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My Frustration: There is more to Schizophrenia than the Voices

One of the greatest things that frustrate me about living with this illness is the fact that most people do not understand what it is even though they think they know. Sometimes I feel so misunderstood by not only certain individuals but by society. Because when I say the word "Schizophrenia" they automatically think voices and that the individual is crazy or will do something violent.

As you can imagine, it is very offensive when I hear someone refer to another individual living with a mental illness as crazy because I have a diagnosis and I do not view myself as such, nor do I view other people with mental health as crazy. I wish I can get through to other people that think that way and explain that mental health has many faces. Mental illness can affect all sorts of people, no matter what intellectual background, socioeconomic status, age, gender, race, etc. Schizophrenia is much more complicated than hearing the voices.

For me, schizophrenia made me think irrationally, do bizarre things, and to have unnecessary stress. I remember the episodes I had before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia...

At one point I thought my peers and professors were against me. However, that belief carried over to everyone conspiring against me, which was very uncomfortable because it seemed like I can feel people gossiping about me, and that I can read their minds and they could read my mind too.

I would have anxiety attacks around certain people because I felt they were evil. I thought I had the gift of discernment where I can decipher evil spirits and good spirits within people and that I was a prophet. Thinking about it now, it was all very weird, but not to me at the time. I tried to rationalize these beliefs and whenever someone doubted me, like for instance, that the professors were against me I would stop telling them information and this led to isolation.

Eventually I felt like I had a special relationship with God and that only I could understand Him. I believed that the dates on the back of milk cartoons were the real date and whatever people said the date was, was incorrect. I felt like I could not trust anyone and that everyone was out to get me, I was very suspicious.

The voices were a distraction to me. I would be holding a good conversation with someone and then one of the voices would intervene and talk about something that did not make sense or talk about the person to whom I was talking to. And when I would stop to hear what the voices were saying the voices would sometimes stop then start again after I resumed my conversation, it was irritating.

My episode with schizophrenia led me to be arrested and placed into jail and into the State Hospital. My thinking was so off I thought the sitting truck with the car keys in them was a blessing from God and indicator to take the truck. And when I got into the truck some hip-hop song was playing. I did not like the song and still do not to this day because of my interpretation of the song. I thought the song had a deeper meaning as if the devil was trying to get me to commit suicide, but I did not want to die! I tried to ignore the song and concentrate on driving the truck. I eventually crashed the truck head-on into a government building while trying to escape the police. While in custody I thought to myself the police will harm me. I even thought I was Jesus Christ for a moment, that was weird. Later, I discovered that the truck belonged to the military which made my incident a felony.

Schizophrenia is much more than the voices. It encompasses paranoia, delusions, and other things that make an individual feel stress. I am not saying that everyone with the disorder will have a run-in with police, that is not true, it is what happened to me.

I hope that if you hear someone refer to a person with mental health as crazy or something you will investigate and educate them because there are so many misconceptions about schizophrenia and mental illness.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc. (EMM), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


K.C. Jones said…
I am also frustrated that schizophrenia is associated with just voices and violence-that's certainly all you see in the movies. How do you feel about people with mental illness reclaiming the word crazy? I actually prefer calling myself crazy over mentally ill and I certainly prefer the term over the word consumer. I just feel like the other terms are too polite, too sanitary, to aptly describe what I have gone through. I also don't think being "crazy" is a bad thing, so by calling myself crazy, I am trying to alter people's perceptions and connotations of what crazy is.
Ashley Smith said…
Hi K.C. Jones,

Lately, I've heard similar disagreement with the term "Consumer". I've heard that the term stigmatizes people more because it separates us from the general term "Patient" or "Client". I personally do not mind the term because it is less offensive to me.

However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the term "Crazy," that is very offensive to me because I consider myself sane. When I think of the word crazy I think of someone who is completely out of control and everything else bad to go with it. I try to stay away from the term as much as possible, I sometimes say the word "Bizarre" or "Out of it" just to eliminate the term all together.

But the way you embrace the term crazy is interesting. I can agree with you that you are certainly changing people's perception of the term.

But again, my preference is not be called crazy. Also, I do not like the term "Schizophrenic". To me the term forgets that I am a person and views me as the illness, which I do not wish to wear a badge that says such. Although, I do not get offended as easily when someone refers to me as a schizophrenic because I don't think they understand what they are doing by labeling me that way. Sometimes I correct them, other times I do not because how they say it is more important than what they say sometimes.

Take care,

helenasmole said…
I definitely prefer: "I have schizoaffective disorder." Or for those who are not familiar with different diagnosis: "I have mental illness."

Brilliant writing, Ashley!

Helena Smole
helenasmole said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lora said…

Thank you for writing a blog about living with schizophrenia. My son has been diagnosed and I want to believe he will be able to live independently and have the life he desires. He is still very ill, but you have given me back hope. He is a kind, intelligent human being who was stricken as he was just beginning to have a chance to live. He is also an Iraqi vet. I believe he is strong enough to overcome as you have. Thanks again.

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