You Don’t Have to be Limited By Your Illness

I’ve fallen into the trap many times that there are simply things I’m not capable of doing because I have schizophrenia.

While it may be more difficult to do those things with an illness like that, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be limited by your illness.

In the past 17 years since being diagnosed, I’ve done a lot of stuff that may seem impossible for someone in my situation; things like writing 4 books, being featured in some major news publications for my writing, having my photography displayed at places like Google or E-Trade, and starting and running 4 different businesses.

That’s not to say that you have to go above and beyond if you’re not up to it.

Simply, you shouldn’t let the fact that you have a major mental illness stop you from doing anything you want to do with your life.

I’ll admit that I have been blessed by receiving disability payments and family support and those have allowed me to work on things without fear of destitution.

I will also admit that without those things, accomplishing things would be a good deal harder and I respect that argument whole-heartedly.

What I’m saying is that if you feel compelled to do something there’s not a lot (including your illness) that can stop you.

You can find a way.

I’d also like to recognize that rest is essential in the whole process and that things take time to build up.

Whatever you plan to do probably isn’t going to happen in one day.

As people with mental illness we need to take our time to complete the things we want to do but the adage is true that, if you do a little everyday, pretty soon it will build up into something extraordinary.

We, as people with mental illness are extraordinary simply by existing. It’s been shown that we’re among the smartest and most creative that society has to offer and even with our limitations we have great capacity to do amazing things.

I often wonder if at some point in the future someone will come across my story and be amazed at the things I was able to accomplish given my diagnosis.

I hope that I will somehow be able to inspire others in the same boat but I’m gonna stop talking about that because I want to remain as humble as I can.

The world is your oyster though, and you have the ability to build something great.

Funnily enough, it helps that we’re in a place with our diagnosis where the world doesn’t really expect a lot from us to begin with, we’re kind of on the fringes and regarded as people who don’t have to contribute to society.

If we do though, we’ll be recognized for how much we’ve done given the circumstances and in many cases, due to our innate creativity we can do things that go above and beyond what society expects of even normal people.

The point is, we don’t have to limit ourselves, we don’t have to be told that we’re defective and we don’t have to let our illnesses dictate what we do with our lives.

We are capable of great, enormous things.

We just have to be cogent of where we put our energies and be careful not to overdo it or burn ourselves out.

If you want to go back to school and get your masters or doctorate, you can. If you want to write a book, you can. If you want to start a business, you can do that too.

No matter what it is, you’re not alone in this and you can do it.

I have faith in you.

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

As a person living with schizophrenia, I face challenges normal people don’t seem to have to deal with.

Namely, I don’t have the energy or capacity to take care of myself all the time.

This means that I get into phases where sometimes my sleep suffers, or I forget to take my meds, or sometimes I’ll overthink myself to the brink of collapse and not remember to do things like eat (or eat too much) or shower.

Sometimes I get so hyped up on a project or an idea that I’m working on that I don’t give myself the proper time to rest and re-collect myself.

I’m usually the first to recognize when I’m doing this stuff, and when I do, I’m careful to step back and essentially remind myself to be kind to myself.

Another facet of this is when I bombard myself with negative self talk and bury myself in a pit of depression and anxiety.

I’ve gotten better at this over the years and have to take the time to objectively notice my own positive attributes and also find the positive in the things I’m not necessarily a fan of.

All that said, I realize the great importance of taking care of myself as someone with a major mental illness.

We’ve all heard the adages ‘Be Kind to Yourself’ or ‘Treat Yourself’ and as important as those things are to someone who is neurotypical, I’d argue that they’re even more important to someone with mental illness.

It’s just all too easy to lose yourself and forfeit priorities when you’re in the haze of delusion, paranoia, anxiety or depression.

One of the major roads to collapse as a person with mental illness is not being cogent of how you are, what are you doing, and what you need to do to support yourself.

Meds are a big one.

It’s incredibly easy to forget to take your meds sometimes, even though we need them to maintain our stability.

The other big one is hygiene.

Sometimes it just feels as though small repetitive chores like this are an inconvenience and a bother and it’s all too easy to just let them go.

In those cases I try to remember just how good a shower feels and how nice it is to be clean.

