It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a wild ride.
In March of 2006 I was in college in my hometown and things were starting to seem different. It was like the little things, songs, commercials, normal noises like traffic or the sound of the refrigerator, even street signs suddenly had a world of significance behind. There were messages in every public medium. The thing is, normal people had no idea, it was only me and, I assume, a few others around the world who could read in-between the lines.
It’s hard to explain what the messages were like but think about it like you’re piecing together a puzzle and every street sign, every piece of body language from friends and strangers alike was some small piece of a gloriously connected puzzle tying all of society, humanity and existence together.
A lot of people talk about paranoia and delusions and hallucinations but not many talk about the connections from one thing to another, tying everything together.
Suffice it to say, in March 2006, I figured out what the connections were saying. I was a prophet and it was on my shoulders to bring a new age of peace to the world. On a Friday night, after smoking pot and being bombarded by messages I knew I had to act before it was too late.
I left at probably 8 or 9 pm and spent the next week on a trip to the United Nations and around the east coast trying desperately to fulfill whatever I thought was my mission. I would walk for hours on end following people because there was something in their body language or because of the color of the bag they were holding, red was evil, blue and green were serene and good.
My trip took me from New York to Boston to a small town in Massachusetts called Woods Hole where I assumed there was a hole through the woods to Canada.
Destitute, terrified, and confused on a lonely back woods road I figured I’d stick out my thumb and try to get back to Boston.
A woman named Cheryl picked me up, talked me down, took me in for the night and bought me a train ticket home in the morning. I knew I had had enough and I knew that despite all the connections, there had never been any concrete proof of anything.
When I got home two days later and told my parents why I had left they took me to the hospital.
Ten years on, and I’m still not sure what my catalyst for getting better was. I will say that the only reason I started taking my meds was to get out of the hospital and then I noticed that I wasn’t as paranoid and that the voices had calmed down.
I stuck with it because, though I was devastated that I was officially ‘crazy’, I knew I didn’t want that life sentence for myself so I worked.
Over the years I worked on behavior, figuring out how to be normal, figuring out how to act and present myself as someone that wasn’t ‘crazy’.
Cycling through the meds, gaining weight, feeling the fire of restlessness, feeling so zoned out I couldn’t function, finally I found the right combination.
I worked on interactions too, displaying the right body language, the right eye contact, every small interaction, even those with cashiers and gas station attendants, was an opportunity to practice and I worked and worked on that until I had it down.
Throughout the process I also learned techniques for calming myself and for acceptance and mindfulness and growth.
I learned not only how not to be ‘crazy’ but also how to be a good kind man.
All that said, it’s been ten years this month and I feel like I should celebrate. Today I’m a writer and a photographer who’s work has been in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Scientific American and a whole host of other publications.
I’ve worked hard to get here and now my goal is to remember how far I’ve come from March 2006 and that nervous paranoid fire of a time when I didn’t know who I was or what was happening to me.
I know a lot of people have had more trouble with their illness than I have and I have nothing but respect for the people who suffer.
BC2M has been an advocate for these people and for me and without their support and the support of others I wouldn’t be where I am today.
For anyone asking how they can get better, just know that it takes time and it takes effort. Eventually you’ll get to a place of stability where your biggest problem in a day isn’t the voice in your head, or your paranoia, but instead what you should eat for dinner.
I’ve been in the trenches and I just want to tell you that you aren’t alone and that you can get better.