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Atlanta, Georgia, United States
I am overcoming schizophrenia, and I believe others can too. Here is how I am managing my condition...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Creating a Support System

Support is crucial to recovery from any mental illness. Everybody needs some sort of support. For those of you who do not have family support I have come up with some suggestions to build your own family of support. I know that what I am about to share with you may sound easy, but it is not, therefore I commend for making an effort in getting support.

You can join a Clubhouse. A Clubhouse is a place where you can build relationships with other people who are affected by mental illness. You can also learn how to cope with symptoms, get back into school, find a job, and find quality housing options. To get an idea of what a Clubhouse is about here is a list of some Clubhouses to visit:

1) Fountain House
2) International Center for Clubhouse Development
3) Spring City Corner Clubhouse
4) Contra Costa Clubhouses, Inc.
5) Clubhouse of Lehigh County

Join an organization such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that caters to mental illnesses. In addition to NAMI, you can join Mental Health America. If you know of any other great organizations please provide them, I know there are a lot out there.

Join a church family. I do not know your beliefs, however, there is a religious group for everyone. You can meet a lot of people by attending various activities. I've been a member of a few different churches, and still have friends from these churches. We worship together, fellowship together, and support each other's needs.

Get involved with your local mental clinic. The center may offer classes where you could meet and build relationships with other people.

Finally, online support groups are helpful. They allow you to share experiences, ask for advice, and to meet other people affected by mental illness, the same as if you were in an in-person group setting. Here are a couple of online support groups that I use:

SchizophreniaConnection.com and Schizophrenia Support Network.com

In my experience, joining a Clubhouse, getting involved with the local mental health clinic, online support group, and joining a church were the most beneficial to me because I got that personal welcome and people knew each other by name. There was a tight knit group of people wanting to support me. However, you may feel that joining an organization is more beneficial to you.

Where do you get support?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Medication For Schizophrenia

I am not a doctor but I know that medication is essential in treating schizophrenia, along with therapy and support. Before I go into this subject of medication, I strongly recommend that you talk to a psychiatrist about any treatment for schizophrenia, you may try a few different antpsychotic drugs, like I did, until you find the right one.

This illness is like diabetes and needs continuous treatment, there is no cure. The medication relieves some of the positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms, however, some people can still experience symptoms while on medication.

To gain insight into some of the symptoms of schizophrenia refer to an older post called "Types of Symptoms," which can be found in September 2008. With treatment a person with schizophrenia is (http://www.helpguide.org/mental/schizophrenia_treatment_support.htm):
  • Less likely to have frequent or lengthy hospitalizations
  • Less likely to require intensive support at home
  • Less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Less likely to commit suicide
  • More likely to live and work independently
  • More likely to enjoy satisfying relationships


So then why do people with schizophrenia stop taking their medication. One of the most common reasons is that people forget. In fact, I have forgotten to take my medication a few times, however, I took it as soon as I remembered. In group a little while ago we discussed some of the reasons why people stop taking their medication, and this is what we came up with:

  • They are in denial that they have a mental illness
  • They think they don't need the medication because they feel better
  • The harsh side effects such as tardive dyskinesia or abnormal involuntary movements (usually in the hands, feet, tongue, or lips), akathisia or restlessness, muscle stiffness, tremors
  • They have simply run out of medication
  • They can't afford the medication


Here are some medications that treat schizophrenia (these are just a few, there are a whole lot more...) (http://www.schizophrenia.com/meds.html#atypical):

  • Stelazine (Trifluoperazine)
  • Flupenthixol (Fluanxol)
  • Loxapine (Loxapac, Loxitane)
  • Perphenazine (Etrafon, Trilafon)
  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
  • Haldol (Haloperidol)
  • Prolixin (Fluphenazine Decanoate, Modecate, Permitil)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Resperidone (Risperdal)
  • Seroquel (Quetiapine)
  • Zyprexia (Olanzapine)
  • Geodon (Ziprasidone)
  • Risperdal (resperidone)

Personally, I've tried Zyprexa, Geodon, and Abilify. I experienced various side effects for each one such as akathisia (feeling of restlessness), restless legs, hunger, and stiffness. However, side effects could have been worse. Taking antipsychotic drugs could also lead to weight gain, tremors, sleepiness, diabetes, tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movement of the lips, hands, feet, and tongue), and the list of side effects goes on.

As you know everybody was not made the same, therefore, one drug that works for Sally may not work for Bob. Doctors prescribe specific drugs depending on a lot of things such as medical history. For example, some drugs are more prone to cause diabetes, therefore, people with family history of diabetes will most likely be presecribed a different drug.

I am not an expert, talk to your psychiatrist about the right drug for you or a loved one.

If you have a mental illness and do not mind sharing, which drug do you take and what are the side effects?

The Overcoming Schizophrenia Blog

The purpose of this blog is to educate, to fight stereotypes and stigma... Three out of 100 people experience psychosis. To learn what psychosis is go the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) blog and read the January 29th post, "Facing Psychosis Video."

My blog has a growing community, which I am very excited about. I hope we can support each other by sharing experiences and asking questions. I appreciate all followers and readers, and hope you are learning something new and interesting about schizophrenia.

Also, I started a new group, OvercomingSchizophrenia Blog, so I hope you will stop by and consider joining.

I encourage questions, suggestions, and feedback related to schizophrenia. I appreciate you for taking an interest in this mental illness, and hope you take notice to the new resources and information links provided on the bottom right.

Please don't hesitate to contact me by email about any concerns or anything at all at valash08@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hallucination Question

Zain asked this question: "I've heard that people with schizophrenia may hallucinate as to something or someone (not real) attacking them. Is it possible for this imaginary thing to actually hurt them physically when they perceive it to hit them?"

Answer: In general, hallucinations can come in many forms; visual, audible, smell, taste, and feeling... However, in an effort to protect oneself, the person with schizophrenia may personally cause harm to themself. For example, if a person is on the third floor of a building and is in a room with a bunch of snakes (not real) they will do everything in their power to not get bit. That includes throwing objects, cutting things, burning things, or even jumping out of the window.

