At the end of the day, you can’t control the results; you can only control your effort level and your focus. – Ben Zobrist
“You’re so spacey,” my mom said.
“Focus,” said my martial arts instructor. “Weren’t you listening?”
“You can’t get far in life if you can’t pay attention,” said my grandfather.
“Enough pacing,” said my dad. “You’re in the way.”
Before anyone knew I had schizophrenia, their common mantra was about how to succeed in life by putting my full focus into everything I did.
A schizophrenic like me can rarely if ever put their full focus into anything. It may be different for other people with schizophrenia, but for me, I tend to have voices constantly yammering at me.
I could only really focus when reading or writing or watching television. I would become fully immersed in these experiences. And I mean fully immersed, Virtual Reality level shit. My voices would fade to whispers and I would be drawn in. It was scary sometimes. I would feel the emotions of characters, and sometimes my body would even simulate their pain.
Watching television became such a powerful experience for me that I would write, read, or draw at the same time to try to divide my attention and reduce the intensity. When we moved to my current house, I would sit so that a pillar would be slightly between me and the TV on purpose. Then when it became too much I would stare at the pillar instead. When that failed I resorted to my old habits of reading, writing, or drawing.
Usually, I can’t focus well. I struggle. In high school, I could not focus at all during class because of my schizophrenia. The teachers did lectures that were drowned out by voices. I was a cyber student, so I saved all the slides from the class Powerpoint and taught myself after class. During class, I did homework, because that engaged my mind better and gave me some semblance of control over the voices.
It was a mess. In college I could not save the slides. I never asked for accommodations, and the teachers would not allow it. So I wrote down everything I heard.
Unfortunately, everything I heard often included my voices, so my notes would include constant snippets of their dialogue. Like “the capitol of you should die is someone is watching you.” Then I would look at the notes later and despair, and not let other people see them unless I meticulously rewrote them.
Fine. I’m spacey. I’m scatterbrained. But I’m not stupid. I outdid many of my peers. I got a 4.0 in high school, and in college I got almost all A’s, with the exception of two B-‘s in subjects that I struggled with. In high school I graduated in the top 1% of a class of 1250. In college I regularly made the Dean’s List and graduated with Summa Cum Laude. I consistently took classes that my advisors told me not to take because they would tank my GPA – Western Civ with a professor everyone feared, Physics, and Symbolic Logic to name a few.
I may have struggled to focus in my martial arts classes, but that didn’t stop me from earning my black belt in less than 4 years, which typically is the minimum in my art of Tang Soo Do. It didn’t stop me from teaching a couple hundred hours of classes and becoming an official Tang Soo Do instructor.
You know what? They were wrong. My supposed spaciness did not prevent me from excelling. Dedication, grit, and just plain intelligence allowed me to succeed.
Schizophrenics can be academically and socially successful, regardless of what other people say we can and cannot do.
Post 17 in Socially Unacceptable: The Daily Life of a Queer Schizophrenic Wreck (2022)
This is an autobiographical series about my life, something I have wanted to do for a long time. I intend to add new content daily.
For the whole series, follow this link.