Back to School With Schizophrenia

Am I scared to return to school with Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder? I’d like to say no. I’d like to say I’m not terrified. For me, my first college experience was populated by hospitalizations. And steeped in constant instability. Which is why I left. I needed to get better and I wasn’t going to if I stayed in school. My expectations were set too high and with every failure, I sank lower. There was a period, close to the end of my time at my school, that I was missing weeks of classes at a time. It got so bad in fact that the school actually had a meeting, or intervention, to discuss my health. I was present and actually shaking under the scrutiny.

Understandably I had been rotting away in my dorm room. I had not been keeping clean, not attending class, and not feeding myself.  Holding me hostage was an undiagnosed case of Bipolar and Schizoaffective Disorder. Along with a rare case of Conversion Disorder that left me unable to walk. So college ended for me in a hospitalization. Then a five-hour long evaluation. And finally the long-awaited diagnosis of one of the more serious mental illnesses: Schizoaffective Disorder. The unholy union of Bipolar One and Schizophrenia.

My doctor put me on a max dose of Seroquel, an antipsychotic. And a heavy dose of antidepressant. Followed by some other medications. I took the time to recover physically. And then with the help of my still partner, we got an apartment. I went for another try of school but in the end, we left the area and embarked on the hardest year of our lives. Myself recovering from Schizoaffective Disorder and him battling his own depressive disorder. Jobs were very hard to come by and we lived off seven-hundred and thirty-five dollars a month. Each of us had our own sleepless nights.

But in the end, we’ve come out on top. We’ve bought a house, a car, and he is approaching a career. So, I’ve decided to go back to school. In the wake of hardship, I’ve grown hardy. Understanding that I am able to fight in even the hardest of situations. A flower unwilling to wilt even in frost. So what am I doing to protect myself as I prepare myself my return in the fall?

First, I am taking the time to begin making lists now. Deciding what it is that I will need to manage my health conditions on campus. Things like medication organizers, and medical id bracelets. Apps which help me to manage multiple aspects of illness. Notebooks which aid in organization and note-taking to help with my cognitive symptoms. A good planner. And a backpack that won’t increase my chronic back pain.

Over the summer I plan on studying my schedule and learning it ahead of time. I will be notifying my professors and the school of my mental and physical health conditions. It’s better they know ahead of time even if it never makes a difference. After my experiences, and being aware of the stigma that surrounds Schizophrenia, I have decided to be open about it. That is the best policy (at least for me). Schizophrenia ISN’T the death sentence it was once believed to be.

With proper management and support, Schizophrenics can recover. We can return to functioning in our personal lives. And functioning in the community. Of course, Schizophrenia is a spectrum much like Autism is a spectrum. Even if Schizoaffective Disorder is on the more serious end of both the Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia spectrum. With energy and time, recovery is achievable. Even if Schizoaffective Disorder is life-long, it is still a life worth living.

Another important aspect of my return to school is that it’s a new school altogether. No reminders of my darkest journey with every step. No reminders of my suicide attempts by being on campus alone. I’ll never have to return to the emergency room that traumatized me. By starting on a new campus at a new school it’s a new beginning. And that’s important. It may be one of the single most important aspects for me.

So, by knowing what I need ahead of time. By preparing for classes with enough time. And by notifying my new school of my disabilities I am taking the stress out of a new experience. By being honest and open I am creating a positive relationship with this experience. I am encouraging the continuation of my recovery. I’m scared to return to school and to academic life. There is some doubt but in the shadow of hard work and treatment and support. I’m not afraid to say that I am disabled. I am not afraid to say that I am a Schizophrenic. And I am not afraid to say that I’m in recovery.

The only thing that I am afraid to say is that I gave up.

 

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My short film “SHIZO”. Published a year ago. It’s a simulation of sorts. Something to help the general public understand Schizophrenia/Schizoaffective. It highlights some of my experience with the disease. Be aware that this video could be triggering to someone who already experiences auditory hallucinations and to those who have a mental illness. And that by watching this short film you acknowledge this. I highly recommend you use headphones while watching, it greatly enhances the audio.  

