“When you really do not know what is real and what isn’t, you have to go with your gut. You don’t have anything else to go on.” A vulnerable, honest essay examining living with mental health in today’s troubled political climate…
by: Allie Burke
We just got gas. I dropped him off after. I specifically picked him up just to get gas. I’m afraid to get gas at night alone, especially in this area. Darkness provides the means to sneak up on people more conveniently. I am schizophrenic; I am terrified of people sneaking up on me, even when they aren’t. Imagine how I feel when they are.
I am upset. I am on the freeway, driving the very limit of the speed limit. I am upset at no one in my car. I mean, there is someone, but not according to everyone else. I want to scream. I want to scream that I absolutely cannot do this. I cannot deal with this grim reaper looking character sitting in my passenger seat, with blood coming out of its eyes. It’s all bones and skin and blood. It doesn’t say anything; it never does. It just watches me, and follows me on bad days, as if I’m next.
Everything slows down, as if everything is frozen except my car. My headlights pass over a green lump of cloth on the side of the road. The top half of a head sticks out of it. It’s a dead body. I want to ask if that is who Reep is here for (I named it Reep years ago), but Reep never answers me, so why bother? I just assume it is, because, while I’m consistently confused about many things, I am sure I am not dead. Not yet.
I should call the cops. Stop. Do something. But it’s not realistic, I don’t think. It’s dark. They are just regular ass headlights. It’s not realistic. For the world to slow like in a movie and for me to see a dead body in that split second. During a time when I know what I am seeing is not real. It could be real — if I’m honest with myself I don’t really know—but I don’t think it’s real and I’m gonna have to go with that for now. When you really do not know what is real and what isn’t, you have to go with your gut. You don’t have anything else to go on.
I get home and take my medication and turn on some forensic crime show I love, which is probably the reason I am scared to get gas in the first place. The cat is there. He lays on my legs. He knows. The damn cat knows that the warmth and the weight calms me.
I fall asleep and I do not wake up for hours. I sense clarity in the early hours in the morning. I’m. not scared to go outside, for once. I could go outside and nothing will happen, I think.
I tell my boyfriend, who went with me to get gas, that I saw a dead person on the freeway.
“I hope it wasn’t a homeless person,” he says. He never questions my sanity. I am just his girlfriend. I am not his schizophrenic girlfriend. Ever. Ever, ever.
The news of the first shooting comes in. El Paso, Texas. Twenty people dead. Reports come in of the shooter’s racist posts on social media.
The next day, another one. Dayton, Ohio. Nine people dead. I look for more racism commentary. I find some. Gun reform, too. But what I find most of is mental illness commentary. “This is a mental illness issue,” or whatever. Please don’t ask me. Why are people asking me? I am not a doctor. I have no qualification or education to determine if someone has a mental illness. There are more. More and more people claiming that this is a mental illness issue, and I am terrified.
I think about the act of going to the gas station. It is pretty scary. I mean, I could get shot and die. But more than that, my photo is all over the Internet. I have written about schizophrenia, so much. I mean, there are hundreds of essays. Hundreds. All with that photo. That photo my colleague took of me so many years ago because she was a photographer and I was nobody. I’m still nobody, but that’s neither here nor there. What are people going to do, if this is a mental illness issue? What if they know I have schizophrenia, the supposed worst of them all? Are they going to lock me up? Call me a murderer? I’ve never murdered anyone but maybe the label itself will be proof enough. It surely has in the media in the past.
I don’t want to go outside, but I do anyway. A girl has to eat. I look behind my shoulder constantly and ask for buffalo tater tots very quietly, as if I speak too loud I’ll be identified. I am relieved when we get back inside. I have to go out again now. Apparently, you are supposed to eat more than once in a day.
I have to work tomorrow. There’s no getting out of it. I will need to smile and be okay. I tell myself I can do it. I do it all the time. But I am scared. Scared of getting gas, still.
I guess nothing has really changed.