No two people have schizophrenia or symptoms the exact same way. What does a day with schizophrenia look like for me? First of all, I feel like I am relatively fortunate because I am not currently hearing voices, some people (even on medication) hear voices constantly. I also feel relatively fortunate that I don’t hallucinate on a daily basis (at least not in the traditional sense that many people with schizophrenia report like shadows that look like people, etc.). I do, however, have olfactory hallucinations.
Olfactory hallucinations have to do with smelling things that aren’t there. I frequently smell things my husband can’t smell and if it is a chemical smell I will develop some paranoia about it. I may even think I have accidently eaten it and that I am dying.
Some people go in and out of psychosis. When I am psychotic, I am not at all like the person who is typing this right now. Psychosis is totally different. For me, psychosis eventually brings terror, delusions, voices, suicidal tendencies, and distorted reality. For example, the person I love most in this world, and who is my inspiration, and who I honestly believe is the best person I have ever met, is not someone I know or love when I am psychotic. That should show you the huge difference from what I experience almost every day and what I experience when I am psychotic.
Although I am nothing like my baseline self when I am psychotic, still psychosis is not a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario. It is not multiple personality disorder. Over time, if unchecked, for me, it is more like a very creepy (terrifying) circus that has gone terribly wrong and that I am trapped in and can’t get out of. Although I don’t experience episodes of psychosis much anymore, I live in constant fear of becoming psychotic. For me, it is the worst part of schizophrenia. It is always a real possibility that I will die during an episode of psychosis.
The two symptoms that I battle with the most on a daily basis are paranoia and anxiety. I have episodes of anxiety that make it impossible for me to do anything besides trying to relieve the anxiety. It is a catch 22 because the more I focus on relieving the anxiety, the more anxious I become. Anxiety ruins many events for me. At a writer’s conference, I will almost always be overcome with anxiety and have to leave to be by myself and try to diminish the symptoms. When I see friends, and I am socializing, I often have a panic attack and need to go home quickly. Being around people in general can easily trigger a wave of anxiety. I take medication for this, but this symptom is probably the one that keeps me from leading a “normal” life.
Paranoia comes and goes for me. I have a great deal of paranoia around food. I frequently feel like my food is poisoned and I refuse to eat it. I have all kinds of rituals around eating that make being out socially, enjoying a meal, awkward.
The worst kind of paranoia has to do with standing up for myself. When I stand up for myself I have the worst episodes of paranoia. I believe the person, or corporation, or organization, etc. that I am standing up against are going to come after me. This is one of my symptoms that I find the hardest to live with. Constantly being fearful when you are just trying to be treated decently and fairly in this world is difficult to live with. Believing that people are going to punish you for disagreeing with them is a terrible way to live. We all need to feel some form of safety and comfort and trust in order to be healthy and happy. Those things are disrupted for me by schizophrenia.
I’m not asking for your pity. I have a good life. I am trying to create understanding. Schizophrenia looks differently for everyone, but now you know a little bit more of how it feels for me. Would I say having schizophrenia is hard? Yes, I think having schizophrenia is hard. Is it harder than cancer, heart disease, or any other illness? I don’t know.
I wish that there was as much support for schizophrenia as there is for cancer – pink ribbons, pink arm bands, pink cups, walks, runs, company fundraisers, support from friends and neighbors. Schizophrenia is a lonely disease, and not too many people talk about it (unless it has to do with a crime) and people definitely aren’t turning their social media a certain color to raise awareness. Most people with schizophrenia suffer alone, or with their family (if they are lucky enough to have family). That reality may just be worse than the majority of symptoms.