Sometimes my mind would take me to a place of fear, hurt, and an unsettling spirit, which started with what seemed like a strange look, or a different feeling around an individual, when in reality it was another symptom of my undiagnosed illness- paranoia. My paranoia was rampant and dictated my life prior to experiencing a crisis, which led me to jail and into forced treatment and to receive an official diagnosis of Schizophrenia in 2007.
In other words, my illness created enemies in my mind. For instance, I once believed my favorite kin was against me and I felt like she wanted me to fail, and I eventually thought she was conspiring to harm me. However, she never said anything to imply these feelings of distrust. My illness attacked those closest to me. I felt like there were barriers or issues between us, when in reality there wasn't. My paranoia and lack of trust grew against other members of family and friends, and ultimately to the world.
One day I had a revelation that everyone was against me, because I was special or had special abilities. I needed to escape! I quit my job, cashed my last check, packed my bag and left the house in hopes of renting a room in a nearby community. When the room for rent situation failed I wanted to leave the state and go back home.
However, because my symptoms were severe I ended up committing a crime and being jailed. After I was in jail and my family discovered where I was they visited me. But instead of me being happy to see them in my situation, I was skeptical; I believed they were impostures- I did not trust them and was hesitant to speak. I felt alone, trapped, and concerned. I thought someone had done something to my family. Therefore, I questioned my family before I had an open discussion with them. I asked distinct questions, for instance, I asked my grandparents what gifts they brought me for my high school graduation which was three years prior to the jail incident. Whenever, my family got a question wrong I believed they were in fact impostures and I felt very uncomfortable and distrusting.
Later, I was angry at my family because I thought they did something offensive to me- I do not remember why I was so upset back then. While in jail, I remember people telling the date, but I did not believe them. My illness made me distant and skeptical over anything and everything. For example, instead of believing someone else's word on what the date was, I thought God was sending me messages of the date and other things through milk cartoons. This shows how irrational my thoughts were at the time.
Eventually, the nurses in the psychiatric unit in jail gave me pills for my mental illness. I refused the medicine because I did not understand that my symptoms were symptoms of mental illness, and that I was experiencing an episode or a psychotic break. After they forced medicated me or I gave in a took the medication and was educated about my illness in the state hospital, I yearned for family and friends again.
However, I still had to learn to overcome isolation. I wanted to have friends outside of family, I wanted to get out of the house, and I wanted to learn more about my illness. Therefor, I started attending support groups led by my therapist at the center where I received treatment. I went to all the groups they offered which was about three groups a week. And I started building relationships with others again. After that I started volunteering and then I went back to college. However, I must emphasize that this was a process that I am still learning, it was NOT an overnight recovery plan. I consider my recovery an ongoing treatment plan that must include participation in various support groups, support from family and peers, and medication compliance.
I share these experiences with you to promote awareness on the symptoms of Schizophrenia, emphasize the importance of trust, and to spread the idea that hope and recovery are possible.
If you are someone living with a mental illness I encourage you to find someone who you can trust so that they can advocate for you. If you are a family member or friend of a person living with a mental illness it is important to gain or keep the trust of your loved one. I would suggest that you stay open minded when they share bizarre experiences with you, journal about it and support them in order to get them into treatment- any sort of treatment (i.e., therapies, medication, etc.) or to continue treatment.
For more information on Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).