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“There are sensors in my hands and cameras in my walls. I’m sure of it.” But when Milly Thiringer mentioned this to her friends, the only thing they were sure of was that she needed to see a doctor.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age nineteen, Milly spent years running circles through the revolving door of the public mental healthcare
system, being told to focus on symptom management and coping strategies as no significant improvement in her prognosis could be expected.
She almost gave up. Almost. Along the way Milly’s learned to be her own advocate while fighting through and redefining “recovery.
Definitions: Nominal, or Real?
The ways that we define things inform our responses to them.
When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I clung to the words—the label “paranoid schizophrenia”—like a string of solar lights along a footpath to home. My mom, when she was teaching me to drive, told me to focus on the white line on the right-hand side of the road if the oncoming headlights threatened to disorient me. Schizophrenia was my white line. If we treat the disease, I can be well. I can be normal. My symptoms will go away.
As I sit here writing this, on my couch, seventeen years later, I can hear every creak in my house. I take an imaginary walk, past the rattling forks in the dishwasher, through the scratching of my pen on this page, around the popping joints of my daughter’s cradle. I whip through her asthmatic lungs that worry me so well, flit through the frustrated wings of a June bug attempting to escape my bedroom window, and I rest on the buzzing filament of a burning-out light bulb in my bathroom. And do you know what I hear?
“Can I be NOT here?” chhh…. Toowit-tawoo-chhh… The dishwasher is speaking to me and I am on the very edge of making it out. It converses with itself, deciding which details to share with me. President Obama (who is not now the president) has changed our national anthem. I hear this on the radio as well. The radio is turned off. “You are a terrible artist,” Sam says from his perch on the arm of the couch. “Look at those drawings. Disgusting.” My husband, sitting beside me on the couch, separates his upper half from itself and leans in to whisper frightening things in my left ear.
I look over. His mouth is closed. He is unified, not wavering and echoing like an apparition. He looks at me. Smiles. Tells me something interesting about the cycling app on his tablet. I look to my right and Sam is still on the edge of the couch; his taunting eyes make me shrink. He looks as solid as Dave.
I can, in the moment, tell what is real and what is not. I can’t do this in every moment, but right now, I can. The Worm of Paranoia on my spine is asleep, and I hallucinate peacefully. When he is awake, I cannot tell which aspects of my experience deserve fear and which do not. In these moments, I wear my terror like a choking cloak.
About the Author
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of nineteen, Milly’s life has consisted of many and varied attempts to locate reality in the midst of psychosis. She navigates her mental illness with as much honesty as she knows how and tries to remember that no label can define her p personhood. Milly writes to find out who she is, because she’s pretty sure she’s been told wrong.
Milly works as a paralegal and a freelance editor, trying to squeeze in time to
write around contract work and raising kids. Her work has appeared in Awakened Voices, OC87 Recovery Diaries, and she is a contributor to The Mighty. Her essay, “The Third Plane,” will be published in a forthcoming anthology on parenting with mental illness called, How the Light Gets In, and she is making slow but sure progress on her first novel.
Milly lives with her family on a rural prairie in North Idaho, where the tumbleweeds are as big as her minivan and ice cream cones are still a quarter.
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