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6 Things I've Learned About Myself and Schizoaffective Disorder a Year After My Suicide Attempt

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For the longest time, after checking myself into a hospital for suicidal urges, after a harrowing drive to the emergency room fighting my thoughts to just drive the car into the other lane or the ditch, I wanted to write about what I’ve learned about myself and what I’ve come to know about the world around me.

A year later, I couldn’t help but feel the need to write my story down as a reminder to myself.

So here is my list of seven things I have learned since my suicide attempt.

1. Stress brings on my episodes.

I have learned that by planning ahead weeks or even months in advance for things I know will be stressful in my life, I can better control when the “voices” come back and how powerful they are. This can be the difference between life or death for me.

2. Focus on pleasing myself before pleasing other people.

As much as I may hate to see others go through what I went through or any variant, sometimes I need to step away for a short moment instead of taking on too much from other people.

3. Stay clean.

If I don’t keep myself and my immediate environment clean, I allow my demons to come in faster. So I make sure to stay on top of that no matter how hard the depression may hit some days. Focusing my mind and body into cleaning can help quiet the voices some days.

 

4. Symptoms can come back at any time, so I try to always be ready.

Whether it’s one of the thousand voices I’ve heard or it’s not wanting to get out of bed one day to socialize, symptoms can hit even when I’m at what I consider my happiest place in years, so I try to be ready.

5. I don’t want to kill myself. I just want the voices to stop.

I would do anything to have a quiet mind. Just a few hours or minutes away from the thoughts I wish I wasn’t having. Just a few seconds away from the voices whispering in my mind, washing across my brain like smoke. I wish sleep would help, but in my dreams the voices are in control and I play by their rules. It ultimately leaves me feeling like there is no end in sight.

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6. The voices do not define me.

No matter what the people I tell about schizoaffective disorder may think, I know I’m always gonna be Cameron. Even if I don’t quite know who exactly that is yet because being so low last year caused me to lose myself, I’m still there, and it’s time to do what’s going to make me happy.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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How Getting a Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosis Changed My Life

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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.

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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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When People Are Surprised by My 'Rather Normal Life' With Mental Illness

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I am not defined my mental illness.

I have been called “crazy” so many times I lost count. I have been called “psychotic,” “schizo,” “not right in the head,” having “a few screws loose” and “not all there.” None of these really bother me because in a way it’s true.

What really bothers me is when people are surprised I lead a rather normal life. It’s as if they think I can’t or that I’m incapable of living a successful life. I can’t stand the ignorance of some people.

Just because I have a mental illness does not mean I just sit around and am lazy all day, every day. I work. I drive. I help support a family. I have a loving wife and a beautiful daughter, who I raise with my wife. I may have deficits, but I can still function just fine in society.

Right now, I’m in school for automotive technology. As of right now, I have a 3.3 GPA. By the end of my studies, I will have my associate’s degree. It may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind, I barely graduated high school. I have always been a mechanical person. I like to see how things work. I like to take things apart and put them back together.

I went to school to be a heavy duty diesel mechanic and did that for awhile. I loved it, but it was hard to find a job in that field. A lot of guys in the field have years upon years of experience and get paid very well. They don’t want to leave that kind of job. For me, coming in straight out of school with little practical experience, it was hard to find work. So I switched over to cars.

That was the best thing for me. Turns out, I like cars more than the heavy duty side. I have found something I’m good at, finally, and it feels good. I have gone through so much of my life doing many things at just an acceptable level. I never found that one thing I was exceptional at.

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Now, I have. I was meant to work on cars. It is one thing I know, without a doubt, that I excel at. Like I said before, I’m a mechanical person. So the work I do on cars is just the best fit for me. It may not be the best living. I may not have the best hours or working conditions, but that’s fine. If I can put in my eight to 12 hours a day and feel accomplished, then that’s fine for me.

I wish I would have found this out sooner. Instead, I wasted a good portion of my life searching for that one thing, and it was right under my nose the whole time. I have been obsessed with cars as far back as I can remember.

