My world collapsed around me in 2015.
While juggling my third degree in college, working part-time as a coordinator at a large high school, my longtime partner returned from an interstate work trip and broke up with me.
Suddenly and immediately are my first words to describe my first experience with schizophrenia. Five months after turning 30, I was hospitalized with a first episode of schizophrenia, also loosely called “a nervous breakdown”.
I heard voices. I felt under surveillance, that my phone was tapped and looking at me, that people could see in the bathroom mirror when I took a shower. This secret police followed me on my walks around my house.
I believed the medical staff who visited me at home to check on my well-being and recovery were there to poison me. I tried to spit out medicine when they came to see me take my nighttime medicine.
The road to recovery has been difficult. I was hospitalized three times in two years: my first stay, a second stay when the doctors changed my medication under supervision, then a short stay when my medication changed a third time.
Recovery is not always linear.
The stigma around schizophrenia has affected me a lot. After 10 years of teaching without any problem concerning the safety of my students or the quality of my teaching, I was dismissed from his post.
This is what I would like people to know about schizophrenia, and what they would not say to those living with this disease.
“Take your meds, lose weight and you will be fine”
Medicine plays an important role in the management of schizophrenia. I wouldn’t be well if I didn’t take the medicine. However, that does not solve everything.
There is so much complexity and layers on the condition that even I don’t fully understand. I don’t know all of my triggers.
Some of my friends and family don’t understand my experience or the seriousness of it. Some say “everyone is depressed, just take your meds.”
I had to re-evaluate these friendships.
My mother is a former psychiatric nurse and is really understanding and supportive. But other family members said, “Just lose weight, exercise, and take your meds.”
People also talk about my weight and say, “If you lose weight you will be happier.” “You should go for a walk.” “Try that.”
People shouldn’t be telling you how to deal with a mental health problem. Let me take care of it as I want. If that means eating six blocks of chocolate and watching a movie, so be it.
“What drugs have you taken? What did you do?’
Many people think that schizophrenia is always caused by medication.
Health professionals and people in my life have said to me, “Oh, what did you do, what did you take? I wasn’t sure. I arrived here on my own.
I’m not too frustrated because I know drugs can play a big role, but people’s brains can also break on their own.
You just don’t know what other people are going through or what their struggles are. Be compassionate and kind.
i am not a dangerous person
The immediate judgment I get from some people when I speak openly about my sanity is truly confronting. I am not a dangerous person. The person for whom I am most dangerous is myself.
I don’t run trying to hurt someone.
The delusions I have are just related to myself, I don’t feel safe.
One of my triggers are helicopters. It reminds me of times when I was going through my own psychosis and I thought people were following me and looking at me through the window.
Please sit down, listen and validate
It’s so important to sit down and listen to the people who are going through this. It is powerful.
It helps that my family or friends take me for coffee or for a walk.
I have had friends who took me to lunch and talk about their experiences, and I feel like everything is fine.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of normalizing the situation as much as possible and saying there’s nothing wrong with it. No judgment.
Validate my experience and what I went through. Recognize the trauma. Thus, we feel we are heard and listened to.
Some people, like my psychologist, water me like a flower and educate me about thought patterns and how I can change them.
Recovery is difficult
After my hospital stays, I had to move home at age 31 with my mom and dad. I lost my teaching career, had to move everything home and had to rebuild my life.
I just wanted to reconnect with the world. I found it difficult. I started to return to the community and I couldn’t get out of it. I was struggling in the crowd, with flickering lights in the malls, the music was too loud.
When my parents came from overseas after I got home, my sister and I took my cousins to the zoo, and I just couldn’t cope. My legs were shaking, I couldn’t control my body. I had to wait in the car until they were done.
I hate to talk about psychiatric services as being a prison, but you lose your freedoms when you are forced into it.
Coming back to the world, it felt like I had been in jail and had to try to earn and manage my money, to do basic things like shopping for groceries.
I now work with people with special needs and others with schizophrenia. I help people cook, clean and shop.
My attitude is that mental health issues can affect anyone at any time.
You can become disabled at any time, so it can be helpful to know NDIS and the services available.
You don’t know you will need it until you need it.
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