Tuesday, May 6, 2008

keeping it together, even when i really just can't!

Dear fellow savers of face (you know who you are!),

I like to "save face." Saving face means that you are in a position where you have lost some element of your personal dignity, and you try to recover a shred of that dignity in whatever way you can.

Say for example you go to pay for your groceries at the store. You know you don't have much money in your account, but you're pretty sure you have enough to pay for the groceries you've picked out. You swipe the card, tap in your PIN, and wait... wait... then the machine beeps and flashes "Insufficient Funds!"

What do you do?

It's pretty rare for anyone to say, "Oh, shit! Look how poor I am! I can't even afford $20 worth of groceries!"

Usually a person will say something to the effect of, "Aw, crap, my cheque didn't go through!" or, "What the? My boss was supposed to deposit my pay! What an ass!"

Then you either whip out a credit card (if you have one), or scrounge through your purse to pay part cash and part debit, or (horror of all horrors) you slink away from the register and abandon your groceries whilst muttering excuses.

My version of saving face is a system of survival unto its own.

I grew up po'. I grew up po' and went to school with all the rich kids in town.

When you grow up surrounded by kids with all the right clothes, who live on the right side of town, in the right houses, you sort of develop a complex.

Growing up with all these kids who had all "the toys" was not easy. (Mind you, it was easier pre-ipod, pre-cellphone, and pre-laptop, and so on.) I worried a lot about fitting in.

It was pretty easy to hide the fact that my family lived in a not-so-nice apartment... all I had to do was make sure that no one came around to visit me. It was pretty easy to hide the fact that I was not up with the latest video games... all I had to do was pretend that studying and playing were more important than games.

It was a lot harder to hide the fact that I simply looked different from the other kids. Those kids had the brand name clothes, and the expensive shoes, and the pretty jewelry, and the funky new accessories.

I did not have those things. But I tried. Confronted with the "indignities" of poverty (or relative poverty), I tried to save face.

I learned very quickly that if you don't "look right" then you won't fit in. So at a very tender age, I became meticulously focused on my appearance. I tried to always look nice... to take care of my hair, to keep my clothes clean and fresh looking, to make sure that my outfits always matched and fit me well. I even went so far to harass my financially stretched family to go out and buy me some of those brand name clothes... I wound up with some second hand brand name sweaters that I was thrilled with!

When I was diagnosed, so many moons ago, with psychosis, that meticulousness, and how it had kept me socially viable (when I might have otherwise stuck out like a sore thumb), stuck with me.

Psychosis imposes enormous indignities on the people who live with it. Psychosis causes symptoms that seem strange or frightening to those not familiar with the disease. People who live with psychosis often face discrimination as a result of the ignorance and mythology that persist about this condition. The media, our friends, and even our families claim that murderers, rapists, and molesters must be "insane;" inadvertently diminishing the dignity of every single person who is truly afflicted with the condition of psychosis by placing perverse criminals in the same category as someone with a serious and life-altering biological disease.

So I knew that this disorder would somehow affect or at the very least distort my personal sense of dignity. And I knew I had to save face (again).

I knew very deep inside of me that I could not "look" sick. I knew that people would judge me if I somehow looked "different" from everyone else. My hair could never be unkempt in public. My outfits always had to be perfect. I always had to be properly dressed and accessorized for every occasion... even if I did not feel like it... even if I really could not afford it.

Now, as an adult, living on my own, this sense of "saving face" takes on a whole new meaning.

I sit here, seven days into a flu (now on the healing end, I hope!) and I look around me and think, "What can I do to make this place look better?" Because for some reason, to me, if *I* look good (and by extension, my surroundings look good), then all must be well... even when all most definitely isn't well.

So everyone, please know, that sometimes looks are deceiving. Even when someone looks great, when they're home looks wonderful, and when they seem to have it all together, that person may be hiding behind appearances, hoping that no one will notice what is going on underneath.

I have to go clean something now.

Always hiding, even when I'm too tired to hide,

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