All in all, what I’m trying to say is that just because I have a mental illness does not mean I can’t lead a rewarding life. It does not define me. Just because I have schizoaffective disorder does not mean I can’t do my job. It does not mean that I can’t get or keep a job. It just means I have to try a little bit harder than everyone else, and that’s fine with me. I’m up for the challenge. Bring it on, I say.

I refuse to let this illness get the best of me. I will tell you that every single time. Don’t ever let anyone tell you just because you have a mental illness you can’t do something. Tell them you can do it, and do it well. Thank you for taking the time to read my stories,

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8 Things I've Learned From Having Schizoaffective Disorder

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1. Survival. Having a severe and persistent mental illness and simply staying alive can be a challenge at times. Although I’m happily married and have a job I love as a social worker, I feel my greatest accomplishment has been staying alive when I first got sick. Anyone who has a mental illness is a survivor, and it’s important for all of us with mental illness to remember that about ourselves.

2. Dealing with pain. When we feel pain, we have a choice. We can either get bitter and pass that pain on to others by being unkind, or we can say, “The pain stops with me.” We can add to the pain in the world or we can refuse to add to it. We do have to have an outlet for our pain, and instead of taking it out on others, doing something constructive like writing or exercise can provide a great release for what we feel inside.

3. The importance of compassion and kindness. Learning that struggle is part of the human condition, having mental illness has made me have much more compassion and show more kindness to people. It may be easy to have compassion towards those who are obviously in pain but harder to have compassion towards those who outwardly don’t appear like anything is wrong. The more we get to know people, the more we find out that they are struggling with something even when it isn’t visible. Many people would look at me and think by my appearance that I haven’t been through anything. Without me telling my story, there’s no way someone could tell I have schizoaffective disorder. Our stories aren’t written on our faces. Therefore, it is important to remember to always be kind to others because we have no idea of what they are going through. Accepting that we don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes can make it easier to show kindness to others.

4. Every encounter counts. I’ve learned that every conversation and encounter we have with people is very important. Every encounter is an opportunity to show kindness. I don’t begin to know what a person is going through, and if someone is really struggling, a kind word or smile can go a long way. If a room is completely pitch black, the light of a candle can light it up even though the light is very small. In the same way, a kind word or gesture can make a huge difference to some who is depressed.

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5. Don’t worry. I’ve learned the things in life I never thought would be possible have happened and some of the things I thought for sure would happen haven’t happened. Given this, I’ve learned I can’t predict the future and that it is detrimental for me to even try. When I try to predict the future, I worry. When I worry, I begin to feel depressed. It’s best for me to not worry and stay in the moment. Today is often enough to have to deal with. I need all my focus and energy to be on this moment and not tomorrow. I’ll think about tomorrow when and if it comes. Today I’ll point myself in the direction I want my life to go, and that is something I can control. Worrying will not be able to control what my tomorrow looks like.

6. Humility. I’ve realized how vulnerable I am with every mood swing and cycle. When you’re knocked to your knees time and again, you begin to realize you’re not in control. You look around and have more compassion when you see someone like you knocked down. And because you have humility and can relate, you don’t judge or look down on that person. I’m much less likely to judge others due to being humbled by mental illness.

7. How to get through hard times. Managing a chronic illness can be difficult, and thinking you may have to live with it your whole life may seem too overwhelming. Breaking it down into smaller increments of time can help. For example, take it one day at a time or one moment at a time. Mental illness has taught me to take it a moment at a time and not to get ahead of myself..

8. Patience and perspective. Going through mental illness has made me more patient. I know what it’s like to have to sit with pain, and that has stretched my amount of patience. Waiting for a medication to work when I feel bad means I must practice patience. I’ve been tried on over 30 medications, and through it I’ve developed a lot of patience and determination to find the right combination. That patience carries over into other parts of my life, and I don’t get irritated by small things like I used to. Living with mental illness puts things in perspective and makes me grateful for what I have instead of what I don’t have.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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What Being in a Psych Ward Was Like as a Person With Schizoaffective Disorder

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I gave them my cell phone. I surrendered my purse. I handed over the pen behind my ear. Made bare, I was scared. They put me in the “holding area” – their poor choice of words.