The fact is, we all struggle with stuff like this from time to time, mental illness or not. When you are compromised though, it seems easier to let the important stuff like taking care of yourself go.

I think the key is routine.

Organizing your days so that you know what you need to do, and when to do it.

That makes it easier to remember, it also takes the pressure of making decisions off your shoulders.

Instead of thinking about doing it, it’s just what we do, it’s a habit (or it will become one if you make it into a routine)

Overall, Taking care of yourself is essential. not only for good physical health but also mental wellness. \

If you’re struggling, know that you are not alone and many many people struggle the same way.

If you’re careful and prioritize being kind to yourself, it can make living with this stuff so much easier.

You got this.

The Spoon Theory

There’s a famous blog post written by Christine Miserandino called The Spoon Theory (click here) which details a metaphor she came up with to explain fatigue due to chronic illness to her friend.

This theory has gone on to spawn a thriving online community who refer to themselves as spoonies and has been detailed in numerous publications from WebMD to Healthline.

Christine came up with the theory when she was at a diner with her friend and her friend asked her what it was like to live with chronic illness.

Trying to find something to illustrate the struggle, Christine used the example of spoons. She related the spoons to the amount of energy she had each day to do normal everyday things like chores, tasks, errands and seeing friends.

Essentially, each activity required a set amount of spoons that needed to be spent in order to complete that activity.

She explained that neurotypical people (normal people) or those without chronic illness seem to be dealt an unlimited set of spoons throughout their day allowing them to complete all their tasks like normal.

Chronically ill or neurodivergent people (people with mental health issues) on the other hand seemed only to be dealt a limited number (Say 5). Because of this, those who are suffering with illness need to be very diligent about how they spend their spoons.

I remember when I first read this, it blew my mind and finally gave me a basis to explain why I had so little energy to do things during the day.

I had always worried that I was just lazy, but the phenomenon is very real and it’s called executive dysfunction.

It seems that most people who are suffering with mental illness are familiar with the feeling of not being able to do everything they’d like to because they simply don’t have the energy.

It takes a lot of work to deal with mental illness and chronic illness in general, and there’s so many things neurodivergent people have to take into account through their day that their energy is always sapped pretty quickly with just the most basic tasks.

They just don’t have enough spoons.

I, along with my family, have taken this theory to heart and still today, many years after I first introduced them to the idea, I’m able to tell them I don’t have the spoons when I just can’t get myself to do something.

This theory has changed the way my family sees the everyday implications of living with mental illness and it’s brought clarity to so many people that just didn’t have a way of explaining the energy expenditure of dealing with chronic illness day in and day out.

It’s important to know, as a person who’s struggling, that what I’m feeling is not uncommon, that it’s been well documented and that there’s even a name for it.

Labels for the things you’re going through provide a sort of stability and comfort in that, whatever it is, it’s not just happening to you.

Today I am still a proud spoonie and I use the metaphor consistently to explain what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

I’ve included a link to the original post here, maybe it will help those of you who are struggling everyday and give you a better understanding of why you are the way you are.

It’s a great read for your family as well.

All in all, It’s important to know you’re not alone in how you feel and there are reasons for the things you do. You’re gonna be ok.

Dealing with Psychotic Connections

There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re psychotic, everything seems to matter to an enormous degree. This includes things like errant words you see, nuances of people’s speech and body language, movements people make, lyrics in songs, random numbers you see, titles of books and even things commercials say on tv.

Being hyper-aware, everything has significance of some kind.

In the midst of all this you start to realize that a lot of the stuff you see relates to a lot of the other things you’ve experienced. Could they be connected?

Pretty soon you’ve accepted these coincidences and start to see them in everything, further you start to look for them, sometimes to the detriment of common sense.

These connections eventually start to affirm your delusions and it goes deeper and deeper until you’ve completely lost touch with reality.

This process occurred in a big way for me when I first started experiencing psychosis. Everything I saw was some message or indication urging me to follow it, making most of my decisions for me and leading me into a pretty delusional state.

These connections, as they’ve been referred to, are a common experience for people undergoing psychosis.

