During my first episode I was an English major and I read twenty books per semester for two years while developing psychosis. This led to a lot of the experiential side of schizoaffective disorder being tied into reading and writing. Analyzing my experiences with reading and writing have helped me to make great progress in becoming mentally and emotionally healthier.
At age twenty-five, one year after my second episode I decided I wanted to start pursuing writing. I started reading as much as I possibly could every day when I was supposed to be looking for a job. I wrote my first book but during the process I realized something critical. Reading fictional works and watching movies was a trigger for psychosis for me.
When I stopped reading and watching TV and movies my psychosis abated. For the year I had been reading in preparation to write and the six months I did the writing my mind was spinning. I immediately noticed an improvement in my conscious thought, having a much clearer mind and I was able to speak to people again. I had gone days without being able to say much to anyone because the psychosis triggered from reading, TV, and movies disabled my ability to speak.
My anxiety was lessened and I was able to function at higher levels and my executive functioning immediately improved. My nausea and headaches went away which I previously was not aware were a part of psychosis. I was excited when I figured out a way to limit some of my psychosis and I felt like I finally had a fighting chance.
Originally I thought this was going to be a huge burden and completely take writing off the table. However, I realized I wasn’t triggered reading my own writing so I was still able to write which was a relief because it was something I really wanted to do. I decided I still had to read so I started reading poetry as I could read one or two poems a day and still ingest and analyze good literature.
One of the major difficulties however, was how to lead a social life while not being able to watch any television or movies. At first it was painful when friends would ask me to go to a movie and I had to tell them I just wasn’t interested. In this situation I was lying so that I didn’t have to divulge personal information however, I wasn’t aware that not divulging this information sent a negative message. Most people really enjoy movies and growing up my friends and I always watched movies together. Deciding not to go with them in their minds seemed like I intentionally just didn’t want to hang out with them. Avoiding social situations because of symptoms and trying to hide the symptoms created social isolation.
For the past ten years people would talk about movies they liked or wanted to see and I would remain quiet for the entirety of the conversation. I think it was perceived as judgmental that I didn’t want to talk to them about movies. For a while a part of me did really dislike movies and television partially because I couldn’t watch and I was jealous but more so because they caused me symptoms and it was a scary thing for me to even talk about. Thinking and talking about the movies caused me to think of the symptoms they caused.
One of the important things I realized though was that if television, movies, and reading caused me such a high volume of symptoms they were an important area to analyze and dissect to improve the experiential side of my mental and emotional health. I learned if I wanted to make progress in becoming healthier this was where progress could be made. I analyzed how my experiences during my first episode as an English major correlated to my mental and emotional health. For the past seven years I’ve been working on fixing this problem and I’ve become a lot healthier.
At one point I felt I had it fixed. It felt miraculous sitting through an entire movie without symptoms. The movie ended and I thought I was all right until I went to work the next day. One of the difficulties of psychosis is realizing that you’re not functioning as well as everyone else, you’re aware of it and they’re aware of it, but you can’t do anything about it. A two hour movie caused me two days of embarrassing neurosis where I was incredibly socially awkward, had a ton of anxiety, I was nauseous, and I had ear splitting headaches at random spurts during the day. This meant I had to get back to the drawing board. It became distressing thinking that movies were getting in the way of me having a social life.
As I progressed I decided I wanted to become more open about my mental health. I was out with some friends at an indoor golf place and I told them movies caused me to see and hear things, which they occasionally do. I figured these would be the easiest and quickest symptoms to explain. These were friends who already knew about my diagnosis and I made this comment within the context of the conversation. Some of my friends were understanding while one thought he was the local psychiatrist.
He said,” I don’t see why that should affect you. Is it the lights? Is it the content? I dunno about this.”
In this moment I felt discredited and invalidated. It was a courageous moment for me to even divulge that movies caused me all these problems and the immediate response was kickback. The friend thought he knew the answer to a problem I had been working on fixing for the past seven years. One of the most frustrating things though was that I wasn’t able to give him a direct answer as to why movies and television cause me psychosis. To this day I don’t know the answer but I wast too embarrassed in the moment to tell him that I don’t know why.
My thought is that it’s probably a complex web of thoughts that are interconnected because I’ve made progress on it but the problem still remains. This is the most difficult part of psychosis. You’re consciously aware of what affects you and how it affects you within social situations but you don’t know why. People like to drop comments in conversation and give you advice on how to become more functional at random times but they don’t realize the depth of the issues. It’s incredibly distressing when people do this and sometimes just makes things worse. It’s like throwing a bucket of water on top of an iceberg and expecting the whole iceberg to melt. They can only see the distress on the surface but don’t realize how much more is below the surface.
The other part about social awkwardness and neurosis is that people don’t realize it’s from past traumas and fears that are still within the unconscious mind. I had social difficulty in middle school to the point of nearly committing suicide and also in college during my first episode of psychosis. The average person might feel fairly safe in a social setting but for years I felt it was a dangerous place so there’s a disconnect here. As I started plucking fears and insecurities about socialization from my unconscious mind and making them into zeros I started becoming less socially awkward.
One of the major stressors I had within conversations was a direct result of knowing my social awkwardness was from my mental illness but not wanting to tell anyone and also being afraid people knew about my mental illness because of my awkward behavior. As I neutralized increasingly more fears around socialization and learned the rules of socialization my symptoms of psychosis decreased and along with that my social skills improved. For me there’s a direct correlation between the number of social anxieties and fears I had and later got rid of equating to the ability to effectively socialize and my level of health within a conversation. It’s a spectrum. This resulted in my social life improving and my mental and emotional health improving along with it for an innumerable number of reasons.
As I became healthier, (but still wasn’t able to watch movies), I realized the inability to watch movies was not the barrier to my social life. As my mental health improved increasingly more people wanted to hang out with me and I learned that most people don’t care about whether I can or can’t watch movies. We found other things to do together. I think for me when I was less healthy and experiencing a higher volume of psychosis I didn’t see things as clearly. I blamed my inability to socialize on not being able to watch television and movies as opposed to realizing that people didn’t care so much about not being able to do those things. I think part of it was painful to realize I just wasn’t functioning as well as everyone else to be able to interact with them on the same level. Once my social skills improved, which I did a ton of work on, people hung out with me regardless of not being able to watch movies.