The Struggle of Relating to People When You Have a Mental Illness

When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia eight years ago, it was almost impossible for me to talk to people let alone relate to them.

If it wasn’t the constant anxiety and paranoia keeping me engaging, it was the burden of having an 800 lb. gorilla that nobody understood hanging over my head.

How could I possibly get on anyone else’s level when there was this immense self-stigmatizing diagnosis of being crazy sitting on my shoulders?

I was a singular unit among the normal people. I had never met anyone with schizophrenia before. I had no experience with anyone who had mental illness and to say it was scary knowing that I was crazy would be an understatement. Read More →

Dealing With Med Side-Effects

When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia eight years ago, the first medication I took was called Abilify, it was a new drug, one that was supposed to protect against metabolic issues like gaining weight.

It would’ve been fine but it had a nasty side effect no one told me about, the constant restless feeling of needing to move. I couldn’t sit still and I was so uncomfortable that I’d take miles long walks everyday just to ease the feeling.

I felt like I was about to jump out of my skin.

That was a side-effect called Akithesia.

Needless to say, it was so unpleasant that I demanded to be put on something else. Read More →

What To Do About Burn Out

We all know what it feels like when you’ve had enough. It’s that listless weary feeling of not wanting to proceed but knowing that you have to.

Some refer to it as ennui others simply call it burn out.

It happens when the stress of performing a certain task overrides its enjoyment and it can take place in every facet of your life, from your job, to your home life to your relationships.

Many people have trouble with burn out when they feel tired or obligated about something. The truth is, everyone has things they might not enjoy doing but are required to do to maintain their current life situation. Read More →

It’s Ok If You Have Anxiety

Anxiety is a fickle beast, it can come on at any point during your day and completely wreck you until you’re able to find a place to unwind.

A major point of contention in my struggle with mental illness has been the anxiety I feel in social situations.

It goes like this, you’re about to enter a new situation and deal with people who don’t know you and you wonder, what are they going to think of me? Read More →

Anxiety Can Protect Us

In life there are some things that are good for us and some things that aren’t. Many times though, the things that we think are doing us harm actually have a component of good. This is true for things like relationships that although were not healthy while we were engaged, taught us great life lessons weeks, months or years down the road. The same can be said for anxiety.

Anxiety was best described to me as the point when your fight or flight response is triggered by something that should be completely innocuous. It can be brought on by social interaction, peer pressure, perceived slights or even things as seemingly harmless as stepping on a crack in the sidewalk or not doing the precise number of actions or the precise order of actions before something happens. Anxiety is the result of compounding worry that’s sparked when we feel we’re losing control and many times it can be debilitating enough to interfere with our happiness. Read More →

You Can’t Make Other People Happy

The one singular overarching experience of living with schizophrenia for me has been the ebbing and flowing of the paranoia that I feel on a daily basis. This paranoia is a worry and an anxiety that people are constantly making fun of me.

To say the least it’s been a rough road. There are times when I want so badly to connect with people but I’m terrified that they’re going to turn around and make fun of the way I look or the way I move or the way I talk that I have all but resigned myself to the delusion as a fact of life.

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Learning to Live With a Schizophrenia Diagnosis

I can remember when I got the news. It was 2006 after a period of almost two years of the irrational fear that people were making fun of me, which then elevated to agoraphobia and delusions that I was a prophet and that the TV and the radio were talking to me and sending me secret messages.

 

It all came to a head when I was unequivocally convinced that I was tasked with saving the world from it’s ills. I went on a cross country trip to the U.N. to spread a message of peace thinking it was my divine ordination. When I got home I was greeted with a mandatory seventy-two hour hold at the psych ward in the community hospital. That seventy-two hours turned into seven days and somewhere around the fifth day I was told I had a chronic incurable brain disorder called schizophrenia.

 

This was a condition that had to be managed, I was told, I would have to take powerful antipsychotic medication every day for the rest of my life and I had to accept that the things I thought were so real were just tricks my brain was playing on me.

 

There’s an instant disconnect when people are told that they have an incurable disease that manifests itself as strongly with the various stages of grief as a loved one dying. The only difference is that the grief is for the life you had before everything changed. In a sense, once confronted with a serious diagnosis, the person you were before has in fact died. What’s left is a shell. Yes you are still alive, you still breathe, eat and sleep but it wouldn’t make much of a difference if you didn’t. As far as living is concerned, your life was over the moment they said those words. I can only speak to schizophrenia in this regard but I imagine the same could be said for any chronic incurable illness.

 

The months pass and nothing matters, you take your meds of course because there’s still a small part of you that wants the paranoia to stop and the delusions to go away and you begin to accept the fact that life would be ok if just those two things happened.