Sometimes, they take on the character of something larger, esoteric and divine in your mind. They are essentially your conduit to speaking with God, The Universe, The Aliens or whatever particular higher energy you ascribe to. As such, they take on a strong significance that’s very hard to ignore.

This is part of how I came to the conclusion that I was a prophet meant to bring peace to the world.

Of course these connections are and were not real and I had essentially just fallen into psychosis.

The point of all this is to, first, make people aware that the psychosis people with schizophrenia experience, though not real to the general population, is very real and very significant to those dealing with it.

Second, it’s crucial to realize that this psychosis can give people a sense of being important, powerful and in control in a world where they seem to be entirely overlooked and rejected. That’s why it’s so hard to dismantle.

Imagine living life as you would normally, with all your beliefs and behaviors and your collected knowledge about the world and then one day a doctor comes and tells you that all that stuff is wrong, that you’re imagining everything and that you’re insane, further you have to take these pills everyday for the rest of your life in order to fit in with correct society or they will put you in the hospital.

What would you do?

That’s the experience for people with psychosis and realizing that I think is a major step in caring for those people.

It can be a hard thing to deal with but if you’re a caretaker or a parent, take it easy and take it slow on your loved one.

Getting back to stability requires an entire paradigm shift and an entire reframing of what the world really is and how it works.

These connections are just the start of things that need to be addressed and as a person with schizophrenia, they can be hard to let go of.

There are also a whole host of other facets of the illness that need to be dealt with but connections are a start.

Patience is key and it’s ok to get overwhelmed whether you are patient or a caregiver.

Trust that everything is going to be ok and it will eventually work out.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel and though it will take time, you can get there.

Am I Actually Talking to God?

I’ve discussed the voice in my head here before. It’s the one that seems to always have the right advice, knows what to do, and reassures me when I need it but I’ve always been unclear on where the voice comes from.

In esoteric circles, people talk about connecting with your higher self. As though there’s a part of you that’s on a higher vibrational frequency than your everyday self, the one that you know as you who interacts with the world and carries on in your everyday business.

This higher self is likened to the idea of a type of god, but that god is within you and is you.

Essentially the idea of god is you connecting with the universe on a higher vibration than what you’re feeling as a normal everyday person.

Alternatively, the voice could be the voice of God himself in the christian sense, and I have been chosen to be able to speak with him personally but, to be real, that feels a little too delusional for me and I’m not entirely comfortable with being a conduit to the almighty.

Further still, this voice could be nothing more than my conscience, if that’s something that has been proven to exist.

All I really know for sure is that if I’m wondering about something or if I ask myself a question there’s always an answer that pops up from somewhere in my head, and for some reason, it seems to be much wiser than me.

I’m hesitant to say that it came about with the onset of my illness but I know that I was never that concerned and cogent about what I was doing in high school.

Perhaps it’s a facet of being hyperaware of every tiny thing that’s happening thanks to my paranoia and I am only noticing the voice because I’m very focused on listening to myself now.

Regardless, this dialogue occurs in my head everyday when I’m wondering about something or thinking about a correct course of action for something in my life.

The “Higher Self” explanation seems to fit the best for it but I’m not sure I can ever know, for certain, where this voice comes from.

Another explanation for it, I’ve derived from the third man factor, a mysterious phenomena that’s been reported throughout history where an unseen presence, such as a spirit, provides comfort or support during traumatic experiences. The first common report was by Sir Ernest Shackleton in his 1919 book ‘South’ that detailed his harrowing journey exploring Antarctica where he described the feeling of an incorporeal companion that joined him and his men on the journey ensuring their survival.

Maybe the voice is my incorporeal companion.

Overall though, I don’t know where it comes from, I’m just happy to have it along for the ride.

It has saved me from making innumerable mistakes and it always seems to know the best course of action for what’s happening in my life.

At this point, I’m not concerned with whether talking about this voice will make me sound crazy because, with my diagnosis, I’m already certifiably insane.

Suffice it to say, I’m happy the voice is there, and I’ll listen to it for as long as it points me in the right direction.

Schizophrenia’s Effect on Family

I can remember the weeks after coming out of the hospital and moving back in with my parents, it was a scary time, to say the least.

