My first episode of schizoaffective disorder began when I was in a fraternity with many mercurial personalities and people who had deep psychological problems. I became socially dysfunctional and as a result the people I was living with became resentful of me. These were guys who were on steroids and would go to other fraternities and beat people up, simply for the fun of it. They did a lot of heavy drugs and sold them too and there were a lot of weapons in the house; including guns and knives. Living in an environment of this nature where I was disliked put me completely on edge. I was always wondering who was going to try starting a fight with me and who was out to get me. People would go out of their way to cause me trouble and yell at me and put me down. It was a scary environment to be in and I lived in almost constant fear. I fended for myself as much as I possibly could and didn’t trust anyone.
After leaving the fraternity my first episode spiraled into chaos. I was living in a New England Winter with little to no heat and barely any clothing because I only believed in wearing fair trade products which weren’t as readily available during those years. I was in states of psychosis and I nearly starved to death. I had full-out schizophrenia and I slept on a tile floor because my bed wasn’t fair trade and I could only sleep two to three hours per night. I went into survival mode where I disregarded all of the most normal societal conventions and just did everything I could to make it through the next day. I was concerned with seeking out my most basic needs and I wasn’t in a situation where I was socializing with others or getting anything more than the most basic survival needs such as food, water, and only a little sleep and warmth from shelter. During all this I was still going to class and completing all my homework because I believed I had to become a writer and save the world with my thoughts and ideas.
Survival mode was a way of living where I was more moment to moment and I didn’t plan much beyond the immediacy of my next actions. I was constantly paranoid from having been treated so poorly by so many people; including the fraternity brothers. I don’t blame these people for having treated me poorly in a sense. They didn’t know I had schizophrenia and I was extremely difficult to get along with. It was just a misunderstanding. I was the only person who was taking care of myself and I had lost trust in society and anyone and everyone. I didn’t trust anything I was told or anything I had previously learnt. Living moment to moment I had a constant rush of adrenaline and there was absolutely no certainty in my life. I was never certain of what would happen next which had a lot to do with referential thinking. I believed information outside of myself was in conjunction with my thoughts and I had to listen to it in order to do the right thing and become the messiah. This belief that there were divine portents influencing my life made things extremely precarious. If I was thinking to go to the library and a street light turned on I thought that was a sign to go to the library so I did. I didn’t know what would be “required” of me from moment to moment never mind day to day and I was constantly looking for signs as to the correct course of action. I was always afraid of social interaction and I had many speech impediments. It was difficult for me to speak even the briefest of sentences and I struggled to communicate with others. I was trapped inside my mind.
I got to the point where I would do anything and everything to escape being trapped inside my mind. I thought I had to become a messiah to clear schizophrenia from my mind and to live healthily and happily again. I didn’t know I had schizophrenia but I knew things were off and that I was in a bad way. In my mind even the smallest of actions made all the difference in my journey towards saving the world and I had to complete them correctly. Every single action became extremely important in my mind and everything seemed to hold the same level of importance. I was afraid of making even the slightest of mistakes because I thought the consequences could be dire not only for myself but for thousands of other people. I believed in a telekinetic network that was broadcasting my thoughts and I felt I had to even think everything correctly to save humanity. When I was first hospitalized I weighed 125 lbs when I normally weigh 210 at a healthy weight.
Although I was medicated after my second episode I still didn’t have my mental health. Re-assimilating into society was an extremely difficult task. I knew the rules and regulations of simple things like driving but even here I was extremely adherent to my precepts. I wasn’t aware of safety in the car and I was only focused on obeying traffic rules to a “T”, which caused many dangerous situations. I drove under the speed limit at all time, with no exceptions, and during rush hour this was extremely problematic. I was so afraid of the trauma from my episodes recurring that I still believed I had to do everything correctly. In my mind if I made the slightest of mistakes I would spiral back into another episode. I still thought adhering to every rule to a T was imperative for my survival. I slowly learned that it’s okay to make mistakes but this took a great deal of time. I eventually became a safer driver and went with the flow of traffic but this took some talk therapy to iron out.
