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How Psychosis Changed My Safe Places

I have been so very blessed to have lived in dorms this year. I’m two weeks from wrapping up my first year at college. I would never have thought I’d be in this position. For so long I didn’t see college, let alone the dorms, as realistic to me because of my mental illnesses.

I’m so grateful though that I chose to move into the dorms. It was literally the best decision I could have made for myself this past year. I grew so much and really became more reliant on myself. I learned how to take care of myself when no one was around to make sure I ate or took my pills.

Most important of all, my dorm became my safe haven. Over the years, between the problems I have with certain neighbors and my mental health challenges, my home no longer felt safe to me. A big part of this stems from when I was psychotic.

When I’m in my living room, I remember the time I had a hallucination in front of my best friend. I screamed and started panicking. She got scared and ran to get my mom. That’s how she found out I had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

In my bedroom, I remember the delusion I had of two men following me and sleeping outside my window on the roof. I remember pacing the floor in circles because of the voices.

In my bathroom, I remember “waking up” from a hallucination, realizing I had given in to the voices and harmed myself.

In my parents’ room, I remember the nights I slept on their floor because I was too scared and too paranoid to sleep alone.

The memories of my house aren’t all bad and I can be there when I need to be, but moving into the dorms allowed me to start fresh. I had this new place that was all mine. I could make it how I wanted and start over. My dorm is my safe haven. It’s one place I have always felt safe. I can’t say that about many places.

But school is almost over. In a matter of days, I will be leaving my dorm, probably forever. I’m moving back into my house where my room is now in boxes and my walls are repainted white. I love my parents and this has nothing to do with them. It has to do with places I feel safe.

If I’m being honest, I looked for other options besides moving home for the summer. But I only have three months before I move back on campus and I have no job with means no rent money. So I’ll move back home and I’ll do what I always do: keep moving forward.

We’re all placed in difficult situations in our lives that sometimes we can’t get out of. What will determine the success of that situation is how we approach it. I’m trying to approach this summer with a positive attitude.

I’m making plans to keep myself safe, healthy and moving forward in life. For the time being, I will enjoy the little time I have left in my dorm. It’s not over yet.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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4 Things I Learned From Getting My Schizoaffective Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in the beginning of April. Having just been released from a psychiatric hospital and only feeling slightly better than when I had gone in, I was adrift in my own mind, the waves lapping over my leaky boat of sanity. I was said to have bipolar disorder in 2010 by a doctor in a psych ward, and that diagnosis followed me for the next seven years, never being questioned or tested. Finally, after seven years of medication not helping and my mental health worsening, a doctor at my new outpatient counseling center did a full psychological evaluation and determined that I did not have bipolar disorder. He explained I had schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective disorder is, according to NAMI, “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.” Even though I waited for years for the correct diagnosis, it was not in vain because I learned several things from the process.

1. It’s important to be your own mental health advocate.

My most recent stay at a psychiatric hospital — still carrying the bipolar diagnosis — showed me some doctors are more worried about what the insurance companies say. Still actively suicidal, I was informed that my insurance company and the doctor said I was ready to go home and would be discharged. I told the doctor, nurses, my social worker and mental health technicians about my active suicidal urges and plan, and none of them listened or believed me. Terrified of what would happen if I was discharged in such a state, I finally spoke with a different social worker and he interceded on my behalf. My medication was adjusted and the suicidal urges disappeared. Had I not continued to speak up, to be my own advocate, I may very well not be alive to write this.

2. Finding answers to why you are experiencing your mental health symptoms is possible.

After three years of a depression diagnosis and seven years of a bipolar disorder diagnosis — and still no answers to why I was psychotic with and without mood disorder symptoms — I had started to believe I was just flat out “crazy” and no one could help me. In the time leading up to my psychiatric hospital stay, I believed I was “insane” and there were no answers or help for me. Even when I was released from the hospital, not suicidal but still delusional and severely depressed, I doubted much could be done for me. But then I received my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, my medication was adjusted, and I was enrolled in an intensive outpatient therapy program. Slowly, things began to get better. Now, though I still experience some psychotic symptoms and depression, they are not anywhere near as bad as they once were. I am on the path to recovery, finally.

3. If your current treatment isn’t working, it’s important to take action to change it.

Prior to entering the psychiatric hospital this most recent time, I had been going to a counseling center. The medication they were prescribing me was not working, and each appointment I would explain this and the doctor would respond by raising the dosage of the medication. Finally, we reached the highest doses on all my medications. His response was to add an antidepressant to the mix, despite being aware that I have been put on nearly every antidepressant with the same results. My condition worsened and I was becoming suicidal. Finally, I realized this doctor and his treatment plan were not effective for me and switched doctors to the one who diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder. Not all doctors are of the same skill level, and not all doctors are a good fit for all patients. Being able to recognize when your care is simply not effective and doing something about it, is essential.