I was riddled with paranoia and delusions, my meds weren’t right yet and I was suffering from a host of side effects, and though I had been cleared to be released, I was still very very sick.

Remembering some of the things I did and said to my family in those weeks still haunts me, and over the years I’ve had time to look back on what I was like and sit in mortified embarrassment thinking on it.

At one point I was playing the piano with my mom and she reached over across my lap to play, and for some reason the first thought in my head was that she was trying to sexually harass me.

Another instance involved accusing my dad of cutting the brake lines in my car after we had replaced the brake pads.

I was a monster to my family in those early days but I hope they realize that I was just trying and suffering in a really really bad way.

The fact is, schizophrenia (and any mental illness) can really test a family. For many it’s a breaking point causing division. I even remember my mom telling me, later on, that she even went to her own doctor for depression over my behavior.

I count myself incredibly grateful for the strength and the love of my family in those days, and I realize that that type of stuff can just be too much for some families.

My parents’ love was never more apparent than when they chose to educate themselves as much as possible on mental illness nearly the moment after I received a diagnosis. They went to the bookstore and bought every book they could find on my condition in an attempt to understand, even just fleetingly, what this meant for me, and them, and the family.

Later they took it upon themselves to attend and even teach a class on having family members with mental illness.

I worry I never properly thanked them enough for taking that initiative because that class changed everything they understood about mental illness. It gave them a basis and starting point for understanding the reality of what this diagnosis meant.

Mental illness can be incredibly tough on families if they don’t understand it. It can cause resentment, divorce, and sometimes even homelessness. Many times, they don’t even understand that something is wrong with their loved one and they justify the behavior by saying they’re just looking for attention or they took too many drugs; if they just stop, things will go back to normal.

It doesn’t seem to really click until a diagnosis by a healthcare professional confirms mental illness. And even then, they could refuse to believe it as anything other than personal shortcomings.

Mental Illness and schizophrenia though, are very real, and they’re there for life.

In my experience the best thing a family can do when they have someone newly diagnosed with mental illness is to educate themselves, attend classes and look into support groups for learning how to take care of their loved one.

Know that it’s a long hard process to get back to stability and understand that the suffering their loved one is experiencing is sometimes too hard to explain in words.

Be there for your loved one, that’s really all they want and need, just be there.

Talk without criticism when they want to talk and just love them to the best of your ability.

The knowledge that someone is with you and has your back can make or break recovery for those diagnosed, it can mean the world in that dark place.

It will be hard, and it will be long but eventually you’ll get to a point as a family where things are easy again, and where things are stable.

You’re not alone in this struggle and you can make it out the other side. I know this and my family knows this.

It’s gonna be ok.

Learning to Pull Back

Things in my life seem to take the characteristics of waves.

What happens is that, feeling stagnant, I’ll start to take on projects or set goals for myself in an attempt to break the nothing feeling, and, realizing it feels good to improve myself and get out of the funk, I’ll say yes to more things.

During this time I’ll get excited about potentialities, I’ll start dreaming of life with all these new facets that I’ve learned and new things that I can be proud of.

It’s a thrilling feeling so I’ll try to do more things until inevitably I’ll get to the point where my brain just blitzes out and I can’t handle the responsibilities I’ve taken on any more.

At that point I’m forced to quit what I was doing to regain a handle on myself and just chill the hell out.

Eventually, though, I’ll feel stagnant again and the cycle will repeat.

My mom has always said, in regards to my illness, “You know what you can handle.” And I do, but sometimes I forget that it’s all too easy to lose myself.

Because of this, the illness has been an exercise of learning to pull back. That is, learning to evaluate where I am with things and let things go if they’re too much, or if I find myself trying too hard.

This is an almost constant process, not only with projects that I take on but with things like being in public, talking to people, or even just spending too much time and trying to do too many things on the internet.

Most of the time I’ll lose sight of things for a week or two and frustrate myself until I realize that I need to take a step back.

I don’t necessarily think this is a problem stemming from my mental illness, as I can imagine many many other people do the same thing, but when you hit a wall with schizophrenia, it’s a total knockout and it can cause some scary stuff like paranoid delusions, depression, or even psychosis.

