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Reflecting on 2021: From Surviving to Thriving With Schizoaffective Disorder

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At the end of the month we’ll hear shouts of “Happy New Year!” On that day, I’ll have another year on this Earth officially under my belt. Another year older, another year wiser, another year of struggle and change behind me. Happy birthday to me, you survived. Sometimes I wonder how.

This last year was another test (but really, aren’t they all?).

Panic disorder had me swapping to the passenger seat of my own car. Schizoaffective disorder introduced me to new individuals and voices. And depression had me thinking of actions I’ve managed to resist for roughly seven years. Don’t worry, I’ve kept up my streak, but it was harder than it usually is. Why? Well, it felt like everything fell apart.

It’s all those damn feelings.

I felt unseen, unheard, misunderstood, and the real me was lost somewhere in the shuffle. Who was she even? Who am I? And how am I still stuck on this at 30? Thirty, flirty, and thriving? Not even close. I mean, it wasn’t all bad. I met some cool people and did some cool things.

New hallucinations joined my world.

Hushed voices came from the next room, leaving me nearly falling out of my chair, leaning in to try to catch the words. But they danced delicately past my straining ears. All I knew was they were talking about me. They must be.

Hallucinations of people watched me, ran past me, and sometimes they looked at me with knowing eyes. But what did they know? What was their message? It felt like fire on my nerves, the question burning hotter every time I thought my therapist and I put the pieces of their purpose together only to have our idea blown apart.

I took some big steps to put my mental health first.

Buying a house forced me to recognize my illnesses play a bigger role in my daily life than I wanted to admit. And I did a terrifying trust fall into the arms of my employers, revealing my schizoaffective disorder diagnosis on the way down. I painted a picture of how it impacts my work and we volleyed with ideas on how to help me do my best. They took it better than I ever could have imagined, and I was reminded of how grateful I am to be there.

But then I found myself across a table from my fellow administrative team members with a manager by my side. “Why don’t you start?” she said. “Oh, OK,” I mumbled. I didn’t know how. How do you start off a conversation about why you suck at certain parts of your job you’ve been in for a year and a half without it sounding like you’re making excuses? But I did it. And it seemed to go over OK. A sigh of relief, a new pep in my step, and I still have yet to work up the confidence to take advantage of the major accommodations they granted me, but I’ll get there. Eventually. I think.

But those hallucinations just wouldn’t go away.

Those whispers, those people, then the perceived sound of a murder staining the air of my home. My thoughts spinning and back-flipping. The emptiness when my thoughts disappeared like I was a young Houdini. Abracadabra and they’re gone without a trace. Great.

I had enough.

Battling an internal war between desperately wanting to get better and feeling like it’s not worth trying, I shuffled my thoughts and words. I went from, “Why is this still happening?” to “What can we do about this?” Luckily, I have a good psychiatrist, and as soon as this question fell off my tongue, we were off. One antipsychotic gone, two dosages raised, and so far, so good. Except the loss of sleep, but that all shook out OK in the end.

Reflecting on these last 11 months, I see a lot of fear, sorrow, and a lot of holding myself back. But I see change in it, too. I spoke up in situations I normally wouldn’t have. I set goals for myself I could actually reach (a minor dent in my all-encompassing, unhealthy perfectionism). And I pursued my dreams, which is something that normally freaks me out.

So, as the day approaches when I’ll see “Happy Birthday” stretched across the doorway in shiny cardboard letters, I’m starting to actually think about the future.

I’m not talking weddings and babies, but doing more than surviving my 31st year. How do I continue to push myself in positive ways? What do I need to do to continue to stack my bricks towards confidence? How do I thrive? (That’s a tricky one.)

I’m learning thriving isn’t about promotions, 5k completions, and mastering the cat eye eyeliner look (though I’m starting to get it). For me and my schizoaffective disorder, it’s about continuing to find ways to soothe myself when anxiety kicks dirt in my face. It’s about taking advantage of those accommodations I took a risk in obtaining. And it’s about me continuing to pursue my dreams no matter how terrifying that may be to me. It’s about saying me and my needs matter, and not so much to others, but to myself.

Schizoaffective disorder took many things from me including my self-esteem, my cognitive strengths, and really just my way of life in general. I learned to adapt. But now I’m learning that I can take parts of that back. It’s scary, for sure, but I finally had a taste of it this year. And I definitely want more.

So, on New Year’s Eve, I will somersault into my 31st year.

On my way back to my feet, I will pick up my party hat, horn, and a glass of champagne, fight my anxiety and depression, and get ready to toast to 2022. And when that clock strikes and that countdown ends, I will kiss the mess of 2021 and my 30th year goodbye and dance myself into 2022, even if the party is just in my living room.

You can follow Katie’s journey on her blog, Not Like the Others.

Getty image by FreshSplash

Originally published: December 21, 2021
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