The Tenuous Balance of Stability

Not only does it take work to find stability, but also to maintain it once you’ve found your footing.

Sometimes what’s required is a strict regimen of being faithful to your meds as well as your personal work or therapy.

You’ll find that it’s incredibly easy to slip up on one or another of these things and the result is an inevitable falling back into psychosis.

You may think, somewhere along the way that you feel better and you may even forget that you have a mental illness.

As a result you may become more lax on taking care of yourself and taking your meds but then, in a matter of time, things will start to get strange again.

I’ve been in that position a number of times and in my experience it’s not something I like doing.

In addition every six months, or every year or so you may find that your meds don’t seem to be working as well as they were, it could be a result of increased stress in your life or something else but there may be a very real possibility that you need an adjustment.

That’s ok, and it happens with me and pretty much anyone else who has to deal with this stuff.

Sadly, it’s a lifelong illness and though right now there’s no cure I still have hope for the future.

The point of all this is to say that maintaining your stability can be a challenge.

I can remember a few years back when everything seemed to be going well. I thought I was doing everything right but for one reason or another I got my wires crossed with the pills I was supposed to be taking,

I started taking less of just one of the 6 pills I take, thinking it wouldn’t make a difference. It was ok for a week or two but then I started to experience more paranoia.

I thought everyone was looking at me and judging me and I sort of fell into the delusion that I was being followed.

Things were bright too though, my thoughts were sparkling and I was able to form connections between things that I had all but missed when I was fully medicated.

It was exciting but it also scared the hell out of me.

I want to be in control of myself and I want to keep myself grounded so I called my doctor. Thankfully we got it sorted out and I was back on my way to relative stability.

Suffice it to say that I know what it’s like to lose your footing and while it may not bother some people to the degree that it bothers me, I think stability is important to maintain, no matter how difficult it is to do so.

If you’re experiencing abnormal symptoms or a relapse into delusional thinking, paranoia, and psychosis, I think it’s important to check in with your doctor and be honest about what’s happening.

They can help.

Also, no matter what happens with you in dealing with this illness, please remember that you’re not alone.

The Weight of Depression

It’s no mystery why a good amount of people living with schizophrenia or other major mental illnesses also suffer from depression, sometimes severe.

Be it a function of the illness itself or just the weight of dealing with the extreme circumstances of mental illness, depression is a very real concern.

Mood disorders and mental illness are essentially dance partners in that they move together and affect one another in different ways.

Symptoms of one disorder could trigger symptoms of the other and finding a balance where you can be stable is a long process.

It takes a tremendous amount of self awareness to realize when something is affecting you and manifesting depression.

A drop in mood can set off paranoia and even delusions.

Truly, depression is a serious concern for people living with major mental illness as well as those who don’t exhibit any other symptoms.

Depression can come on as a result of any number of things from the weather, to stress, to relationship issues, and even issues arising at work. It can also come out of nowhere.

In my case, most of the depression I experience is a result of seasonal affective disorder where people report depression symptoms as a result of the changing seasons.

Weirdly though, it’s reversed for me.

Summer is the worst time for me and I’m not entirely sure why.

Every year in the dog days of summer around mid July to August I get the overwhelming urge to just hole up in my apartment, disengage, and isolate.

I just feel miserable.

I’ve contemplated extreme measures like suicide hundreds of times in my life and it never seems to be as strong as it in the deep hot days of summer.

Depression also comes along for me when I’m worried about something for a long time. Most of the time it’s money or relationships but it’s also been times when I just didn’t feel settled, either in work or in life.

Thankfully there were meds to help and along with therapy, I found pathways to feeling better.

It’s an insidious disease though, it can affect every facet of your life to the point where you can’t even fathom getting out of bed in the morning.

It can even make you want to end things.

The desire to kill yourself is a dark and sharp knife that slices at you in the worst moments, it physically hurts to be that depressed.

I wouldn’t choose that feeling for anything.

This is all to say though, that if you’re suffering, I see you, I feel what you’re going through, I’ve been there more times than I can count.

I want you to know that you will eventually feel better.