Another example is a person on the street sees something (not real) coming at them. As a result they jump into the street into oncoming traffic and is hurt by a car, not the thing they were running from.

In addition to that, this is when bystanders could possibly get hurt. Although people with schizophrenia are generally not violent people, hallucinations could lead them to attack another person in self defense of the thing that is not real, but is attacking them.

So, in closing, the object, person (not real)... itself is incapable of causing physical harm, itself. But, a person can get hurt trying to avoid it.

I welcome any questions related to schizophrenia.

Understanding Oneself (click here to go to the site with the picture)




This describes schizophrenia...My psychotic break led to my institutionalization. At first, when I was institutionalized I did not understand what was going on. I didn't do the things I like to do because I didn't feel motivated or because of fear.

For example, I love to write I keep a journal, however, while I was away I was scared to write because somebody, anybody, could read my diary, I was paranoid. Also, I was very emotional. My delusions made me believe a member of family hurt my mother and her siblings in their childhood. I was confused and didn't know why or where these peculiar thoughts came from.

I was also hearing voices, it made keeping conversaton with people very difficult. The voices made do strange things. For example, I would get up in the middle of the night and flush all the toilets repeatedly, until a bunkmate would tell me to go back to sleep.

Before I was institutionalized I had trouble concentrating on homework and work assignments. It would take me a long time to complete assignments, I thought I just slow at the time. I did not know that I had adult onset schizophrenia, which disrupts cognitive functions.

A little after a year has passed from my psychotic break and I feel great. I am back doing the things I used to enjoy. I have a better understanding of my illness and myself.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Schizophrenia: Lack of Support

"People with schizophrenia are more likely to experience discrimination by those closest to them than by employers or officials, a global survey suggests...Some 47% of those asked reported discrimination when it came to making and keeping friends, while 43% found similar problems with family." (Click on the title of this post to read the article in its entirety). I found the article on the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) blog)

This irritates me on so many levels, because the person with schizophrenia had no choice but to develop the illness as a result of genetics and environmental factors. The person living with schizophrenia must succumb to the illness's terrors. If they had a choice they wouldn't experience the harsh symptoms of schizophrenia such as delusions and hallucinations. Also, family members should not deny other members of the family because everyone needs support. It's already bad enough that some people outside the family discriminate and want to see others fail.

Support can come in so many ways. For example, reminding an individual to take their medication, or just talking to them. Performing recreational activities with the individual with schizophrenia. Researching information on the other person's illness and discussing it with them. If a member sees the individual with schizophrenia drifting away, they can seek professional help for that person, in order, to prevent a full blown relapse.

Twenty percent of people living with schizophrenia end up being homeless, and 15 percent end up incarcerated for minor crimes. I believe these statistics are the result of lack of support from family, friends, and health professionals. Another article (A Four-Part Series on Young People With Mental Illness...) found on the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) blog decribes a woman with an adult child who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder. The person with the illness has had several hospitalizations, however, health professionals continue to release him without confirmation of community support. This patient almost killed his mother by choking her. He was sent to jail and then a psychiatric hospital, however, released. The mother cannot get health professionals to get him to stay in their care. Therefore, there is an ongoing cycle of hospitalizations and jail.

I strongly encourage you to check out the SSNS blog and to read the article about the survey of people with schizophrenia not getting support from families (by clicking on the title of this blog). Also, read my December post, "Families Need Support Too."

What are your feelings about the statistics in the article? If you had a relative with schizophrenia would you acknowledge them or shun them?

If you have a mental illness do you get support from family? What other ways can someone support the individual with mental illness?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Do You Feel Challenged?

Now that you have schizophrenia do you feel challenged? My step-father asked me this earlier today.

The issue with having schizophrenia is that you are constantly concerned with the fear of having a relapse and being sent back to the hospital. Or having recurring symptoms that make it hard for you to function, despite medication compliance.

Schizophrenia is a challenge, however, I turn it into motivation. Schizophrenia makes me take things more slowly compared to past activities and/or events, however, I still believe I can fulfill goals. I do not limit myself or stigmatize myself because of the illness. However, I do acknowledge I have an illness and find ways to cope with it. For example, people with schizophrenia frequently display flat emotion. Accordingly, I try to be more vocal about my feelings.

I believe everyone has an issue or challenge whether it be an addiction, a medical ailment, a mental disorder, a personality disorder, or problems with relationships and family, and so on; nobody is perfect. I still push myself to be independent to an extent and to take a part in the community. For instance, my goal is to complete college. I will carry out this goal, but it will take a little longer because I will have to go to school part-time, or less than part-time in order for the course load not to trigger symptoms.

I strongly believe I can overcome this illness with medication compliance, therapy, and support. Without these elements I would not be able to do half the things I am doing now. In other words, I feel challenged, but not as much as a result of the treatments I am taking advantage of. I will turn this ordeal around to work in my favor. I know that if I perform too many activities at once it could lead to unnecessary stress, and that would lead to symptoms returning. Therefore, I will take baby steps with everything I do, while returning to school, doing my marketing internship, and living life.

What challenges do you face?

Speech on Schizophrenia and Stigma (click here to go to this speech)

March 13, 2006

By Pamela Spiro Wagner

I could be your daughter or your son, your sister or brother, your mother or father, your friend or your neighbor. I suffer from schizophrenia.

For decades, I’ve lived, along with almost three million other people with schizophrenia, in a desolate, dark, little room with a large padlock on the door.

The room is stigma, the darkness is fear and the lock is ignorance.

I want to speak to you today, having had schizophrenia for decades, to break down the walls of fear and suspicion, unburden you of the myths and mysteries that lead to stigma and get you open that door. I’d like to tell you some reasons why medication compliance is such a difficult issue in schizophrenia and a little about how I began to recover.

Medication. What a struggle! I was never going to take medication. Medication meant I was sick. I hated the label, I hated the very idea of a label. But I hated the side effects most. Never mind what medication did FOR me, I hated what it did TO me.

