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Regrets are like stones we carry in our hearts instead of our pockets.

Yesterday I read an article that claimed there was a correlation between having a cat as a pet during childhood and developing schizophrenia. They used to blame mothers, now they are blaming the family cat.

The cause of schizophrenia doesn’t really interest me, because it seems to be changing every few years. What gets in my mind and heart and weighs me down are the choices I have made.

Schizophrenia tends to make its appearance in adolescence and the early twenties.  I didn’t have my first psychotic episode until I was nearly twenty eight years old, but I had symptoms of a mental illness from the time I was fourteen.

Fourteen years to collect bad choices like other people collect baseball cards.

I ran away from home. I dropped out of high school (I went back, and later graduated from college). I used drugs and alcohol. I had sex with boys my age, and grown men. I made bad choices about friends and bad choices about life in general.

I continued to make decisions that hurt me and those around me until I was on the proper medication and that wasn’t until I was nearly thirty two years old.

The stigma of mental illness and the shame it causes is less severe for me than the shame I feel about the choices I have made.  I can’t do anything about the disease I have so if people want to judge me for that, the issue is theirs, but I am responsible for the long list of destruction I caused in my own life and the lives of those around me.

One would think it was easier to look back over these failures and forgive myself knowing that I had an illness brewing inside of me that would eventually crack my mind and life open like the shell of a nut, but it isn’t that easy, at least for me.

Somewhere in my life my character developed. Unfortunately it developed soaked in poison.  The poison of the illness and the poison of bad experiences brought on by putting my person in bad situations, or at least questionable situations.  From fourteen to almost thirty I seemed incapable of making a commitment, of sticking to a choice long term, of planning for my future, or caring about the consequences of my actions.

So, when I try to separate my illness from my character, to look at the person I am without the disease, it is difficult because it worked its way into my life at an influential age. Am I really that selfish? Am I really that self-destructive? Do I really make choices based on the moment without regard to how those choices will play out in my life and the lives of those around me?

None of those things are true of me today. I think about others constantly. I worry about the consequences of my behavior. I plan for the future. I am committed to my husband and have been for seventeen years. I am a loyal friend. I could add to the list that I am very sensitive and have a wonderful sense of humor.  But these are all things I have learned about myself since I started taking medication.

I was a person before I reached the age of fourteen. I was an avid reader. I laughed frequently. I made friends easily, and I again, I was extremely sensitive and full of empathy.

Having schizophrenia is like a puzzle, and there are pieces that I want to leave out.  I want to leave out the whole center of the puzzle and just keep the edges.  I want to leave out the time from fourteen to thirty two.  I don’t know that girl, or woman.

I carry her secrets. I carry her scars, but I don’t resemble her much anymore.

I’d like to empty my pockets of these regrets, and in order to do that I must write them down so they have a life in the world of their own, and they can grow separately from me.  I want to toss them away and have the world catch them, not so others feel regret, only so that I am free.