Meds and therapy can help but time is also the great healer and although it may not seem like it, you’ll come out of it.

It takes an immense amount of strength to carry on when you’re walking through that dark valley but it’s important that you do.

It’s important that you take care of yourself and do what you can to make yourself feel better. Whether that’s calling your mom, or taking a shower or eating a good meal you need to treat yourself well.

Being kind to yourself in moments of darkness can save your life.

If you’re suffering, you can get through this and you can come out the other side. There is help for you if you want it.

I hope you’re ok.

If you or a friend are considering suicide The National Suicide Hotline can provide help for your suffering, Anywhere in the US, at any time just dial 988 and someone can talk.

How to Find Your Stability

The process of finding a relative stability after a diagnosis of schizophrenia or any other major mental illness can take a long time, sometimes years.

You have to contend with the symptoms of your illness (which may never go away completely), the stigma and the emotional toll of having mental illness, the various side effects of your meds, and relearning how to be a functional member of society.

I consider myself mostly stable (after 17 years) but I still have blips a few times a year, as I imagine most people in our situation do.

I still suffer from bad paranoia and anxiety, and I still fall into delusional thinking from time to time.

I think all of this is par for the course when you have mental illness and while we may not have asked for this massive disruption in our lives, it’s important to know that we’re not alone in dealing with all of this.

I can guarantee you that every complication, every hard time and every weird situation you’ve gone through with this stuff, another person has experienced.

How do we find our stability though? Or how do we find at least a stable foundation on which to stand?

Just like with any other big life change it requires a steady process of making small improvements to your life, to the way you think, and to how you interact with the world.

Every new day is a chance to do something to support your recovery.

It could be working on your sleep hygiene, and getting better sleep. It could be committing to take a shower and brush your teeth. Or it could just be the simple act of getting up out of bed.

These things can be extremely hard somedays but the fact that you’re choosing to do them means you’re trying and trying is all we can do.

Think of it like this, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day and your stability won’t be either.

If you lay one brick a day, and that’s all you can do, you deserve applause.

Eventually, as the days pass and you keep laying that one brick, you’ll get to a point where all of the bricks you’ve laid have built a house and you’ll say to yourself, “How the hell did I do that?”

As you built that house you also learned building techniques, how to use all the various tools you need, and all the little tricks that make building easier.

What I’m saying is that this house is your stability and you’ve learned the things you need not only to build, but also maintain this house that you now live in.

Just like a house, your stability will protect you from bad weather (negative symptoms) and give you a place of comfort to call your own.

Your house is your sanctuary, and your stability will be a sanctuary too, it’ll give you footing for making it through the day and even taking on bigger challenges if you choose to do so.

It seems incredibly daunting to get there when you’re first diagnosed but if you keep waking up, and keep placing that brick everyday you’ll get there.

All it takes is just one little piece of progress a day.

You can do it, and if you need help there are plenty of options for you.

We’re not alone in this, and we’re all rooting for you.

The Myriad Side Effects of Meds

Along with our daily regimen of medication for schizophrenia comes something that can be debilitating for a lot of people, the side effects.

Of course the benefit of the meds far outweighs the trouble we have to go through as a result of the side effects but still, it’s a sad situation that we have to go through these things at all.

I can remember, near the beginning, when I had just gotten out of the hospital and I was on a med called Abilify. While it worked pretty well for the delusions and the voices it gave me a horrible condition called akathisia where I felt like I was unable to sit still.

I had to constantly be moving my body in some way or else it felt like I was going to explode.

I had to relieve this incessantly so I’d take long three hour walks and walk on the treadmill at home constantly, because if I didn’t, I would feel like I wanted to crawl out of my skin.

The doctor said it go away eventually, but I suffered for a good two months before I had to finally stop that med and try to find something different.

Another thing they don’t tell you at first, is that finding the right combination of meds for your particular brand of crazy can be a years-long process.

It’s trial and error of finding something that both works well enough on your brain to be sustainable, as well as something that works with minimal side effects.

It must have taken me five or six years before I finally found a combination that worked well for me.

