I can remember hearing the voice in my head when I was around the age of 16. When I turned 30, I had my first episode of psychosis.
I was living on my own in the city of Chicago and loved my independence and spacious one-bedroom apartment in Rogers Park. While working as an inside sales rep for a cable company, I felt like I had the world at my feet with a bright future ahead of me. But I then I started to have intrusive thoughts that I was being watched, and I began having long conversations with the voice in my head.
Shortly after 9/11 and the death of my grandfather, the intrusive thoughts became full-blown delusions of being surveilled by the government. I believed that the television and radio were sending me messages, and the voice spoke to me constantly, making my ability to focus and work impossible. Due to poor work productivity and my erratic behavior, I was let go by my job and ultimately had to move back home with my family and lose the independence that I worked so hard to get.
I floundered for the next two years, unsuccessfully trying to keep the voice at bay. My family urged me to seek therapy and medication, but I resisted. At times the voice paralyzed me to the point I would not leave my room. Medication? Therapy? I don’t need those! I am a direct descendant of Mary Magdalene and a future senator’s wife! The government has turned my family against me, and they are watching me to keep me from fulling my destiny.
Because I was having suicidal ideation -- and still refusing to seek treatment -- my family had me involuntarily committed to a state hospital. After a week of psychological testing and observation, I met the ward psychiatrist. The meeting was brief and did not go well. I didn’t want to be there, and the doctor was neither welcoming nor pleasant. She explained that due to my test results and observation of the symptoms of delusions and auditory hallucinations I was exhibiting, she was diagnosing me with schizophrenia and prescribing medication to help me get well.
No, this is not possible. I can’t have schizophrenia. This is just another government ploy to keep me from accomplishing my destiny. I became filled with fear and sadness. I thought that people with schizophrenia are insane, and I know that I am not insane. I cried every night during sleeping hours on the ward. I was finally visited by a social worker for my discharge and given paperwork for follow up with a mental health provider and psychiatric appointment.
When I went to my follow-up appointment with my new psychiatrist, I didn’t expect to be told anything other than I am insane and to continue to take the medication. But to my surprise, the psychiatrist’s office was warm and welcoming with very comfortable chairs. The doctor welcomed me with a smile and asked how I was feeling. I told her that I did not belong there. Then a surprising thing happened. My psychiatrist asked me if the ward psychiatrist had explained what it means to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Well no, she had not explained anything to me.
That day I learned that schizophrenia is a brain disorder that effects a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and it can cause them to lose touch with reality and affect their ability to relate to others. The disorder is nothing to be ashamed of and that, with support and treatment, recovery is possible.
Seventeen years later, I am in a wonderful place in my mental health recovery process. Once I knew that recovery was possible, I experienced an unexpected renaissance in my life. I started to enjoy life again! I went to college and graduated with two bachelor’s degrees, one in psychology and one in studio arts. I am now successfully employed and love my job. And I’ve started oil painting! Once I received the right support, I took the time to educate myself on my disorder. My psychiatrist gave me the hope that I needed to work toward getting and staying well.
To anyone with a mental health condition, I’d say remember that you don’t have to continue to see a doctor you do not have a rapport with. You may have to seek out a psychiatrist that best fits your needs. Early intervention with therapy and medication is key for better outcomes, so if you are feeling isolated and experiencing symptoms similar to mine, know that you do not have to go through this alone. There is hope for recovery, and you are much more than your diagnosis. Mental illness doesn’t define who you are.
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