Sep 13

Schizophrenia – Demystified

This is a story about a disease that almost robbed me my past and present.

When I was a little girl, life was great, I was a normal child. I was a happy go lucky child, making jokes, always smiling, the most upbeat child you could find. I was always creative and my imagination was exceptional. I was the eldest child among two children. My biological father left when my mother was expectant so I was raised up by my stepfather and mother.

Growing up into a young teen was effortless. I was taken to boarding school outside the proximity of the city. School was great and so was my performance. I barely had any trouble in school. I engaged in many activities in school excelling in most because of my enthusiasm and creativity. I was especially talented in acting; I even managed to secure my school a slot at the nationals during drama festivals.

When I was 16 years old I went home for the school holidays. School holidays were always fun for me, a time for adventure and socialization. This time it felt different. It started out as just watching a lot of movies on the couch all day long. I also stopped meeting or inviting my friends over for our usual holiday plans. I would constantly cry abruptly all the time, my family would wonder why I was crying. They assumed I was having boyfriend trouble.

Time came for me to resume school. I thought going back to school would liven me up but my situation did not get better. Since I was a good Christian I decided to join the Christian Union group, I felt this would probably give me some relief through some divine intervention. During the meetings as we sang our hearts out, I was still having the crying spells and now I began to hear things.  In the beginning it sounded like whispers.  I associated this with the voice of a divine deity telling me what to do. I shared this with my group members and they celebrated my ability to communicate with the divine.  As time went by the whispers got louder and they were voices telling me what to do.  They commanded me to do some things.  Sometimes these commands entailed awful things I should do to people and sometimes they said bad things about me.  I was afraid to tell anyone. I was also beginning to see things that other people could not see, frequently while I was in class I would see my cat “socks” walking and purring in class. I would sometimes call him to me which would leave most of my classmates dismayed.

By the mid of that school term my strange behaviors had caught the attention of the whole school. I got nicknames most of them associated to the strangeness I projected.  Some students were afraid of me believing that I was possessed by some demon entity and others thought I was a funny object to make fun of.  The teachers mostly complained about my flopped performance.  From an “A” student to dragging at the bottom. My sense of reality had been pulled off from under my feet like a rug.  I could not associate with other people.  The voices took overtook my mind completely.  I preferred to keep to my own company.  A new thought also began to grow in my head that I could fly.  I was convinced I could and with time the voices began to push that I should fly out of school and go home.  It became so compulsive that one night I stood on the balcony with my bag of clothes on my back ready to take off.  I spread my hands as if they were wings and hoped to take off.  One of the older students walking past saw me and immediately pulled me back before I plummeted to my death.  I got so agitated when she did that, the school authority and nurse were called in to restrain me and had me taken to the nearest hospital.  My parents were called in and I was referred to a Psychiatric specialist. After a meeting that lasted over half an hour the psychiatrist said that I had schizophrenia.  It sounded so bad and serious.  But he assured me that it was a manageable mental disorder. He said that I needed medications to manage the symptoms and talk therapy sessions with a counselor.

My parents were very concerned about my condition and they even asked the school to excuse me for the rest of the term as I embarked on my treatment. I was admitted for three weeks in a mental health facility. That was my first experience in admission.  It was confusing and the medications gave me side effects the first time I used them. The doctor adjusted the medication dosage and it got better.  I still wanted to spend time alone most of the time and the voices quietened a little bit.I did not see my cat “socks”as often as I did in the past. My counselor also began sessions with me, enlightening me about how my disorder could be a genetic problem that has been passed down the generation. She also educated me continuously on schizophrenia, its symptoms which mainly include hallucinations and delusions. She taught me how to deal with the distorted thoughts from the delusions I was experiencing.

My parents on the other side were going through confusion and fear. They constantly bombarded the counselor and psychiatrist about how long I have to take medications, how it worked, where this disorder originated from, if I would go back to normal and many more uncertainties they harbored. They had a hard time accepting my illness, they fought against the medications in the beginning but when they began to see change in me, they slowly changed their mind about me being on long term medication and management.

By my fourth week I went back home and continued my medication and sessions with my counselor. School resumed three weeks later and I was feeling much better. The hallucinations were gone and I quit believing that I could fly. Going back to school was difficult, rumors among students were circulating that I had been put in a “madhouse” because I attempted to kill myself.  Others talked of me being in a satanic cult and attempting to sacrifice myself. The teachers chose to ignore everything happening to me, they too had created their own stories about my mental situation. I tried to ignore everything telling myself that I had two more terms in school to graduate from high school. I adhered to my medication well for the first month, tirelessly sticking to my routine.  My parents made sure that my medications were always delivered to the school nurse on time when they were about to run out. I began to focus better in my studies. I engaged a bit more with my peers and picked up participating in activities again.  I was in control of my thoughts, feelings and actions. Because of the above changes even the teasing from other students reduced. It felt good

On the second month I began to skip my medication once in a while. I did not feel like it had any effect. As the month ended I had reduced my medication use to basically the one that helped me sleep.  On the third final month of that term I stopped taking them all together.  The school nurse was not particularly observant so I got away with it.  It felt really good to be normal.  No medications, no abnormalities! Exams began to come round.  Very soon I began to feel overwhelmed by the exam pressure.  Without warning the voices began, this time they continuously poured negative demeaning words to me. Telling me how worthless I was, I would never be normal, I will fail, I was stupid, and so on.  I began to mumble to myself attempting to argue back at the voices. My thoughts would race constantly especially at night.  I also couldn’t sleep because of hearing the constant purring and meowing of a cat. On the third day of my psychotic episode, I was in class struggling with an exam and suddenly my head felt like exploding.  The voices began to scream at me, I burst out into frightened screams, and flew out of class.  Just like the last time I was retrained, but this time I was taken straight to the psychiatric center I had been taken to last time for admission.  I went through the same procedures, seeing my psychiatrist, taking my medications and talking to the counselor.  I was admitted for a month before I got discharged.  I was taught on the importance of adhering to medication.

My parents managed to find a school for me near home so that I could be a day scholar. In the new school things were easier as they had a school counselor who assisted me to cope with the difficult days. In addition going home to my parent’s everyday was great because they could follow up with my medication and monitor any behavioral change. It felt good to see how much they got involved in my wellness and understanding mental illnesses.

Currently I still attend sessions with my counselor regularly and see my psychiatrist quarterly. I graduated successfully from high school and joined a university where I study Media production.  I am now in my third year. It has not always been easy, sometimes I experience a recurrence of the disorder but I stick to the principles that medication works and that having a mental disorder is not the end of your life.  It’s just the beginning of a new different chapter.

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