convince even yourself that nothing is wrong, if you look in the mirror and all looks well. Especially if the facade thoroughly convinces others, who voice that very thought. It’s easy to think you’re exaggerating or lying even to yourself, especially when you have a real disorder that skews reality just like that.
A thing about schizophrenia is that it sets you in the frame of mind of questioning things. Reality gets tricky easily. Maybe one hallucination is obvious, but you know there are others that aren’t. When something is real, and you do think it’s real, but in any way off, you still give it a close examination in skepticism. One thing out of place sets off a spiral of—well, if that’s maybe not real, what else am I missing? Knowing you see things that aren’t there means you question the things that are—always.
I’ve speculated that the reason I have so many lucid dreams compared to many people I know is because the key to lucid dreaming, according to most how tos, is reality checking. Looking for something out of place enough you realize you’re in a dream, and that you can control dreams. You have to set that habit in the waking hours for it to occur to you in a dream, though. And I’m used to doing that in my life so much that it slips into my dreams.
The same goes for mental constructs. You know that you get on the wrong thought trains, delusions, and if you’re thinking about having schizophrenia itself, you question that thought train, too, especially when the evidence you’re more sure of looks so… normal.
On the upside, it means that unless I’m having a really bad day, when I want to play it down, I can, and when I want to not talk about it, I don’t have to. I’m very open about my schizophrenia and pretty much everything else in my life, very out about all of my identities, but I also feel lucky to frequently be able to pass as neurotypical, because the stigma around psychosis and mental illness is very real.
Sometimes I want people to look at me and wonder, but not pin me down as psychotic immediately. To be somewhere on the spectrum where I am validated in my illness, but not obvious and discriminated against or worried about. Sometimes I want people to be able to look at me and maybe see the psychosis—but see the rest of me, too. And being known as having a psychotic disorder frequently overshadows everything else.
This does mean a bit of an obsession with maintaining those appearances, in various forms. Physical presentation standards—and the ability to keep that up even when there are hard days. I wear only one outfit, the same thing every day, carefully chosen. When I fear I’m slipping mentally, I develop another cycle of particular obsession with making sure my clothes are clean, in good repair, sized appropriately, not too eye catching. The same ideas extend to all parts of my appearance, to my online presence, and to my small mannerisms. And I’m not always able to keep the appearance up—though I’ve improved with time.
Recently, before a video chat with my therapist, I asked my fiancee to help me trim my bangs so I could actually see my therapist and not the backside of my own hair, and an observing friend said something like, “So, ‘I had a psychotic break, but not so much I couldn’t get my bangs trimmed.’”
And on the one hand, I wanted to be able to see, and on the other hand… well, yes.
In some ways, I talk about my mental illnesses very openly. There are few cases where I won’t mention the diagnosis itself. There are a lot more cases where I play down how troubling it is, or laugh it off. Most of my friends know I hallucinate, but they hear about the flashes of light and the white noise and the echoes and the objects that get flipped in my vision, and less about the corpses and voices. More still hearing random things while wearing noise cancelling headphones, and less sleeping on the couch because beds are a trigger.
It’s been a hell of a year (tomorrow) since the PTSD began and brought a fresh wave of psychosis with it. It had been fairly easy for quite a while, before, to live with and ignore the odd white noise or flash of light, and easy to sink into the comfort of maladaptive style daydreaming. After, there were the night terrors that we mistook as seizures, the waking hours’ blurred line between flashback and hallucination that eventually leant far towards the latter.
Those are the pieces I try to keep to discussing only within the right context for it, and those are the pieces I can tuck away when I’m able to look normal.
If I didn’t keep up those appearances—the question of the full extent of illness would come up a lot more, whether I wanted it to or not—something that’s hard, mixed with my own trauma, and external stigma and worry—more for the psychosis than for any other condition I have.
So I understand the idea of the facade protecting you.
It’s a little wall between you and the possibility of never being able to have a (seemingly) normal moment.