People With Mental Disorders Talk About Their Lives. You Can Hardly Guess How Schizophrenia Starts
There is a very radical idea that around 3 thousand years ago, all people were schizophrenics. This idea is based on the analysis of manuscripts of different cultures: people in completely different parts of the world had absolutely no connection but behaved in similar ways — they heard voices and they followed orders thinking it was their gods or muses talking to them. Today, mental health problems have become a synonym for a disability, but in fact, people who have these problems can have normal lives among relatively healthy people. You might even be friends with people who have mental health issues and not even know it.
Bright Side offers you the chance to imagine being inside the minds of people with different psychological problems and understand what it means to have a mental illness. If you ever notice similar behavior among the people you know, you’ll be aware of the situations where you need to ask for help and potentially save someone’s life.
Everyone has seen a homeless person, unkempt, probably ill-fed, standing outside of an office building muttering to themselves or shouting. This person is likely to have some form of schizophrenia. But schizophrenia presents itself across a wide array of socioeconomic statuses and there are people with the illness who are full-time professionals with major responsibilities. Like me.
So the following episode happened the seventh week of my first semester of my first year at Yale Law School. Quoting from my writings: "My 2 classmates, Rebel and Val, and I had made a date to meet in the law school library on Friday night to work on our memo assignment together. But we didn’t get far before I was talking in ways that made no sense. “Memos are visitations,” I informed them. “They make certain points. The point is on your head. Pat used to say that. Have you killed anyone?” Rebel and Val looked at me as if they or I had been splashed in the face with cold water. “What are you talking about, Elyn?”
I asked my classmates if they were having the same experience of words jumping around our cases as I was. “I think someone’s infiltrated my copies of the cases,” I said. “We’ve got to case the joint. I don’t believe in joints, but they do hold your body together.’” Eventually, I made my way back to my dorm room, and once there, I couldn’t settle down. My head was too full of noise, too full of orange trees and law memos I could not write and mass murders I knew I would be responsible for.
Later, I’ve been to many hospitals, had long treatments. But thanks to my relatives, my life didn’t end on a hospital bed. Instead, I’m a chaired Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry at the USC Gould School of Law, I have many close friends and I have a beloved husband, Will. TED
- I’ve got bipolar disorder. The problem with this condition is that even if you are a doctor, you don’t notice that something is wrong with you. At least, before you have your own experience recognizing the early signs, like talking a lot, having a lot of energy and not knowing what to do with it, and most importantly, a low need for sleep. If you miss the short window when you can still take action, there’s a chance that you won’t be able to ask for help yourself — you’ll need to be taken to the hospital.
I missed my first signs. The incredibly good mood I explained with the fact that I fell in love with a colleague. I started writing poems. I organized a concert, found artists, sang songs. On the same day, we went to Saint Petersburg for a tour and I was at my best: I ran around the city, I met new people (it’s easy for people with my disorder), I went to the swimming pool, sauna, spa, and gym. I didn’t sleep the entire night — I spent it talking to a guard. And in the morning, I took everyone to a barbecue. I had to borrow money from my colleague to do all this, and at the moment, it didn’t seem to be a problem. I was having so much fun!
When I got back I started reorganizing my office: I brought a lot of important things there even though I wasn’t supposed to do this, according to the rules. This was the moment when my colleague figured out that there was something wrong with me. By the way, I diagnosed myself in the ambulance. I was right. The Question
- I have OCD. It’s torture. Not a single activity can be completed without some sort of ritualistic behavior, it takes up so much of your time you pretty much have to be prepared to be late for everything. Thoughts like:
“If you don’t turn that shampoo bottle to face away from you, your mother will die in her sleep tonight and it will be your fault.”
“Turn the lights on and off 10 times or you’ll vomit tonight.” (I also have a phobia of vomiting.)
And “If you don’t move that knife to a certain area of the table a member of your family will knock it, get stabbed, and die, and it’ll be your fault.”
Every single mundane activity is suddenly a life or death situation, and you have to get it exactly right. Oh and if you don’t get it right the first time, you just repeat it over and over again until you do. So yes, you too could end up touching that laptop charger plug 80 times before you can move on with your day. Quora
- I’ve got Tourette’s: sometimes my arm twitches, sometimes I scream words that a normal person would never say in public and, most importantly, I can’t control this. And, it’s not a problem for me or my partner. You just need to trust a person and tell them about your disorder in the very beginning of your relationship, so it doesn’t become something unexpected when this person hears you, a good-looking girl, shouting obscene words.
- Bipolar disorder is basically mania, followed by depression. When I have the mania part, I manage to do a lot of bad things — drugs, insomnia, uncontrollable shopping, and I begin a thousand other things. And then, I have depression.