This video is meant to be educational.

Feel free to share.

There Is an Ancient Thing Inside of Me.

There are eighteen lives between my two cats. Yet I feel that I’ve Iived more. When will reality and reincarnation disunite? For many lifetimes have been lived inside this body.

Nine lives apiece for each cat which naps placid in winter sun.

Yet I have lived one thousand more.

My bones, old skeletons, rattle when I walk like wind through frozen trees.

Count to five.

Breathe.

There is an ancient thing inside of me.

Ghostly.

Sheet thing.

Tombstone skin.

There is an ancient thing inside of me.

A tiger behind a wall of glass.

Power strongly veiled by fear.

I’ve mistaken sleep for death again.

A cold sun dips below cold hills.

A fistful of nighttime pills.

This ancient thing inside of me is of my own commitment.

And even as it whispers, “you are a but a vision, absent…”

I am stronger than you think.

Antipsychotics Saved My Life.

I’ve lost my passion since starting Seroquel. The act of writing doesn’t fill me with energy like it used to. I’m not writing to free myself from that intangible thing. The intangible madness boiling over like a pot left on the stove unattended. The intangible Schizophrenia. The intangible Mania. The intangible Depression like a bundle of sheets, wet and heavy and cold, protecting me from the fire as it burned around me.

Or was it was another something that pushed me to write? Was it was writing itself? Either way, I’ve lost that fire now. I’m damp most days. Not depressed, not manic, not even happy sometimes.  Unfeeling, tamed. And while it’s a good thing, it scares me. Medication has felt a lot like a tree being pruned. I know it’s good but it feels wrong. Sometimes I miss being caught in the throes of psychosis. So bright and bold I ended up in the Er with doctors trying to hold me down. Sticking needles in my arms and slipping my wrists into restraints. I miss the enticing delirium. I miss the sugar taste of psychosis and how it made my brain feel like a honeycomb with bees buzzing inside. It’s hard to enjoy being well when being sick was the only thing I ever knew.

Antipsychotics turn you into a picture of what you used to be. A string of metaphors, tangled up like an old bundle of wires. You move from being yourself to being yourself on antipsychotics. Trying to leave your illness behind you like a fog which really never recedes. Remission always haunting you. A fear of getting sick again always at the back of your mind. Because mental illness isn’t like other illnesses, or it is but nobody thinks so.

 

psychotic disordersI remember what it was like to be in control, back before the voices started. Way back before the hallucinations. Before the menu of medications. Before these diagnoses and these labels that burn and burn and burn like hot coals on the soft soles of my feet. Schizoaffective Disorder is so stigmatized it feels like a death sentence. The awful combination of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder, two already highly stigmatized disorders, Schizoaffective Disorder is the diagnosis for the unlucky few.  And while antipsychotics are a necessary treatment for such aggressive illness, and while I often complain about the side effects, the truth is antipsychotics saved my life. It’s been scary, becoming someone else. Not the person before Schizoaffective, and not the same person I was during my darkest days. I’m a new a person now. Someone who can think again, and sleep again, and breathe, and concentrate, and most importantly I’m someone how who can deny my hallucinations and delusions the power to control me.

Psychotic disorders can feel like a death sentence, but they don’t have to be.

But I’m talking in circles here.

 

Fast and Without Too Much Sadness

   Red curtains move in the wind of an open window. Warm wind then, on warm sunlight, peers through. Long sunlight fingers push aside the air. Dust floats. My cats like to lay in this type of sun and I like to sit with them, letting my socks get warm and warm my feet. Outside there are bugs and branches and leaves turning red. The play-dough scent of apple branches being pruned from their trunks evaporates around me even as I write. The smell of hardwood. The smell of sweet apple flesh and hazelnut candles. Pine trees at the top of the yard are green and settle their stout bodies against the cooling topsoil. People lean on one another in the face of gathering winter. For now, it’s still autumn. For now, we still have to use all our apples up and fix the snowblower and stitch our jeans and prepare the house for colder weather.