4. A support network is vital for mental health recovery.

I learned how important my support network was when I was first diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. I was terrified by the diagnosis, initially. My dad researched it online and explained it to me. My fiancé came with me to a mental health support group because my anxiety was so bad I could not go alone. My best friend reminded me what fun was by taking me out to eat and then to see a hilarious movie. My sponsor from Alcoholics Anonymous endured my string of anxiety-ridden text messages and reassured me that the meetings were a safe place and that no one would judge me because of my mental health. Without this support network, I could have very easily fallen into a deeper depression, isolating in my bedroom, pushing away the world. But my friends and family were there for me to help me when I could not help myself.

My diagnosis was delivered 10 years after it should have been. It would be easy to be bitter about that fact, but instead I am accepting of it because I have grown in my mental health recovery and as a person through this 10 year journey.

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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Staying Up When Your Mind Brings You Down

The world I live in doesn’t exist to the majority of the people around me.

I exist in the world with them, but my reality can be distorted. I have schizoaffective disorder. I hear voices and see things. My days consist of me silently mediating my thoughts around what I hear in my head. My actions and vocalization of opinion is closely monitored not only by myself, but by the committee in my head. Taking care of myself is hard at times. Interacting with others can be difficult.

As a former meth addict, I’m perpetually drawn to stimulants. Since I no longer use meth, I go for the safest, most accessible thing… caffeine. Caffeine is my fix. Sometimes large amounts of it. Despite many medication changes, I feel the caffeine is the only thing that elevates my mood and allows me to feel “normal.”

Now, there is a dark side to this. I say that caffeine makes me feel “normal,” but there is a price to pay that comes with it. This price includes mood swings, paranoia and anxiety. But the idea of living life as a Lithium-zombie just isn’t fun nor does it sound appealing. It’s as if the caffeine brings me up and I stay up.

Having this schizotype-disorder though makes going about my addiction hard. Sometimes I become so alert I just can’t be by myself and isolation is both an attribute of my disease of addiction and my mental illness. I love being alone, I love being around people. I just don’t love being paranoid and lonely. I think too much. I even criticize myself before the voices in my head can. Currently I am trying to decrease this problem with caffeine. It’s been a year long process, but my desire to not be ridiculed by the voices for self-medicating is growing. I don’t know if I can achieve this feat.

I don’t even know if there is another option. I have picked up the habit of meditating, but it is very hard to do so when you can’t achieve silence. Auditory hallucinations take away my prayers, my hopes and even invade my dreams. All I want is someone to hear my cry for help. I no longer want to be standing in this world surrounded by loving people and feel so alone. I want to be present and not a zombie. I want to interact and not overthink my ability to communicate. I want to be able to be alone and look in the mirror and smile, not cry.

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Why Your Ignorance About My Schizophrenia Could Cost Me My Life

I’m passionate about sharing my story, and adamant those who struggle with mental illness should not be ashamed. But I can’t just talk the talk; I have to walk the walk. That means looking old acquaintances from high school in the face around town, even when I want to hide. I am open about my diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean it’s not awkward. It doesn’t mean I don’t wonder if people feel bad for me or think, “Wow she’s pathetic. Why does she tell everyone her problems?” Because I don’t broadcast all my problems online. I do keep parts of my life private. There is more to me than my illness. I have secrets. I show one small facet of myself online. Sharing my diagnosis was a conscious choice I made to raise awareness and fight stigma.

I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t bother me or that I don’t care when people look at me like I have two heads. I do care. I’m open about my illness anyway because if people like Elyn R. Saks, Susanna Kaysen, and Sylvia Plath didn’t share their story, I wouldn’t have even made it out of the hospital, much less gotten my life back. They got me through my darkest moments, and I feel as though I’ve been passed the baton.

So here is my story: I have bipolar type schizoaffective disorder. It means I have a mood disorder (in my case, bipolar disorder) accompanied by symptoms of schizophrenia. It’s a physical brain disease — not a spiritual crisis, not a result of bad parenting, not any sign I am possessed (yes, these have all been suggested to me). Individuals with schizophrenia have a deficit of gray matter in the brain. It’s a disease with a physical cause like heart disease. I have to take medication, and if I don’t my delusions and hallucinations could lead me to lose touch with reality. 