This illness started back when I was at school and I was in a terrible mood for several weeks. I even went up to the rooftop and tried to jump. Later in college, it was hard for me to go to classes. I didn’t have the drive or the motivation to go until I was expelled.
Over time, the depression got worse and lasted longer. I quit jobs, I didn’t leave my apartment, I didn’t eat, I didn’t return calls. And most importantly, I didn’t understand what was going on with me, I blamed myself, my laziness, and my inability to do something about it. Depression leads to the disappearance of critical thinking. So, no matter how strange the things you do seem, you don’t realize that you are sick. The Question
- The worst thing about bipolar disorder to me is that I’m afraid to do anything that will make me too happy because I don’t know how many more deep depressions I can withstand. After all, the suicide rate for bipolar disorder is around 20 percent. Quora
- I’m an astronomy and astrophysics major at Penn State and the founder and president of the Penn State Pulsar Search Collaboratory. I know what you must be thinking: “What a nerd!” “Nerd alert!” Well, for the longest time, this nerd had a secret. A secret that I was too scared and too embarrassed to tell anyone. That secret is that I have schizophrenia.
It became very prevalent in my junior year of high school and then it just snowballed through college. In February of 2014, my freshman year of college, my life changed when I tried to take my own life through suicide. Because my life had become a nightmare and by this time, I had started hallucinating. I started seeing, hearing, and feeling things that weren’t there. Everywhere that I went, I was followed around by a clown that looked very similar to the Stephen King adaptation of “It.” Everywhere that I went, he would be giggling, taunting me, poking me, and sometimes even biting me. But it started becoming unbearable when I started hallucinating about this girl. She looked sort of like the girl in the movie “The Ring.” The thing with her was she was able to continue conversations with herself, and would know exactly what to say and when to say it to chip away at my insecurities. But the worst was, she would also carry a knife around with her and she would stab me, sometimes in the face. This made taking tests, quizzes, and doing homework in general extremely difficult to nearly impossible when I was in college. I’m just someone who cannot turn off my nightmares, even when I’m awake.
It took me 8 months. 8 months after my suicide attempt I finally got the treatment that I needed. I didn’t even have the diagnosis of schizophrenia and because of that, what kept me from getting help were conversations like these. I remember very distinctively around that time being on the phone with my mother. I would tell my mom, “Mom I’m sick, I’m seeing things that aren’t there, I need medicine, I need to talk to a doctor.” Her response? “No, no, no, no. You can’t tell anyone about this. This can’t be on our medical history.” What I say to that now is “Don’t let anyone convince you to not get medical help. It’s not worth it! It is your choice and it is also your right.” Getting medical help was the best decision that I have ever made.
I opened up about my schizophrenia through a blog, and I posted all my blog posts on Facebook. And I was amazed by how much support there was out there. I also realized that there are so many other people just like me. I was actually amazed! A few of my friends opened up to me that they had schizophrenia. Now I am dedicated to being a mental health advocate. I have schizophrenia and I am not a monster. TED
I do have OCD, but don’t tell anybody. I’m afraid that they will see me as an outcast or something similar and I feel that I can get through this by myself.
Anyway, here’s how I see it:
Every action that you do needs a counteraction. For example, if you take a red M&M with your right hand, then get one with your left. That’s RL (right, left). But that isn’t balanced because it has to be symmetrical. So I follow it up with LR to make RLLR. Symmetrical, but R starts and ends. It needs its counteractions, LRRL, to complete it. I do that, come to RLLRLRRL, which seems alright but is not symmetrical. So I repeat the process, again and again, until I give up on myself and try to blank the situation out of my mind because it isn’t perfect.
Here’s another situation: Typing this right now, all the left keys are typed with my left forefinger, and the right keys with my right forefinger. The delete is my right ring finger and shift my left ring finger, all balanced, all perfect. However, I use both thumbs one at a time to hit the space bar. RL, then LR and LRRL, etc. on and on until I give up. Every. Single. Time. Quora
- How does it feel when you have bipolar disorder? Imagine taking amphetamines and forgetting about it. The changed reality seems normal. After a week of sleepless nights, the world starts following laws that only I understand: “I’m chosen, all my relatives know it but don’t tell me. My parents are not my parents, they want me to die. My hands can heal people, so I have to touch everyone.”
