2016 wasn’t the worst year. At least, not for me. After years of trying to cram my big ideas and strong personality into my small, shy life, I finally blossomed. I grew too big for my cramped, unfulfilling existence. So I changed it. How does a reserved, angry girl turn into an open, easy-going woman?
She lets go.
That’s vague, isn’t? What does letting go mean? What does it look like? For me, it was letting go of the judgment from others and the grudges I held against the world for not understanding me, for not listening to me, for not taking me seriously when I needed help. I was angry at my family, my friends, the doctors who misdiagnosed me, the counselors who didn’t have time to treat me, the teachers who didn’t believe in me. It was their fault that I didn’t get the help I needed, right? They should have known. They should have noticed something was wrong. They should have…
But life doesn’t work like that. No one had any way of knowing that I was experiencing symptoms of a mood disorder and schizophrenia. I am not surrounded by psychiatrists. The world does not revolve around me. People didn’t know. They didn’t understand. They didn’t listen. And that’s okay. I went into 2016 promising myself I would take responsibility for my own health, my own happiness, and my own life.
In 2016, I moved into an apartment in Dahlonega, got engaged, went back to school in the spring, participated in two emotional growth workshops, found free therapy and did the paperwork to get discounted psychiatric medications. I finally found a medication that kept my hallucinations and delusions away 90% of the time and kept my moods stable for the first time in years. I traveled to Philly for the first time, voted in my first presidential election, was the maid of honor at my sister’s wedding, started my own blog, got published on several different websites, participated in Nanowrimo for the first time, won, and wrote the rough draft of my memoir. Wow. What a year. All because I was tired of waiting for good things to happen, so I made them happen. I chucked the belief of learned helplessness and used my personal power to transform my life.
I’m not saying bad things didn’t happen in 2016. It has definitely been a rough year for many. However, I have grown so much, and I am thankful for this opportunity to grow, live, and experience life, even if it’s scary or uncomfortable at times. 2016 was the year that I took my mental health into my own hands, the year I grabbed the reins of my life and said, “No, I don’t want to go down this road anymore.” I changed course, and it was hard and scary and people doubted me. I doubted me. But, I tried living on my own again, and today marks the day that I have officially lived in Dahlonega longer than I lived in Athens. I’m really doing this. I’m really growing up and getting better. I switched schools, jobs, homes, and medications so many times that people could barely keep up with me. I was searching for the right fit, trying to force my foot into a shoe that was two sizes too small. My parents wanted me to go to UGA, so I went to UGA. And when I didn’t fit in there, I thought I had failed. Society told me girls must look a certain way, so I did this and that to my face and my hair until I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. Everything I did was just an attempt to get people to like me, to fit in, to gain the respect of others. Who is “August?” I wondered. 2016 was the year that I found out.
I was ashamed of who I was and what I loved to do. I loved to write about my life. But respectable women don’t plaster their secrets all over the internet, right? People told me, “It makes you vulnerable.” They frowned at my shitty poems and shook their heads when I spoke my mind. The truth makes people uncomfortable. My honesty was shocking, and some people still can’t handle it.
And I’m not going to lie. It bothers me. If it didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But here’s the thing: just because it bothers me that some people don’t like me or think I won’t succeed, doesn’t mean it’s going to stop me anymore. When I was hospitalized in 2015, it was because I thought I had no one. My boyfriend was depressed and occupied with work. My family was busy. My friends were concentrating on school. Even the UGA Counseling Center turned me away. I fell behind in class, made no friends, and I was denied help, unable to find a psychiatrist who could fit me into their busy schedule, much less a free counselor at school. So I ended up in the hospital from self-harm. And instead of looking at how I got there, I blamed other people for letting me end up there.
I remember when the woman told me to take all my clothes off so she could search me for weapons. I remember her taking me to Ward 2, handing me some socks and a gown, and pointing me to the room I shared with a woman who mostly talked about wanting to shoot her daughter-in-law. How did I get here? I thought. I am not like these people. I do not fit in here. This is not where I’m supposed to be, right? But I thought about the friends I didn’t talk to anymore, the teachers who were too busy to talk to me after class, the counselors who didn’t have room for me on their schedules, my boyfriend who didn’t have time for me, and my family who didn’t take my illness seriously. I thought of them and realized that I had been alone all along. I had been alone because I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t tell people something was wrong. Instead, I kept my secrets buried so deep inside, I forgot they were even there until they nearly took my life. I had never felt so low, so undignified, so ashamed of who I was. I’m a schizophrenic, I thought. I can’t hide it anymore. I had no choice but to stop pretending to be normal. I had no choice but to be myself. I had no choice but to change my life.
So I turned around in my hospital bed, and I looked at my roommate with frizzy red hair.
“Why do you hate your daughter-in-law?” I asked, finally engaging in conversation for the first time since I’d arrived. My roommate smiled, pleased to finally have someone to talk to, instead of just mumbling to herself. I began to participate in the real world little by little, to live outside of my head and the make-believe world it created that had swallowed me up. I no longer stayed in bed all day, but watched TV in the common room with the other patients and held conversations. I went to therapy, talked to people at lunch, and even started asking about gym privileges.
I thought I had no one, that nobody cared about me, but I had shut everyone out, pushed everyone away, and then blamed them for not being there for me. Here I was, alone, defenseless and cold in this thin hospital gown. It was time that I start building my life back up. It was time that I create a life around me instead of inside of me. It was time that I take responsibility for my own happiness.
And that’s what I did in 2016. I found free therapy. I called doctors, nurses, therapists, insurance companies, and schools. I enrolled at a new school, I made new friends and rebuilt old friendships. I apologized to friends and family, but I also spoke my mind after censoring myself for so long. I spoke my truth, sharing my “scary” and “embarrassing” diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder with the world. I had tried to live a life of pretending to be who I thought people wanted me to be. I tried to be the pretty girl, the smart girl, the polite girl. And it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be so much more than just a shade of myself. I wanted to be everything inside: curious, funny, blunt, dedicated, passionate. I began to learn who “August” really is.
In 2016, I began to live an honest and open life. I began to share the pain that I had hidden for so long, and I met people who felt the same. Schizophrenia can be an isolating and terrifying illness. I was tired of living in silent fear. I knew that I wasn’t going to survive unless I pressed my fingers to the piano keys and turned my suffering into something meaningful. I found a purpose for my pain, and I found myself in the process. And here I am, the real me. I am August, and I love to write. I have short brown hair, and I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I like sweets, hot wings, Elyn R. Saks, Augusten Burroughs, Yoni Wolf, Shameless, and comfy clothes. I am real, and I have flaws. I won’t graduate college with the rest of my high school graduating class, and I’m still figuring out my career. But I have said goodbye to the people and things that don’t accept me or empower me.
In 2016, I decided that I wanted to live. I said yes to life. It has been a tough year, but I am glad to be here. I am glad to experience life, even with bumps in the road. And I know now that I deserve to be here. I will not change who I am to please others. I will not hide who I am because my illness isn’t “polite.” You can say “yes” or “no” to me. You can talk behind my back. You can say anything you want. And it hurts. But it also fuels me. It makes me write faster, harder, better. Because I will prove you wrong. You can say “no” to me, my blog, my book, my boyfriend, whatever you want, but you cannot keep me from living the life I was meant to live.
August Pfizenmayer is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, feminist, and mental illness advocate. She loves reading, sweets, and warm weather. She writes confessional poetry, personal essays, and articles. One of her current projects is a collection of prose poetry available on Wattpad. A story about her life with schizophrenia has been published in the next volume of The i’Mpossible Project. It will be available for pre-order on April 11th and in stores November 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.