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Finding Hope and Your Community After a Schizophrenia Diagnosis

In 2007, I was three years into college, at the peak of my cross-country career, a Dean’s list student, and a youth coach. My life took a complete 180 when I started experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. In the early stages of my journey, and before I had ever received a proper diagnosis from a healthcare provider, I grappled with feelings of depression, intense paranoia, and psychosis. At the time, I didn’t know what a hallucination was, so when I heard voices, I thought other people were talking about me. I didn’t realize the voices weren’t real, so I tried my best to rationalize what was happening and find ways to continue living my life without the help of medical professionals. To make matters more complicated, as a Black woman, stigma around mental health was something I had witnessed within my community since childhood. The mere thought of sharing what I was experiencing made me anxious, and nothing could have prepared me for the widely inaccurate and deeply painful judgments I would face in the communities where I had once felt the safest.   

I hit rock bottom at age 22, when I found myself deep in the midst of a psychotic episode. I ran away from my family and support system, was arrested on felony charges, and was ultimately hospitalized for six months, due to my schizophrenia symptoms. In the hospital, I was finally diagnosed and forced to face my illness head-on to understand how I had gone from being at the peak of my college career to being incarcerated. While I was hospitalized, I was medicated for the first time in my life. What I learned from this is that, with the right treatment regimen and support systems in place, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I worked with a few different psychiatrists before finding one whom I trusted and who was able to meet me where I was. Together, we found the right treatment plan after a bit of trial and error. By finding and sticking to the right medications and leaning on my friends and family for love and support, I was able to shift my mindset about recovery and begin sharing what I had learned to help others. 

For the longest time, I hid my diagnosis and kept it a secret. Because of the pervasive and damaging myth that those living with schizophrenia are violent or dangerous, I was often looked down upon in my community. Over the past 16 years, I’ve made it my focus to block out the negative noise and advocate for myself and others living with this mental health diagnosis by sharing my story and educating my community about what it really means to live with schizophrenia as a Black woman. I now know how important it is for others to hear my story, so I launched a blog called Overcoming Schizophrenia to share my experience and help present an alternative to the harmful stereotypes we hear and read about all too often.  

In this time, I’ve come out of my shell, and my diagnosis is no longer a secret. Instead, I want to share my journey with others. Today, I actively work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and have been a peer counselor for the past ten years for a variety of organizations. I’ve also worked with law enforcement to help educate them about the stigmas associated with schizophrenia–a full-circle moment from my early diagnosis days. I hope to continue working on advocacy projects with my local community and, one day, even with Congress so that I can continue to debunk myths about schizophrenia and show that recovery is possible. Schizophrenia is a complicated and entirely misunderstood disorder, which is why I’ve made it a priority to be active in the community and have written several books about my experience, from how I’ve coped with the diagnosis to the benefits of therapy in addition to medication. I’m most proud of my latest book, which is a journal about loving your spirit, with thirty prayers and self-reflection questions in it. 

If you are reading this story and struggling with finding hope and community after a schizophrenia diagnosis, know that there is a path forward and you are not alone. My hope is that this will inspire others to seek the help that is available to you on your path to recovery. My journey hasn’t always been easy, but I’m now focused on my own journey of self-improvement, balance, and recovery. Therapy, healthy coping skills, and the support I found through writing about my experiences on my blog have all helped me on my journey to recovery. I still struggle sometimes, but I know that I can overcome the challenges I face because time has shown me that I am resilient. And you are, too. Learn as much about schizophrenia as you can, find your people and a treatment plan, surround yourself with good people, and give yourself all the love you need. There is hope for recovery with support and the right treatment regimen. And please know I’m rooting for you! 

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