I Heart NYC

Note: This blog post, and the ones following, are Elizabeth’s personal story of living with schizoaffective disorder. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can help others who are also facing a mental health challenge.

At Northview Elementary School where I work in a Special Education Intervention Room, we were progress monitoring, or testing today.  The third group of the day finished reading through their stories, and answered the multiple choice questions at the end.  One student in particular finished, I graded the student’s comprehension work, and then the student asked if we could study the Fry Words flashcards.  Holding up word after word, the student did great.  I was so encouraged by the student’s enthusiasm to learn.  I nearly shed a tear.  It is reassuring when a student wants to do as well as I want them to.  It may be tough, but with hard work anything is truly possible.

In college, I did believe anything was possible with an education.  I dreamed of being Carrie Bradshaw in her New York City apartment searching for her forever plus one.  I dreamed of the mistakes I would make, laughs I would have, and birthdays that would pass until my true love came along.  I dreamed of the friends I would share my journey with, and the humor we would find in each others’ lives.  Perhaps, everybody needs a Mr. Big.

Back in 2009, I was beginning to believe again that anything is possible with a little hard work.  In August 2009, I was hired by Brown Mackie College in Merrillville, Indiana to work in the Admissions department.  I rented my own apartment, and lived by myself.  It was the first time living by myself since January 2008 as that was when I moved in with my parents.

Things were going pretty well in my new town.  Although…I did have a bad mental health appointment that fall of 2009 where I did not feel the nurse understood my past or my situation, so I cried in her office, and I cried afterward on the way to work.  I never went back, and shortly after that I told my parents I was going off my medicine because I was doing better.  It was my choice.

I kept myself busy going back to school at University of Phoenix – Merrillville for Transition to Teaching one night a week, volunteering and observing for teaching, exercising, and working.  My schedule was full with reading textbooks and doing papers and projects for school.

Watching the news was still a comfort since I lived by myself, so I watched when I could.

It all started again.

I was having delusional thoughts again.  I sent a package to Mr. Brian Williams with green plastic army men, a picture of a poster in my room of New York City, a letter, and a small American flag.  A little while after that I heard my boss at work say something about we are going to be shopped or audited, and I thought he was talking about the children’s book I wrote in 2008 called “The Big Price.”  It wasn’t long after that that my life changed again.

The night before February 25, 2010, I was up all night ranting and raving about my uncle Jim who had Schizophrenia and committed suicide when I was very young.  I was scared to death thinking I brought him back to life, and he was in my apartment with me.  That night I packed a suitcase with everything I could think of that would symbolize my life and my journey.  I didn’t pack any clothes.  A news report and a news adventure was on the horizon in my mind.

When morning came I was very agitated and worked up.  That day I was to tutor a student for the last time, so I did not want to miss that.  Listening to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits as he was a native of the northwest Indiana region, I made a quick trip to Walmart.  Of all things, I picked up a broom because I was convinced I was a witch since I brought back my Uncle Jim.  I paid for the broom and headed to the Edgar L. Miller elementary school where I volunteered at.

Tutoring went just fine as I was able to pull it together for my student.  I was so proud of how hard the student worked, and I could tell the student had learned some new things with me.  As I left I thought I really want to give my student the world.  I saw the broom in my car and headed toward O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

Hurriedly, I left my car right outside the terminal.  My car was eventually towed, and my dad and Uncle Bob went to Chicago to get it for me.  I took my broom and suitcase in, and I was acting quite strangely in the airport.  In the mindset of a witch, I must have thought people were afraid of me, or I wanted them to think I was quite scary since Uncle Jim was right with me (or so I thought).

At the counter, I asked to purchase two tickets for flights to Washington D.C.  They weighed my suitcase and sent it on.  I still held onto the broom, but not for long.  At the security checkpoint, my broom was surrendered.  I went on to wait to board the airplane.

My two seats were toward the back.  One was for my Uncle Jim, and one was for me.  I felt accomplished to have “brought” my Uncle Jim that far.  We were on our way.  (I wanted to share him with New York City thinking of him like a dad that I lost because so many kids lost dads on 9/11).

We landed in D.C., and I rented a luggage cart and carted my things around.  I pushed my suitcase down a flight of stairs.  My Honeywell Golf Course Club Championship golf trophy I brought with me, a very prized possession, did not break.  Thank goodness.  I pushed the cart around until I figured out how to get on a train bound for New York City.

At the front of a train car, I found a place for my luggage cart off to the side and found a seat by the window with an open area in front of me.  I was still extremely delusional.  Many thoughts were racing through my mind.  I saw God’s face on the train car floor most of the way to New York City.  God’s face was talking and encouraging me to do what I am thinking.  It was a hallucination, but I thought it was a sign.

The train finally arrived in New York City, and I took the luggage cart with me out onto the streets of New York City in a cold, wet, and blustery snowstorm.  I hailed a cab and asked to go to Ground Zero.