You have to be very careful with this stuff and it’s a delicate learning process. 16 years out and I still don’t have a firm grip on things, but I’m always getting better. Everyday is a new learning experience.

I think the point of all this is to say that it takes time to recognize the waves in your life.

I think everyone experiences some variation of what I’ve described and getting a handle on the way you do things is, seemingly, a part of growing up.

Life is a long series of learning experiences and we can choose how to act and how to react to the things we’re presented with.

We can choose to take action and we can choose to let things go, and learning when to do either of those things is a pretty intensive process.

It’s ok to get overwhelmed and it’s ok to feel stagnant but I think the goal is to create a life for yourself that is a healthy balance between too much and too little.

Just enough to keep you engaged, but not so much that you burn out.

Overall, I’m still learning, and I think that’s good enough. I’ll get there someday.

The Persistence of Delusions

When you have to contend with delusional thinking, life can get hard.

Many times I’ve been so confused by whether or not something was actually happening that I made serious mistakes acting on those things.

I have hurt people and I have ruined friendships and relationships over my delusions.

I regret those things immensely and I have fought my delusions to the bone, time and time again, but here, 16 years later, I still experience thoughts that have no basis in reality.

Delusions are incredibly persistent and sometimes no matter how much work you do to combat them, or hell, accept them, they still come up and bother you, sometimes when it’s incredibly inconvenient.

A particularly insidious delusion I still have tells me that people hate me, that they’re judging every action I take and deciding actively to shun me and ostracize me.

Of course the reality is that people don’t actually care much about what anyone does and they’re mostly concerned about themselves, but still, day in day out, my brain tries to find reasons why people don’t like me.

As you can imagine, I’ve kind of folded in on myself and don’t really make an effort to meet people or even be around people because my brain is telling me that I can’t trust them.

To say the least, it’s caused me a lot of pain.

I continue to wonder why these delusions are so persistent even given my rigorous adherence to medication and therapy techniques and I think it’s because they play on your most deep seated traumas and insecurities.

Like it or not, that stuff is hard to come to grips with, and even when you think you’re out of the woods, it still creeps up and grabs you sometimes.

Over the years I’ve come to fully understand that my brain is, essentially broken, and like the people it tells me to avoid, I can never fully trust what it’s saying.

I’ve had to cultivate a sense of self that’s removed from the thoughts that are going through my head purely as a means of self protection.

It’s still easy to get lost in the fog of these thoughts, but when I realize that something I’m thinking is upsetting, I’m able to step back and evaluate the thoughts. 9 times out of 10, they’re irrational and have no basis in reality.

Realizing that is freeing, but I would still give anything to not get so lost.

My delusions though, have taught me many lessons, they’ve instilled a thick skin and they have been an integral part of what makes me who I am today.

Sure they’ve been inconvenient and many many times have been the bane of my existence but they’ve showed me things and they’ve taught me things not only about myself, but about the reality of human nature that would be difficult to learn in any other context.

It’s hard to be grateful for them but I am, and I know how hard it can be to live with them.

To anyone reading who experiences persistent delusions, I’m with you, remember, you’re not alone in this.

While they may never go away completely, you can learn the tools to help deal with them.

Therapy is your friend, self awareness is your friend and introspection is your friend.

I know what it’s like to live with this stuff and others do to. Also, your family and friends will always have your back no matter what your delusions tell you.

It’s ok to be haunted by stuff like this and it doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t make you crazy.

You have help and you’re gonna be ok, I promise.

What to do When You Get Overwhelmed

Sometimes it happens suddenly, sometimes gradually, but we’ve all been in a situation where we can’t focus because there’s too much going on.

This morning I was trying to learn and understand a new project and suddenly it was like my eyes crossed and my brain blanked out. I just could not make heads or tails of what I was looking at. Thankfully my inner voice spoke up and said, “this is too much Mike, put it away.” It was like I had blown a fuse.

The point is, I’m very familiar with what it’s like to become overwhelmed. It happens pretty regularly for me, mostly from being out in public or from being in places where there’s a lot of noise. Sometimes it’ll even happen if I’ve just spent too much time looking at twitter.

I think most everybody can relate when I say it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are things you can do to ease that feeling though and it’s important to realize that it’s not permanent and most times, all you need is a little rest to get your mind right.

