“Lyla”, age 57
The knowledge and treatment of mental illness in the 1960s and 70s was very different than today. Not to mention how to educate a child with borderline intellectual functioning who had a harder time learning than other children.
You know when you meet someone and you can't help but return a smile? That's Lyla. She's one of those people you meet that you like in an instant. Her shy smile is endearing. And she has a lot to say when someone takes the time to listen. “I wish people would understand that it's hard for me to understand words. I'm not like they are. Some think that I should be like them and I'm not. Take the time to let me explain. It's hard for me to get words out quickly. Be patient with me.”
When I asked Lyla what is the hardest thing to make others understand about her, she replied, “Words that people think I should know the meaning, I might not. People assume I should be able to verbally express things, but I can feel misunderstood, confused.” She also said that when people are impatient and rush her, it just makes things worse.
Lyla lives with schizoaffective disorder (which for her includes paranoia, depression, and anxiety—the more paranoia she feels the worse her anxiety) and borderline intellectual functioning, which can make it difficult for her to learn and understand other people.
Her schizoaffective disorder started as a child, but she didn't receive help until she was about 20 years old. While her family was supportive of her, she's not sure if her teachers understood what was happening. When Lyla was a child in school, she felt so alone, being unable to ask for help or express her inner feelings. Today she can look back and explain she felt “trapped. Lonely. Frightened. Frustrated.”
Lyla's dreams get really confusing for her, even as an adult, as it's a challenge for her to separate them from what is real. And as her paranoia and anxiety increase while she's awake, it comes out in her dreams. If Lyla is having a good day, she has fewer or no bad dreams. She expressed that her dreams and feelings can make her feel trapped when she doesn't know where they are coming from. In past dreams, “The walls were caving in and I couldn't get out. Everything was coming down on me.”
Today life is still a struggle for Lyla, but better than it used to be. She hopes others “know that there is support out there and to not be afraid to ask for it. It will help you in the long run. It did me.” And for Lyla, her therapists' support is more about encouraging her to pursue things she can do, instead of what she doesn't want to do, “They have faith in my potential.”