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Schizoaffective Disorder Stole My College Years and Most of My 20s — Here's How That's Affecting Me Now

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It has been about a little over a year since I was officially diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is a combination of schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder (major depressive disorder in my case). Even though it has only been a year or so since I have been diagnosed, this illness has taken up a substantial portion of my life. While my symptoms started when I was very young, they escalated during my college years and into the majority of my 20s. For the past decade or so, I have been struggling with my mental health, and it has affected so much of my adult life.

I went to college for social work and was able to immediately get my master’s degree in social work following my bachelor’s degree, but during these years I struggled heavily with hallucinations, self-harm, and suicidal ideation, and I became very isolated. For some of these years my grades suffered, and I had to retake certain classes because I would not show up for class and failed the course because of my absences. I was also in a long-term relationship throughout my college years that became very strained. I was unable to be fully present for my relationship and the relationship ended shortly after I graduated with my master’s. Not long after this, I had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized.

Since then, I have been in and out of treatment facilities and have been diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses — generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and atypical anorexia — on top of a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. My daily life has suffered as I struggle greatly with hallucinations, severe depression, and a lack of motivation. I have been going to therapy three times a week and seeing a psychiatrist every two weeks for the past couple of years, which has made it impossible for me to work a traditional job. My job has been managing my symptoms 24/7.

Schizoaffective disorder has stolen a sizable portion of my life and has affected me negatively throughout my 20s, but now, it is allowing to share my story with others. Throughout everything I have been through, all I have ever wanted was to help others who are going through similar things. While I mourn the time I have lost because of my illness, I personally feel that I have been given my challenges to be able to help others.

With that being said, each day is still a battle for me. I have to deal with hallucinations that make it incredibly hard to function, on top of my severe depression that brings its own set of special challenges. Having schizoaffective disorder is like battling two separate, severe illnesses all at the same time. The only difference now from when my symptoms really started to become severe in my early 20s is that I have learned more coping skills to be able to function in a way that is unique to my own life.

Mental illness is a big part of my life; it has dictated the course of my life to a great extent, but it has also given me the opportunity to create a life where I am able to help others battling similar things. Sometimes, I get very depressed over the amount of time I have lost due to my health, but I try to remember that while I don’t believe my mental illnesses happened for a reason, I have been given the gift of turning my health challenges on their head and using them to create a more beautiful world. My hope is that my experience with schizoaffective disorder in particular can be used to resonate with others while helping to break the stigma that surrounds schizophrenia as a whole.

If you are battling schizophrenia or any of its subtypes, I want you to know that you are not alone. You have done nothing wrong, and you deserve space to be seen, loved, and understood. I am standing there with you.

Photo by Maëva Vigier on Unsplash

Originally published: March 25, 2022
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