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3 Things I Want You to Know About Life WIth Schizoaffective Disorder

It was an early Sunday morning when I opened my eyes to a 7-foot-tall, black shadow figure standing at the end of my bed. This was my very first visual hallucination, and one I didn’t come to terms with until several months later. I didn’t know I was experiencing a mental health crisis until I read online I may be going through a psychotic break instead of being possessed by dark, demonic forces. A couple of years and several medication changes later, I was finally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Schizoaffective is a mental health disorder with symptoms that appear in schizophrenia and an affective (or mood) disorder. Symptoms can manifest differently person to person, but can include hallucinations, delusions, hearing voices, mania, depression and cognitive impairments. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 300 people are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

I wasn’t a stranger to the world of mental health. Comorbidities like depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but this was different. Psychosis is a loss of connection to reality that is often associated with hallucinations and delusions. However, this was never talked about in the small town America I grew up in.

Only a small portion of our high school “wellness” class went over mental health, but it mostly focused on more common conditions like depression and anxiety. In fact, none of our school curriculum discussed any psychotic disorders like schizophrenia or schizoaffective. It was like they were cast aside as the “bad, scary” mental illnesses. This stigmatization is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to reach out and find appropriate resources. It comes from false and sadistic representation in media, lack of education in communities and outdated mindsets about these mental disorders in general.

This is why I strive to use my voice to show the world what they should know about living with schizoaffective disorder.

1. We don’t have a predisposition for violence.

The 1960 movie “Psycho” and a myriad of other horror trope films have it all wrong. Psychosis is not a signifier for hostility or criminal behavior. We are actually much more likely to become victims of violence than perpetrators! Don’t listen to the movies, and get to know us as individuals.

2. It is not a death sentence.

While schizoaffective disorder is a serious condition and shouldn’t be taken lightly, it doesn’t mean our lives are over. I’ve been told by doctors to rethink my goals and consider less ambitious options, that maybe college wasn’t for me. And I took those words to heart. However, through sheer stubbornness and the appropriate medical accommodations, I got my bachelor’s degree and even graduated with honors. Maybe it’s time doctors rethink schizoaffective disorder instead. Everyone’s experience is different, but we shouldn’t be held back by just a label. We can still live happy, productive lives.

3. We are more than our illness.

We are not our disease. We are not just what society, doctors or movies say we are. We are parents, children, siblings, significant others, friends, co-workers, celebrities and most importantly, human beings. At the end of the day, we are just like you. Our lives may come with extra obstacles, but I think it’s fair to say we all have demons we’re battling on the inside (or outside).

Unsplash image by Sebastian Pociecha

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