My first break with reality came when I was 25.
It was the summertime, and I was a high-school teacher who had my summer off. I was severely depressed and would stay in bed all day. I was isolating, not eating, not sleeping at night, and drinking a lot of caffeine and alcohol.
I started hearing voices of the people I knew and cared for, who I thought were outside of my apartment. So, in the very early hours of the morning, I would search outside for people who weren’t there.
Trying to understand what was happening, I insisted that I was “bugged,” and that I had a listening device somewhere on me. In addition, I thought that the television and radio were publicly broadcasting my thoughts and giving me messages. Despite these very severe symptoms and my involuntary hospitalization, it took several doctors’ visits before I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder of the depressed type.
This led to my treatment.
The first time I experienced group therapy, I was scared to speak up about what I was hearing. I thought that there would be some horrible consequence if I did.
Thirteen years have passed since the initial onset of my symptoms in 2002, and I still continue with my therapy. Working with my doctors, I have tried a lot of different medications over the years. I remain on them as prescribed by my psychiatrist. I know what my situational stressors or triggers are and try to stay cognizant of them so that I can maintain and monitor my wellness.
Acceptance for me was a slow, uphill battle. Dealing with various symptoms of mania, paranoia and depression—in addition to hearing voices of people from my past and present—was difficult to cope with and to understand. I did return to teaching but then had to grapple with the difficult reality that the demands of that job were simply unmanageable with my current mental health symptoms. This was indeed crushing for me because being a teacher was a big part of my identity.
I was very much in denial of my illness and I railed against all of it by self-medicating with alcohol and acting out of character. Eventually, I realized that I was on a very destructive path and that I needed to change. Armed with this knowledge, I accepted myself first, the illness second, and things then began to fall into place.
I started to understand that although this is a chronic illness that I will have to manage for the rest of my life, this—like almost anything else—was something that randomly happened to me and I would not let it defeat me. I began taking better care of myself and improving on areas of my life. I’m also grateful for the help I had along the way from many sources. The help of a “village,” as they say!
Currently I am a part-time peer specialist. I have held this job for the past four years. I now help others along their own recovery path. I live independently, with the help of my pet rabbit, and I feel once more that life is a journey in which I want to participate!