In the process I ran the gamut of everything from horrible rashes, to sleeping for 12 hours a day, to gaining nearly 80 lbs.

Even still, seventeen years out, we (my psychiatrist and I), have to make periodic adjustments in med dosage to maintain the level of stability where I can feel comfortable.

I still face challenges as well, things like high blood sugar and insomnia that I’ve had to learn to accept as trade-offs for feeling ok.

Many times I’ve remarked that the side effects can be just as bad as the illness itself.

This, however, is not meant to scare you away and discourage you from taking meds though, as I believe anyone with major mental illness needs theses meds to even survive.

This is meant as a sort of preparation for the realities of living with a schizophrenia.

I won’t lie that it’s a very hard life, but you will get used to it, you will feel better and it will become easier as time goes by.

The amazing thing about humans is that we have the ability to adapt.

Even to what seems to be horrible situations we adapt and we learn to get through it.

It makes us incredibly resilient as a result.

We are battle tested and we become ridiculously strong minded.

There’s not a whole lot that life can throw at us anymore that shakes us because we’ve been through the ringer and have lived to tell about it.

At least that’s how I look at it.

Sure it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, but the fight is worth it and once you’re on the stable side you’ll be one of the most incredible people anyone would have the pleasure of meeting.

I’m here to tell you right now that you are not alone in this fight, there a millions of us out here fighting alongside you and we can provide support.

It’s ok to reach if you need help and it’s ok to feel everything you feel as a result of living with this stuff.

It will get better, I promise you that.

The Religious Component of Psychosis

A common delusion among people with schizophrenia is that they have somehow been ordained by God to carry a message or to do something important.

They believe they are either prophets, angels or God himself.

In this thinking they are subsumed with the idea that they have been chosen for a higher purpose and have been given these visions and voices to lead them on a path of righteousness.

Many times they will focus on religious messages, scripture or iconography as a means to find direction for their ‘mission”.

I am no stranger to this set of beliefs.

In 2006 I took an impromptu trip to the United Nations believing I was a prophet and was meant to share a message of peace and balance with the world.

I had become increasingly involved with angelic and religious lore spending hours on the internet searching out information on angel numbers, mysticism, biblical conspiracies and aliens in religious symbolism.

I believed that information was being hidden from the world and that all of these things I was learning about were deeply connected in some way, and that if I could find a universal truth I could share it with the world.

I don’t know why religion seems to correspond so well with delusions and paranoia, but this phenomenon is well documented throughout history with the existence of witch doctors, oracles and other special “chosen ones” who were believed to have had a direct line to the gods within their belief structure.

I don’t know if there’s any truth to those beliefs but I do know that in lieu of suffering with hallucinations and the voices in my head, I would rather take my meds and be as stable as I can be.

I would rather be as grounded in the reality we’ve all agreed on as I possibly can.

I think the elusive nature of religion, that is, being wholly unsure if what we believe is actually real (not knowing if god, or heaven, or hell is real) leaves a lot of fertile ground for us to place our own singular (sometimes wildly misinformed) beliefs on and around.

Religion is open to a lot of misguided interpretation because no one can truly be sure that our beliefs are real.

That lends itself nicely to psychosis and I think it’s why religious concepts are so prevalent in psychosis.

The fact is, we all want to believe in something, we all want to wrap the mysteries of the universe up in some pretty little box and make them easily digestible, because frankly, the immensity of it is incredibly frightening and overwhelming.

None of us truly knows what’s real in this universe and we’re lying to ourselves if we say we do.

Schizophrenia and Love

Everyone’s deserving of love right?

There’s no one on this earth that deserves to be alone but for people with schizophrenia and other major mental illnesses, love and relationships can be incredibly hard to, not only build, but also sustain for a variety of reasons.

First, and I hate to say it but there still exists a pretty unshakeable stigma around the ‘schizophrenia’ label.

A lot of people associate that word with danger, instability, or even violence, and while the fact remains that more people with schizophrenia, in fact, happen to become victims of violent crime than perpetrators, the stigma remains.

In my own experience, I can remember being out on a first date with a woman who, with a straight face, asked me if I had ever killed anybody.