For starters, there was: dullness, deadness, lack of motivation, feelings of impending doom. Then: not being able to swallow my saliva, overwhelming sedation, a sixty-to-seventy pound weight gain. Drooling or dry mouth, stiffness or shaking, agonizing internal restlessness, movement disorders...Need I go on?

Well, given all that, what would you do? Time after time, I stopped taking first one pill then another and another...

Predictably, I became psychotic again. People with schizophrenia are faced with this all the time. Either they stay psychotic or they suffer side effects that can sometimes be as bad or worse than the illness.

If you know someone who has been psychotic, you’ve seen what a horrendous state it is, so this might seem hard to believe. How could side effects be worse than psychosis?

In fact, sometimes the side effects are life threatening and then the medication has to be stopped even when it works. Side effects have to be reckoned with or compliance will be zilch, even with meds that obviously help.

The right medication can help, though, and when the side effects are tolerable, it can make the difference between chronic illness and recovery. I wouldn’t be standing here to day without it.

Tolerable, though, is the operative word. I don’t have to believe my pills help me; I’ve promised to take them anyway. If I didn’t feel they were more harmless than harmful, in other words, if the side effects weren’t tolerable, I couldn’t have made that promise to begin with.

But “medication compliance” is iffy for other reasons as well. Some take medication until they feel better, then stop it because they feel better, only to get sick again. This sets up a destructive cycle into which they often have little insight. Other people with schizophrenia do not believe their difficulties constitute an illness. If the CIA and FBI control me through a microchip implanted in my tooth, how will a pill solve that?

If I hear invisible voices that sound real, and think bizarre thoughts that feel true, how is medication even relevant? The solution is to get rid of the radio in the wall or go to the Middle East, find 22 linguists, and translate Gray Crinkled Paper.

I asked my dentist about my tooth. For a moment, he looked taken aback, but he regained his composure and answered with something like, “I understand you believe there’s a microchip in your tooth. I don’t think that’s possible. I think it’s a symptom of your illness. But I’ll take a look if it will make you feel better.” He was a pro.

The technician, on the other hand, passed over the tray of probes then backed a safe distance away. From that appointment on, she made sure I was sequestered in the last cubicle as soon as I arrived and made me stay there instead of the waiting room. Stigma.

Did you know that stigma originally meant the brand from a hot iron that they would burn into a wrongdoer’s face as a mark of shame? That’s why many young people won’t take medication. Because it sets them off from their peers, it brands them as different. But all of us with schizophrenia are stigmatized when people mock “mental patients,” or “schizos” or imply that we are axe-murderers just waiting to happen.

The effect of ignorance is the stigma that keeps us locked away where no one has to see or acknowledge us. Out of sight being out of mind, the mayors clean city streets of us and put us away in shelters, supposedly for our own good or imprison us for minor infractions and lower the crime rate.

But someone needs to stand up and ask where we’ve gone. Have we been sheltered or imprisoned, have we been helped or just hidden?

Side effects, lack of insight, stigma, -- side effects topping the list – any and all can lead someone to stop taking medication and compliance is almost always necessary for recovery. Talk therapy is crucial anyway. People used to think, Oh, schizophrenia, just give him some pills and that’s as good as he’s going to get. He doesn’t need to talk to a therapist. Why, talking might even be bad for him! This sort of mentality helped no one. People with schizophrenia are often frightened and lonely. At the very least they need someone to talk to.

But discussion can be even more profitable. My own doctor told me ad infinitum that I have an illness, a brain disease. Again and again, she insisted that hallucinations originate in the brain and that delusions are not real just because they feel real. I needed to hear this, though it took years to sink in. She always treated me not as a schizophrenic, but as a person, a full and complete human being with an illness that happened to be called schizophrenia. This is important. We don’t call a heart attack victim a cardiac, do we? Or a person suffering from meningitis – another brain disease -- a meningitic. No illness is all there is to a person, no illness erases the human being inside.

In September, 2004, voices compelled me to pour lighter fluid over my left leg and set it on fire. I had 3rd degree burns, skin grafts, the whole terrible shebang. February 2005, in the hospital again. I’d been admitted to psychiatric units many many times, by then, for a total of at least 8 years. This time voices yelled at me to burn the rest of my body.

That was it. I’d been tied down, locked in, shot up and kept inside for the last time. I had to decide: live or die.

One evening Lynnie visited. She was tired of it all too. She said, “Listen, this is what I tell my patients: You can always go down the old familiar road. You’ve taken it a million times. Why don’t you try something new, just for a change?” She called this ‘bushwhacking.’ I could always switch back to my old way. It was always there. But bushwhacking a brand new path for myself might bring me somewhere I liked better.

It’s still a mystery to me why this took, when nothing had so many times before. Maybe I just had to be ready to hear it. I decided I would try her advice. What did I have to lose? My newly bushwhacked path was to follow doctor’s orders and take every one of the medications prescribed me, as prescribed, without skipping a single dose. For a while at least, see where that got me.

After more than three decades of illness, recovery is still new to me. I didn’t expect it and it still takes me by surprise to be able to say, “No, I don’t hear voices much any more.” A lot of life passed me by in 35 years. After all is said and done, I have to realize that I’m a 53 year old on the outside but an adolescent inside and I have some growing up to do.

Hard as it sometimes is, I’ve chosen life, and that means I go on, no matter what. But when I look back, I don’t know how I survived all those years. I tried many times to avoid living. I tried to become a statistic. But Lynnie’s hope and Lynnie’s faith and Lynnie’s love pierced the darkness. It made a life’s worth of difference.

Life is for living. Today is all we have and all we know. Enjoy what you enjoy; when you suffer, suffer well. Remember: it’s all in the wrist.

Those are not bad lessons, and you can learn them from the same people you keep locked away in that dank little room. We have so much to teach you.

That’s what I mean, you see. Don’t leave us in the dark: wondrous things can happen when the doors open and the walls come down.

My Response to Out of Darkness

I was very satisfied with the movie, to me it was a realistic experience. However, we must remember that the movie took place 15 years ago, and medications and other treatments have tremendously improved.