I entered a room with steel gray walls, a plank to sleep on, a flaccid pillow, and a thin blanket. The toilet did not have a toilet seat. It was all metal. Wetness was on the ground. I was not sure if it was urine or water.

They would not give me a toothbrush. Toothbrushes, I assumed, could be turned into weapons. Pencils and pens are also no-nos. Probably for the same reason.

This was my first bout with hospitalization with mental health since I was 23.

Eventually, a nurse called me to take my “vitals” – blood pressure, temperature, height, and weight. I adjusted the scale for him. I am over 200 pounds these days. I know which weight on the scale to use.

A psychiatrist and a cadre of medical interns came in afterwards and asked my suicidal intentions and ideation and history of mental illness. Did I have a plan to kill myself?

Of course.

“Does anyone in your family have mental illness?” asked the physician.

Yes.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression.”

The psychiatrist determined I was fit to admit.  However, I was not prepared for my first of three hospitalizations of that year.

Inpatient hospitalization is full of regimentation – when you eat, sleep, and go to group therapy and other treatments. The hourly programming could be rough or dull, but sometimes, a little light enters your mind and imprints you with a touch of wisdom that feels soft as a Persian cat or burning like stoked coal. My realization is I want a simple life without the stress of my former attorney jobs.

Inpatient is a time to evaluate your wants and needs – two entities that don’t always twine together. Some people are more “functional” than others. Sometimes they are scary. Sometimes you make friends. I met my roommate this way.

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I could only look forward to getting my medications correct, playing board games, and the food. I was fed like a queen – barbecued chicken, beef stew, baked cod, fruit, and oodles of Greek yogurt in peach or black cherry. My morning oatmeal had raisins, brown sugar, and granola. I will never get over the food.

At the end of 10 days of treatment, I felt a little hope as they give back my cellphone, purse, and pen.

But was I immediately better? Could I be immediately better? Not really, but I was in a better place than I was before.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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To My Younger Self in Crisis With Schizoaffective Disorder

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Dear Self,

This is you at 38 telling you what you will happen to you after you are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. This is my advice for you. Right now you’re 19, a freshman in college, in crisis, and can’t imagine having a future. You’re having severe depression, hallucinations, episodes of mania, suicidal thoughts.

Things will be difficult, but the pain you will endure will not be without meaning or purpose. You will be hospitalized and see many people like you, but that is where you will vow that if you ever get better, you will help others who are in pain.

With treatment, you will improve and learn coping skills and be able to function even with symptoms. Don’t ever lose hope, stay strong in your faith, and continue to show love to those around you.

Because of your experience with mental illness, you will change your major to social work and go on to get a Master’s degree in it. Because of this, you will meet people you never would have met had you not had a mental illness. You will help others with mental illness get treatment, help house the homeless, and have a job you love and get fulfillment from.

You will grow closer to your family, and as they see you improve from treatment, your mom will get treatment for the depression and social anxiety she had her whole life. You and your family will become more compassionate towards others. You will continue to have symptoms, but you will grow as a person in a way you couldn’t have if things were easy. The challenges will keep you humble and help you empathize with the people you work with who are struggling. You will help break down the stigma of mental illness by telling your story at mental health agencies and in faith communities.

You will find the love of your life and be happily married to a woman who is completely supportive of you. Together you two will face hardships but will only grow closer to each other despite mental health issues and medical problems.

You will grow stronger and more resilient than you would have been had you not gotten sick. You will learn to live in the moment, pray more, worry less, and become a better version of yourself. You will realize not only do you have a future but that it’s a more meaningful one than you could have anticipated before you got sick. Through the hard times, you will find who you were meant to be. So hang in there because the night will not last forever.

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If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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