You’re probably going to infer the factually unsophisticated truth about me and my relationship to this article: I have schizophrenia, yes. My symptoms started in childhood, but I wasn’t formally diagnosed with schizophrenia until I was sixteen. Still, such an absurdly complex disease concept is rarely if seldom diagnosed before the age of nineteen, so I’d like to think that having been both a professional journalist for almost twenty years and a paranoid schizophrenic for 32, I have some authority on the issues I’d like to address for those of you whose eyes have made it this far.
While there is no shortage of articles surrounding myths about schizophrenia, or coping tips or techniques, or clinical descriptions and detailed analyses, I’ve come across few editorials on how such an incomprehensible disease has negatively or positively affected such an individual’s life in areas of his or her existence. That said, I wanted to address five things that schizophrenia has impacted in my life. Now, I don’t have much to compare it to since it’s the only reality, identity, and kind of abstract theoretical matrix I’ve ever resided in, but here are some pragmatically salient things I wish more people knew:
- If I’m about to get seriously involved with someone romantically or if friends start getting close, I’ve adopted an idiosyncratic practice: give them the DSM-V entry to read about schizophrenia (code: F20.9). Knowledge is power, and Sz can definitely scare people and sometimes with good reason, so I’ve just decided I have to issue a more formalized disclaimer. Everything comes out in the wash, and schizophrenia is almost always impossible to hide, and you shouldn’t have to hide things, especially if you’re struggling. This will also make it easier for people to help you if they know what’s going on.
- I gained partial insight into my illness at the age of 30, and it’s gotten more confusing than when I was persistently delusional. My new baseline cognitive framework is still in flux possibly, for years or even decades (if it ever resolves) (it is possible, while it may be uncommon, the odds aren’t terrible: 1/3 make a full recovery, 1/3 make a partial recovery, and the other 1/3 never recover).
- Disorganization is something I don’t notice. When I was younger, I was described as lazy, unable to manage money or balance a checkbook or savings account, or deal with what I now know are daily living skills. But the reality is this isn’t a schizophrenic’s fault, but rather, it’s more of a biochemical, structural issue or, a byproduct of the sheer intensity of living with paranoia, delusions, voices, and interpersonal, social, and perceptual deficits on a 24/7/365 basis.
- Schizophrenia can manifest kind of like autism. Historically, I miss social cues the rest of the world takes for granted.
- People treat you differently. I genuinely believe that being schizophrenic, particularly severely so, is like being a racial or ethnic minority. That’s my honest, serious, analytical assessment. It’s an involuntary subjective departure from normative behavior and perception and a world you’re not in control of and which you didn’t choose, and one may be singled out, suspected, or treated differently for it. In my 25 years in social services, I’ve found this unique to schizophrenia and not as much to other mental illnesses. I think it’s because schizophrenia is one of those rarer oddly presenting things where unless you’re a clinician, you’re unlikely to know what you’re observing. So again, this is why I refer people to DSM-V F20.9 – it’s simpler, and, more akin to going on Bumble or OKCupid instead of trying to find a long-term relationship in an undergraduate survey course at an R1 university right out of high school, it’s plausible but unlikely.
To level with you, it’s hard, and it’s even harder to hear people unafflicted with schizophrenia tell you it’s tough. My hope would be, this gives someone some inside analysis and pro tips or may serve as a reference for those looking for more information on the subject. Life is always beautiful, but often living can be difficult.
About the Author
Alexej Savreux is a writer and artist living and working out of Kansas City, Missouri. He has lived experience with the illness for 32 years and has been hospitalized more times than he can remember. He maintains that there is always hope and goodness and beauty and that no one is beyond repair. At times his editorial and creative practice incorporates themes from his experiences with schizophrenia. His book “Graffiti on the Window” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Etsy, Lulu, The Book Patch, and wherever fine books are sold.