Diary of a Mad Salesman

Received July 2005

Years before my first psychotic break I had a powerful image of my future.  I saw myself living in a tarpaper shack.  I was lying on one side of a dirty mattress.  The other side was wet from rain dripping through the roof.  It was if my mind was warning me.

It began rather innocently.  I was working at a summer camp in a year round maintenance position.  I was building a cabin when it started.  I started to remember things I felt I had forgotten.  They were not very outlandish stories, just ones about the last summer.  Over the course of a week they built into a fury of obsessive thoughts.  But they were all about past events.  I had been followed by the FBI for a summer because they had though I was a serial killer.  At some point the lost memories I was recovering, turned into a voice.  It was that of an old college friend brad.  And I was remembering a phone call I had with him.  The voice sounded like him and even used the same verbal mannerisms as him. Over the week I began to obsess over this voice.  It’s hard to explain how powerful the voice in my head was.  Nothing else was important to me anymore not food, not sleep, nor friends. Brad’s voice was the only thing that was important to me.  Towards the end of the week I would lay in bed all night and listen to Brad.  The things he told me were amazing.  It was if I had lived through adventures similar in complexity and depth as the book the Davinci code. I had an unrelenting lust for listening to Brad.

My roommates Stacy and Melissa noticed the change in me over the course of that week.  Stacey who had a master’s degree in social work recognized the need for hospitalization.  She talked of it being like a hospital stay for a broken leg.  The broken leg would not heal properly with out x-rays and a cast.   A day later I was admitted to a hospital in New Hampshire.  When the hospital admissions office walked me to the ward I almost backed out of going.  The door to the ward was locked.  And I didn’t want to be trapped in the ward.

At first I babbled on about my delusions, so they gave me a notebook to write them down in.  My stay was rather calming.  The medication silenced the voice in my head.  Every night I would do jigsaw puzzles with a friend who had an eating disorder.

My doctor told me I had schizophrenia, but I reacted very poorly to it.  Then he told me I had depression with psychosis.  I clung to that diagnosis.  It never sunk in that I would be on medication for the rest of my life, and that set the stage for a relapse.

After two weeks of rest after the hospital I returned to work.  I also returned to working as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.  I think I may have been the first schizophrenic person to be a firefighter.  Several months later I left the camp I was working at and moved to Virginia to work with youth at risk.  I lasted there three days; at that point I had gone off my medication and was very shaky. I returned to Massachusetts, my home state, to live with my Father.  And was soon after joined by Melissa.

The voice of Brad had returned and I was spiraling downward.  My family noticed a change in me but were too afraid of the implications.  The only thing that would silence the voices was reading.  I would read a book every two days.  The voice grew louder over time, and it jumped into the present tense.  One night I believed there was a transceiver in my ear.  I worked at night stocking shelves at a discount store.  I would spend my afternoons walking the streets of my town.  I would be gone for 4-5 hours just walking and listening to Brad, until Melissa would leave work and come and find me.

It climaxed one morning at work when I assaulted a coworker.  One of the managers tackled me and someone yelled “its ok he is schizophrenic my mother and sister are too”. That was the moment when it stuck.  I was taken to the hospital, and I completely lost my mind.  I was speaking gibberish.  When they removed my shoes and socks they found my feet completely covered in blisters from my walks.  They gave me an antipsychotic, and brought me to the psychiatric ward.

I woke up still hearing Brad.  It would take days for my to relinquish my delusions.  Even then when I was half awake in the morning I would here Brad.  I spoke little at the hospital and was very mechanical in my movements.  I spent two weeks there. After my release I was in a day program for two weeks.  This time I was in much worse shape and they expected me to be out of work for at least six months.  I knew it was going to be a hard battle to get my life back.  The staff at the day program and my family and Melissa all told me I may never be able to return to work, but I shrugged it off.

Over the next 6 months I would watch TV and smoke all day.  Over that time I would feel a flash my old self.  I would feel it only on the inside, I was unable to function as my old self, but I knew I could.  I would constantly evaluate myself, and try to improve my functioning.  Eventually I felt good enough to work and started working part time at a photo lab.  It was overwhelming at first; mixing the chemicals and developing the pictures.  I worked there for a month, when I got sucked into a scam advertisement, for a high paying sales job.  I quite my photo job on short notice and went to my first day of training for my new job.  At the end of the first day the instructor told us we had to pay for the training.  I was devastated I couldn’t afford the course. 

Now I had no job and I was devastated I had worked so hard to get back to work.  Instead of giving up I decided to look for a new job.  I went to the local mall.  My plan was to start at one end and work down to the other.  My search started at Sears and ended there.  I applied to work in the lawn and garden department.  I knew a lot about the equipment for working as a maintenance man, so I figured it would be a good fit for me.

In the interview the manager told me I would be working on commission, I think he was trying to discourage me with that, but I jumped at it.  I wanted a career in sales and this would be a good start for me.  I wanted a job in sales because is it is something people with schizophrenia are not good at.  It requires an ability to read people and being very expressive, which are things people with schizophrenia are not good at.  I wanted to not only beat my illness; I wanted to break new ground for people with schizophrenia.  Just as I did when I worked as a volunteer fire fighter.

When I was hired I was so happy, I was going to get 20 hours a week and a 4.50 base pay.  After several weeks of working there, I went outside for a cigarette with one of my coworkers Jeff.  My manager Bobby joined us. While smoking my manager Bobby asked me what I was on medication for.  I was so scared I wanted to hide my illness.  Before I could answer he said, “Its ok I’m bipolar.”  I relaxed and told him I was schizophrenic.  Both he and Jeff had noticed me staring into space and my hand tremors, both side effects of the medication I was on.  They just wanted to know so they could help me out.  Bobby would let me leave work for 10-15 minutes at a time when I would get overwhelmed, and that helped a lot.  All my coworkers were supportive of me and helped me out. 

Over the next few months I steadily improved.  I had some medication changes and things improved greatly.  I lost my blank stare and my hand tremors.  And I steadily increased my sales.  One day Bobby came to me and asked if I wanted to work forty hours a week.  I said yes, but I was scared.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  After that week I was so proud of myself.  Over the course of the year I must have read 30 books on sales, and it has worked out for me.  Now I’m number one or number two in sales almost every month.  I did so good that I receive a benefited position, which are hard to get at Sears.  Now between my base pay of 4.50 an hour and my commissions I make about 23.00$ an hour.  It’s not an easy job, it the year I’ve worked at Sears I’ve seen about 5 people come and go.  Now I never have to excuse myself because of breakthrough symptoms

A few months ago I moved out of my parents house, and live in an apartment with Melissa.  It was another milestone for me.  Now a few months before my thirtieth birthday and two years since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia I can see how much progress I have made.  Schizophrenia is never something I asked for, but it is part of who I am.  If I never got schizophrenia I would still be living in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire, making very little money in a dead end job.  Now my future looks bright, despite my disability. Recently I had another breakthrough, I got my sense of humor back. It was all that was missing of my old self

I have avoided the tarpaper shack of my vision. 

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