   The days grow shorter and darker and before we know it snow will arrive and we will be buried up to our necks in it. The cats will stop shedding and pack on some winter weight.

   The weather allows for hot showers now and I take ones that border on the cusp of being too hot. When I shower I do it at night with the lights off. Letting the water rinse the coffee grinds and chewed nails and dried skin away.

   Odd to think that I still don’t know myself. After all this time alone we never became acquainted. I am an introvert afraid of other people. This includes me.

   When I look in the mirror I don’t see myself anymore. I see a self made new by flesh. By antipsychotics and antidepressants. By new scars and new wrinkles and new stretch marks. I see a new body and a new brain. But I don’t see myself.

   It’s hard, having been so many things. Flashes of an aging young adult who never got to know herself. I was a kid once. A kid who always kept my hair cut short. A kid who needed braces but never got them. Once upon a time, I was a tomboy. An arm wrestler in the fifth grade who could beat the boys. For a while, I was a confused preteen. Baggy pants and tight shirts. A teen who didn’t want to have sex. An anorexic. A kid who, while good reading books, was poor at reading people. I obsessed over spirituality and religion. Questioning everything to the point of insanity.  I was homeless. I was a runaway. I was unhealthy. Underweight. Sick. Bedridden. Paralyzed. Non-Epileptic (PNES). Dependant. A smoker, god forbid. Someone buying drugs in the back seat of a station wagon that wasn’t my own. Having sex without enjoyment. An all A’s student attempting suicide in the middle of the night. A self-harmer. A frequent flyer at the hospital. Psychotic. Manic. Depressive. Confused. Boney. Absent. Schizophrenic. Bipolar. Schizoaffective. Catatonic. A nighttime-midnight-in the dark-showerer. A nighttime-walker. Empty. Lost. Someone who wished they were dead but ended up happy to be alive (well most of the time.) A college dropout. I used to be someone who listened to the voices. Someone who followed the hallucinations.

   And then came the antipsychotics and all the things I’d ever been came fullstop. Now I’m soft and bitter and my brain is full of Seroquel soup. I’m caught between meds having saved my life and having destroyed it. Of course, I should say that Schizoaffective Disorder did the destroying. Sluggish waves with no force behind them turning my psychotic wheels. Caught between wanting recovery and wanting destruction. For being happy for new my health and being spiteful of it. Between being accepting of antipsychotics and believing the benefits to be disingenuous.

   Out of all the things I’ve ever been I’ve never known any of them for very long.

  I want to see that change but I can’t say I know for sure that they will. Of course, this year went by faster than apples are falling from their branches this autumn. If I close my eyes and hold my breath and take my meds perhaps another year will move on like this one did. Fast and without too much sadness.

 

   

 

Confessions of a Schizoaffective

I have all this bitterness inside of me. Something I don’t show many people. And I have this deep sadness, as deep as wells are deep, that I don’t tell people about. Because if my sadness made other’s sad what a horrible thing that would be. My sadness is my own. My suffering if my own. My hot shower illnesses, those are my own. At the beginning, oh where now did it begin because it seems I’ve been sick my whole life, it was easy and warm and didn’t show me it’s dark side until it already had me. That’s what I mean when I say it’s like a hot shower. It’s warm and disassociating. Easy to slip into, and impossible to get out of. Mental illness is procrastinating. You swore it was just a few hours extra sleep, just a minute longer in that overfilled bath tub (the water lapping your hips and back), just a second longer with your eyes closed after you dismiss the morning alarm. And then all of a sudden you aren’t what you promised your parents you’d be when you left home. Of course, you are your own person, shaped by years of decisions and indecisions.
“And indeed there will be time/For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,/Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;/There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;/There will be time to murder and create,/And time for all the works and days of hands/That lift and drop a question on your plate;/Time for you and time for me,/And time yet for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions,/Before the taking of a toast and tea.” -TS Eliot, The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock
How did I become this other thing I never planned on being? I look up at my chubby cat, purchased keen upon my window sill. The birds come again. Loud as ever, on the inside of my ears. Nobody else hears them. Only me. My cat, half awake, as cats always are, looks down at me. Eyes oval half closed. Only hearing the rain and the fish tank in the other room. I ground myself. I breathe. I inhale. I exhale. I ground myself. I can’t remember what it’s like to experience silence. But I know I miss it.

