Having had schizoaffective disorder for ten years has forced me to learn a great deal about how to live while being symptomatic. I’ve experienced auditory and visual hallucinations, anxiety, exorbitant amounts of stress, social dysfunction, and also a number of fears associated with my episodes. Although I’ve been able to eliminate/limit many of those symptoms through journaling and talk therapy I’ve realized I still need coping mechanisms. The most important part of coping with any symptom of schizoaffective disorder has been knowing my triggers.
In prior years I wasn’t fully aware of all my triggers therefore I was subjecting myself to stimuli that triggered symptoms without even realizing I was throwing myself in the fire. My biggest trigger has been reading other people’s writing at length. From ages 25-27 I read close to 250 novels in my pursuit of becoming a writer until I finally realized reading is one of my biggest triggers. After reading for four to five hours per day I was usually nauseous at the end of the day, my equilibrium was slightly off, I was having auditory and visual hallucinations, socializing was difficult, and most of my symptoms were at their height. Finally realizing that reading was my most loaded trigger was a huge relief because it gave me control over a great portion of my illness, that being the cause for a number of symptoms. This has been the case with other symptoms too. I continued pursuing writing and continued to read in smaller doses and having a healthier mind improved my writing. I originally thought my writing would become worse from not continuing to read good literature in volume but eliminating a trigger helped me to improve.
The reading trigger was an effect of having experienced my first episode of schizophrenia/bipolar while I was an English major at UNH from ages 19-22. I completed the coursework for two and a half years as I digressed but during that time I was always reading therefore it somehow became tied to my symptoms. Knowing that reading was a major trigger was extremely important because it taught me a great deal about my illness and how to cope with it. By finding and analyzing the reasons reading was a trigger I uncovered some of my greater fears from my episodes and also from earlier years in my life. Uncovering these fears allowed me to face them and pacify them thus improving my mind’s functionality and helping me improve with social interactions.
From this reading trigger I learned that I had been dealing with a personality disorder several years ago. I had been made fun of a great deal while growing up and during my first episode of schizophrenia I tried changing who I was through reading so I wouldn’t be made fun of anymore. During my episodic years I felt the reason I had been made fun of so much may have been a result of the effects that external stimuli had on my mind. I thought watching too much television and movies had made me lame which caused people to make fun of me. Although I couldn’t change the fact that these stimuli were still triggers for me I was able to address some of the personality issues thus greatly reducing my social anxiety which for years was a huge burden for me.
Initially I was at a loss without fictional TV/movies, but I’ve come to really enjoy a life where I’m constantly doing things instead of watching exorbitant amounts of television as I occasionally did in my youth. So eliminating a trigger was initially burdensome but it lead to a greater knowledge and appreciation of life and a number of great experiences occurred simply from going out and doing things instead of sitting home. When I needed downtime I went for walks or listened to music or watched live TV.
Knowing my triggers has given me areas to target when I’m in talk therapy sessions and also when I’m working towards self-improvement in my journaling. Stress and mental dysfunction have usually been the main factors that cause symptoms. I’ve realized many of my triggers are directly related to situations or issues that cause me exorbitant amounts of stress. I’ve concluded if something causes me enough stress to trigger a symptom then there is some sort of trauma or issue(s) relating to it that can be worked on and ironed out. Ironing out these issues has also improved my functionality. By knowing my triggers I’m able to figure out what my greatest fears are which sometimes has been daunting to face. However, once faced I’ve found ways to pacify and/or cope with these fears and find solutions to the problems which were hampering me.
Sometimes with social anxiety I created plans for situations that had been causing symptoms. For example in situations where I disclosed my illness I originally just disclosed to people out of the blue when I figured it was safe but I was always terrified that they’d stop being friends with me. The anxiety was similar to “expecting a bullet train to crush me to the ground at any moment”. After reflecting on this social situation I learned that most people will only have a frame of reference of me for how I currently am and that’s what they’ll use to make their decision of staying friends with me. They don’t know how socially dysfunctionally I was during my episodes; having had psychosis to the point where I could barely speak. I learned if I can identify my other triggers I will know when I may have to face schizophrenia symptoms and I can plan ahead for those situations too.
With auditory and visual hallucinations I’ve realized the trigger is having a high stress level, as is the case with most of my hallucinatory symptoms. Knowing this helped me realize when I’m in stressful situations I may experience these hallucinations. Sometimes the stress is from life issues so I know if I have these hallucinations then I need to think about the events happening in my life and reduce the stress resulting from them. Other times when I’ve known I may have a visual or auditory hallucination from stress I can prepare for it and it’s much less disconcerting when it happens.