Living With Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder is a combination of symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms may occur at the same time or at different times...
When I was 8, I called him my imaginary friend...
When I was eight years old, I began having auditory and visual hallucinations. I would hear people whispering to me when there was no one there, and I would see shadows that were not there. I would often respond to the voices I heard, and my parents thought I had an imaginary friend. I thought so, too.
As I grew older, the hallucinations became worse. I would often lay awake at night because my head was too loud and too busy to sleep. I would go through stages where I would have extreme amounts of energy; I would not eat or sleep and the house would be spotless. Then I would crash, and I would spend three days in bed.
When I was 13, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and given a cocktail of medicine. When I was 15, my mental illness got the best of me—and I began having suicidal thoughts. I ended up having my step-mom take me to the Children's Hospital, and from there I was escorted by police to a mental hospital where I spent a little over a week.
When I was 17, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on more medication. "This will help you sleep, this will help you regulate your emotions, this will help you stay awake."
When I was 18, I gave birth to my son and fell into a deep psychosis. Finally, I was honest with my family and my doctors, and I was given the correct diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. This means I have characteristics from both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
I am now 19, and I am the healthiest I have ever been mentally. I am very open about my mental health, and I let my loved ones know when I am struggling.
Living with this condition is a struggle, but not for the reasons you may think. I am able to combat my disorders symptoms, but for a very long time I was not able to combat the stigma that surrounds both bipolar and schizophrenia.
Living with the stigma is harder than living with the disorder
Both halves of my disorder hold very strong stigma in our society. On one hand, I'm the "bipolar girl" who snaps at everyone, and my mood changes like a light switch. On the other hand, I'm the "schizo" who will one day snap and harm everyone around me. Neither of these stereotypes is true, and I'm going to educate you on why holding this stigma can be very damaging to those around you.
You wouldn't know by looking at me, would you?
When you look at a picture of me, the first thing that comes to mind isn't psycho, is it? However, once I explain to you my diagnosis, the stigma that is so prevalent in our society begins to surface.
"What do you hear?"
"What do they tell you to do?"
"Are they telling you to hurt me?"
The answers are: I hear many different things; the voices aren't always telling me to do things; and no, I am not being told to hurt you, nor would I ever do that.
You can't look at someone and guess what issues they have. I've met many wonderful people in my life, many of whom have mental illnesses.
Use "person first" language
The last thing I'm going to talk about is something else that enhances the stigma about mental illness. When you are talking about someone with schizophrenia, do not refer to them as "schizophrenic." Instead, refer to them as "a person with schizophrenia." Using this kind of language separates the person before their illness or disorder. It shows that you understand they are not their illness; rather, that their illness is merely one part of them. This practice should be used for any illness or disorder.
If you or someone you know is struggling to live with their mental illess, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness | NAMI HelpLine
HelpLine staff are prepared to answer your questions on mental health issues. Contact us Monday-Friday, 10am–6pm ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org