Steve Colori reflects on how his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder clouded his view of the world as a young man, and how he chose to respond.
Having reached the age of 18, I felt I was someone who hadn’t truly lived yet. Although I had played in meaningful football and baseball games, partied, and hung out a lot with friends, I eventually reached a point at the outset of college where I wanted more out of life. I searched for independence, tried to develop agency, and I wanted a life that felt real and was meaningful. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to make it that way. Living through my emotions, I searched for adrenaline rushes to fulfill these criteria.
Constantly searching for the next crazy thing to do, I partied four to five nights per week and I joined a fraternity in an effort to improve my social life. I was constantly on the move and I made sure there was never a dull moment. I wanted to live and experience life to the fullest. My blind search lead me to a lot of great experiences and also some problematic ones. Although things seemed to be going well, I lacked control over my life, I was impulsive, and I took a great deal of risks; many unnecessary and dangerous.
These things eventually caught up to me when I was faced with schizoaffective disorder starting at age 19. Schizoaffective put me in situations that were far more real, more dangerous, and crazier than anything I could have ever possibly imagined or ever wanted. At age 19 I moved into a cocaine-ridden fraternity house where the onset of schizoaffective developed. I digressed to believing I was a messiah while experiencing a range of psychotic symptoms while living basically homeless and I finally wound up being hospitalized twice.
Throughout the course of my first five years of schizoaffective disorder my life became far more different than I ever could have imagined it. I learned more about life than I ever could have imagined through the myriad of adverse experiences I was forced to overcome. I was truly experiencing life but it wasn’t the type of living I wanted to do. The following several years were also fairly difficult and I was faced with more trouble. I learned that I couldn’t leave schizoaffective home for a day or a night, or just put it on the coat rack and walk out the door without it. It’s constant and I had to spend this developmental time facing and overcoming it. With every conscious decision, every pain, every endurance, and every triumph I was able to say that I was someone who at least was living life. That meant a lot to me even though my life wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I had a vision for how I wanted things to be and I felt I was moving forward.
For a while the burden of facing psychotic symptoms daily left me reserved and afraid to take any risks. I kept to myself. I wanted peace and quiet and needed time to recover. I felt I was an old soul determined to make the safest decisions possible for the rest of my life. I strove to gain control over as many facets of my life as I possibly could and I worked to minimize and eliminate as many negative outcomes as possible. I constantly worked and I lost track of my work/life balance. There were times where I was out with friends and I went home early because I wanted to work on symptoms and problems instead of just having fun and enjoying good company. Every day was a battle to improve my mental health. Many times I was afraid to just let loose because I felt my way of life in earlier years had led to the development of my illness and I concluded I would no longer take any risks.
I eventually got to the point where I was well enough that most of my symptoms were no longer problematic. I started building confidence in my ability to live a healthier lifestyle with less maintenance. For a short while I did continue my controlled way of life, however, I began yearning for something greater; something more exciting and alive. I realized I was 29 years old and I was calling myself an old soul. I had to unstring my cleats from the goal posts and get back in the game. I learned I can be an old soul and still live a young and fun life.
After realizing that I was free to move on and live I wanted to feel alive again. Years of adversity had left me feeling weathered, battered, and beaten. Years of trauma had made me a very cautious person and it took time to work my way out of my overly-cautious mentality. Looking around at my peers and seeing the way they were living made me envious. I wanted to take the next step forward in life and journey out.
As I came to understand this I strove for a better work life balance. Instead of coming home after work to do more work on self-improvement all the time I began making plans for going out and having more fun. I became more willing to take risks and have fun but I was still a little weary of living the same way I had in my younger years. I developed a new parameter for risk taking. I made it my rule that I have to be able live with the results of a failed risk if that happens to be the case. This only meant that I had to weigh the consequences of the risk before taking. My new resolution was liberating.
Instead of being so controlling I decided that I had to let things happen a little bit more whenever possible. Being in control all the time was demanding and taxing and I learned to go with the flow a little more. I also learned that if I want to live life the only way I can do so is by getting out and experiencing it. An important facet of living more was understanding that I don’t need to have crazy experiences to feel alive. A balance of high energy and low energy experiences is necessary to maintain my physical and mental health but I still like doing things and participating in life instead of sitting at home and spending time working on issues. After having the courage to journey out I feel alive again. I relit a fire that had been in embers for many years. I’ve still retained the wisdom from my years of adversity but I’m finally ready to journey forward into the next chapter of my life.