Being diagnosed with Schizophrenia
When I was diagnosed by a psychologist with schizophrenia at the age of twenty, not once did I think my life is over. I do not mean that in a positive light. Thoughts like “I can get through this”, were far from my mind. On the contrary: the diagnosis had no meaning. All my thoughts at the time were in a confused state. If anything, being paranoid and hearing voices, I thought being diagnosed with schizophrenia meant I was special. Looking back now at the age of thirty years old, I see how naive I was. For my parents, they thought this meant having a daughter that would be a dependent for the rest of their lives, “she will never get through this.” It must have been terrifying to see your own child as a sort of being, without the mind of the daughter they knew.
Sometimes, it is easy to pretend we are okay.
Two years later, after some mildly successful treatment, I found myself being hospitalized. I was discharged within a week on the premise that I was fine. I remember my time there, the first time I was hospitalized. I remember thinking all I have to do to get out of here, is do exactly what they tell me. I grew up doing acting classes, so it was almost like a show to me. Sometimes, it is easy to pretend we are okay.
After a month out of the hospital, I found myself back in there. This time, the doctor on staff confirmed I was schizophrenic. The show will not work on them anymore. After some time, whether I was in a good state or not, I was discharged. I remember feeling like this cannot be my life. I remember, as now I was on a different medication that seemed to work for me, that everything that happened before was a trick of the mind. I remember the hopelessness I felt. I will never have a normal life, was constantly running through my mind.
Suicide begins as an idea.
It turns into fitting everything that you know, that you experience, into reasons that suicide is the answer. I remember it being a battle in my mind. A voice telling me that I needed to escape, and another voice -although much softer and subtler- telling me that this is not the end. The more I tried to see what could possibly make my life better, the more I found out that, schizophrenia does not make you special.
Schizophrenia is an illness of the brain, that I must battle for the rest of my life. Schizophrenia does not make you stronger, it makes every person diagnosed with it fight and fight and fight, until they are completely exhausted. After my suicide attempt, the only thought running through my mind was, how do I avoid seeing the anguish on my parents’ and my brothers’ faces when they look at me. I love my family. I thought I will do anything, and everything to make being schizophrenic okay. At the time, I did not know how hard it would be, and I look back now and think, I gave every ounce of my energy to be just “okay” and to mean it.
Recovery is a journey.
I started running. I ran Obstacle Course Races. I participated in mental health youth groups. I took my medication (a new medication that does not make me feel as tired as the one before). I worked as a Peer Support Specialist. For 6 years after my suicide attempt, I was “okay”. I had not experienced symptoms, like paranoia or voices, in years. I started to experience something new. My father had passed away. I was dealing with new emotions, new thoughts, new sleeping conditions. I was diagnosed with Hypnagogic Hallucinations. Which is, auditory and visual hallucinations in the realm between wakefulness and sleep. Suddenly, the fight I was in was different, but all the more intense. In a few words, I gave up. I was completely done; I did not want to take care of myself anymore. I went off my medication.
I was hospitalized once again, when my family had thought the worst of it was over. I pushed my family ties to the brink of severance. My mother did not visit me in the hospital, as she had informed me that she could not support me anymore after I went off my medication. It took about six months for my thoughts, and emotions to go haywire. But the medication I was using before, still worked when I went back on it in the hospital.
Family is the most supportive network someone suffering with complex mental illness can have. My father’s sister or my aunt, took me in and housed and supported me throughout my re-recovery. It was one of the most vulnerable moments of my life, and someone was there to catch me. For that, I will forever be grateful. It was not easy for my aunt, my uncle, and cousins to live with someone that is hurting as I was. The relationships I kept at the time, were not healthy for me. I was surrounded by people that cared for me (my family), and I know it hurt them that I did not see my worth.
I had relationships that were physically, and emotionally abusive. Sometimes I would look in the mirror and not recognize the person staring back at me. I felt lost, and I felt like my family did not understand that I was worthless. I now see that my family thought the world of me, and that I could be independent, and it was just something that I could not see. When I look in the mirror now, I see someone with a life ahead of them. I aspire to gain full-time employment, to find a healthy relationship, and to show my family how much I care for them.
Everyone Needs Self-Care
Something I realized after going through my first and second episode, was there was moments where I felt like my family was abandoning me. I felt hurt that they could not stop whatever was happening in my mind. Now, I understand that everyone needs self-care. My family may not have been able to be there for me as, it is extremely stressful to witness a decomposition of the mind, that is completely out of their control. Although, they cared for me, they had to put themselves first. If they did not do that, they would never be able to support me at all.
When I was younger, I would look at my family and think they are living their normal lives. It made me jealous and angry. “I’ll never be normal.” As time has gone on, one of my favourite questions to ask myself is “what is normal anyways?”. I had a lot of judgement of myself and others that I had to let go. Life is not about living up to standards, it is about being in your shoes, your feet on the ground, staying connected to the earth and opening your heart to the possibility of the sun shining tomorrow.
Two years later, I am here. I went back to school, I got a new job, I reconnected with an old employer from my teenage years, and I found my own place to live. My relationship with my mother is probably the best it has ever been. I am more conscious of my actions because sometimes, as cliché as it is, you do not know what you have, until it is gone. I make mistakes, but I muster up the courage to correct them. I strive to take care of myself and be okay.
It has been a journey to get the place I am at now. I remind myself that in order to be in the future, I must be in the present. I am taking care of the now, and find glimmers of hope for the future. When I am hopeful, I am happy. When I look to the past, I am regretful of the things I wish I could change. But I carry the lessons forward.
I look at my surroundings and ask myself, what do I need to change? I also look to the past to remember. I cherish the memories of my father. I do not burden myself with making him proud, but I want to honour him. I will honour him by living my life, by finding the smallest joys to be grateful for, and by caring for my family that are still with me.