During social situations I still believed I was in dire situations. I fended for myself as much as possible and I was as individualistic as I could possibly be. At meals if I didn’t feed myself before others at a dinner party I thought we might run out of food and then I wouldn’t eat. The unconscious thought I dug out was that I was still afraid of starvation. I learned that there would be plenty of food and when you’re a part of a team people look out for one another. They weren’t going to let me fall and they weren’t going to let me starve.
I was also very selfish when it came to people asking me for help. In the fraternity I never had a shred of help so I had learned to just fend for myself and disregard others. In fact most people went out of their way to cause me problems. So from past experiences I was only accustomed for having to fend for myself and this is the way I was while on my pool team for a while. While going to the bar I only bought myself a drink instead of buying a round for the team. In return no one else bought drinks for me. I eventually learned if I take care of others they’ll be willing to take care of me in return. They stuck with me and bought me drinks occasionally and I eventually learned that these people were much different than the ones I had interacted with during my episodes. They were willing to look out for me and take care of me so long as I took care of them. I learned how to become a part of a team again and this was extremely helpful during my reintegration into society.
During the initial stages of my recovery I had a great deal of trouble taking care of myself. My self-esteem was extremely low and my parents did most of the chores around the house. I did this because I felt I had too many problems I had to deal with and I couldn’t waste time doing the tasks around the house. This was another instance where I was fending for myself and not looking out for others because I was more concerned with surviving schizoaffective disorder and resolving my issues from it. Once I began pitching in and helping out my family became more willing to spend time with me and hang out. They loved me no matter what but it was difficult for them to be feeding into a one way street. When I helped other people in need it gave me more energy and made me feel better about myself. I felt closer to my family when I helped out around the house and it alleviated a great deal of stress which I had previously been unable to locate the source of. Ironically, when I was willing to help others it improved my emotional health and put me in a good frame of mind to solve the problems I was working on in talk therapy regarding schizoaffective disorder.
In regards to helping others at my store, I was always weary of strangers from the outset. It took time for me to become kinder to strangers but I eventually learned most people are pretty nice if you’re nice to them. During my episodes I was afraid of others and I wasn’t willing to help anyone because I had no one who was willing to help me. I believed there were people who were out to get me because they knew I was a messiah and they were trying to stop me. I was also afraid of meeting new people because of all the poor treatment I had received in the fraternity. I was fending for myself in survival mode and this carried past my episodes. After helping an old woman walk her groceries home one day I had a renewed sense of conscientiousness. Doing good for complete strangers made me feel great about myself and it really improved my self-esteem. I also felt much safer in society when I was helping others including people I didn’t know.
The paranoia I had been experiencing when I was in public was simply a result of not knowing how to interact with others. It was a result of not being conscientious in situations where the social norm expected that of me. I learned the reason I was struggling with public social interactions was simply not knowing the rules of society. Learning things like holding doors for others again, and saying hello to people when they said hello to me was very helpful. There were a lot of little things I had forgotten how to do during my episodes which I wasn’t doing, however, once I did do them they collectively have made a big difference.
Another helpful tool was talking to people when they talked to me. During episodes I didn’t talk to people when they talked to me if I didn’t know them. I was afraid of others because I thought they were going to try hurting me, which had happened during episodes. I eventually learned to be nice to everyone and I felt much safer and far more comfortable in public than I did during my episodes. I learned most people aren’t hell bent fraternity brothers who disliked me and misunderstood me because they didn’t know I had schizophrenia. Most people are nice to you if you’re nice to them.
The biggest part of re-assimilating into society was learning the rules everyone was living by. When I had self-isolated myself by staying home all the time from age 19-25 because of schizophrenia I had lost all my social skills. The easiest way for me to learn how to interact with others was by learning from people who were good at socializing. I learned being a part of a team was about taking care of others. The biggest team I learned to take care of first was my family and then my friends. During my episodes I was individualistic to the point where I didn’t do anything for anyone else unless I was getting something in return. I learned one of the greatest forms of love is helping others when you don’t expect to and most likely will not get anything in return and still being happy while doing so. This was liberating because it got me moving in the right direction and doing good things for other people, even when I didn’t need to. Doing so made me feel better about myself and it helped to heal a lot of the emotional problems I had been experiencing.