My Life As A Unionist Saved My Life

My Life As A Unionist Saved My Life

Op-Ed: As a UC professor, I support the strikers. Our schools shouldn’t have let it come to this.

I’ve always supported labor unions. I am from a union family. I grew up in a union town in the Northwest, and today I live in Orange County, California, where a handful of unions have a significant presence.

Although I supported unions in my youth, I was forced out of the labor movement in my early thirties when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. My family and I made peace with my mental illness when my son was born eight years ago.

But my love for unions and my love for solidarity with those who are suffering led me away from my old ways—toward a life advocating for people living with mental illness.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a progressive mental illness. When I was 19 years old, I had already experienced a host of other symptoms. They included auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia, an intense sense of being watched, and a crippling fear of the dark. These symptoms were brought on by my treatment at a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s—a series of hospitalizations. It was during one of these hospitalizations that I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

When I was hospitalized I was given electroconvulsive therapy (a shock treatment). The procedure causes a temporary loss of consciousness and a momentary loss of muscle control. The therapy, however, was lifesaving for me—and saved my life.

In 1967, I left the hospital. I started living on my own, taking odd jobs to make ends meet. Eventually I found a job as a janitor, sweeping floors on the floors of California State Hospital. It was a job I was good at, and it was a job I loved.

My mental illness began to return after my son was born. By the time I was in my early thirties, I was suffering from hallucinations, delusions, and panic attacks. I had also been hospitalized multiple times before I found a job as a janitor at CSH.

By the time I was in my early thirt

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