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How I Experience Paranoia as Part of My Schizophrenia

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I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. I could be doing everything I am supposed to do, such as taking medication, eating right and be on a good sleep schedule, but I still can have some paranoia. One of the things that has helped me deal with my paranoia is reading about other people’s experiences with paranoia. When I read about what they are going through, it is an “a-ha” moment — “Oh, I am not the only one who experiences this symptom.”

A couple of days ago, I drove to pick up some dry cleaning. I just assumed they were going to be open. Even though I got there early, the doors were locked. As I was leaving, I saw a car with a license plate holder that said “Army veteran” on it. I immediately thought this person owned the dry cleaners, and he somehow heard I was coming and closed early so I could not get my dry cleaning. On the drive home, I experienced paranoia. I saw people in their cars and thought they must be wondering what I might do next. I really had to focus and block out the paranoia so I could make it back home safely.

Sometimes, I hear voices during my paranoid thoughts. One voice makes me laugh when she says, “You are not schizophrenic.” I first began hearing this voice when I was leaving the Army, but I still hear it on occasion.

Some of my paranoia has to do with a girlfriend from many years ago. Sometimes at night, there are cars facing my sliding glass door with their headlights on, and I think they must be her friends stalking me. I stare at them for a few seconds and try to block the paranoia out. What helps with this kind of paranoia is to distract myself by listening to music like jazz, or by watching TV.

I can become paranoid when I see people around my car in the parking lot. I know no one messes with my car, but during the paranoia, it is hard to come to that conclusion. When they eventually leave, I go outside and walk to my car and survey the scene. I check the tires and the paint to see that it is OK. By checking for evidence, I can avoid this paranoia. I live in a very secure neighborhood, and the parking lot is well-lit. I park under a streetlight, so really there is no logical reason to think anyone is damaging my car.

When I am driving, I often think I am being followed. On days when I do not get much mail, I can easily fall into thinking that someone is taking my mail. I become concerned when using a credit or debit card on the phone, afraid that someone is listening in to the conversation. There have been occasions when I have thought that someone in the kitchen has contaminated my food before it is served to me. I always become paranoid when I see a police officer, so I have conditioned myself to take a deep breath and wave to them.

I have mentioned some of the ways I deal with my paranoid thoughts. On occasion, I call my parents to talk through the episode that is causing me concern. One of the most important ways I cope with my paranoia is to examine the evidence.  I ask myself questions about the reality or non-reality of what is going on. I also practice being present in the moment by concentrating on what is real around me. What can I hear, see, touch, or feel?

Those of us who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia can lose ourselves in the symptom of paranoia, but it is important for me to ground myself in reality — what is going on around me. I have paranoia because of my diagnosis and for no other reason. Reading accounts of paranoia helps me realize this is a common symptom in the schizophrenia community. We learn how to face our paranoia by sharing our personal stories without fear.

Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash

Originally published: September 16, 2020
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