During my schizoaffective episodes, speaking and understanding what what said to me in conversation was very difficult for me, despite my being an English major (I even completed all my course work and passed most of my classes during my first episode). The most difficult part of schizoaffective disorder for me was my inability to effectively communicate with others. Although I was unable to clearly express my thoughts I still had clear thoughts; in fact, I was constantly thinking, as I believe most people are during their episodes. I spent days without saying more than several words to several people, and that got me too much inside my own mind. Spending so much time thinking alone by myself started creating problems, such as referential and metaphoric thinking. The most confusing part of schizophrenia was the inability to discern the internal from the external; it did not help that I spent so much time inside my own mind driving my internal monologue. Worse than living on the floor of an apartment with very little heat in the middle of a New England winter and nearly starving was the loneliness I felt. My inability to communicate and converse created this loneliness. I constantly dreamed of being lauded by millions of people after having saved the world (because I thought I was the next messiah), but the point is, if I had more help with my socialization I would have overcome my illness much faster.
In the years following my episodes I still struggled to find happiness, largely because of my inability to socialize effectively. Achieving life goals was the most essential part of therapy for me because it created the most happiness, and most of my life goals revolved around socializing, such as having friends to hang out with, having a job, having a girlfriend, and having a meaningful life. If I had spent more time working on my communication and socialization skills I would have achieved my life goals much faster. The development of my ability to understand and create language has been essential to my recovery and to my advance beyond recovery.
During my episodes, I intentionally isolated myself from society to figure out my life. I became so trapped inside myself as a result of insomnia, schizoaffective disorder, and poor dietary habits that I had a great deal of difficulty discerning the internal from the external. Although I was in a bad state of mind I was still able to communicate with others, but my conversations were very tumultuous. I had created a series of rules that I thought everyone needed to abide by while talking to me; otherwise I wouldn’t say anything to them. One rule was that no one should ever tell me—or even suggest for me—what I ought to do. During and shortly after my episodes, I did not respond well to commands under any conditions. I wanted to do what was best but didn’t want to be told to do it. Sometimes my parents would command me to do things and I simply wouldn’t listen, because I was sick of being told what to do. I would tell myself in my mind, “No, I won’t do that” and then do it anyways. A lot of the time I was willing to do whatever anyone asked me to do so long as they asked me in an objective and non-assuming tone.
At the time, I wanted to become an independent thinker and thought a lot of the problems I had encountered in my earlier life were the result of listening too much to others. There were times where people would suggest what I ought to do, for any number of reasons, and I would know they were correct but I still claimed to disagree with them. By outwardly disagreeing with what they were telling me, I could assert my independence and then make the decision for myself; then I would usually do exactly the thing they recommended. Asking me open-ended questions in an objective tone usually got the best results from me. Being open ended means none of the possible answers were inserted into the question; therefore, I would have to come up with a course of action on my own—which is exactly what I wanted to do at that time. The objective tone was important, because I sometimes assumed if someone made the correct answer sound obvious, it was a means of persuading me. I hated persuasiveness. If I picked up on any persuasiveness during my episodes I usually started arguing. I also hated manipulation. Although my mind wasn’t functioning as well as everyone else’s, I still knew when people were being manipulative. It disinclined me to listen to them and gave me motivation to do the opposite of what they intended. However, when people were up front with me and open about their intentions and their desires, I was far more willing to listen and comply. I had more respect for people who were up front with me and I trusted them more; I was more willing to listen to them, and got along better with them. The only people I really talked to during episodes were my parents and my teachers. The teachers were the ones I listened to.
In earlier years, I had felt my life was meaningless and during my episodes I was doing everything possible to ensure that my life was meaningful.
