Recently, I read a series of articles detailing a man’s experiences with something called “schizoaffective disorder.” He explained how this mental illness is similar to manic depression and to schizophrenia, in their respective ways. With schizoaffective disorder, Michael Crawford revealed, one’s mood shifts every few months or years from paranoid mania to dark depression with psychosis interspersed throughout the swings. His psychosis ranged from hearing voices, to seeing symbols, to being overly suspicious to the point of delirium.
These articles interested me because I, too, have schizoaffective disorder.
While my mental illness story is lengthy, switching from depression to mania back to depression again, I am currently doing much better than when I began. Before, I skipped meals, showers, and classes; now, I battle depression and anxiety, but manage to get nearly everything done in a day. Psychosis no longer affects me as much (that I know of), and I am enjoying the everyday life of a married woman.
However, there is always a fear that the invasive thoughts will return, something I have found typical with mental illness while conferring with friends. No matter how much counseling I have and how consistently I take my medication, the fear that I will eventually relapse always haunts the back of my mind.
Though you would think researching the darkest part of me would be a curse, reading about schizoaffective disorder has actually been a cathartic process. I vary from “so that’s why I feel this way” responses to being near tears that someone actually understands my experiences. There is always solace in finding you are not alone.
Something I have experienced time and time again with mental illness is the stigma. Nearly every time I tell people that I have mental health issues, they say, “Oh, so you’re crazy?” And as a fully-functioning adult searching for jobs just like the rest of my generation, I try my hardest to ignore that response. Mayo Clinic online lists the following symptoms of mental illness stigma:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others you know
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment
- The belief that you’ll never be able to succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation
Countless times I have felt uncomfortable telling anyone about my mental health issues, or even asking for help, due to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Though there is a rise of depression and anxiety receiving attention in society, other more psychotic illnesses are sensationalized–in fact, one movie out this year features a character with an exaggerated illness who kidnaps and attempts to murder a group of people. Movies like this make it difficult for those suffering from psychosis to receive positive attention; instead, they teach people to fear mental illness and label people as “crazy” or avoid them.
Instead of treating those struggling with mental health as less than people, I recommend others begin to read articles on what mental illness is truly like. They may be surprised by how common, treatable, and manageable it is, despite what they have learned from the media. There is no need to fear me, or fear anyone like me. Instead, work with us to make our minds a better place. Though there are demons in my head, there is no need to feed them. And together, though they may never be silenced, we their bearers can find a voice.