This stigma can be one hell of a red flag for a good number of people who have no experience or knowledge of the reality of mental illness.

Being someone with schizophrenia, I’ve seen this first hand and for a long time I just completely stopped mentioning it at all.

I would change the subject when I was asked what I write about, and I would steer the conversation away from any mention of anxiety or even depression.

Mental illness being one of my core personality quirks left very little to actually talk about as a result.

Another major hurdle to finding love as a person with schizophrenia is that, with my paranoid delusions, I find it incredibly hard to trust people enough to open up and become vulnerable.

Trusting someone fully can take me months if not years, and when you’re dating someone new there comes a point at which you have to open yourself up and get to know the person.

I was never able to get to that point because I could never grasp the possibility that someone besides my family had my best interests at heart.

I was terrified that they would hurt me or leave with no explanation and because of that I’d always break it off before anything got even remotely deep.

I am a wounded soul and I need to trust someone completely before I even think about opening up.

I can imagine this is the case for a lot of people with mental illness and it’s important to understand that if you love someone who’s sick, it can take time to form that trust.

Finally, in my experience of having to relearn how to function in society after a major mental break, social interaction still remains to be one of the biggest challenges of my life.

I’m always hyper aware of things like eye contact, how I’m moving, what I look like to people and the way that I’m forming my words.

Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to portray natural human interaction that I either come off as fake or just get too distracted in how I’m acting to even keep up with the conversation.

I know the answer is to just relax and be myself but for a long time I was confused about who myself even was.

It’s for this reason that I’m pretty deeply introverted and choose to keep to myself most of the time.

I get most of my interaction online where it’s safe behind a screen to be the person that I wish I was in real life.

The point of all this is to illustrate how hard it can be to find love as a person with schizophrenia or other major mental illnesses.

If it’s not stigma, it’s trusting someone or even just interacting in general.

To my fellow sufferers, I know you and I see you and I want you to know that you’re not alone.

And to those who love people with mental illness, be kind, be soft and take the time to be there for your person.

I can guarantee that if you do, it will be one of the most fulfilling relationships of your life.

The Complicated Nature of Your Delusions

At their strongest, my delusions tell me that I am somehow more important than I am.

They try to plant the idea that the world, and everything that happens in it, is either meant for me or a consequence of my own actions.

I know that I am just one singular man in a world of 8 billion people and the things I do, say, or experience are just tiny little blips on the tapestry of existence, but when I’m in the thick of my delusions I can become convinced that the things I’m experiencing are much bigger than me.

They point to a kind of grandeur. It can be even be scary sometimes.

I could lose myself in a song or a video or even a social media post thinking that it was made specifically for me, Mike Hedrick to see, and the rest of the two thousand or so readers are just collateral.

I find it so easy to lose myself in stuff like this and ruminate on it for hours, picking apart every word, every nuance looking for a meaning that altogether just does not exist.

It gets the best of me on more occasions than I’d like to admit.

Most recently, I’ve found myself entrenched in tarot reading videos on TikTok.

I was spending hours watching them on random thinking that they must be choosing me and that the spirit or God was trying to talk to me through these videos.

It sucked me in so completely because it would always be essentially the same message that I was about to receive incredible abundance or meet my soulmate and even now I’m having a hard time separating myself from them.

The promise of good things in my life and my apparent desperation for those good things fueled an unhealthy cycle of obsession searching for new information about my proposed wealth or love life that was hard to let go of.

That’s how delusions get you though, they prey on your most insecure points and make you think that you could have everything you wanted if you just did the right thing or believed hard enough.

I lost myself completely in those videos almost to the point of psychosis.

I think just a little longer and I would’ve been thinking I was a god or a prophet again and on my way to spread peace to the world.

Social media in general though, is dangerous for people with schizophrenia.

A recurring delusion I’ve heard time and time again is that people believe that something a crush posted online is about them.

The dangerous part is the very real possibility that it could be, instead of just a general statement, and that’s where it’s easy to get hung up.