I hated sarcasm, and never used it, because I thought it would condition my mind to say the opposite of what I thought. I now understand that the tone assigned to sarcasm actually indicates that the thought being stated is ridiculous, but I also didn’t understand that at the time. I didn’t think my mind could factor in tone of voice as having meaning. I didn’t want to tell myself to do the opposite of what I wanted to do, because I thought it would create a lot of problems. I became annoyed and didn’t talk much to people who were sarcastic, who said what they didn’t mean instead of saying exactly what they meant. I think I would have been more willing to talk to others if they had stated exactly what they meant instead of stating what they didn’t mean. I still prefer to simply say what I mean, the reason being that I can more accurately pinpoint my thoughts and understand what things are, instead of having an idea of what they are not. During my episodes I knew I had difficulty with language, and this was one way I was working to get a better grasp on using language to accurately describe things in my life.
Another thing that made communication difficult for me was ambiguity. I found that when people created shorter but complete sentences— with a clear subject and verb— I was better able to understand them. It was difficult to understand people when they made vague references. A vague reference is a statement such as “It goes over there”. If someone stated “The lamp goes on the table,” I would have been able to better understand them. The difference between these two sentences is that the latter uses nouns rather than pronouns. This is important for two reasons. One is that my language processing ability was diminished and my intuition was weaker while I was feeling ill, so I was less able to figure out what people meant when they used vague references. The use of nouns was more helpful simply for my language comprehension.
Another reason was because I was more prone to referential thinking when I heard a pronoun than when I heard a noun. When I was not feeling well I was putting myself in place of the subject of the sentence and interpreting the sentence as having something to do with my own life. When the subject of the sentence was clearly stated, I was less likely to mistake the sentence as referring to myself, imagining that it contained some sort of deeper meaning relating to my life, or offered me some sort of instruction as to what I ought to be doing.
After my episodes I was less paranoid but still had many issues I had to address and they were hampering my socialization skills. I had spent about two years in poor mental health with a great amount of psychosis. As a result, I had completely forgotten how to socialize and did not know what was socially acceptable or how to really connect to anyone. I still thought I was a messiah and did not want to ingest any material that had any bad influences in it, such as violent TV shows or radio songs full of negativity. Since I didn’t want to listen to the radio or watch most TV shows, I wasn’t getting much opportunity to listen to anyone speaking. Reading was helpful for me, but to effectively interact with others I needed to speak and listen to people more. Eventually I found artists who had positive messages and uplifting music and also found programs that were worth watching. Hearing the voices of people who were mentally healthy and rational—and who were good conversationalists—was immensely beneficial for my socialization skills. I watched mostly sports and classics made into movies and I listened to NPR radio, and The Beatles. Listening to these voices gave me a sense of how to interact with others and a sense of what was socially acceptable and not acceptable.
Although I was improving I was still having difficulty socializing because of issues from my childhood and from my episodes. In addition to listening to healthy voices, one of the best things I did for myself was reading. Reading is one of the simplest but most powerful activities there is, and it completely changed my life. Immediately following my episodes, I still had difficulty with word-concept relationships, but as I continued to read I understood these better and it helped me to communicate better. Once I had the language to identify issues in my life, which can be the most difficult part of therapy, I was able to better work with these issues and overcome them. Reading developed my communication ability, it strengthened and solidified my internal monologue, it improved my short-term and long-term memory, and it improved my attention span.
Having the language to identify and work with concepts was extremely important for me because a great deal of my recovery happened in talk therapy and eventually on my own with journaling. I usually thought through my issues before coming to therapy, and the reason I was able to do this was mostly that I had done so much reading. Reading helped me to develop a strong internal monologue; I could retain thoughts for longer periods of time in order to analyze and work with them in my mind. Besides helping develop my short-term memory, that is, the ability to retain my thoughts, reading also increased my long-term memory. After having read for a while I began remembering things from my past which I had completely forgotten and which were essential for overcoming my illness. My once distant past was now visible and detailed and I was able to better work with the issues that were affecting me. I developed the ability to remember a traumatic experience, identify the issue associated with it, and then pacify the fears and worries I had surrounding it. Having the language to work with concepts enabled me to improve my thinking and improve my socialization skills. This eventually helped me to obtain most of my life goals and get to a point where I now consider myself living a happy and meaningful life.
From the Postscript of Steve Colori’s Memoir, “Experiencing and Overcoming Schizoaffective Disorder: A Memoir by Steve Colori”. You can learn more about Steve by visiting his website, Steve Colori.com