We need to talk about schizophrenia

When I experienced my first psychosis, I behaved awkwardly. It made people around me feel very uncomfortable. No one knew how to address the issue, but there was always an elephant in the room. I often felt like people didn’t like me. Like they waited for me to snap out of it and go back to normal. It’s a weird situation. When you’re mid-psychosis the world has changed in the most amazing ways, and it’s up to you to fix it. You’re left with a god-like complex. Try snapping out of that. As reality remains the same around you, you realize with time that the world didn’t change. That you were not special, and it’s just another day. It’s a difficult conclusion to reach. You were wrong about everything. In addition, you behaved like crazy while delusions ruled your mind. Many of us lose jobs, friends, or housing. After all, who needs to pay rent when you’re at the center of a worldwide conspiracy to rebuild society a la Brave New World?

With recovery comes the responsibilities of everyday life. Pay the phone bill. Call your granny. The little things that you forgot as you were preparing a violent assault on the US government. Many of the homeless people you see are mentally ill. They’re the people who weren’t lucky enough to have someone to pay their bills for them when psychosis hit. Your network is everything when it comes to rescuing you from delusions. If there are no friends or family there to help you, there’s no reason to return. You fall in deeper to the point where you can no longer remember the world without the delusion.

Every time you relapse, the chances increase that you’ll get stuck in psychosis. Relapse is seductive. Gone are the general anxieties of day-to-day living. You’re back, and you’re stronger than ever. You wonder how you let someone talk you into that you were just another human being. The mission is calling, and this time you’ve had to overcome the reasons you created for why it wasn’t so when you sorted out your previous psychosis. Explaining away the delusion, therefore, becomes more difficult.

My first psychosis took a year to ebb out before normality returned. We had enough money at the time for me to plow through many books and follow clues around town. I saw a psychiatrist who called me a stranger in a strange land and recommended I return to my native Sweden. Then he ordered some tests for vitamin B. I didn’t get any of the antipsychotic drugs that later saved my life. The second psychosis happened a couple of years after the first, and it was much worse. As I didn’t get treatment for the previous one, I never had closure. I was stuck in a chain of escalating delusions. In the end, I threw out speakers, computers, light bulbs, and a bookshelf from a third-floor window. I’d convinced myself that my boyfriend was a serial killer and had trapped the women through his electronics. I was saving them. It was a desperate scream for help.

Don’t let it go that far. We have some great drugs to treat schizophrenia. If you know someone who’s struggling, talk to them about it. I wish someone would have talked to me.

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