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The Experiences That Could Have Contributed to My Schizophrenia Diagnosis

I read an article in The Telegraph that suggested events in a person’s life lead to mental illness — not genetics. Most of the information I have read about mental illness implies that mental illness is most often associated with genes, but this new information tells me that it should not be genetics getting all the research.

Recently, I thought of the article again when in my hometown, a gunman, with seemingly no cause, opened fired and killed a police officer at the local bus station. I wondered what events in his life may have led to this horribly sad situation. The article and the recent shooting caused me to reflect on what events in my own life might have led to my diagnosis of schizophrenia. I was reminded of three life changing events that may have affected my reality and possibly contributed to my mental health diagnosis.

One of the events happened when I was in the fifth grade. Since the age of 3, I had speech therapy because of delayed speech development. I did not know that this particular day was going to be my last speech class. I was sitting at a table when my speech therapist said, “You will never talk like the other kids.” She went on to say that I could continue my speech therapy, but my situation would not improve significantly. My interpretation, as a 9-year old kid, was that I had no hope of speaking clearly. Her words made me feel weird, and I felt like a part of me was shutting down as I faced a future where I would not communicate clearly. 

Another major life event occurred when I was in college, after I broke up with my girlfriend. Although I had initiated the break up, and felt really guilty for hurting her feelings, I couldn’t seem to get past my own guilt in this situation. During this time while I was wrestling with my feeling about hurting this person that I had cared about, I was driving my car when suddenly it began to sound like an old lawnmower. About that time I hit a bump and heard something dragging behind my Honda. I pulled over at a gas station when I noticed the tail pipe had been sawed away and now it was lying on the concrete of the street. I decided it was my ex-girlfriend. Who else could it be? She was the only one who had a problem with me. Driving back to my apartment, with the sound of the tail pipe clacking on the street and passersby staring oddly trying to figure out the noise, I felt like my psyche was being ripped apart. 

A few years later, I had joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert of California. My duties there involved mostly training exercises. On this particular evening, the sun was going down, and probably I was distracted by the beautiful sunset. I did not notice when some of my so-called fellow soldiers came at me trying to push me down. I began kicking and punching, but oddly enough not yelling for some reason. I really couldn’t fathom why they would be attacking me, but I felt like I was fighting for my life. I remember desperately trying with all my might to beat them off me, but I was helpless against all of them. I thought, for sure, this was it, and I was going to die. As some soldiers held me down, others began to wrap duct tape around my body. I continued to struggle to free myself from their grip, but it was no use. The event ended in my being tightly wrapped with duct tape into a fetal position. At first they even put it on my mouth, but then took it off when they saw it obstructed my breathing. Finally, after awhile another soldier came to my aid and unwrapped me. I was free of the duct tape, and I had no physical scars from the incident; however, there were scars on the inside of my body after that incident that would never completely heal.

Life, as I had known would never be the same after that incident. My life began to change dramatically. Shortly thereafter, I began to spiral down into a world of delusions, paranoia and hallucinations. My diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder came a few months later.

Recalling those events, I can understand how some mental health professionals may conclude that mental health issues could be caused by events in a person’s life. Those events that I have described certainly had a major impact in how I viewed myself and my life. I have read many times that mental health issues are passed down through a family, and that may certainly be the case for some. I do not know of any family members before myself being diagnosed with schizophrenia. There is benefit in being open to all of the events that make up my life story. Openness makes it possible for mental health professionals to diagnose and treat mental illness, and can lead to an eventual recovery if both doctor and client are willing to talk about those events.

This piece originally appeared in the Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

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