Diana Ross does an excellent job portraying Pauline Cooper, a 42 year old woman with schizophrenia. "It's like she has a terminal illness, but she never dies," Pauline's mother said. The movie shows the emotional burden on the family. Pauline endured 43 hospitalizations because she didn't like taking her medicine because of the side effects (tardive dyskinesia). Tardive dyskinesia makes a person have irregular movements of the tongue, hands, feet, or lips. I didn't like taking my medication as well, because it gave me akathisia. Akathisia is constant movement. I couldn't sleep, I had to continuously stay in motion. Fortunately, I was able to change medications and try a newer drug called Abilify that does not have the same side effects.

"I'm not sick, your sick," Pauline told the health professional. At first, I didn't believe nurses when they told me I was sick. However, when I was stable on medication and the doctor sat me down and told me I have schizophrenia, I believed him. The saddest part of the movie, for me, was when Pauline's mother locked the door because Pauline was a potential threat to her and her granddaughter, and Pauline saw this. Another sad moment was when her boyfriend stopped seeing her after he discovered she has a mental illness. This particular situation concerned me, however, my boyfriend does not let it ruin our relationship. There were a lot of sad moments in the movie, however, I do not want to recall them all because I would be ruining the movie for other viewers who have not watched this movie yet.

When I saw the scene with the nurses holding Pauline down to give her a shot, this reminds me of my own experience with forced medication. Another scene that reminds me of my own background with schizophrenia was while Pauline was hearing voices in the car and freaking out. When I heard voices I freaked out too, I couldn't get the voices to stop. I also could relate to Pauline when she describes the experience as a 'dream you cannot wake up from...' In addition to that, I describe it more as a nightmare that you cannot wake up from. Overall, I think the movie did a very good job of portraying how scary it is to hear voices and to adjust to recovery.

Fortunately, Pauline took a drug called Clozapine to recover. Clozapine does not cause tardive dyskinesia, however, it does reduce white blood cells to fight disease. This drug requires consistent monitoring. Pauline had to give weekly blood samples.

The only disappointment I have with the movie is that it cut out the part where Diana Ross steps out of character to address the audience about schizophrenia and how to get help. That was one of the most important parts of the movie!

Do you think that Pauline stayed on her medication? Do you think that her daughter should have lived with her? What do you think Pauline was thinking when she saw the homeless woman at the end of the movie?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Out of Darkness T.V. Program featuring Diana Ross


"My brain has been stolen...My head is blowing apart!" Diana Ross, producer and star actress in the television program Out of the Darkness (1994), portrays Pauline Cooper, a 42 year old woman suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Cooper, a former med student, loses 20 years of her life battling schizophrenia. She makes life unbearable for her mother, sister, and daughter when she is not institutionalized. However, after she is released from a psychiatric ward she attempts to get her life back together. There is a new drug for schizophrenia that Cooper tries and its seems to put her on the correct path to recovery.

THIS IS A MUST SEE: To view this movie go to TV ONE at 8pm EST, tonight. Click on the title of this post for a sneak peek of the movie (wait a few moments for the film to play).

Free Spirited Woman Dancing


I strive to lighten up the mood. What is your response to this picture?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Schizophrenia: Delusions

Delusion: a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact (dictionary.com). Schizophrenia.com defines a delusion as a false belief or misinterpretation of events and their significance. 50 Signs of Mental Illness defines a delusion as unchanging beliefs that are held on inadequate grounds. Delusions are misinterpretations of events, words, and body language that are exaggerated, and cannot be meant in any other way. Don't take that word lightly, because it is major, serious, intense, and deep.

There are several types of delusions, some are: 1) persecutory, 2) grandiose, 3) erotomanic, 4) jealousy, 5) identity, 6) somatic, and 7) nihilistic. Here, we are going to discuss persecutory, grandiose, and identity, because I personally experienced these three types of delusions.

Persecutory delusions is the most common form of a delusion. I thought that a relative was trying to harm me; however, I did not have any evidence to confirm this belief. I thought this same relative poisoned my food, and tapped my phone. I did not understand why they would want to poison me or listen to my telephone conversations, since they had their own life. Eventually, I thought everyone was a demon, everyone was following me. Every comment was a threat...a taxi driver told me to stay out of trouble, just that alone freaked me out, and at that point, I knew he was watching me, too.

Grandiose delusions are the belief that you are someone important. At first I thought I was a prophet with the ability to decipher spirits, good from evil, and even read people's minds. I got eerie feelings from various people. And with all that was going on, I thought I had the spirit of discernment. My mother thought so too, boy were we off! One incident, I thought my professor was a demon. As soon as I walked into her office I broke out in a sweat, felt pressure on my chest, got a menacing feeling from her, and freaked out. I had to get out of there, real fast! It was a horrible moment. Just recently, I analyzed that moment because it stuck with me, and I realized I was having an anxiety attack.

Another episode, while the police were arresting me I thought I was Jesus, Himself, and not one of His beautiful moments. I felt like I was being persecuted all over again compared to historical events. My delusions made me believe that the police car I was sitting in was going to, in fact, blow up. I remember sitting in the back seat praying over and over again God help me. That was another horrible moment.

Identity delusions is the thought that people are impostors. I thought my family, from my mother to my sister, to my grandmother, had been replaced by people that looked like them. I tested each individual to decipher if they were my real mother, sister, grandmother and so on by asking them questions. I asked my uncle what restaurant we went to before going to the zoo, I asked my sister who was her childhood friend, and I asked my grandmother what was my high school graduation gift. I asked my mother when my brother, her stillborn, had passed away and what I wrote on her Mother's Day card. If these people did not answer the questions that would have qualified them, they were in deed, impostors.

Being in jail, I wore the inmate hand bracelet, I was chained down when my mother came to visit, I wore the clothing, and still didn't believe I was in jail. My mother had to hold up an inmate document with my name on it to the glass window to try to convince me that I was in jail. I still didn't believe her, I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and said "Me, come on."

