Through his struggles of living with mental illness, Steve Colori has broken the chains that have held him down for so long. Erin Kelly shares her thoughts on his new memoir.
Author’s Note: In November 2015, I connected with author Steve Colori via Twitter, who graciously asked me to write the following piece. As someone who has dealt with the stereotypes and stigmas that come with cerebral palsy, I obliged—but I wasn’t aware of the depths of his struggles with schizoaffective disorder—an illness that’s targeted by bouts of schizophrenia and extreme changes in mood. In writing this article, I was reminded of how grateful I am to use my voice as writer on a daily basis, and why I will continue to use my voice to shine a positive light on the world.
“The initial onset of schizoaffective disorder was gradual. I started with a biological element of cognitive impairment which gave me symptoms of racing thoughts and thought blocking; this may have been a sign of a biological inclination to schizophrenia.”
This is what Steve Colori writes in chapter 8 of his latest book, Experiencing and Overcoming Schizoaffective Disorder: A Memoir, after the illness had fully manifested itself in his mind and body. In order to be diagnosed with this illness, however, one must display the full spectrum of symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder simultaneously—which Colori did.
He began to notice that his moods were changing frequently and at a rapid pace, which led to an abundance of energy. In addition, he had gone through a severe phase of social trauma—where going to middle school was such an overwhelmingly unpleasant experience that he nearly took his own life.
He was well aware that things were off kilter in his life at that point, and were unlikely to change. The “episodes” and symptoms that served as a springboard for his bouts with schizoaffective disorder—which he discusses extensively in this particular chapter—started small but resulted in him being plunged into a whole new world of stigmas and stereotypes.
Colori was an undergrad at The University of New Hampshire when he started being bullied and made fun of constantly. He writes that, in the fraternity he was a part of there, he suffered from increasingly severe social anxiety and stress due to the people he was surrounded by. These triggers were initially brought on by Colori’s illness and would only worsen over time, as he found that he didn’t mesh well with his fraternity brothers. He also became overwhelmed by the rules and regulations he’d set for the actions of others.
The wild, unpredictable nature of fraternity life created a hostile environment in which Colori did not feel comfortable.
“Almost everyone in the house had knives, and/or baseball bats, and some guns. They were doing drugs more serious than marijuana and they all had psychological issues accompanied with mercurial moods. During this same time I was sleeping less and less, which I believe was partly biological and also an environmental side-effect from social anxiety, stress, and paranoia,” he writes.
With the weight of negativity surrounding him, Colori practiced the art of politeness—using the phrase “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” as his guide. He also delved into talk therapy and journaling.
I was completely floored when I read the rest of chapter 8 of Steve’s book, particularly this part. This is a pivotal chapter of an extremely bold, brave body of work—and essentially a man’s life—that crystalizes what it’s like living with something that takes its toll every single day. I get the impression that Steve’s illness isn’t something that simply “runs its course”.
I get the impression that schizoaffective disorder, much like my cerebral palsy, leaves very distinct reminders that you have it—like sticky notes you seemingly can’t peel off. I admittedly went into the writing process for this article with no prior knowledge of schizoaffective disorder—nor who this man was. There was something inside of me that made me feel selfish for that specific reason, and it’s still there now as I write this.
I’ve spent my entire life fighting all the invisible ghosts that come with my cerebral palsy. In fact, there was a time when I thought my disability was “bad” in the sense that it put a tremendous amount of weight on my shoulders. I’ve fought on my own terms and for my own reasons since, but I’ve never really crossed paths with anyone—electronically or in person—who’s fighting a similar fight, with similar types of circumstances. Not only that, but I’ve never come across anyone with the willingness to put their struggles on display in a very human way, in the manner Steve has.
I’m more impressed by that than anything else. I think it shows that he’s not afraid to look at his illness as a way to help others. Before I began writing this, Steve told me that he wants his book—his story—to be a way of “humanizing” his illness so people can come to understand it better. As a writer who’s trying to the same with my disability, I couldn’t ask for any more inspiration that that.
By the same token, he hopes that that understanding will translate into “a new way of research where stigma is eliminated and a greater focus is put towards empirical experience.” With that said. Colori is hopeful for a future in which people won’t be reliant on the Internet or what they read in medical books to gain knowledge of schizoaffective disorder.
As I look to grow and evolve as a writer, I can say that working in this piece has been my most rewarding yet challenging project to date. The entire process of reading and writing—and then putting all these components together—reminds of a nugget me of wisdom that a teacher in high school once gave me: “Everyone has a disability. Some you can see; others you can’t.”
If that’s true, humanity needs more writers like Steve Colori in the world. Thank you, Steve, for the difference you’re making by simply telling your story!
Photo Credit: Amazon.com