Content Warning: Language
I walk downtown to a busy Starbucks to wait for my husband to finish his work day so we can walk home together. On my trip to the coffee shop and while I am sitting at a table, I see at least a dozen homeless people. Some of these people are talking to voices only they can hear, waving their arms and cursing at no one in particular. I want to look away but I can’t.
While I sip my coffee, I stare at one woman who appears to be in her sixties. She is wearing a wool coat and gloves on a warm Southern California day. She walks up one side of the sidewalk and then back again, repeating her steps over and over. She looks as if she is pacing. She begins to yell, “Fuck you!” as people pass her. “Fuck you!” She screams again and again.
I don’t know if she is directing her words at the people on the street passing her or if she is yelling at a voice in her mind. I am almost certain she and I share the same diagnosis. Schizophrenia is not hard to recognize when you have lived with it intimately for over two decades. I don’t approach her. I sit, watching, thinking to myself…no, knowing, that she could be me- a medication that didn’t work, a divorce, the death of a parent, so many things could have placed me in her shoes on this street, yelling.
In contrast, I have a nice condo, in a good neighborhood, and a husband with a job. I try to contribute when I can by writing essays, articles, blog posts. I wouldn’t say life is easy for me, but in comparison to this woman before me?
I work hard for the level of functioning I enjoy. I take my medications with three hundred calories of food twice daily. I try to keep my weight down to avoid severe side effects like diabetes and high cholesterol. I keep pills with me all the time for the break-through of unexpected symptoms. I battle alongside my husband to control paranoia, lack of motivation and anxiety.
I can’t help but think, with the right medication, the right support, and if the opportunities for treatment existed, a network of support was available, would this woman before me fight as hard as I do? I believe she would. I think most people with schizophrenia would. Voices can be terrifying and torturous. Stopping the assault of voices on the mind is like salvation of the religious kind. The silence seems so life altering, in fact, it is life altering.
I want to do something for my fellow-sufferer out in the street, but I know she needs more than a phone number, a five dollar bill, or anything else that I could offer, except understanding and compassion. I have those two things in abundance as I watch her continue to yell, “Fuck you!” and point her boney arms in random directions. She could be cursing me above all others because I’ve been so close to where she stands and still can’t figure out the right thing to do.