This may seem elementary but one of my favorite ways of easing a blown brain is to take a nap. You don’t have to sleep, just lying down and closing your eyes for fifteen minutes creates a nice reset and helps you better collect your thoughts.

I realize that napping in the midst of a work day is a luxury I have being a writer, and is not something most people can do but taking a small rest is definitely doable for most.

If you’re at your desk, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for a minute or two. Breathe deeply and think about the breath going in and out of your lungs as your thoughts pass by. Congratulations, you just meditated.

After that, it’s probably alright to get up, walk around a little bit, go to the bathroom or get a snack and come back to your desk. Chances are, things will be a little clearer and you’ll be to focus more cogently on the project you’re working on.

Even if you aren’t in an office, this method can still help tremendously.

Say you’re in a loud public space with lots of people talking and you start to blank out a little bit.

Firstly it’s ok to escape for a second and go find a quiet area, but even if you can’t, just closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths as you focus on your breathing can calm down even the most extreme cases of being overwhelmed.

It’s ok to get overwhelmed, it’s ok to blank out, and it’s ok to lose yourself for a moment or two. Just remember that it’s a normal human reaction and it happens to the best of us.

Again, as I’ve said many times, you are not alone in this experience.

Millions of people feel or have felt the way you feel.

Just remember to take those moments for yourself when you can and you’ll be alright.

It’s Ok to Overthink

I’m guessing I’m not the only out there that has a tendency to think and overthink things to the point of exhaustion. In fact, I know I’m not.

Millions of people struggle with anxiety in their daily lives and one major facet of that anxiety is the tendency to overanalyze.

For me, my mind seems to mostly spiral on social interactions and money related issues sometimes to the point of ridiculousness.

“Did I say something off when I was talking to that woman? it seemed like the energy shifted. I think she looked at me funny like I said something I shouldn’t have. Did my face look weird? Did my voice sound ok? Does she think I’m weird. I better apologize in case I said something weird.”

A monologue like this can run through my head for hours and I yell at myself to stop, put a lid on it. Stop overanalyzing Mike.

Of course then, that only makes me angry at myself which causes more anxiety.

Having dealt with this for most of my life though, I’m here to tell you, It’s ok to overanalyze. It’s ok to be anxious and it’s ok to worry.

These are all natural human reactions to stimuli and while they may have served us well in the past when we had to deal with very real scenarios of life and death, these anxious reactions don’t really have a place in modern society.

We can’t ignore them though, it’s smart to be wary of what’s happening in your surroundings and be prepared for eventualities, but when they cause us unnecessary anxiety it’s time to get a handle on them.

How do we do that?

Acceptance and acknowledgement.

In order to lessen the power these mental windstorms have, we need to realize that they’re normal and rational and ok to have.

You are not messed up because your thoughts are too overpowering. It’s perfectly normal to be anxious sometimes and it’s ok to overthink.

We have to accept and acknowledge that we are having these thoughts and sit with them. We have to get to know them and become familiar and friendly with them instead of constantly fighting them and trying to push them away.

Lastly, we have to acknowledge them as what they are, transient, floating thoughts that drift through our brains like clouds. We don’t have to hang on to them, we don’t have pick them apart. We can accept them as simply thoughts and let them pass.

Sometimes assigning a name to these thoughts helps too. Like, oh, that’s just my brain pest Phil who likes to mess with me. Get bent Phil.

I’ve used all these techniques in dealing with my intrusive spiraling thoughts and each one works in different ways.

Finally, one of the most powerful ways we can quell our pesky thoughts is to meditate, that is, to focus on something like our breath going in and out as we close our eyes and breathe deeply, even just a few deep breaths like this can calm our nervous system and make it easier to forget and let go of overthinking.

Believe me when I say that I am no stranger to overthinking and dealing with spiraling and intrusive thoughts. They have been part of my experience of schizophrenia from the very beginning and even before then so I know what it feels like to have them.

Trust me when I say that it’s ok to overthink. It doesn’t mean your weird and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy.

You probably just need to take a moment to yourself and get friendly with your thoughts.

Fighting them is only gonna hurt more.

Whatever happens, you got this.