My journey to wellness took a long time. I went undiagnosed for many years, during which I struggled with delusions, memory loss, depression, and anxiety, never knowing that these states of mind were a part of a larger picture. I had no way of knowing because I resisted receiving help, likely due to anosognosia, a symptom of certain thought disorders which results in a lack of insight into one’s situation. It was a long road to acceptance.
I didn’t tell my first therapist about my hallucinations until very late into our two-year run. My symptoms were off the chain by the time I met my current therapist. At my request, she gave me my diagnosis, one year into our working together. My level of acceptance was primarily surface. The stigma surrounding schizophrenia gave me pause to balk. I wasn’t a crazy person. I couldn’t be. The rest of the world was out of balance, not me.
I believed the same stigma-based information that popular culture subscribed to: that people living with schizophrenia were murderous, hatchet-wielding monsters, like in the movies. I couldn’t be one of them. The only harm I had done was to myself. Hitting my body until I bruised was normal. Starving myself was, too.
The diagnosis had to be wrong. I sought a second opinion. I took a psychological evaluation and received the same diagnosis my therapist had given me—paranoid schizophrenia. The voices I was hearing which commanded me to hurt myself were linked directly to my mental illness.
They were out to get me. I was under constant surveillance by threatening, other-worldly beings. How was any of this my fault?
My coworkers conspired against me because I couldn’t remember work details; I believed they reported my shortcomings through the cash register number pads. Two years after my diagnosis I still thought things like this, but kept them to myself. My walks home from work entailed avoiding demons at certain checkpoints. Once home I could decompress, but there were still movie actors stealing my thoughts, and animals living behind the appliances. My world was in chaos at every turn, but I had grown accustomed to it. Eventually, my private reality gave way when I was visited by specters on the sales floor, and the common reality was validated by their not being captured on the security tapes. They weren’t where I had seen them. They weren’t there at all. I broke down and told the head of Human Resources I’d been bitten by a vampire.
I went on medical leave for three months, but, except for therapy, I stayed in my apartment the entire time. I slept on the floor and refused to flush the toilet. I stopped bathing and ate very little. I denied a lot of what was happening, opting to rationalize things in order not to appear broken. Another psych-eval with yet another psychiatrist. Another pronouncement. The same diagnosis, compounded by heightened psychosis. What followed was eventual release from work, pending insurance claims for disability, followed by application for Social Security and public health care through the Department of Health and Social Services. I was in “the system” and avoiding it, as the realization that the doctors might be right began to sink in. Maybe there was something wrong with me. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
My resolve broke down when I attempted suicide during a psychotic break. I committed myself to the hospital and spent two weeks in the psych ward, appropriately medicated for the first time in my life. After six years of living with my diagnosis, and decades of living in the dark before that—trying to power through all the delusional thinking on my own—I was finally ready and willing. I complied with the wisdom of the doctors. I found relief from the prison of my mind.
Today I live in gratitude for all of the help I’ve received, and especially for the gift of acceptance which I awarded myself. The perseverance of my therapist and trusted friends helped get me from my deluded thoughts to a place where truth helps me heal. My symptoms are more obvious to me now when they arise, and I’m vigilant about my mental health.
For the longest time, I resisted medication for no other reason than fear and self-stigma. I recommend making peace with the possibilities that medicines afford, working with a psychiatrist and a therapist, and finding relief from the madness. Though it may seem hard at times, life is worth it.
We’re stronger than we know. We have a place in society. We’re not crazies. We’re people who live with conditions governed by genetic makeup and external factors. Strong people. Maybe the strongest.