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How Getting a Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis Changed My Life

The knowledge that I have schizoaffective disorder is a recent development. Yet despite its unexpected nature, the news makes sense looking back.

My brain is more like a maze than a straight shot, as the doctor who diagnosed me explained. I had come for a neuropsychiatric evaluation originally in search of an ADD diagnosis, due to my convoluted thoughts, difficulty with time management and inability to concentrate. The testing had in fact concluded I exhibit impaired reality testing, but no evidence of attention problems. My concentration is interrupted by my attempts to distinguish my imagination from reality. Despite having figured out from research I have psychotic experiences, I viewed it as a symptom of my bipolar mood swings and the stress of my borderline personality disorder.

Not anymore.

My thoughts are so disorganized I lack the ability to absorb more than one piece of information at a time. I struggle to follow conversations. Although I consider writing one of my gifts, my first drafts are often muddled and confusing to the point of me coming off as a young child. In writing workshops, I have been told that my information is jumbled and that it’s difficult for readers to tell when one idea ends and another begins.

I additionally have difficulty following instructions and converting them to long-term memory, thus the struggle with math. Arithmetic requires following and memorizing formulas and applying learned skills to new concepts.

I experience thought insertion. The phrases and words by which I am bombarded with were originally mistaken to be part of my anxiety. Yet I have identified one key distinction — the inner statements stemming from my neurosis are in first person. Examples would be, “I am ugly,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m going to fail.” Statements coming in the form of psychosis are in second person.

Words such as “ugly,” “failure,” and “stupid” echo inside my head. The dreaded phrases include “You are a liar,” “go away,” “they’re after you,” and “hurry up.”

I didn’t realize what was happening for the longest time. It is a scary and condescending experience.

These are separate from my hallucinations, which primarily involve musical noises. I hear pop songs as well as classical masterpieces, floured in the room. They are my companion from either a radio or a disembodied source. An organ plays occasionally, bringing in thoughts of death. Noises from video games bounce around inside me, despite the fact that I rarely play them anymore. Though interestingly, my first hallucinations were when I played Nintendo. It was the music from the new Super Mario Bros, one of my favorite games. I once used the bathroom in the middle of the night in the company of a giant spider. It was still on the wall in the morning. When I when I showed it to my dad, he laughed. As it turned out, the arachnid was far tinier than I had thought it to be.

My mind was playing tricks on me.

Paranoia is lovely, too. It was one of my earliest symptoms. I recall as far back as preschool being afraid to be eye-to-eye with people. They could read my thoughts and use them to hurt me. My delusion was I would be punished if I reveal my inner world.  It prevents me from opening up. I rarely approach others thinking that if we converse, they will discover how horrible it is inside my mind and be repulsed.

In my tween years, I had spells of thinking my celebrity posters were all staring at me, discussing how uncool I was, thus avoiding my bedroom. My electronics and celebrity posters were judging me harshly.

My functioning is impacted by negative symptoms as well. I have low muscle tone, awkward posture, movements, and my coordination is off. Since my movements, speech and cognitive functioning are slowed down, in school it I took longer to complete tests and I had to spend more time on homework and essays. I was viewed as lazy and a lost cause by uncaring teachers, despite my intelligence and strengths. My inappropriate expression of emotions would also led me to smile and laugh while telling sad or serious stories. During times of joy, my words were flat and fake due to anhedonia.

Although these symptoms are distressing, I am closer to being properly medicated. Though it is a lot to take in, my new diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder has provided me with the tools to reflect on my past.

Yes, I am quirky and odd.

Yes, I do not have many friends.

Yes, I am easily exhausted, and I struggle with simple tasks.

Yes, I fumble over my words.

Yes, I have trouble thinking.

But I understand why now.

My struggles have a new name.

Schizoaffective disorder.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741..

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