Schizophrenia - My Road Out
My mental illness debuted as anxiety, reflected even in baby pictures. The hallucinogenic nightmares I endured as a child were a harbinger of the psychoses of my early adulthood. In one nocturnal horror, I appeared in a desert, faced with a foreboding sun like a demonic compass rose. The map of my life soon became more imaginary than real.
Brought up as a perfectionist, I had been the family darling until the disappointment of my self-medication with marijuana. Then, as an adolescent, I became emotionally estranged from my parents and, eventually, society. My high school scholastics kept pace with my drug use, however, until at Yale University my brain snapped from entertaining LSD.
Looking back, I see the genesis of my current symptoms: psychoses, mania, depression, and anxiety. The fall of my sophomore year, broken down and too disturbed to study, I signed out of Yale and into 10 weeks of hospitalization. The diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia.
After My Diagnosis
Slowly I recovered enough to enter George Washington University while living with my parents, yet I maintained my marijuana habit. My psychiatrist at the time diagnosed me with—and treated me for—schizoaffective disorder (which holds to this day), but he seemed unable to help me withdraw from pot.
Soon I returned to my psychiatrist of the past 27 years. He cared for me through a harrowing psychosis. By trusting medication management, I abolished my hunger for marijuana. Ever since, strong spiritual beliefs have helped me every day not to miss meds or abuse drugs.
Today I take a specific antipsychotic, mood stabilizer, antidepressant, and anti-anxiety agent. They all have side effects, which I have learned to live with, but their actions seem appropriate to my needs and allow me to survive.
I achieved my physics B.S. at George Washington University and my M.S. at George Mason University. Volunteer jobs, especially at a nature center, have been great opportunities for me to develop interpersonal skills, work hard, and be recognized as a competent person.
Family and Support
My parents, who had tolerated me throughout my illness, eventually became my charges, gradually moving closer to nursing homes. Only three friends and my psychiatrist stood with me at this anxious time. I learned great empathy for the nursing-home residents, whose changing population I still befriend after 16 years.
Now that my parents have passed on, a paying job at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a long-time girlfriend, a network of acquaintances, and a mind separated from schizophrenia help guide my life.
What I've Learned
To learn some from my experience, consider recognizing early warning signs of recurring symptoms; finding a trusted doctor; taking drugs only as prescribed; avoiding stress, alcohol, and illicit drugs; attending support groups; associating with ethical people; being frugal with money; and not having kids (whom I love enough to do so).
My schizophrenia caused so much psychic pain, at times I could not even feel it. Schizophrenia made me think I was God, and likewise that the Devil tormented me. I not only heard "voices" abuse me but also felt my own thoughts scrutinized by others.
I am amazed that I survived my purgatory of schizophrenia. That the brain-rape of the disease has mostly ceased. That I no longer feel subhuman. That—most of all—I believe now is truly the best time of my life.