I’ve even seen jokes on twitter saying something along the lines of “Hello if your tweet is about me, please include my full name at the end.” or “It’s pretty crazy that every hot girl on twitter constantly tweets about me.”

Suffice it to say that this delusion is pretty widespread and a very real phenomenon for a lot of people.

If you have a major mental illness though, it can be harder to distinguish the truth about whether or not something is directed at you.

The rule I use is just always assume that it’s not.

That’s saved me a lot of trouble.

The point of this whole thing is to say that delusions can come so easily and readily, that it’s easy to lose yourself completely if you don’t take a step back.

I know I need to disconnect at least twice a month to get a grip on my mental health and I’m surprised everyone else doesn’t actively do that as well.

You have to be careful, and you have to set some rules for yourself because delusions are all too prevalent when you live with major mental illness.

If you experience this, don’t be afraid to take some time to yourself every now and again.

Realize that you are not alone in thinking these things and center yourself when you can.

You’ll be alright and everything’s gonna work out if you keep these things in mind.

The Case for Taking Your Meds

It’s a strange thing that when you’re stable, you kind of forget that you’re sick.

Things could be going well, you could feel happy and you think, “Am I cured?”

Hopefully you’re aware that things don’t happen like that and schizophrenia or any other major mental illness is a lifelong condition.

Still, some people start to believe that their meds are either, not doing anything, or that they don’t need them anymore.

I, as a mental health peer and advocate, have to unequivocally refute that and tell you, yes, you still need your meds.

Aside from the stigma of mental illness in general on the public’s behalf, there exists a stigma among people with mental illnesses that meds are bad, that the chaos in your brain is good and that pharmaceutical companies and the government are just trying to keep you quiet and keep you in the dark by making you numb.

I used to think that too until I realized how much better it felt being numbed and quieted than battling these crazy thoughts day and day out. I

don’t want to be crazy and that’s why I adhere to meds.

There’s also the argument that back before modern society, people with schizophrenia were seen as healers, oracles or witchdoctors having a direct connection to the gods, and that if you take your meds, you lose that connection and mysticism of being at one with the universe.

I don’t know if that’s true but I can tell you that in modern society, those beliefs don’t serve us like they would back then.

Also, I take my meds and I still hear God, so that argument can’t be that sound. (that was a joke).

I can even remember that the only reason I started taking the meds in the hospital was to get out sooner, but I realized they were working against the voices and the delusions so I never stopped.

The point is, these meds were researched and engineered in order to give us a better life in today’s modern society.

They are there to help us, not harm us.

My brother always uses the expression “better living through chemistry” and he’s right, I do feel better and I’m able to do more things when I do take my meds.

I don’t want to battle day in and day out for scraps of sanity and I don’t wanna feel like I don’t have control over my own faculties.

I’m a proponent for taking your meds and I think it’s an important thing to do, not just for you and your thoughts, but also for the people around you who love you and don’t know how to interact with you when you’re out of control.

Recalling the feeling of thinking you cured, this happens to me all the time, I’ll forget that I’m actually sick and then for some reason, I’ll accidentally miss a dose and woohaa, here come the delusions.

I would like to not be subject to the inconsistencies of my broken brain.

I hope you feel that way too.

So I’m here to say, take your meds, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. It can be hard dealing with this stuff.

You’re not alone and you got this.

The Light Switch of Stress

I think something that isn’t that widely recognized is the effect of stress on symptoms of schizophrenia and mental illness.

It can be an almost immediate exacerbation, hence, why I refer to it as a light switch.

Stress has the amazing potential to worsen symptoms rapidly for people like me and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it in the moment besides meditate and/or practice breathing techniques.

Alternatively, there are always meds for anxiety and I count myself grateful for that option frequently.

How does stress exacerbate symptoms though?

One way is that it can activate anxiety which is followed pretty closely by eventual paranoia and delusional thinking.

It’ll be like something stressful will happen in our lives, maybe a friend or loved one will say something we perceive to be negative and that seed will lodge itself into our brain.

We’ll cultivate it by thinking endlessly on what they meant causing anxiety until we jump to a conclusion that serves neither us nor them (paranoia/delusions).

