Putting it Together

By David B.

Recieved July 2005

I’d like to tell a story -- in the hope that it will be useful to others -- of my struggles and achievements with schizophrenia. I was diagnosed a little over a year ago, however rather than taking the conventional approach of treatment with drugs, I instead chose a different path. This is the story of that path.

It all began in 2003. I started to gain an interest in psychology. I had already learned quite a bit about various disorders. It was in this time period that I stumbled across schizophrenia as a condition. As I read more about it, I came to realize that this really sounded like me. I found that I had numerous symptoms, including so-called early warning signs that appear in late childhood into adolescence. The more I read, the more I became concerned that I may have this disorder. Finally, in early 2004 a friend of mine tells me out of the blue that he is schizophrenic. As he describes himself to me, I realized that it was time to get tested. While trying to get the money together to conduct the tests, I found myself being given undeniable proof. I started to hallucinate. I experienced sounds, visions, and smells that were not there. Each one I was able to associate with long passed memories. My attack lasted only a short while -- I believe this to be the reason predominantly because I was able to make the associations.

I was finally tested in the spring of 2004. The results came back as I had expected: I was a paranoid schizophrenic. As a result of this, I decided to give the drugs a try but I was quickly put off by the plethora of side effects I experienced. I thought: there had to be a better way. So I kept searching, and in my searches I stumbled across a website which had a simple method for non-schizophrenics to deal with schizophrenics. The website said something akin to when a schizophrenic is bumped by somebody, they’ll frequently react that the government is watching me. The site suggested as a response that the person say “It is annoying when somebody bumps you.” Suddenly, it struck me what I as missing: emotions. All of these thoughts of paranoia; all these delusions -- they were all centered around emotions. I quit the drugs and proceeded to try this form of reasoning with myself. I soon found myself developing emotionally. I started to gain a concept of emotions that I had never experienced before in my life. Instead of driving down the street and thinking that the car in front of me existed only for the purpose of delaying me, I soon came to realize that it was another person in that car and that they were just driving at what they considered to be an appropriate speed. I soon started picking up on the fact that every time I said “other people” (ex: Other people need to get somewhere), I was really offsetting my emotions away from myself. Instead of saying “other people”, I learned to say “I”.

Amazing things started to happen. First, the world no longer appeared as nothing more than patterns. I could look at a tree, a bush, etc. without seeing every leaf. I could look at a painting and feel it’s soothing emotional effect, or it’s terror, or whatever it was painted to convey. My stress and anger level dropped as I started to understand the world more and more. I was picking up on social concepts that I never understood before as they weren’t conveyed by patterns, but instead by emotions.

Next, I learned about philosophizing -- that it expression questions as to the meaning of reality, or of other social orders. I came to realize that these were concepts I was trying to learn for myself. I started turning around my philosophizing and start asking myself, “What does this mean to me?” The more I did this, the more I understood. I would occasionally glance at the symptoms of schizophrenia. I watched as they began to disappear from my life. I was no longer paranoid about my job because I understood that emotionally my boss likes the work I do and assumes that I am doing a good job. I learned to understand that socializing is a way of killing free time -- and it’s much more enjoyable when you do things with others, once you understand them.

Today I still experience some symptoms, though they number far fewer than I used to. My typical day is spent anchored in reality, with mild thought disturbances that I have learned to blow off. When I get delusional, the delusions last a matter of a second or two -- to the point where they simply don’t effect my life anymore. My experience with this form of treatment have been so successful that when I told a Psychiatrist on my hockey team about my diagnosis, he flat out didn’t believe me. There are still areas that I am still experiencing problems, but I have found that I am not at the end of this path yet -- though I feel that I’m getting pretty close.

In summary, I have overcome this disorder without drugs, and without the side effects that the drugs cause. I later learned that the therapy I learned to perform on myself is called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Doing it is as simple as 1) Recognize that you have this disorder; 2) don’t be ashamed of it, be proud of it as it is who you are; 3) analyze your thoughts. Look for the real emotions behind them and learn to apply them to yourself. This can be difficult as you probably don’t have a concept of how to apply the emotion to yourself. 4) Keep reading about the disorder and learn to recognize the symptoms in yourself and use this as a method of putting thing back together.

I can’t speak for everyone. I can’t guarantee that this will work for you. But I suggest you try it. It has done wonders for me. I actually tried the drugs briefly again since this had passed, and found the drugs make me worse!

Editorial note: Because schizophrenia affects individuals in such a huge variety of ways, it is often the case that a successful treatment for one person will not work for another. The above piece is an encouraging story of just one individual's experience. However, we must emphasize that antipsychotic medication is the standard treatment for schizophrenia, as stated in the American Psychiatric Association guidelines. Moreover, numerous scientific studies have shown that some form of medication successfully controls symptoms for a majority of people with schizophrenia, and that the chances of relapse go significantly up when someone stops taking a prescribed antipsychotic medication (one study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research quoted a relapse rate of 65%-80% within the first two years of patients discontinuing medication, about twice the relapse rate of those who continued medication). Please work with your doctor to find the best treatment for you, and never make changes to your medication dosage without proper medical supervision.



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