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.

Read More →

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 →

New Article at The New York Times!!

Hey guys,

just a heads up that I have a new article at The New York Times today.

Feel free to head on over and check it out!!

Click Here!

-Mike

 

New Column up at OC87 Recovery Diaries

Hey Guys,
Over the last several months I’ve been working on a new column on living with schizophrenia over at OC87 Recovery Diaries. Feel free to check it out if you like my work and thank you all so much for following along!!

Here’s the link: http://oc87recoverydiaries.com/mike-hedrick/

You Are Not Alone with Schizophrenia

In the eight years I’ve lived with schizophrenia I’ve seen horrible days and I’ve seen days where the sun seemed to shine just right on my face and strike a certain happiness in my soul.

Throughout everyday though, I’ve struggled with my thoughts.

There isn’t a day that goes by where a bit of panic doesn’t creep up into me. In those moments it can feel like the world is against you. It can feel like you are the only person alive who is feeling that certain kind of panic but I’m here to tell you that you’re not. Read More →

Facing Stigma as a Person with Schizophrenia

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia ten years ago. In that time, I’ve been able to stabilize mostly and regain a sense of self that was all but lost in the first few years I was sick.

As a writer, the next challenge is always, “What should I write about?” and to say the least, schizophrenia has given me so much to put on the page.

There are so many different challenges and facets that someone with schizophrenia experiences that to cover everything I’d have to fill a library.

I won’t lie that the illness is also a blessing though, writing about my experiences has gotten me bylines in some of the most prestigious publications out there and it’s provided a basis for self sufficiency. Read More →

Separating Delusions from Reality

In the midst of my most intense psychotic episode I thought I was a prophet.

I thought it was my job and my job alone to bring peace to the world.

I was receiving hidden messages that only I could see when I listened to the radio or watched television and I thought there was great evil coming to the world.

The clincher is, though, that although I was thinking all of this stuff, there was never any concrete tangible evidence that any of it was real.

At every turn my delusions that things were happening were rebuffed by everyday life.

Just one example was the hidden meaning I’d see in street signs that told me something, or told me to go somewhere, once I acted on that meaning though I was still just as lost as ever. Read More →

In Mental Illness, A Strong Support System is Essential

When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia eight years ago it was like walking in a fog. I was lost in my delusions, I was confused about what was happening to me and I was trying to grapple with what exactly reality was.

My family was suffering too.

They had no background with mental illness and no frame of reference about what to expect with it.

I had asked for help a few times but they just thought my skewed thinking was a result of smoking marijuana and that once I stopped everything I would be fine. It didn’t click for them until after my first major episode when they took me to the hospital and I was finally diagnosed.

I don’t recall a whole lot from those first few months but I’m sure my parents were racking their brains for an answer about what to do with their son. It was even disclosed to me later on that my mom had sought anti-depressants because she was so concerned. Read More →