What Recovery Looks Like When You Have Schizophrenia
When I first was diagnosed with schizophrenia, my first response was, “No, not me.” The response was probably due to what I thought mental illness was. I was scared I would be put in a straight jacket. I thought I would be closed off to the world. I finally came to the conclusion a person with schizophrenia must find help, or possibly wind up on the local news.
My First Day
My sunglasses were still on as I entered the small room. My platoon Sergeant was behind me, and I noticed that the man waiting for us wore a nametag calling him a “Doctor.” I was wearing sunglasses because without them, my disease would spread. That meant, through the channels of extra sensory perception, my reality would take hold, and an individual would be able to speak with another individual without them being present.
Suddenly, as the naval doctor was asking me questions, my platoon sergeant yelled.
“Take your sunglasses off!”
The very thing I couldn’t do.
Because I was used to following orders, I slowly took off my sunglasses. So it begins … the doctor will now be able to hear everyone I had made eye contact with for the last couple of months. The doctor sighed. I was confident that the voices had made contact with him.
I was given pajamas to wear, sent to a room in the psych ward that I would share with three other people. This was a psych ward. Never in a million years would I have thought I might end up in a place like this. I was scared, but resigned to whatever might happen.
My platoon Sergeant had driven me from Fort Irwin, California in the Mojave Desert to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. During the long drive to the hospital, I felt a sense of relief. At my Army base I always had to keep my guard up. I didn’t trust anyone around me there. I had made eye contact with all of my fellow soldiers, and so the voices were influencing them too.
Several things I had experienced in the military may have conspired to enable me to have the powers that I had now.
I was stationed in Fort Knox during my basic and advance training. One night, we were training on the Calvary scout main weapon the M3A3 Bradley fighting vehicle. There were three of us in one track. I like to think I drove it to the best of my ability. This of course was before my special powers took hold of me. Everything was fine until I was in the back of this vehicle and my seat had a broken seat belt, so I tied the two ends that I did have around me. The driver who was in front seemed to be maniac behind the wheel. He hit a bump and I hit my head on a bar over head.
I was knocked out for a second. When I woke up, the trip was over. But the person sitting next to me was crying. I guess he thought I was dead. When I moved, he stopped crying.
The second instance was at Fort Irwin. I was in the field during a rotation, and the soldiers in my team were parked in a line.
It was getting dark and someone called me over. I went, and the next thing I knew five guys were trying to wrap my body in duct tape. I fought them off by pushing and kicking away anyone trying to tape me up. It took a different soldier (from a different platoon) who was bigger than me and stronger than me to bring me down. Imagine fighting for your life and losing. This was initiation. I was the new guy. They also taped someone else I came in with but not as bad. They didn’t put tape over his mouth like they did me.
This experience split my psyche into two realities. There was an everyday reality and a reality that was all mental. The reality I explained. The reality that inspired me to go to mental health so I could figure out what this really was. A part of me thought it was a new step of evolution.
I was later Honorably Discharged. At home my behavior was very erratic, so much so that my parents had to call the police. They took me away in handcuffs. It was a hard thing to go through, but now, I am thankful for that experience because I got the treatment I deserve. I finally was on medication.
It came to this …
Voices surrounding me like bumblebees in spring.
Women kissing … the love buzz
Beating in my chest.
Feast your eyes on the loner,
And hear the voice of God.
Whispers and tantrums,
Like bacon sizzling in your brain;
Finding rhythm in hallucinations
Depicting voices that acting like a searchlight
Ceased and dissolved in a single green pill,
Creating a lonely apartment.
This is my poem about schizophrenia. “It came to this” is bringing the reader up to speed. Voices sometimes seem like bumblebees. Each sting is a voice. When I had made eye contact with a woman, I would often feel a burning in my chest which I thought was the woman falling in love with. The warm sensation was called the love buzz. For those who made eye contact with me, they could see me the “Loner” in their head just like I can see them in my head. I also thought I could hear the voice of God. It was calming and relaxing. The voices were sometime at a whisper, and sometimes they seemed mad. The voices, sharing my brain, can be compared to bacon, always sizzling in the background. Hallucinations in my mind move quickly with rhythm-like boom, boom, boom. Some of the voices can act like a searchlight helping me weigh through my delusions.
Stopping or maybe dissolving in a green pill, an antipsychotic. When medication starts to take hold, and the voices and delusions subside, I think the person living with schizophrenia feels lonely. They have depended on them for so long, and chances are the voices make them feel important. Hopefully, they won’t stop taking their medication.
How Can I Help My Family and Others Understand My Schizophrenia
I am not a mental health professional. I respect that profession so much.
I’ve recently skimmed an article about psychiatry. The very first sentence states how hard it is for a person to accept that a loved one has a psychotic disorder.