It’s almost frightening how something seemingly so small can have such a big impact.

We may lose sleep over it, we may ruminate on it and we may start to let that little word take control of how we see ourselves as a person.

These are all triggers to paranoia, delusions and a host of other mental illness symptoms.

Stress, essentially, seems to be just as bad for mental illness as it for heart health or diabetes.

There are things that help with stress in the moment that you can utilize though.

First, you can talk it out with someone objective to the situation. They’ll usually be able to reassure you that what you think is happening really doesn’t matter all that much. They can lessen the impact of what was said and free you up to move on to other things (that are probably more rooted in reality).

Another thing you can do if it’s still bothering you is put on some music, lay down and take a break by closing your eyes.

If you feel like it, you can meditate and focus on your breath, or you can think it through objectively by asking yourself what someone who isn’t involved would think.

Many times too, the music just acts a sort of salve for the pain of the thought. It can loosen it up so you’re able to dislodge it and let it go.

Finally, you can step back from yourself and notice that your thoughts are just thoughts. That is, they are just images or words that float across your mind like clouds.

You’ll notice that you’re grasping this particular one so hard and intently.

You can let it go though, you can say, “this is just a thought” and you’ll realize that it’s really no different from any of the other thoughts in your head, including the ones you don’t really pay any attention to.

Then you can just release it and it’ll float away too.

Suffice it to say that stress is not something that you would do well to pursue if you have a major mental illness.

Perhaps I’ve helped though, I don’t know.

These are things that work for me and there’s a good shot they’ll probably work for you too.

I want you to remember though, that you’re not the only one dealing with this stuff.

You definitely not alone.

You will get through it and you will feel better.

I know this.

Letting Go of Your Intrusive Feelings

If you’re anything like me you go through periods where you get so focused on things that you invariably lose yourself for a while.

Sometimes these things are small little nothings that you’ve overblown in your head, and sometimes they’re actual tangible worries that you have.

These obsessions could be about relationships, health, money or any number of things but those are the big ones for me.

Sometimes I’ll find myself so intensely focused on stuff that I’ll lose track of minutes or hours just ruminating.

Sometimes these obsessions can be painful too.

In these moments, you’re probably thinking really hard about how to solve a problem, planning so intently and rigorously for a future situation that makes you nervous, or overthinking and analyzing a situation to ridiculousness.

I’ve been caught in loops like this on and off for a majority of the time since I’ve been diagnosed and I don’t tend to tell anyone about them. They seem so personal or they seem so inconsequential that you worry you’d sound ridiculous if you said anything.

Sometimes though, saying something is exactly what you need to do, if you’re with someone you trust they’ll probably be able to talk you off that ledge.

Other times, you do speak and the person you’re with has no idea how to respond or what to say.

That can be tough because then you’re worried that you’ve alienated that person which, in turn, can cause a whole new loop.

As I said before, I tend to keep this stuff to myself most of the time but also I’ve taught myself how to lessen the impact of how it’s affecting me.

It’s a valuable exercise for people who overthink and it starts by just simply saying to yourself, “I accept and acknowledge this feeling” If you take those words to heart and you consciously do your best to accept the feeling, instead of fighting it, you can drastically lessen it’s power over you.

If you sit with the feeling and do your best to actively feel it completely, you’ll notice that it fades rather quickly.

At that point you realize it was just one little feeling or one little thought that you were grasping with every ounce of strength that you had.

You realize, now that you see it objectively, that it really didn’t matter all that much to begin with.

You can let it go if you want.

I’ve used this exercise with myself countless times over the last few years and it’s lightened my load drastically.

I’m at peace now with a lot of the stuff that really really bothered me for a long long time.

It may seem hard at first but once you get the hang of it you’ll realize you can use it for pretty much anything that bothers you, it it’ll take the power away from the problem almost immediately.

All said, there is a way to deal with this stuff, and to let go of things that bother you.

Like I said, you just have to accept them, sit with them and feel them instead of fighting and it will make a world of difference.

Hope this helps.

Remember, you are not alone in how you feel and you got this.