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How Studying Philosophy Helped Me Through My Darkest Days With Schizoaffective Disorder

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

In 2015, I received a scholarship to play football in college. I was majoring in kinesiology with a dream of becoming an exercise physiologist. For my first few weeks, I was doing really well in my classes — and even better on the football field. Things were going great!

Until they weren’t.

I remember sitting at the table during lunch break, when I heard a group of students joking and laughing. No biggie, right? Well, to me, it was. I was sure they were laughing at me. I had no reason to believe this, but I was sure of it regardless.

I returned my tray to the cafeteria bar and left to head to my dorm. I had some more classes that day and then football practice. Everywhere I went, I had this unshakable feeling of being watched. By the end of the day, it was unbearable. I was laying in my bed, feeling exhausted, and trying to sleep when I heard a deep, booming laugh. I sat up in bed and looked around. No one was there.

This happened a few times before I called my mom in distress. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but apparently it was “delusional” and made no sense. She came and picked me up the next day. I dropped my classes and withdrew from the school. Shortly after, I got a job — which I was only able to hold for a short time.

Things quickly began to spiral out of control. I turned to drugs and alcohol in the hope that it would make me feel better. This only compounded the problem — to the point that I was ready to die. I knew I had to do something. I called my psychiatrist — who decided to put me in an intensive outpatient program. It was during this time that I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Over the next few years, I tried to work several jobs — none of which worked out. I began to lose my sense of self-worth. I again turned to alcohol, and I drank heavily every day for a year. On May 13, 2020, though, I took my last drink. I began taking all of my medications as directed and going to therapy too.

It was during this time that I became acquainted with the study of philosophy. I began to immerse myself in the philosophies of Siddhartha Gautama, Aristotle, Epicurus, and even Albert Camus. It became quickly apparent to me that I had been measuring my self-worth all wrong. My value is not in my ability to work but is instead intrinsic — at least according to some.

I began to ask questions. “What is a good life?” “What makes life worth living?” “What creates and sustains true happiness?” While there are no cut-and-dry answers to these questions, I believe the search for those answers is inherently valuable.

For instance, for me, a “good life” involves having money, a nice house, and a good job. Enter the philosophies of Siddhartha Gautama and Epicurus. They both assert that the separation from unnecessary desires is paramount in living a good life and that contentment is the key to attaining and maintaining true happiness. Wise words indeed — but much easier said than done. However, if we can work towards contentment with our situation, rather than struggling incessantly to obtain things that frankly don’t matter, we just may find ourselves in a lighter state of mind.

That isn’t to say that we will no longer find ourselves in the vice grips of depression from time to time. If it were that simple, some of us may not need therapy or antidepressants. All I’m saying is that working towards contentment can be a worthwhile endeavor. For some people, this might be keeping a gratitude journal because it can help you appreciate the small things even on bad days.

Let me ask another question — what really matters? This is a general question, I know, but bear with me. Let’s say, hypothetically, that nothing matters and that searching for meaning in a meaningless universe is futile. You might find this situation depressing, but if you dig deeper, you might find it liberating in a sense. If everything society deems important, like money, status, and popularity is in fact meaningless, then we may have no obligation to adhere to such standards. We can create our own meaning.

Now, when I ask myself what really matters, my answer is relationships, self-love, self-care, treating everyone with dignity, and helping where I can. That is why I wrote this article — to share ideas that I hope will help someone. I don’t claim to be a brilliant philosopher, and I’m sure there are some logical flaws in this writing. After all, I am still a student of philosophy — and I always will be. My hope is that if you feel like philosophy could help you, you may take the plunge yourself.

When you read philosophy, it is important to keep in mind that these writers are only people, and their philosophies are not law. You may agree or disagree or even form your own opinions on their thoughts. If you find a certain area of philosophy triggering, please stop studying. After all, some concepts and topics can be pretty uncomfortable. I have benefited greatly from studying philosophy, and if you want to read philosophy, I hope it helps you too.

Getty image by Zephyr18.

Originally published: September 24, 2022
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