At Ground Zero, I got out of the taxi, and entered the hotel right across the street.  I quickly went to the front desk and paid for a room for one night.  It was several floors up the elevator to my room.  There was an eerie quiet in the room.  I did not stay long as I was hungry.  Somehow I managed to find a pizza place right down the street and ordered a large pizza.  Then I walked back to the hotel in the snowstorm.

There were people in the lobby, but on the floor of my room I felt very alone.  My room faced Ground Zero, so I had a great view of the construction.  I looked out the window, and no longer felt alone.  Not long after, I saw a large triangle appear out over Ground Zero.  Perhaps that was my NBC News Reporter delusion again thinking of an angle for my next news story.  I really was scared and frightened.  I felt I could not stay there in that room.  I checked out of the hotel and hailed the nearest cab.

“Take me to the nearest hospital,” I said frantically as I hopped up in the van taxi.  It was not that long of a drive, but the snow made the drive tough.  We slid and the tires spun much of the way.  Then I arrived at New York Hospital, and I went straight to the emergency room.

In short order, I was checked in and put in a small room in the emergency room area even though thinking of my address and identifying information was tough.  I was very delusional, scared, cold, and very restless.  They bagged up my coat and jeans and checked my vitals.  I could not stop talking.  I was trying to express what I saw and how I felt.  All I could think to do was read the children’s book I wrote in 2008 to the nurse.  Luckily, she listened to all of it.  That was my first attempt at anyone hearing the words I wrote.  That finally started to calm me down a little.

I did not get much, if any, sleep that night.  The next day as the nurses were checking things on me, I was holding my gaze, staring straight in to the light fixture, and was convinced I saw God.  I wanted to know those lost in 9/11 were safe in heaven – a call home.

The next day I was put in a different section of the emergency room where some of the nurses were of Jamaican decent.  I was intrigued by the language they spoke to each other.  I was very agitated.  I kept talking and talking to get everything I was thinking out.  I was worked up the whole day.  Then I was moved to an actual room with a TV.  I remember watching the weather.

Shortly thereafter, my parents came to see if I would go home with them.  I refused.  I said, “Big Bird flew (Uncle Jim).”  I had no interest in leaving with them.  My mom and dad cautioned that I might be a ward of the state of New York if I did not come home, but I did not listen.  My delusion of being a NBC News Reporter had overtaken me and seemed more important.

I was transferred to Bellevue Hospital in New York City.  I was in New York City a total of two weeks.  Luckily, I had a room to myself at Bellevue, but I had to wear the same clothes for several days until I eventually got some clothes:  a gray sweat suit, sandals, sports bra, underwear, and socks.

Being in New York City, many languages were prevalent, both among patients and staff.  The nurses were mostly Asian as were the foreign speaking patients.  I met a woman who was in her eighties who lived through the Holocaust.  I found talking to her to be interesting, and a history lesson to pass the time on.  I also met a young lady who was recently out of college, but working full-time now.  She had become very stressed from working so much.  I remember her family visiting and being quite concerned.  I watched NBC Nightly News, and the Today Show to pass the time.  It seems kind of funny now, but Mr. Brian Williams was really my Big.  I had a date five days a week at 6:30 p.m.  Now that I was officially in New York City, it really felt like that was true at the time.  Once I had been back on medication for a few days, I felt a lot better and calmer.

My unit and I would go to the roof for fresh air and outside time.  It was my first visit to New York City, and unfortunately I was in a mental hospital not perusing the streets of Manhattan dressed to the nines.  I remember looking around outside and wondering what the people of New York City are doing.  I played basketball on the roof by myself.  I enjoyed the sunshine on sunny days.

The food was pretty good.  I remember the grilled cheese had a tomato on it, and the Suncup juice was from New Jersey.

We had group time to work on various skills as well as our situations.  We waited to meet with the doctor, which always seemed like a long time since we had so much time on our hands, but eventually we would get to talk to him and get an update on our treatment.

I was well behaved.  I simply wanted to get better.  I made a lot of phone calls home.  I would get up in the middle of the night to write and write and write in the isolation room.  I would beg for more paper.  Since in 2008 I wrote in my book about ending the war in Iraq, I wrote about Richard Engel of NBC News and his efforts covering the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I wrote him a Purple Heart.  Was that a Carrie-esque soiree into a relationship in New York City?  No, I respected him as a journalist.

I would bend down on the mat in the isolation room and pray.  I prayed so hard to help others by my writing.  When I felt I was done writing, I was ready to go.  I told the social worker I would fill out the paperwork to send me home, but unfortunately I had to wait as that was her job.  I did finally get a plane ticket home.  A cab took me to the airport, and I flew to Indianapolis.  My brother picked me up.