If Iwhat I am about to say in closing makes it seem as though I think this is an easy thing for family members, trust me, I know it's not. For my mother, this was a very painful part of the sickness and there's not an easy way to receive it. "Families and friends must first realize that delusions are a result of [mental] illness and not stubbornness, stupidity, [rebelliousness, anger, or retaliation (schizophrenia.com). We ourselves do not know what the heck is going on. It is not intentional, please do not take it personal. If your loved one is delusional do not try to convince them the truth because they may not trust you again to tell you what they are thinking and feeling. You should keep note of bizarre thoughts and behavior.

Please note: if you know someone is having delusions such as I have discussed, it is out of your hands. Your goal must be to seek professional assistance some way or another. You do not, and cannot, know what's going on in that person's mind, less known anticipate their next move.

My delusions led me to believe that everyone was demons and out to get me. I stole a military truck trying to escape, went on a highspeed chase, went in the opposite flow of traffic, and hit two cars. It could have been even worse, thank God it was a Sunday and not that many cars were on the road when this incident took place.

If you ever have questions or want me to elaborate on anything, don't hesitate to leave a comment and ask.

Resources:

I Am Not Fragile

There are times when I do tell people, for whatever reason, that I have schizophrenia. Their first response is to ask if I need accommodation...can I handle it...is this situation too stressful for me. Relatives do this out of love and because they do not understand the illness. They do not understand that the medicine helps me think more clearly and behave like my old self, before the onset of schizophrenia. People sometimes ask if our conversation is irritating me or if it triggers symptoms. Some people think I am sensitive or fragile to life's demands...

Just because someone has an illness does not mean they have to feel like they can't walk this way, talk this way, do it that way, or keep distance!!

I am no more fragile than the next person! I have emotions, hardships, and setbacks like everyone else. I make mistakes too. In fact, I like challenges, and take criticism well and use it to improve who I am.

Yes, I do get stressed like everyone else, yes, I do get my feelings hurt, like everyone else. There are techniques, strategies and styles that I learn to adapt to so that I can deal with certain issues. I believe that having a mental illness makes me more aware of things. Everyone experiences certain things in life but don't often take the time to analyze it, think about it, and often times take too long to even begin to fix it! I am forced to do so because of the fact that I have been diagnosed, and am on medication.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Early Warning Signs of Schizophrenia

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, symptoms must last a minimum of six months. Specific symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations for one month. These warning signs can be considered normal responses to certain situations, however, the intensity of it is what distinguishes it from normal behavior to various mental illnesses. My mother knew something was wrong with me from observing my many changes, but she didn't know what. The symptoms gradually got worse as time passed. I didn't know what was wrong with me, I felt like I was losing myself, and I guess I was. The following behaviors were my early warning signs of schizophrenia, (there were much more symptoms as they got worse):

Intense Change of Mood
  • Severe anxiety- could not handle being around groups of people

  • Low motivation- lacked drive to go to school, whereas I was extremely involved earlier

  • Suspiciousness- suspicious of close friends, family, everyone!

  • Sleep disturbances- insomnia/excessive sleeping

Change of Behavior

  • Intense preoccupation with religion- would study the Bible for hours and would not acknowledge human contact

  • Decline in academic performance- would skip class, which was so unlike me

  • Social isolation and inability to keep relationships- would spend more time by myself

Cognitive
  • Lack short -term memory- forgetfulness

  • Trouble concentrating- could not focus on homework or work assignments

  • Racing thoughts- jumbled, random, extreme thoughts

  • Alogia or Poverty of speech- saying very little or nothing at all

Delusions

  • Thoughts that someone poisoned my food- I went to the extreme, I would not eat to the extent that I lost so much weight, I weighed under 100 pounds, and had to be hospitalized.

  • Thoughts that I was being watched or followed- I attempted to change my identity by getting rid of my glasses, Bible (that I carried with me everywhere), and even attempted to cut off all my hair!

  • Religious- I thought I was a prophet, or Jesus Himself

Hallucinations

  • Visual- I saw people that were not there. Later I realized they were hallucinations because when I turned around they really weren't there

  • Audible- male voices saying negative things
These early warning signs are also prevalent in many other illnesses, including but not limited to the following:
  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Major Depression

  • Paranoid Personality

  • Schizotypal Personality

  • Brain Tumors and Temporal Lobe

If these symptoms describe you, I strongly encourage you to see a psychiatrist before self-diagnosing yourself with schizophrenia or any other mental illness. If you think something is wrong, let the doctor tell you that it is normal or abnormal.

Resources:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Schizophrenia and Nicotine



Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


Annually 440,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illness. Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking is frowned upon because it is addictive and can lead to cancer, heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis; and many other health issues.

People living with schizophrenia smoke three times more than the general population, (75 to 90 percent vs. 25 to 30 percent). Higher rates of smoking is also prevalent among people with bipolar disorder and depression compared to people without brain disorders. People with schizophrenia who smoke often need higher doses of medication. Furthermore, psychotic symptoms worsen when a person either stops smoking or initiates smoking; it is recommended that doctors monitor patients who begin smoking or who stop smoking.

Although nicotine is addictive it does have some benefits...In the past people smoked to alleviate stiffness and muscle movements caused by older antipsychotic drugs. Moreover, it helps cognitive functions such as short-term memory, attention span, and alertness.
What are your thoughts on this topic?
This post was inspired by Anonymous Drifter, you can visit her blog, "Disjointed Thoughts" at: http://unknowndiarist.blogspot.com/

Resources:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Schizophrenia: Dual Diagnosis


Dual Diagnosis describes a patient who has both a mental illness and an addiction to either alcohol or drugs. Mental illnesses include: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. It affects one percent of the American population. Here are some facts you should know about Dual Diagnosis and schizophrenia...

About 50 percent of people living with a mental illness have a substance abuse problem. In fact, a 1994 study found that 47 percent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia have Dual Diagnosis. The Royal College of Psychiatry found that people with schizophrenia are more likely to abuse alcohol. Another study in 2003 discovered that people with schizophrenia are six times more likely to abuse drugs. The most common drug of choice (in the order of popularity) is alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. The substance abuse is higher among males, ages 18 to 44. Among those who have a Dual Diagnosis they are more prone to violence, either domestic violence or suicide attempts. Substance abuse accounts for 37 percent of all suicides, and 77 percent of people who have schizophrenia and commit suicide are males.