 

You don’t need dreams of success or happy relationships anymore, the only thing you need is to feel ok. You’re not going to kill yourself because you don’t think you could do it and you know your family would miss you but, to be completely honest, you are ready to go. You’d be fine with dying if something were to happen and there are moments where you wish a car would swerve into you or that the train would derail and there are nights where you hope that you’ll just stop breathing and you won’t wake up but you always do. You start to live just for the act of living because it’s all you can do and there really is nothing more if you really think about it.

 

Friends have come to wish you well but then disappeared because they see that you’re different, defeated and just different.

 

I can’t quite remember the point at which things changed, the point where I decided I wanted to live instead of just breathe. Maybe it was after feeling a loneliness so profound in my own house that I decided I had to be around people. Going to the same coffee shop day after day people started recognizing me and asking what I did and I never had an answer. Maybe the day I started living again could be traced to some point near the beginning of starting to write a book about my experience, only because all I’d ever done was write and people kept telling me it could be cathartic to write it all down. I’m sure there was some small point where I realized that my writing was still pretty good and maybe this thing could happen. Maybe I could write a book and be an author. That was when hope crept into the picture. It was a singular point or a series of points that compounded into a desire to find some success in life however small it may be.

 

Hope is a powerful thing, it keeps you going when you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel and it keeps you on your feet even after they’re bloodied and blistered and so painful that it hurts to even stand up. Hope is that thing that makes you remember better days and wish that things could be like they were again.

 

Slowly the apathy of just breathing gave way in me to a desire to keep working, to keep fighting for a semblance of normalcy, stability and maybe even happiness.

 

It took years of practice to re-learn how to live, how to function normally and to put a smile on my face and a semblance of hope and concern in my voice but eight years down the line I’ve written two books, had my work published in a variety of high profile magazines and have lent my voice to several radio interviews about mental illness.

 

At times I’m fearful that I talk about it too much, and at times I regret my decision to admit my highly stigmatized condition, it very well may have cost me a couple of jobs or relationships due to ignorance and fear but I keep talking about it for some strange reason and, at least in my circles, it’s no longer a big deal. I’m still kind and humble and the same person I was before, I just have a condition.

 

I think that’s what the world needs to see, that it’s just a condition and it doesn’t make killers or bombers or axe murderers, it’s just a disease.

Schizophrenia and Dating, One Example

It started innocently enough. I got there at 4:21, we had joked about being old and eating dinner at 4:30 so I proposed, at the very least, beers. She was a kindergarten teacher and it was a Monday afternoon, Presidents day. A day when she’d be off work. I sat down at a table in the corner and ordered a hoppy beer called ‘Conniption’ from a waitress that seemed to young to be serving beer, she had a sweet smile that I thought could be trouble once my date arrived. All I knew of the girl was that she was into live music, enjoyed beer and had a bit of a bite to her. I had said that I’d be free in a couple of weeks and she came back with a proposal for Monday, I said “I guess that would work” and she immediately shot back “You guess?!, I’m flexible.” It’s hard to convey that kind of bite via text message but she had done it and me being the cautious calm man I am, I backed down immediately and agreed to Monday afternoon. This already felt like dangerous footing. For some reason the fact that she would retort like that spoke to an ironic craziness or at the very least a dangerously inflated ego.

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Sometimes You Need to Be Talked Down

I’m stable. At least that’s how I usually am.In the ten years I’ve lived with schizophrenia I’ve managed to find a pretty strong footing for my life. I take my meds and go to therapy and practice my social skills and hell, I even have a job, which is more than a lot of people with schizophrenia can handle.

That said, there are times where the stars align for madness and you lose yourself in being overwhelmed with feelings or thoughts that confuse and delude you.

This past week was one of those times for me.

I was so lost in a certain idea that I started to lose my grip on reality. It was almost like a sickness, a fever of the mind where no matter how hard I tried, no matter what I told myself, I could not shake this completely unrealistic idea.

To say it consumed me would be an understatement. Read More →

How to Ask For Help In A Crisis

I have lived with schizophrenia for eight years. In those eight years I have gone through cycles of wellness and while it primarily gets better with each passing day, there are still periods here and there where life becomes too overwhelming or where I push myself too hard and then I feel the intense crushing weight of existence on my shoulders.

In those times I tend to retreat, not only to my apartment but into myself. I lay there on my couch staring at the TV, emotions flowing through my spine and it’s all I can do not to keep myself from crying.

Sometimes the feeling lasts for only a day or two, other times it builds until there’s a tipping point where I make some declaration of exasperation and throw my family into a tizzy of worry.

Yes it’s been ten years, and yes I’m getting better at recognizing my moods and the way things are going but there are still nights where I would be ok if I didn’t wake up in the morning. Read More →