Skeleton Bones, Poorly Oiled

The only thing that wakes me is a cold wind intruding on the warm, late night air of my hospital room. The change in temperature is noticeable, like oil in water. A bright light from the hall. A nurse, curly haired and round, pokes her head in, makes a note on a clipboard, and then vanishes behind a closed door again.

Fifteen-minute wellness checks grow tedious.

I shut my eyes against the darkness and roll onto my other side. Windows look out onto a dusty parking lot. Empty of the many cars the daylight would bring. In the morning the hospital would be full of doctors and nurses. People would go and come. But I would remain for, at least, a week. That’s what my doctor had told me, at least a week.

Tomorrow would bring art therapy group and CBT. I’d meet with a doctor. Be given medications. And work with a caseworker about a discharge plan. When I’d be leaving, where I’d be going, what my new medication regime would look like.

I sighed opening and closing my eyes again. I didn’t want to stay for another week. The monotony of the place ironically maddening. I threw my arm over my eyes, the crook of my elbow settling across my forehead. I bit at my lips. And then, as I finally felt sleep close by, another column of light slunk into my room and the same nurse looked in.

“Please!” I groaned, “Leave me alone!”

“Just doing my job dear.”

Darkness again.

In the hall, I heard two nurses in an exchange. A midnight but ultimately momentary admittance would arrive. They were not to remove his restraints. I thought back to my own admittance. Cowering beneath a tan Egyptian cotton blanket. Arms restrained to the stretcher which I was brought in on. Legs left free and pulled inward.

I begged for sleep, the nurses chattering on outside my door. The Zolpidem which they had given me to help me sleep had since worn off.

“I guess this guy is gonna be committed, we just have to hold him for the night.”

With my eyes shut I wrinkled my brow. Committed…?

“He killed his parents,” and I felt my mouth run dry, “said something about them being the devil’s work.”

I rolled back over, away from the door.

“Found him covered in his parent’s blood.”

A third voice now, “All the people that come through here are fucking psychos. If you ask me they should all be committed.”

My pulse, already high, threatened to break my ribs. I felt a hot bed of tears beginning to form at the edge of my eyes. I wasn’t in the right place to hear any of this. I was the youngest crazy kid on the adult psychiatric ward. Confused, distraught, suicidal, irrational, and impulsive. I thought, in that moment, that maybe I was destined to become the guy who would murder my parents. Maybe some day I’d show up covered in the blood of someone I loved. Maybe it was only a matter of time before I went crazy enough. In a silent rage, I brought the pillow from above my head over my face and screamed into. Emptying my lungs and then my throat, leaving my respiratory tract scratched and raw. I couldn’t have known I had five more of these hospitalizations ahead of me. That I’d almost die. That I was Schizoaffective. I couldn’t have known all the sad music views I’d see from my hospital windows, all the sad music scenes I’d see, all the sad music medicine I’d take before I found the one that worked…

Just as I went in for a second scream there was a commotion in the hall. The sound of a stretcher, a sound I’d never forget, rattling down the hall. Its thin wheels sounded like skeleton bones, poorly oiled, on the clean hospital lelonium. Click, click, squeak.

My next fifteen-minute wellness check came just as the stretcher made it’s way past my door. And in the hall, I saw a man pass by. His hands, though tightly bound, were clean hands. Pale Maine hands.  His face empty, eyes empty. A lost look plastered to him like a missing person’s ad. And as the entire stretcher passed my door I didn’t see a single drop of blood.