Why do people with a mental illness abuse drugs?...Recreation use just like everyone else or to overcome symptoms and side effects of medication. Drugs may temporarily treat anxiety, depression, and stress. However, drugs could also worsen symptoms in the long-run.

Does drugs cause a person to have schizophrenia. No, but they can share similar symptoms to a mental illness.

Were these statistics shocking to you, why or why not?

Resources:

Recovery: What Helped Me to Recover from Schizophrenia

A woman with a 16 year old son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia once asked me how did I recover...

At one point in my life I was lifeless...I was not moving, speaking, eating, or showering. I stayed in my room and let the hours pass with no particular thing to do. I had no interest in life itself. I did not watch television, write in my journal, or go outside to feel the sun on my skin; or converse with other people. This person was not Ashley, schizophrenia snatched her away. This was a major set back for me because I used be very involved in sports, theater productions, and other extracurricular activities...So how did I get better?...

My family had the judge mandate medication compliance for my mental illness. The psychiatric ward where I was staying forced medication on me, and offered many groups where we interacted with other people through games, reading, and creating art work. This sort of therapy took months before there was any sign of hope to my recovery. The next stage in my recovery was attending the State Hospital in California. There I took classes to learn about my illness and other life skills. My mother also visited me daily, and exercised with me because a side effect to my medication was stiffness.

The following stage was when I entered the Catalyst program for young adults (ages 16 to 24)with mental illnesses in San Diego. There I attended groups where I took part in WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) classes and discussed symptoms, and learned about other life skills such as cooking, sewing, and finding a job. This program also offered a clubhouse where I could mingle with other people.

After living in an independent living establishment I moved back home with my mother in Atlanta, Georgia. From that point forward I would attend weekly groups at the local clinic. Again I would learn more about schizophrenia and connect with other people who had the same mental illness.

In all, my recovery was contributed to a combination medication compliance, groups, self motivation, family, and prayer. I have been in the recovery stage for about a year, now I am doing a marketing internship for a nonprofit organization that helps children around the world medically, and through educational scholarships, and nutritional programs. In addition to that, I plan on going back to college this summer.

For friends and families to force medicate a member of the family with mental illness it is called Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) or "outpatient commitment," so far forty-two states provide laws for this sort of help. To read more about AOT go to the October 3, 2008 post, "Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT)."

How did you or a loved one recover from mental illness?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why I Take My Medicine

Before things got really bad I got into arguments with family and friends. The arguments started from something very small, however, blew up into something big. My emotions were up and down, which led my opponent's emotions to fluctuate. I yelled at my aunt for taking my cell phone, which I later found underneath my bed. This same aunt gave me a job, however, I quit because "we were not getting along." I went off on my sister and accused her of not supporting me, when in fact she is my number one fan. I denied visits from my mother and family, while I was in jail because the voices told me they were not my friends. I lost my best friend because she told an associate I would be switching schools, which I was considering, I accused her of gossiping; I was petty. Schizophrenia can make you irritable and can ruin good relationships.

In school I thought students and professors were gossiping about me. At one point I even thought they were reading my personal emails...While walking to the store one day I thought I saw a man following me. I thought he meant to harm me! I walked into a nearby grocery store and waited till he left. This was a hallucination...I was so paranoid I accused the neighbors of spying on me, and I even confronted them about it. This was embarrassing. It went way too far! Schizophrenia can make you paranoid.

When I was trying to get back home from San Diego to Atlanta, I got deeply confused. I could not distinguish which trolley to get on, and I heard multiple voices. I heard male voices laughing at me. A complete stranger gave me a ride because I looked "disoriented and confused." This same civilian called the police on me in order for me to get help. Schizophrenia can make it hard for you to focus.

My psychotic episode led me to steal a military truck. This is huge! While driving that truck, I hit two people in their cars, they were okay, but it could have been worse. I evaded the police by driving in the opposite flow of traffic. The high speed chase led me to crash into a building head-on, I could have died! Schizophrenia enables you to make poor decisions.

I make a conscious decision to take my medication, not because I have to, but because I want to lead a positive life; not interrupted by police, or arguments with family and friends. I take my medicine because I want to hold on to good relationships, I don't want to be paranoid; I want to be able to function rationally; and I don't want to hear voices...

Why do I take my medicine?...I want to be able to enjoy life to the fullest.

Medication compliance is a life-long routine because there is no cure schizophrenia, however, there is treatment. If I stop taking the medication I have an increased risk for a relapse, another psychotic break, and symptoms will return. My chances of a relapse increase each day I do not take my medication; so far I have accidentally skipped two days total over a span of one year on Abilify. I take pride in the responsibility I carry out every day of my life.

Overcoming Schizophrenia Blog's New Look

I changed the layout for this blog, because it needed something different; before it was all black. How do you like the new style? Be honest, and offer suggestions.

I don't want/I will not go back to the old style because it seemed a little gloomy, and that is not the image I want to promote for this blog. To me this blog is a place to learn about interesting facts about schizophrenia. It is also a place to network with family members, friends, and persons with a mental illness, or anyone interested in learning more about the illness.

Family Secrets


There is a major difference between gossiping about someone and discussing conditions and/or events within the family. Some people do not want to talk about mental illness because they do not understand it and do not think it is relevant, they are in denial, or they are embarrassed by it. The fact is schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that can have detrimental consequences if untreated. Furthermore, not discussing family history can be life threatening; ten percent of the people living schizophrenia will commit suicide. Schizophrenia can also lead a person to isolate themselves from people, not speak, eat, or not even take care of personal hygiene.

Some illnesses are hereditary, or places family members at greater risk if there is some background, schizophrenia is one of these illnesses. Being aware means you are a step ahead, or proactive, and can look for signs. Shhhhhh or pretend like it does not exist? I say "Ouch," to that! Symptoms are not like ooooooh or psssst psssst guess what, its knowledge and very important at that! As long as it's the truth, it's not being mean! In fact, I believe it is mean not to share something as important as schizophrenia to your child, spouse, or other member of the family.