I’ve never spent a long time thinking about my family. How do they carry this weight? I am sure whether or not the mental health consumer has a roof over their head or is taking their medication enters into it. I am sure my parents would want me to be able to communicate how I am feeling, and if I am taking my medication. Also they would want to know that when it gets hectic I need to be left alone just like I need to know that it is alright to want to have a few minutes to myself.
My parents would also want to know I am taking care of myself. Your job as a mental health consumer is being able to tell your doctor that you are OK or telling them your symptoms. You also need to stay on your medication.
That sentence in the article I read can help with others too. For someone who doesn’t understand what it is like knowing someone with a mental illness, ask the question, “What if your dad, mom, brother, sister, husband or wife had been diagnosed with schizophrenia?”
Their world as they knew it would be over. They may not know who to talk to because so many people don’t understand schizophrenia. My mom looked online and tried to find everything she could on the subject. There are different groups a loved one can go to get help or even empathy.
If you don’t understand schizophrenia, just do your best to try to understand the family and friends. What are they going through? It is important to know the simple fact that it isn’t anybody’s fault.
If I were asked to describe my schizophrenia, I would describe it as this: Schizophrenia, it is fighting off impulses that are wrong. They just pop into your head. You constantly have to fight the unreal.
I sometimes go to Arby’s. I go through the drive-thru. Monday there is roast beef, Tuesday there is turkey, Wednesday there is roasted chicken and Thursday there is meat loaf. You also get four sides and muffins. I tell them what I want on any given day, and immediately I think they are spitting on it or doing whatever to my dinner. At the window, I look around to see if I can catch them in the act. Nothing. I pay, get my food and say thank you.
Schizophrenia is receiving a delusion, or just a thought, and not reacting because you don’t know if it is true or not. Add stress and that is why I can’t work. That is why I can’t live a “normal” life.
What is a “normal” life? You have a rough definition when you have a mental illness.
Me, Myself, and I
Last night, people were going up and down the stairs of my apartment building, trying to be quiet. I thought they were talking about me.
“Jason lives there.”
When I go through something like this, it is very hard to think rationally. I get swept up.
When I hear voices speaking negatively about me, first I take a deep breath. Then, I catch myself in the moment. Are people really talking about me? If you do this, chances are you will find out things are quiet in and outside your head. Another way to cope is what my therapist told me, check the evidence. My front door has a peep hole. I look through it when I think something is going on. I look through it and you know what, there is no one out there.
Just think of this, now if someone was talking about me outside my door wouldn’t they whisper so I couldn’t hear them.
When you think strangers are talking about you, you need coping skills.
When you have schizophrenia or any type of mental illness, you have to be in tune with yourself. You can be your own therapist or doctor without a psychiatry degree or PhD in psychology.
To catch yourself in the moment is to be self-aware. Use your senses, listen, look through the peep hole or window. If you have been taking your medication, then chances are you won’t hear or see anything. For the most part, you have to know this, people mind their own business. They have their own worries and obligations. Chances are they have nothing to do with you.
My Stages of Recovery
The Stages of Recovery can be seen as a checklist or a way to see how far you have come. A patient and doctor or mental health professional can benefit from using this. I believe most patients go through these stages of recovery. With this tool, it can be seen where recovery began. These stages are subject to change. They don’t have to be in order, but in my opinion, this is just a tool to help after a patient has gone through the work himself or herself.
I realized something was off in the Army. I referred myself to mental health. Because I didn’t stay on my medication, I came home with terrible symptoms, voices and delusions. I didn’t understand what was going on.
My parents called the authorities on me. It is better to come to your own conclusion on your own. I was taken to the hospital, where I decided if I was going to get help, it was going to be here.
I found the right medication at the hospital. I decided I wasn’t going to go off my medication.
During this stage, I accepted myself at a bar. I didn’t feel like being quiet, but I talked to other people. I told other people at the bar that I was disabled veteran and why. I didn’t know why I should be ashamed about my diagnosis. This stage I realized some people may not accept me. I realized I had to test the waters in any public or social situation. I ask myself should I tell this person, if not, they are other things to talk about.
In this stage, I tried doing everything I was supposed to do. I quit drinking and smoking. I took my medication. I was taking antypsychotic injections. After telling my therapist and doctor about my symptoms, my doctor advised me to take a different 2-week injection instead. I also take an antipsychotic orally. Sometimes we do everything we are supposed to do, yet we have symptoms. We have to maintain. We can’t give up. We have to be aware of our symptoms, and if it doesn’t belong, tell your doctor.
Accepting your mental illness or who you are can also be a part of being self-aware. All this while maintaining and doing what you are suppose to do.
Published by Schizophrenia Bulletin March 1, 2014
Getty image by LUMEZIA