Schizophrenia is perhaps one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, especially by the general public. And is, by far, one of the most stigmatized. People often inappropriately assign examples of violence and impulsivity to the disorder and to those who live with it. Schizophrenia is a chronic and disabling condition which has the potential to inhibit those with the illness from doing many things, as it does for me. I am currently disabled, and unable to attend university or work.
I should begin by saying that while one in five people will endure some type of mental illness in their lifetime only 1% of Americans (which looks like 2.4 million American Adults) will develop Schizophrenia. And while recovery from other mental illness is possible, this is not the case for Schizophrenia. While proper management is attainable, full recovery is not yet achievable.
I, while having been living with Schizophrenia for years, was not officially diagnosed until August 2015. I went primarily unmedicated for a very long time. And for all that time I dealt with psychotic symptoms almost every day. But, alas, Schizophrenia is not the romanticized explosion, secret agent, mathematician genius smash hit of 2001’s biopic A Beautiful Mind, nor is it the equally as impressive 2014’s Love and Mercy, based on John Nash and Brain Wilson respectively. While both of these movies have their place, and while both directors tried their hardest of translate the experience of Schizophrenia onto the silver screen, both fell victim to something impossibly hard to ignore. This is the trend of romanticizing mental illness into something less accurate, but something that nonetheless keeps us coming back.
I didn’t know I was growing to be Schizophrenic. I guess the warning signs were there. Depression, anxiety, self-harm, magical thinking, self-isolation, poor social skills, a preoccupation with death and a delusional fascination with religion and spirituality. Nevertheless, at eighteen, barely a woman and hardly an adult the transition from neuro-typical to Schizophrenic broke me unevenly. But then, no one plans no growing up on growing up into illness. Young adulthood snatched away from me by madness and medication. Frequent psychiatric hospitalizations and a few suicide attempts dotted my calendar as time flipped the months into years and changed my illness from acute to chronic. Four years later and I’m twenty-two going on twenty-three. I’m a college dropout. I’m on disability. I take medication five times a day just to function well enough to live on my own, but after all the medication I still hear voices all day every day. I can’t read, and I can hardly write.
I lost everything in my development of Schizophrenia. Three jobs, relationships with lovers and family, friends, school standing, etc. And my symptoms were alarming and horrific. They began simply, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, lack of motivation, declination in self-care, and increased self-harm. But then they moved into visual hallucinations, false memories, complicated and complex delusions, auditory and tactile hallucinations, dangerous psychosis, suicide attempts, disorganized thoughts, painful posturing, catatonia. I went on and off meds, in and out of hospitals, my moods swinging frighteningly up and then astonishingly low.
But getting the diagnosis was hard. No one wanted to lay such a serious label on me. So I went three years being treated for this and that. Nobody being able to pin down a diagnosis. Of course, now it’s getting easier. I never thought I’d be happy to have been diagnosed with Schizophrenia, but after having danced around the disorder of so many years I am grateful. Because now I can receive the correct dosages of the right antipsychotic medication. Beta Blockers for anxiety, and anti-depressants. I take seven pills a day in addition to supplements.
Then after one year of being diagnosed with Schizophrenia, my mood disorder, mania, and psychosis were all lumped into one diagnosis. Schizoaffective Disorder. This monstrous disorder that exists the within the gray space of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia. This is even less well known that Schizophrenia, which I have found frustrating. I often still refer to myself as Schizophrenic because I find it easier than explaining the hugeness of Schizoaffective Disorder.
Below is a link to a comprehensive list of the early warning signs of Schizophrenia, and a link to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where you can learn more about the disorder. Also, there is a link to a page where you can read up on Schizoaffective Disorder.
If you or a loved one shows any of these prompt visitation to the proper doctors is highly recommended. While 1% seems like a small number, remember that 2.4 million Americans is not. Schizophrenia is not too rare for you or anyone else to develop. At eighteen I was told it was too rare for me to have. At twenty-two, I am an example of those within the 1%. Because the diagnostic process is difficult and takes time, the sooner you reach out for help the better.