Growing up the only thing my family prepared me for was the risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. Therefore, whenever I filled out the information section of medical history I blindly over looked the mental illness box. As a teenager I was athletic, vocal, and ambitious. I made good grades and got involved in high school theater productions. When I went onto college I remained consistent with grades and sports. I never phantom the notion of having a mental illness.

However, when my life started deteriorating I did not understand what was happening. It totally blew me away!!! It seemed to have come from no where, when in fact, it had. I had family history of mental illness, but no one told me.

In order to complete homework assignments I had to take naps, formed study groups, and worked on other projects to overcome my lack of attention. Trouble concentrating is another symptom of schizophrenia. As the illness manifested, I lost interest in activities I generally enjoyed such as Bible study. I stopped eating, speaking, and even showering. Now that was a biggie. My mother used to tell me that if I even got a speck of dirt or dust on me, I'd run to wash it off. I lost interest in life.

When I was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia my mother still did not know we had a history of mental illness in our family. It turns out that my grandaunt had a mental illness...She would accuse her eight year old niece of trying to kill her, and accuse the neighbors of spying on her; similar to my symptoms. I accused my aunt of trying to harm me and the neighbors of spying on me. Feelings that others may harm you or are spying on you can be another symptom of schizophrenia. Family either made jokes about my grandaunt or shrugged off her mental illness. But when it came to me, the family was in denial and blamed my mother for my illness. They contributed my illness to a poor upbringing. In fact, it is a myth that a poor upbringing could cause schizophrenia. There is no known cause for schizophrenia; it is a combination of genetics, critical moments in brain development, and environmental factors.

To this day, I am still astonished that a relative of mine had a mental illness. When I briefly studied the illness in school it was so foreign to me, and out of mind when it came to myself or members of my family. You never know what life may bring you, so be alert and inform yourself about different health issues. Now that I have the illness, I am just glad that I didn't have a family of my own such as a child or spouse to see me in such a mess.

As I research information on schizophrenia I share that knowledge with my family so they can be aware. I have an 18 month old niece, when she comes of age to develop schizophrenia I will be alert and know the symptoms if I see them in order for her to get help if she does develop the illness. However, I hope and pray that she is more fortunate than I and will not have to deal with this illness.

Like all illness it has its ups and downs. Right now I am in the recovery stage and I am taking medication. So far I am doing very well, and getting better.

Share your family medical history, be proactive, because one day it could come back to haunt you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Medicaid...The Long Wait

I applied for Medicaid over a month ago and I am still waiting for a reply. I wish they would hurry up an either deny me or approve me, so that I can move onto Plan B. Plan B is turn in my denial letter to the clinic and let them pay for my medicine or pay a portion of the costs.

When I spoke to a Medicaid representative they told me I would be approved or denied between 45 and 60 days. That is a long time! What if my medicine runs out, now I taking samples from the clinic, but after next week I will not have any left. I cannot afford to be without the medication, I know that if I stop taking it the symptoms will return and I will hear voices, have trouble concentrating, and get paranoid.

I hope I do not have to come out of pocket for this medicine, but it seems like that is what is about to happen. My SSI check does not give me the leisure to have extra money to pay for medicine.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Closer to Recovery Part II

I received a marketing internship with a nonprofit organization that helps children medically on an international level. My assignment today was to create a flyer for an upcoming event. The flyer is a registration form for the event. I am very excited about my new job and projects. I will work three days a week, and no more than 25 hours, so that it is not overwhelming. Some of my projects include updating the website, writing press releases, and data entry for new and existing sponsors/donors. This is a great opportunity to build my portfolio and to make lasting professional relationships. Doing this internship shows tremendous recovery, because I have not worked since my psychotic break. Now I am back doing the things I used to do before I got sick, and it feels great!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Schizophrenia and Voices: The Ugly Side

Schizophrenia is a complex mental illness that alters a person's judgment and emotions. It affects one percent of the American population. For males it usually begins around age 15, and for females age 25. However, I showed symptoms at age 20 or under, and I am a female.

I had jumbled thoughts, and heard loud voices demanding me to say and to do things. None of what the voices said made any sense. In fact, there were multiple voices. The voices were discouraging, and mean, sometimes they laughed at me. The illness made me intense and hard to follow in conversations. Schizophrenia makes you an ugly person...unless you handle it. The following events happened while I was in jail...

"Get up, flush the toilets!" A voice commanded. I woke up one night because I couldn't sleep, the voices were bothering me. To quiet the voices I started flushing all of the toilets. Even though I woke up my fellow inmates, I continued flushing the toilets. An inmate 'Sh" me and grabbed me by the arm to take me back to my bunk. "Get the vacuum cleaner," demanded another voice. I got up again, this time to use the vacuum cleaner, but not for its original use. I hit the camera on the ceiling. "What are you doing?" An inmate asked me. No response. "If you don't go to sleep I will call the guards on you!" Said the inmate...

During a visit with my sister the voice said,"She isn't your sister." "Lynci, who was your childhood friend?" I asked my sister, trying to decipher if she was my sister or not. "Why are you asking me this, Ashley?" My sister replied. "I just want to know," I said. My sister replied, "Christina..."

Schizophrenia makes you an ugly person. It alters logic and takes away everything that is important to you such as family. I denied family visits from my mother and my father...

"Tell her you don't want to see her again," the voice commanded while I was on a visit with my mother. I had a blank stare, that scared my mother, as I looked into her eyes and told her: "I never want to see you again." "Why, Ashley?" she replied in an upset tone. "She isn't your friend! She kept your father away from you," the voice said. "Because you hurt people" I said. "You took my father away from me. You took Marlon (my boyfriend) away from me" I said and abruptly left my seat to stand next to the door to return to my cell...

"Ashley, can I get you to sign this release form so that your mother can see your medical records?" Asked Elaine, the social worker. "Say no," a voice said. "No!" I shouted. Elaine returned to mother at the front office and told my mother I said no to signing the release form. "Will you please ask her again," asked my mother. "Ashley, can I give your mother permission to see your medical records?" Elaine asked. "No!" The voice shouted. "No means NO, b#!*h! Get out of my face, b#!*h!" I shouted...

