Welcome to Memoir Salon Session 6, which features an excerpt from
Never Give Up: Buddhism, Family & Schizoaffective Disorder, A Memoir
by Jennifer Myers.
Short bio from the author: I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2002. I have an M.A. in Urban & Environmental Policy, and I enjoy writing about topics related to environmental conservation. I am currently working on a memoir that describes my experience leading up to my diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, and how I have dealt with the illness over the past ten years. My “Living with Schizoaffective Disorder” blog can be found online at www.sundancekidonline.com. I also enjoy writing children’s stories, Buddhist chanting, and exercise. I make every effort to enjoy life, encourage other people, and share my story.
Short description from the author: Soka Gakkai International President Daisaku Ikeda states: “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.” My memoir, which I am still working on, is about my personal “human revolution”, how I’ve used my symptoms and diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, my Buddhist practice, and my family’s tremendous support to challenge my weaknesses, find hope in a hopeless situation, and win the battle against the extreme negativity in my life manifested as my illness. I explore in great detail the events leading up to my diagnosis, as well as how I have dealt with my illness over the past ten years. I hope to encourage as many people as possible with my experience.
The excerpt that follows is taken from the first chapter, in which I describe my suicide attempt as a college student at University of California at Santa Cruz and how I realized years later that I was suffering from depression.
UC Santa Cruz
I don’t remember when I began feeling unhappy. Maybe in college, or even before that time, only I wasn’t aware of how I was feeling. I saw pictures of myself at my cousin’s wedding in Nashville. One picture was taken when I was about ten years old. My dad and I looked very happy in that picture. I was smiling with a big, huge grin on my face, and so was my dad. I was wearing white soccer shorts with a Snoopy bathing suit and my hair was braided. I looked completely happy and at ease sitting on the family room couch with my dad.
I also saw another picture that was taken a few years later when I was twelve. This time I was at my great-aunt’s house in Independence, Missouri for a family reunion on my mom’s side. I was in my aunt’s backyard with my cousins standing next to a tree swing. In this picture I was wearing a soccer shirt and my hair was braided in the same style, but the expression on my face was not a happy one! I looked angry at someone, maybe the person taking the picture. I was young enough that I don’t remember the pictures being taken, although I do remember our family reunion that summer in Missouri.
When I look back, I don’t remember the change, but I realize from the pictures that gradually as I grew older, I became less happy. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s after I had moved to Washington DC that I became more consciously aware of my own unhappiness, and even that was only because my mom brought up the subject one afternoon on the phone.
“You sound depressed.” my mom told me. I was in my room sitting on my twin bed staring despondently out the window that overlooked Park Road below. “You’ve been living in DC for almost three years and you still haven’t found a job,” my mom continued. “Maybe you’re feeling depressed about the job search.”
Then my mom explained to me that my dad had also suffered from depression a few years ago while I was in Dominican Republic working as a Peace Corps volunteer. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but my mom said my dad had been taking anti-depressants for his depression.
“Maybe you should see a psychiatrist about taking an anti-depressant,” my mom suggested. I could tell by her voice she was concerned. Although we never talked about it much, my suicide attempt seven years earlier was probably on my mom’s mind when she called. I imagine that she was worried I might try it again.
I’m not exactly sure how she could tell that I was depressed just by talking to me on the phone, but she was right. I was depressed. Every evening after I came home from work, I was so tired that I just went right to sleep. I would sleep for a few hours, and then get up later to eat dinner. After I ate dinner, I went straight back to bed. I suppose I thought that’s just the way I was. I did think that it was somewhat unusual for me to be coming home from work and going straight to bed, but I didn’t do anything about it until the day my mom called.
Up until that point, I figured that as soon as I found my dream job in Washington, I would be fine, I would be happy. I would have achieved everything I had set out to achieve with a master’s degree and my Peace Corps experience. Yet, three years, two internships, and countless temporary assignments later, I still hadn’t found my dream job in Washington, DC or anywhere else. I hadn’t found happiness, or at least what I perceived happiness to be. This is what my experience is partly about. How does anyone find happiness in their lives given the unique set of circumstances they are born into and the obstacles they face along the way? For me, it has been a long process, and now is only the beginning. Also the end too, of fearful, guarded, and isolated tendencies that I’ve had to challenge in order to survive and create happiness in my own life.