Schizophrenia is a part of my life that I am quite happy to talk about. Many other schizophrenics I have met are often quite the opposite but I have found through experience that not talking about it and someone learning about it later can make it much harder for a person to accept.
I have presented with what is called positive symptoms of schizophrenia since I was 6 years old. Positive symptoms are those that are not present in a normal person and present in a schizophrenic such as disordered thought and speech, tactile/auditory/visual/olfactory/gustatory hallucinations and manifestations of psychosis. Negative symptoms are deficits of normal emotional responses such as blunted effect, poverty of speech (alogia), inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), lack of desire to form relationships (asociality) and lack of motivation (avolition). I didn't start to develop negative symptoms until I was around 13/14 years old.
In 1995 I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia and since then I have spent the last 20 years working my way through what must be the whole gamut of antipsychotic medications. More recently I was moved onto the drug Clozaril, what can only be described as the nuclear bomb of the psychiatric industry.
Many people upon learning that I have schizophrenia have many questions so here is a quick F.A.Q that I hope answers some of those for you.
- So, do you see things that aren't there?
Yes I have hallucinations, I see, hear and smell things others do not. For most schizophrenics this apparently only occurs during bad episodes but for me it has always been a part of everyday life. A way I often describe it is that "I have never spent one day, not one moment in my life, alone."
- Do you have a split personality?
No, many confuse schizophrenia, which translates from the Greek to split-mind (so called because of the disorganised way in which a schizophrenics mind can work) with Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder. The mass media have done little to correct this misunderstanding, often referring to schizophrenics as having multiple personalities.
- Have you ever had a bad episode?
Yes, several times in fact. I am fortunate enough in that I have learnt to spot the signs of things going bad quite early and can seek the help needed to try and minimise the impact before it gets out of control.
- How do you live with it?
I have a very understanding family, amazingly supportive children and a team of people who work with me to ensure that I stay as well as I can do.
- Aren't schizophrenics usually crazed killers? That's what the papers say!
Are there some schizophrenics out there that are dangerous? Absolutely yes, but no more than there are drunk people leaving the pub who are a risk, angry people who are sporting for a fight or drivers on the road who are dangerous simply through not being careful. I count myself lucky because I have had positive symptoms since I can remember. My earliest memories involve things only I was seeing and having grown up with it the way I have I believe it has allowed me to maintain a degree of control some others do not have.
- Don't people who take a lot of drugs end up schizophrenic?
This is a topic that often gets me quite angry. Yes, there are many cases of people who through substance abuse start to present a variety of psychotic symptoms and often get labelled schizophrenic but this is more because they don't know what else to call them. They are not schizophrenic due to them missing key elements in the diagnostic criteria that would categorise them as such. I am hoping that with the imminent release of what is called the DSM V, essentially the latest version of the mental health diagnostic bible, this area will be tackled and labelled accordingly.
Schizophrenia is a hugely diverse, multi-faceted and complex condition. You could almost go as far as to say that no two schizophrenics are alike which makes it hard work for psychiatrists to get their heads around never mind your average Joe off the street! The important thing to remember is that there are a lot more people with schizophrenia than you may realise and there is a good chance you have met one already and never knew it. Actions speak louder than words and behaviours show more than expectations.