"Stay in that chair, don't move!" The voice shouted. I would sit in the chair for hours, not moving because I did not want the voices to shout at me. One day the guard had to drag me in my chair back to my cell because I would not follow orders to get up. I became catatonic, not moving a muscle for hours. In the beginning while I was catatonic I recited scriptures. Eventually, I had jumbled thoughts, or no thoughts at all. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your understanding...Be doers of the Word not hearers only...Before I formed in the womb I knew you, I ordained you a prophet to the nations...I remember doctors coming into my room to check on me. They would move a limb and ask if it hurt, but they did not get a response. I was mute...

"She's evil don't talk to her," the voice said. I was selective with whom I spoke to. Whenever I did speak it was limited words such as "yes" and "no." "The nurse said you don't talk to anyone. So they put us together so that maybe you can talk to me," an inmate told me. "Oh," I said. The nurses tactics did not work, and eventually I did not speak at all...

"Ashley, it is time for you to take your medication," the nurse said. "No!" I replied. "Come on, it will make you feel better," the nurse pleaded. "I don't want to," I said. "Okay, well we will just have to call security to help me give you a shot. Don't make me do this," said the nurse. Shortly after, several security guards came charging at me and pressed down on my arms and legs, I was stuck, I couldn't move. Then the nurse gave me a shot in the behind. This routine went on for several days, until I finally got tired of getting shots in my behind, and gave in to the oral form of medication. I was very uncooperative.

Weeks after continuously taking medication the voices went away. I started moving around again and getting invloved in conversation. Although schizophrenia is a difficult illness, there is hope that your loved one will get well through medication and therapy. Moreover, my mother and I are close again.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Schizophrenia: Being Aware...

"Do you see shadows or catch glimpses of people following you?"..."Have you had head trauma?"..."Do you sometimes have jumbled or confused thoughts?"...Is it hard for you to have a conversation?"..."Is it hard for you to pay attention for long periods of time?"..."Do some colors bother you?"..."Have people told you that you don't show emotion in your facial expression or voice?..."Were you sexually abused as a child?"..."Will you read this paragraph for me, and answer these questions?"


I was oblivious to the fact these questions would lead the doctors to my final diagnosis. After a couple of weeks in the hospital, and several tests, later the doctor sat me down and told me that I have schizophrenia. He said this explains the paranoia and other symptoms I had been experiencing.

Awareness is one of the first steps to overcoming a mental illness. Most of the time awareness of a mental illness is initiated by an outside party. A friend once told me I need to see a psychologist. At the time I was not aware of an issue and did not take my friend seriously. In another incidence, a complete stranger told me I look disoriented and confused, and asked me if I needed help.

First, the family member or friend should make sure they create or maintain a trusting relationship with the patient. You may be that person's eyes. Be very observant, in a subtle kind of a way. At some point there could be a very harsh reality (occurrence) where you will be an intricate part of the doctor's analysis.

The family member of the individual living with schizophrenia will go through an emotional roller coaster. In the beginning my mother knew something was wrong, but she did not know what. At first she thought it was PMS. She would ask me if I was on my period when she noticed my demeanor changed. In response to her question I got very offended and did not take her concern seriously. Consequently, I faced a harsh reality when I ended up in a jail cell after I got involved in a high speed chase with the police in a stolen military truck. In jail, I was uncooperative and unlike my usual self. My social worker, attorney, and nurse pulled my family aside for questioning about my personality and background. My family played an intricate role in unveiling the real me. They told officials what my interest and goals were.

Second, a family member or a friend should keep a journal, preferably on the computer in order to make copies, or hand-written -- any way that's comfortable for you. The purpose of the journal is to keep an account the patient's symptoms and behaviors,which will be very helpful when sharing with health professionals. The journal should include dates of admission into the hospital or other treatment facilities. Last, but not least, entries that describe the patient's behavior, reaction to treatment, and improvement. The types of medication prescribed should also be included in the journal.

After I was in jail and in the hospital my mother kept a journal of every official she came into contact with. She recorded names, conversations, and resources for schizophrenia.

Third, find a good psychiatrist, not just a psychologist or therapist, but someone who specializes in schizophrenia. It is better if you get a recommendation from another family experiencing the same thing you are going through. You can find another family, to get a referral from, at a support group such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org/).

In my case, we went to the county mental health clinic for help. There my therapist and psychiatrist interviewed me. They asked me questions about my background and family medical history. There we also discovered classes for patients to discuss symptoms and to learn how to cope with the illness.

Again, to bring about awareness and to eventually overcome denial of schizophrenia, be observant, keep a journal, and get connected with a great support system in order to find a good psychiatrist.

What has been a useful tool in finally bringing about awareness of a close one's illness? What signals did you notice that seemed out of the norm and encouraged you to seek help?

Resources:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

WHO AM I . . . .

Now that I am a person living with schizophrenia, who am I?

Prior to my diagnoses of schizophrenia I was a very intense person. I was very serious, uptight, and too private. I was also very religious, in fact, too religious to be around most people. I preferred one-on-one settings. Moreover, I was unapproachable. I was suspicious of even my closest friends. For example, when friends asked me questions such as how I was acquainted with another friend, I got suspicious of their intentions. I ran people away! Even something simple like when a friend told an associate I was planning to transfer to another school, which I was, I just knew this friend was gossiping about me, and became very defensive, backed completely off! At that point, it was mutual. I was petty, to say the least. I would get upset at little bitty things. The illness made me withdraw from a lot of social settings I would have otherwise been interested in. I did not withdraw completely though, I still had a life, but preferred to participate in things where I stood alone, such as cross country. Don't get me wrong, I very much had a life, my mother to this day never understood how I was so involved with so many different activities.

Today, I am still a spiritual individual. I am very loving, more open, expressive, and interested in new and existing relationships. I do not trip on the small stuff. I want to be involved in more events. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and concerns with family and friends. My mother tells me I am a daughter again! Who am I? I am still learning.