Oysters: An essay from Terry Boal, who grapples with schizoaffective disorder

Oysters: An essay from Terry Boal, who grapples with schizoaffective disorder The world is my oyster, an odd turn of phrase, Shakespearean in fact. In one sense, it means your world’s unfolding before you.
Oysters were on my mind when I shopped this afternoon so I picked up a small container. They didn’t have the pedigree of Blue Points, Apalachicola, Cotuit or Wellfleet but would have to do in a pinch.

When I was a kid we camped on an island a stones throw from a string of oyster farms. Our beach was covered with the bivalves and I’d proceed down it oyster knife and Tabasco Sauce in hand and wrest shells open, apply the sauce and then slurp them down.

Louise is late. We’d agreed to meet here at four thirty; it is now half past five. Hash brown are simmering. They’re almost done and olive oil is spitting in the skillet. I can’t wait. So, I dredge the oysters in oatmeal and flour. Just as I’m about to drop the first one into the pan, there is a knock at the door. It’s her, of course. I apologize for not waiting. She says not to worry, just keep cooking and we can talk.

I worry I won’t be able to talk and cook at the same time. This is unfounded. I quit smoking after Christmas and now don’t know what to do with my hands. Cooking keeps them busy.

Louise is my Community Living Support Worker and so is an integral part of my safety net. I spent twenty years in institutions and have no desire to return. Louise is part of my care team along with a psychiatric nurse and a psychiatrist.

Psychotherapy is now proven to aid those with mood disorders or, like me, a schizoaffective one. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy took me out of catatonia and back into the world of the living, but in general, I’m too passive-aggressive for therapy to have much effect.

We talk about New Country, her passion, and for me something I know enough about to hold up my side of the conversation. She works for a non-profit that administers my apartment building along with other projects. It’s been around over 30 years so some of us are getting long in the tooth. Almost weekly she lets me know who has passed on.

Why am I always the last to know? By the time I’m conscious I’m slipping into psychosis it’s too late. Thus the safety net. It is cast wide enough and is so finely enough woven that there is little chance I will slip through to the other side.

We gossip a bit and then out of right field she says, “You seem so much better this week.”

These are dreaded words, last week things weren’t perfect but I thought, all things considered, I was okay. Am I losing it? Telling someone who is schizoaffective that he seems better now than at time he thought things were going okay is the worst thing you can do. Why must I always be the last to know?

How was I not as well? I lose focus and burn my thumb. Juggling cooking and interacting with Louise becomes too much. My thoughts race and I’m only vaguely aware of what’s going on around me
Louise notices and asks if I’m okay.

I am a teen of the sixties and, then as now, being uncool is uncool. Unless it is perfectly obvious, I shrug it off and wonder if I have what politicians call plausible deniability. If so I respond “I’m cool”. Generally I can wing it, but too often it’s a losing battle. I overcompensate to the point of flat affect. I am living a lie for inside there is turmoil. One tiny event can crack the façade and then like the Wizard of Oz when the curtain is pulled back, I panic. Although I’ve never spontaneously combusted or melted into a puddle of sweat and tears, it feels like I might.

Conveniently the oysters are done and I let her know it’s time to eat. Before she leaves, she says, “Call me if anything goes wrong.” This time I know it will not take much to do better next week than it did tonight.

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