Being diagnosed with schizophrenia was a big surprise in itself, but there have been other surprises that have come along about the disorder over the years.
When I was diagnosed, there was a lot of confusion about the disorder. I had no idea what schizophrenia was. When the hospital ward psychiatrist diagnosed me without an explanation of what it meant to be living with schizophrenia, my first reaction was fear. It wasn’t until I met my prescribing psychiatrist after discharge that I learned about my diagnosis.
To my surprise, they explained to me that schizophrenia is nothing to be afraid of. People from all walks of life throughout the world have the disorder. Even though doctors don’t know the exact cause; research shows that a combination of genetics and environment can trigger the disease.
This piqued my interested to learn more about the disease. What I found is that many genes play a role in the odds of getting schizophrenia and that people with the disorder may be more likely to have problems in their genes that can interfere with brain development.
We also have differences in the brain chemicals dopamine and glutamate. Both carry messages to your cells along pathways that are believed to control thinking, perception, and motivation. When you have schizophrenia, brain areas controlled by dopamine may become overactive, resulting in delusions and hallucinations.
Glutamate is involved in the part of the brain that forms memories and helps you learn new things. People with schizophrenia at first have too much glutamate activity in the brain, but as the disease progresses, it decreases. This leads to cognitive disturbances. Genetic changes can also interact with environmental triggers and life stressors to contribute to the disease.
Despite this new knowledge, I still had a very negative perception of the disorder and stigmatized myself for having the diagnosis. I was afraid I would suffer from the symptoms for the rest of my life. I believed I would always lack focus, have no motivation, hear voices, and never get a real grasp of reality again.
I got medications to help manage my symptoms, but -- another surprise -- that wasn’t enough. Medication is vital to managing symptoms, but without therapy, good treatment outcomes aren’t possible. Medication without therapy is like putting a bandage on the disease. Medication helped to manage my delusions and hallucinations, but therapy assisted me in strengthening my cognitive focus, motivation, and grasp on reality, while teaching me coping strategies so that symptoms wouldn’t become elevated.
With this new knowledge of the disease, medication, and therapy, I was able to understand what was going on with on my brain and begin to manage my symptoms as well. This was all well and good, but I didn’t just want to have an understanding of schizophrenia and manage my symptoms. I wanted to get back the life that I lost due to having schizophrenia.
There was a time when I lived independently, worked, and had an active social life. But that all disappeared to a degree due to my diagnosis. With encouragement from my support network, I gained a sense of hope that I would get better and have a fulfilling life. I learned that recovery is possible. Today I’m living my best life! I have an active social life with healthy relationships. My job and volunteer work give me purpose, and I’m well on my way to living independently once again.
When I look back, I realize that the biggest surprise of all is that these three situations are interconnected. Knowing about my disorder made it easier to manage symptoms through medication and therapy, which led to a healthy recovery process. They are like three interlinked puzzle pieces. If one was missing, my recovery process would be incomplete.
Everyone has a different mental health recovery process, but I believe not having these three pieces somewhere in your puzzle may impede your process. It doesn’t matter which piece comes first for you as long as each piece is there. So don’t let your fear of this disorder keep you from finding your pieces and fitting them together -- you might find your own big surprises along the way.
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