Christmas Eve I walked from my Mission District home

(warm, comfortable, quiet)

A few blocks east, to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital

Cold enough outside to wear gloves, rare for San Francisco

As I hustled along holiday-decorated 24th Street

A storefront window’s gaily painted scene depicted a snowman, hands made from branches, hoisting a cup of steaming hot liquid, eyeing it gladly, making as if to drink

In a bus stop outside a liquor store, a souped-up Chevy idled, its engine sounds like a dragon’s fiery breath

Blaring a tune through open windows…Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight…the theme song from the old Miami Vice TV show

About two undercover police detectives chasing cocaine dealers in Southern Florida

The show debuted when I was fourteen—the year I first got truly drunk—and still aired when I was eighteen, by then a heavy drinker, and having begun using coke

Arriving at ZSFGH, I elevator-ed to a hospital building’s top floor, which I searched for a support group I believed was scheduled to meet

Sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

I’d thought about attending for some time, but my Toastmasters club meets on Tuesdays, too

Thus a conflict

It turned out the NAMI support group was taking the night off, due to the holiday

(just like my Toastmasters club was taking the night off)

I returned a couple weeks later, to discover the NAMI group assembled…parents, spouses, loved ones of those struggling with mental illness

The leader, Jane, had impressive mental health credentials 

She’d worked for years in the Psychiatric Emergency Services department

As the meeting began, Jane turned to a woman who, if memory serves, mentioned she was in her 70s, and inquired as to her well-being

“Today I took a pilates class,” the woman replied

“You took a karate class?” said Jane

One of those simple misunderstandings, quickly resolved, and Jane went on to prove her skill at facilitating group discussion and individuals’ sharing

The people in the group showed themselves remarkable too, and in many ways, chief among them being the support they gave one another

When my turn came to speak, I described my schizophrenia-like condition, which persisted after I quit meth

Yet how despite it, and thanks to a lot of help and a search for spirituality, I’ve been able to make solid contributions to the world around me

Volunteering to serve communities affected by incarceration, volunteering to serve law enforcement’s efforts to build bridges of trust with their communities

Jane, and others in the NAMI group, had some excellent feedback

Their wisdom led to believe the “schizophrenia-like condition,” may instead be a form of psychosis

When one goes to Facebook and types “psychosis” in the search bar, one finds an article from the National Institute of Mental Health

“Psychosis often begins when a person is in his or her late teens to mid-twenties…typically, a person will show…sudden drop in grades…suspiciousness, paranoid ideas, or uneasiness with others…withdrawing socially, spending a lot more time alone than usual…unusual, overly intense new ideas, strange feelings…difficulty telling reality from fantasy…”

Sure, some of it describes me, starting in my teen years

But with all the drinking, cocaine, and meth mixed in, how can one tell what is true psychosis, and what is induced?

More importantly…in my case, does it matter?

In my upcoming book, I describe the night in April 2003, when I first “knew” I was in psychosis

I heard my father’s disembodied voice telling me to “get on the bus,” and saw a vision in my mind, of a yellow school bus

Reminding me of my first-ever day off to school, waiting for the bus on the side of the country road in front of my home, my father standing nearby

When the bus pulled up, I was afraid if I didn’t leap aboard right away, the driver would tear off without me

I suppose the stigma of mental illness can be like that

Concern that life and others will take off without a person, if they knew he/she experienced something like mental illness

Maybe that’s a reason why it’s tempting to believe the symptoms of mental illness, are not in fact related to mental illness?

We who experience them may believe they are the work of the government, etc…or the result of our own shortcomings, and not a “true” injury or illness

I choose to label my experiences as a strange blessing, a twisted gift, a wonderful set of circumstances

Because fortunately for me, thanks to people like those in my Toastmasters group, who supported me when I first became forthcoming about my various histories

Thanks to people like those in the NAMI group

Thanks to the wonderful people in my life, friends and family, who understand that for me, the ability to bring some small degree of good to the world around me

Helps me help amazing people heal the world, and heal myself

It doesn’t so much matter what I may have

(psychosis, a strange blessing, twisted gift, etc.)

As does it matter what I can do

(volunteer, inspire, etc.)

Thanks to you, stigmas melt away

A snowman’s winter turned to spring

Resources For You

If you know or are a person who is struggling, check out my free PDF: Ten Helpful Questions to Ask When Someone You Love is Recovering From Addiction

Simply go to my website, and hit the “Download PDF Now” button in the lower right. When you enter your email, you’ll be signed up for my weekly newsletter, Meditations on Meth. Feel free to unsubscribe if you don’t want it.

Click on the image above to be taken to my website

4 Responses

  1. This is beautiful, Ed! I appreciate your vulnerability. The image of missing the bus resonates with me. From the outside, it looks like you’re now the one behind the wheel:) I know it’s not always that straightforward, and that control is a process. Each week, learning more about the story of your process of transformation sets a powerful example for me. So, thank you!

    1. Thank you Theo my friend! Your comments mean so much to me. I love your insight about me being behind the wheel. It is friendships such as yours that inspire me to further pursue a spiritual path. You are championing your own remarkable life’s transformation, I am grateful we have met. Thank you for taking the time to read my work, and for your amazing insights.

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