After the first episode an ill person often learns to manipulate other people successfully, including doctors, without revealing their plans. For other people, this is hard to understand and close people often become enemies because they don’t admit the obvious. Today, I decide to visit as many countries as I can, and tomorrow I’m flying to god knows where with no money in my pocket. My last episode ended with 7 nights behind bars, deportation from a European country, and 2 months in a psychiatric facility. The Question
- As a girl with anxiety things often spiral out of control in my mind. “My husband went on a business trip for a week and I got really scared. The thought that something could happen to him and he would die didn’t visit me just once or twice a day — I was thinking about it constantly. And when he returned, I didn’t feel any better. We were walking down the street, holding hands, and I was thinking what if this was the last moment when I saw him alive? I stopped eating. Why should I eat if the worst thing ever is about to happen?”
Here is the disorder from her husband’s point of view: “In order to go somewhere and communicate with someone, a normal person needs to make a little effort — from 0 to 5 on a 10-grade scale. A person who has a psychological disorder needs 20 points just to get out of bed. It takes great courage and those close to this person have to remember this. I praised my wife for making coffee herself, going outside, coming back from work — I kept reminding her that she was a hero.” Meduza
- 5 years ago I started dating the perfect girlfriend. It was great for 2 years and we decided to get married. But several months after marriage, her behavior changed a lot: it all started when she decided to leave her job (even though she really wanted it, but she only spent one week in the position). She explained to me that her boss had harassed her. Then, she started drinking, smoking a lot, and stopped sleeping. Then ambulance, hospital, and diagnosis: “schizoaffective disorder.” The Question
- At Oxford my obvious weight loss, depression, and mutterings to myself caused a friend to encourage me to see a doctor. I thought: “I’m not sick. I’m just a bad, defective, stupid, and evil person.” But I realized suicide was a possibility and that persuaded me to seek help. I was diagnosed as being in the early stages of schizophrenia. Psychology Today
- The day I left home for the first time to go to college was a bright day brimming with hope and optimism. I’d done well in high school. Expectations for me were high and I gleefully entered the student life of lectures, parties, and traffic cone theft. Now appearances, of course, can be deceptive, and to an extent, this feisty, energetic persona of lecture-going and traffic cone stealing was a veneer, albeit a very well-crafted and convincing one. Underneath, I was actually deeply unhappy, insecure, and fundamentally frightened — frightened of other people, of the future, of failure, and of the emptiness that I felt was within me.
As the first semester ended and the second began, there was no way that anyone could have predicted what was just about to happen. I was leaving a seminar when it started, humming to myself, fumbling with my bag just as I’d done a hundred times before, when suddenly I heard a voice calmly observe, “She is leaving the room.” I looked around, and there was no one there, but the clarity and decisiveness of the comment was unmistakable. Shaken, I left my books on the stairs and hurried home, and there it was again. “She is opening the door.”
And the voice persisted, days and then weeks of it, on and on, narrating everything I did in the third person. “She is going to the library.” “She is going to a lecture.” It was neutral, impassive, and even, after a while, strangely companionate and reassuring. Suddenly the voice didn’t seem quite so benign anymore. There were many of them. They told me, for example, that if I proved myself worthy of their help, then they could change my life back to how it had been, and a series of increasingly bizarre tasks was set, a kind of labor of Hercules. It started off quite small, for example, pull out 3 strands of hair, but gradually it grew more extreme culminating in commands to harm myself. Once, they gave me these instructions: “You see that tutor over there? You see that glass of water? Well, you have to go over and pour it on him in front of the other students.” Which I actually did, and which needless to say did not endear me to the faculty.
2 years later the deterioration was dramatic. By now I had the whole frenzied repertoire: terrifying voices, grotesque visions, and bizarre, intractable delusions. I’d been diagnosed, drugged and discarded. I was, by now, so tormented by the voices that I attempted to drill a hole in my head in order to get them out.
I used to say that these people saved me. But what I now know is they did something even more important in that they empowered me to save myself, and crucially, they helped me to understand something which I’d always suspected: that my voices were a meaningful response to traumatic life events, particularly childhood events, and as such were not my enemies but a source of insight into solvable emotional problems.
Now at first this was very difficult to believe, because the voices appeared so hostile and menacing, so in this respect, a vital first step was learning to separate out a metaphorical meaning from what I’d previously interpreted to be a literal truth. So for example, voices which threatened to attack my home I learned to interpret as my own sense of fear and insecurity in the world, rather than an actual, objective danger.
I would set boundaries for the voices, and try to interact with them in a way that was assertive yet respectful, establishing a slow process of communication and collaboration which we could learn to work together and support one another. The voices took the place of this pain and gave words to it, and possibly one of my greatest revelations was when I realized that the most hostile and aggressive voices actually represented the parts of me that had been hurt most profoundly, and as such, it was these voices that needed to be shown the greatest compassion and care. TED
Have you ever noticed similar behavior among the people you know? Do you think that now you are more ready for a situation like this?
Illustrated by Daniil Shubin for BrightSide.me