At age eighteen, I was working as a waitress at Mama’s Royal Café in Mill Valley, California. A family friend owned the place and I got the job shortly after I graduated high school. (It’s still there. You could visit. I recommend the home fries.) I moved out on my own for the first time and lived in a small studio apartment. I had long been a moody individual and suddenly, for no apparent reason, I began to do even worse than normal. There is a family history of mood disorders, suicide, and addiction and I had been abused as a kid and raised much of the time in hope killing poverty. My history did not lend itself well to stability and any resiliency had already been taxed.
I wasn’t eating well and craved sugar. I used to eat a twelve ounce box of Nutter Butter cookies for dinner. I wasn’t sleeping. I would cry and cry but couldn’t cry myself to sleep. I began to hear voices that would tell me how horrible I was. The voices grew worse and began to say, ‘You should be dead, you should be dead, you should be dead…I’m going to hurt you, I’m going to hurt you.’ I then developed tactile hallucinations in which I actually experienced pain and thought that the entities whose voices I heard were hurting me. I was greatly fatigued, had headaches and stomach pain, and saw things around me as if they were outlined in black. I stopped bathing much. I thought about suicide but couldn’t act due to my spiritual beliefs. So, I would injure myself instead as some sort of compromise. Sometimes I couldn’t stand to be in my apartment not sleeping, hurting, and hearing tormenting voices and I would walk the streets at all hours of the AM. Police would at times follow me slowly in their patrol cars until I finally went home. Mill Valley is not a big town and the cops were looking out for me it seemed. I was still working as a waitress.
I kept much of what I was experiencing to myself but I continued to decline. One breakfast rush at Mama’s, I was hearing voices and went up to a customer and said, ‘You want me to die. I know you all want me to die. You want me to die, don’t you?’ She looked at me blankly and finally said, ‘Um…I wanted toast.’ My boss Candy came over, pulled me aside, and said she wanted me to help out in the kitchen. I began to do the dishes and help the cooks with prep work. After some months of being miserable and persecuted by hallucinations but continuing to work in the kitchen, my mood improved, I slept, the voices mercifully went away, and I went back to waiting on tables. The cops came in and ordered omelets and coffee and were relieved that I was not out walking down the street at 3am.
Matters could have been addressed quite differently. People could have distanced from me. I could have been excused from my job. The police could have detained me. In my case, as I was living in a small town and employed by a small family owned business, they kept me around and looked out for me. I know I worried and disturbed people. I know they were at a loss for what to do and did the best they could. I firmly believe that part of my recovery was staying in my community with some adjustments and special concern. I was a local crazy person, but I could wash dishes, chop vegetables, and make waffles. I’m very grateful that they kept me with them.
I later sought psychotherapy and benefited greatly from it. I engaged on an ongoing basis for years and go back now and again briefly. I exercise regularly. Yoga in particular has been immensely helpful. I follow a vegan diet and take supplements including Omega 3s and Vitamin B-12. I manage my sleep and stress. Prayer helps me. Back in my dark days, I thought for certain that I would die, so the rest of my life has been gravy. I feel blessed just to still be alive. I went back to school, have a MSW degree, and have worked in community mental health since 1993. It’s a contentious field and the community mental health system is a poorly designed one with inadequate resources and much injustice. People are forced into treatment, are placed in treatments that do not work for them, and get kicked out of needed treatment. They may be traumatized by some of the treatment and avoid seeking care. Some people in crises come into contact with officers and horrible things have happened. It all can seem like a huge disaster some days. I myself seem to do well. I have what I need and feel good most of the time. I often wonder, however, how happy I might have been if only I’d continued to work as a waitress. There’s little ambiguity and contention. And the tips are better.