As I have said, my first several posts will be about my experiences with mental illness for a few reasons. First, I feel the need to get my story out there because I have wanted to do so for years but did not have a medium through which to do so. Second, I have a strong feeling that there are people out there who need to know that they are not alone; that there are other people struggling with similar nightmares and battling wars of their own. I know that it helps me to read other people’s accounts of their experiences since it gives me a sense of comfort knowing my struggle is not an isolated one. A third reason is I want to contribute to making people aware of the ravages of mental illness and its terrible effect on many people in our society. I feel as though there is a reason for my struggle and it isn’t so I can suffer in silence. I have an obligation, a purpose, and I believe we all struggle with things not because we are doomed to suffer pain and isolation, but so we can reach out and relate to others who share our predicaments.
That being said, I would like to talk about the main affliction I suffer from. I talked about depression in my last post and how it is part of the disorder I have. I find it much easier to write about depression because the rest of my illness is very difficult to share, mainly because of its stigma and its complexity. The central point of my disorder is schizophrenia, a dreadful diagnosis that crumbled the foundation of my life. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at age seventeen, which is schizophrenia with an accompanying mood disorder such as depression or bipolar. But it is the schizophrenia I struggle with that takes the most out of me. Like I said it is much harder to write about because of its mysterious nature and terrible stigma.
The diagnosis implies to most people ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’; we think of violent people who are dangerous and out of control. I always thought that too. But if people knew the nightmare of the disease, they would be much less likely to judge or condemn.
When I was first experiencing schizophrenia I was completely unaware of it. I knew I was depressed and had violent mood swings, but as far as breaking from reality I never really knew it. The reason for this I have found after years of learning and reflecting on my disorder is that while depression and emotional turmoil is internal and distress from within, psychosis is turmoil that is perceived from outside. I did not know that the people who were following me home every day, or spying on me through surveillance cameras in my house, or plotting to kill me and my family, or infiltrating my life through thoughts and dreams was the result of something happening inside my head. I saw these things happening and assumed they were real. I knew that I had to sacrifice myself for the sake of my family; that people were manipulating me and abusing me and trying to get me to end my life. I knew that I was being watched and stalked. I knew that the Nazi regime had returned and were building a death camp in the city dump and therefore I had to starve myself and deprive myself of pleasures so I would be used to it by the time they captured me and my family. There were times when voices argued in my head, that people took thoughts out of my head and replaced them with theirs, that people on the television were harassing me because I was so stupid and worthless. I knew these things to be real because they were my reality. I would ‘zone out’ for unknown periods of time, I heard demons laughing at me while I tried to sleep at night, I lost all interest in living, and I began to obsess over certain ideas and people in such a way that I sometimes forgot who I was. I was a prophet chosen to lead a spiritual war against the enemies; I was the one who would connect the dead composers to the present world; I was a savior who would rescue people from the savages that bind them.
I scribbled in notebooks and across pages in various books in my room, something I used to call ‘taking notes’ and to me they made perfect sense. The drawings and the notes and words all connected and related to one another. I drew anything and wrote anything that came into my head and I often asked and answered my own questions as if my mind belonged to more than one person and they were putting in their ideas as well. When my family began to manipulate me and put things in my food, I became angry with them and we fought frequently, usually ending with me sobbing on the floor and them unable to reach me.
I was fifteen when I became suicidal and the depression was so extreme that I blocked most of the winter of 2007 out. I ended up being treated at a hospital for several weeks. I was started on medications, was made aware that I had a mental illness (something I wouldn’t fully grasp for a few years), and I was sent to a therapy clinic where I was treated weekly for over a year and a half. The medications cleared away some of the fears and I noticed that people’s thoughts weren’t as strong in my mind, that my family was no longer as manipulative, and that the Nazis were not as much of a threat as I originally believed. I looked at my notes and suddenly they hardly made sense to me. They terrified me and I destroyed them without hesitation. I will not recall to you what I scribbled in these notes for it is too horrible to say. Just know that my mind was incredibly dark and I saw things in those notes that scared me more than any horror movie I have ever seen.
Depression became my greatest issue at that point and it wouldn’t be until two years after my hospitalization that I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. By that time I was more aware that many of my former thought patterns were delusional, paranoid, and that I had a problem with psychosis. After my diagnosis I was placed on a regimen of antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers that began to have a tremendous effect on my recovery. It was then that I experienced a whole new chapter of my life that I will tell you in my next posts since it is a very long but amazing story. Where I am today nearly five years from then is almost a completely different world.
Schizophrenia turns your most beloved family and friends into your enemies; it makes the most mundane tasks nearly impossible with anxieties and fears; it creates a new reality that you cannot see past. It is horribly difficult because for years I could trust no one. They were all part of the plot. But I now know that it had nothing to do with them like I thought it did. It is an internal change in mental function that rendered me unable to see the world in a normalized way. Those fears I expressed about being watched and monitored and my thoughts being stolen and people infiltrating my life were all as real to me as you see your world. Do you question that your friends are real? When your friend does something that makes you upset to you sit back and ask “Am I really upset? Did my friend really do that? Was my friend really being a jerk?” I would think not. When your friend pisses you off, they piss you off, no real question about it. Well the same thing goes for a schizophrenic. When people are “talking behind their back” or “relaying information about them to the government” they don’t question whether or not it is real because to them it becomes a reality as real as yours.
I know all of this might be difficult to understand and I honestly could write for pages and pages about my experiences and their effect on me. But that will be for my memoir. There I will go into much more detail. I basically just wanted to share a little bit to help you get a feel for what my life is like and the ongoing battle I face because I truly believe someone needs to know that they are not the only one who is struggling. The fears of schizophrenia are paralyzing and it is incredibly difficult to express. But let me wrap up for now and share more in my next post. I seriously will write forever if I knew you would read it all.
Like I said, I will eventually get to sharing with you what gives me hope and how I can face the perils of my mind through my life.