With that trip, I added a big endeavor to my mental health journey.  That was just the start of a few up and down months in Merrillville before moving back home to Wabash, Indiana in June 2010.

Following such big events in my life, I became more or almost very serious.  I could not look at myself in the mirror at times.  I could not joke or take jokes for a long time.  Would I ever learn to laugh again?  I thought no one could possibly love me after everything I had been through. In no way did I find humor in my experiences.

I had to relearn to laugh with others.  I had to relearn that when something is funny, it is okay to laugh.

I had to relearn to laugh at myself.  I am far from perfect.  I make mistakes.  I fail.  I am silly.  Some things deserve a laugh.

I had to relearn to pick on someone because you like them or tease them.  Since I had been through so much I did not dare make fun of someone else, but sometimes it is good to joke around with someone you like and who you know can handle it.

I had to relearn about the joy in humor.  Humor is supposed to be fun not mean or cold hearted.  It eases the mind.  We do not need to be serious all the time.

After relearning about humor and laughing, I had to relearn to look at myself in the mirror and feel I deserved love.  I had to learn I am more than my disability, and I deserve companionship.  I felt someone would understand if he got to know me or see me first.  I have personality, a joyful heart, happiness, a positive attitude, intelligence, creativity, determination, responsibility, athleticism, love, and thoughtfulness.  Those are just a few good qualities worth sharing, and maybe eventually I can afford a closet like Carrie.

I had to look in the mirror, and see more than my disease, more than my past, more than my delusions, more than my hallucinations, and more than my tough history on medication.  I looked at my reflection, and needed to believe others will treat me well too.

I am beautiful not troubled.  I am triumphant not a loser.  I am victorious not a failure.

With all that being said, eventually I knew it was time to find love as I did not want to be alone forever.  It was difficult to find love after my experiences with my mental illness.  I went on a few first dates, but I thought all I had to talk about was my mental illness so I made the mistake of saying I am mentally ill right away on the first date or in an email on online dating.  I definitely scared men off that way.

In January 2016, I started talking on Match.com with a nice man.  We went on our first date January 16, 2016.  It was the best first date ever.  We had so much fun, and we talked for hours.  I really liked Paul, and I wanted him to know me for me so I did not tell him about my mental illness for awhile.

One Saturday morning early on in our relationship, I told Paul everything from start of getting my mental illness and everything I could think of along the way until now.  He was fine with it and reassuring.  He knew me well enough already to not be scared off in any way.  He just wanted to make sure I was okay.  I had told other people a little about my situation, but I really liked Paul so much already it was scary to tell my story.  What would he think?  His kindness and loving heart made me feel even more connected to him.

The past year together has helped me keep growing and getting stronger.  It has helped me laugh more and have many more reasons to smile.  I could not or would not want to go through life without Paul.  He is definitely a keeper as my mom has said.

A relationship, just like caring for yourself, is good work.  It is helping you lead a more fulfilled life, and have someone to share life with.  The most important point I always come away with is realizing we all have gone through rough times or dealt with tough things in life, so people want or need to be a part of your life just as much as you want or need them to be a part of your life.

Seemingly impossible became possible as I found my plus one in 2016.  Maybe not in New York City, but in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is closer to home anyway.  No, I have never met Mr. Brian Williams, but he is still on TV so of course I watch when I can.  I like to think he is a friend.  He sure meant a lot to me over the years just being on the TV each night when I felt very alone otherwise.  As this blog is my first writing experience for public view, it may not be a printed column in the newspaper like Carrie Bradshaw, but just like her I have my own unique experiences in life to share and try to help someone out there if I can.  Perhaps, love and laughter will be spread through the process.

I am lucky to be blessed with a wonderful family too.  Many people are not as lucky.  Having a stable home is work too.  Are we setting a good example for the kids?  Are you taking care of you to be the best for the family?  Are you taking care of you to be the best for us the American people?  Can we work it out?  Can we work together?  Are we truly compatible or is this relationship just for convenience?  Take a minute to visualize a great home life.  Is it possible?  How can we make it possible?

Perhaps in life we just need help becoming aware of our issues or problems as in the case with students I know.  We all need to learn each day and challenge ourselves to grow in new ways.  We can fight it all we want, but we need to be educated Americans.  School is work.  Life is work – at least to create a life you really want.  We need to truly care about our life, our impact, and the people we love to make the impossible possible.

About Elizabeth:

My name is Elizabeth Schmalzried. I am from Wabash, Indiana. I graduated from Indiana University in 2004. I was a member of the Women’s Golf Team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) during my four years in college. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder in March 2008. I have been through a great deal with my mental illness, and continue to manage my mental illness in recovery. I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana in October 2016, and hope that my contributions to this blog will be relatable and help others who have similar struggles. I enjoy working out, reading, listening to, and watching the news, golfing, cooking, volunteering, watching sports, watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with my boyfriend, family, and friends.

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