Sometimes I think there are chemicals in the water, that the government is poisoning us. People tell me the idea of mental illness was invented by Big Pharma, that it’s all a scam. Sometimes I believe them and get to thinking that, if I could just get to a clean water source, my symptoms would go away. I stop taking my medication and after a few days, all my symptoms return. I can’t tell if I dreamt something or if it actually happened. I get angry with my sister or my boyfriend for things they said to me in a dream. I start seeing shadow figures follow me around. I get a feeling deep in my chest that someone is following me, planning to murder me the minute I let my guard down. I become paranoid, unable to focus, unable to speak clearly without extreme mental effort. I spiral, losing touch with reality. I can no longer determine between the world in my head and the world outside of my head: the real world. 

This is all because someone told me I just needed to pray more, I just needed to try harder, I just needed to get off my medications. That I’m not sick; I’m special. That I’m highly empathic and simply don’t know how to deal with it. That I am possessed by a demon, have a demon latched onto my aura, or that I am simply a “healer” and in another culture, I would be well-respected as someone who is in touch with the spiritual world and psychic phenomena.

And to tell you the truth, it makes me angry. I am pissed off. I am sick and tired of people who love me telling me things that are dangerous to my recovery. They are ignorant and uneducated. They don’t mean to do harm, but the fact is they are. And I’m very impressionable. I’m gullible. I’m susceptible to delusions and love to latch onto ideas I’m not sick because well, not being sick would be great. But this isn’t true. I have a physical disease.

People don’t understand that. Most simply aren’t educated. Individuals with schizophrenia (and related disorders) have enlarged ventricles, as well as “lower levels of gray matter in the brain.” I will have to take medication forever. Stop calling me every few months to tell me I no longer need my medication since I am not having any symptoms. This isn’t the flu.

And no, I’m not violent.  I’m not stupid or a genius. And I’m not ashamed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not awkward when ignorant people frown at me or mutter, “She just wants attention, Gary. She’s young. She’ll grow out of it.” All because I am simply being open about who I am. I hear the gossip about me, and it’s awkward when people tiptoe around me like I’m a time bomb. I don’t know why I’m expected and even encouraged by those who love me to “live under the radar” or share my story only anonymously. The way some people look at me hurts, but it’s better than living a life of secrecy like I did for over a decade.

I am a normal person, 22 years old, engaged, employed, happy, stable. I drive, watch the same TV shows you do and hope to have a fulfilling life and successful career. Why shouldn’t I? I don’t think I will ever stop feeling self-conscious about sharing my story, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. You can keep pretending I don’t have schizophrenia. You can keep pretending you don’t hear me when I mention a symptom every once in a while. You can keep pretending you don’t see my writing online, that I didn’t just publish a story about my life with schizophrenia, forever tarnishing our shared last name.

But I know you can see and hear me. I am here, and I am 1 out every 100 people who live with schizophrenia. I will live and die, sure, but schizophrenia and related disorders are not going away anytime soon. These disorders affect more than 3 million Americans. And when someone suggests these illnesses are anything else, that leads us to question our diagnosis, even stop taking our medication. And that is dangerous.

So do not call me, text me or hold my hand in yours and look me in the eyes, telling me softly I am just special, that I am just not trying hard enough, that I just need to get right with God, pray more, or “cleanse my aura of demons and bad energy.” Don’t tell me that I am being scammed and brainwashed by Big Pharma.

Before you open your mouth… Think. Stop. Are you a psychiatrist? Have I asked for your opinion? Have you done thorough research on schizophrenia and related disorders? 

Stop and think before you speak because your words could cost me my life. Your words are dangerous and harmful. Because when people like you talk to me, I stop taking my medication and start planning to go live in the forest or the desert where I could get lost, starve or die of dehydration, just to name a few of the things that could happen. 

I am scared of my mind, of the things it tells me and shows me. I’m scared of the ideas I get from my mania and the delusions that lead to bad decisions, to totaled cars, to ruined relationships. But even more than my illness and the damage it can do, I am scared of you, because you and your ignorance could cost me my life. So stop. Please. Please. Please. I am strong today, and I know the truth, but I am not strong every day. And you could catch me on a bad day. You could catch me in a weird mood. You could catch me on a day I forgot to take my medication or took it a few hours late. You could catch me when I’m really stressed and emergent symptoms have begun to appear. You could catch me when I’m vulnerable, impressionable when I’m sad or bitter about being sick, when it won’t be so easy for me to laugh away your ignorant words. They will wrap around me like a snake, squeezing the logic, the knowledge of my own illness out of me until I am nodding, smiling, saying Yes! I am just special! I am a healer! I am a genius! I am being brainwashed! It is time to leave town, to hike the PCT, to travel abroad all on my own, to leave in the middle of the night without telling a soul.

This is the power you have over me. Do not talk to me about your conspiracy theories. Do not talk to me about your religion. Do not tell me I am a genius, a healer, a god among men. Stop. Think. Wait … Do not say these things to me.

Your words could cost me my life.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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

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.

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

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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