I used to believe myself a strong person in high school. I was very outspoken. I loved politics and theology. I was a hard and determined worker and devoted sister. I had big dreams. I was going to join the military after high-school and become a doctor through the military. Devoted to my dreams, teachers and counselors alike called me crazy for the workload I had taken on in my final year. I was working while taking every science and mathematics courses I could . I had been planning since I was six to become a doctor. And nothing was going to get in my way.
I was a capable debater, and was asked to join the debate team, in which I naturally rejected because I didn’t like publicity. I joined and helped organize RTL (right to learn) during the start of the teachers’ strikes. I was more than capable of forging my own path through this life.
Like many of the student body, I saw those suffering from mental disabilities as weaker human beings. It’s not that I hated them or felt the need to hurt them. But inside my own self I didn’t fully understand what it took to go through what they went through every day with a smile.
I remember the year I graduated. It was the same year we had a group come in and present about schizophrenia. I remember listening to what they were saying about voices and realizing I might have it – yet being to afraid to tell anyone. I figured I wasn’t having it that bad, and that I was just being paranoid.
However that same year the voices started getting worse. I remember crying alone in my room -begging them to stop talking to me because they were so cruel. I ended up dropping out of my courses and taking easy courses just so I could graduate.
Shortly after I graduated I suffered my first psychotic break. It was then that I started to appreciate the strength it takes to simply live. To breathe; to have a hope for the future. It’s rare that any voice you hear has nice things to say, quite often they just tear you down, call you names and play on your past mistakes or current weaknesses.
Imagine having a bully that you can’t push back calling you names all day or nit-picking at your flaws all day. To lie in your bed falling asleep to the sound of “loser” or “coward” being said to you. Trying to go for a shower or go to the bathroom with comments on what you’re doing or derogatory terms directed at your body.
That’s what it’s like to have schizophrenia, and what schizophrenics deal with daily for years. There are medications to help distance you from the voices, sometimes they go away altogether. Mine have never left me, not for a second for the last four years. And yet I have it easier than a lot of people out there.
I know a boy who was pushed too far by his voices. He ended up slitting his arms screaming: “This is what you’re doing to me!” And another boy who would walk around mumbling: “I won’t let them break me. I won’t let them break me.” Those are just examples of how intense this situation is. And how it can make you or break you.
Sometimes schizophrenia is coupled with psychotic breaks. This is a very dangerous situation to be in for the schizophrenic, as they are now detached from reality. A psychotic break is like driving a car without brakes. You feel your mind going faster, but you have no way of stopping it. The more you think the faster you go. Like stepping on the gas but the faster you go, the harder it is to control the car. And inevitably you will crash.
During a psychotic break your world is distorted. Facts about reality that you used to take for granted, are now called into question or distorted beyond recognition. What you used to understand as “a cup” is now a secret Middle-Eastern weapon of mass destruction that you alone know about and must destroy for the safety of the universe. You react just as you would if those situations were fact, because to you it is fact.
After a psychotic break your whole world changes. Your perception of yourself; your perception of society friends family. Nothing’s the same. You have to scrape together all the hope you have left just to believe it won’t happen again. You have to push through unshakable doubt to believe that the brain damage isn’t permanent and that you will be able to speak normally again, read again, write again. You have to work harder than all those years prepping for the military ever took, just to reach the point where you can function normally again.
The road to recovery isn’t an easy one. In a psychotic break three things can happen as a result. You can fully recover, you can partially recover, or you can never recover. The fear of never recovering stays with you, the idea that the voices that mock and hurt you will never go away, is not easy to stomach. And the idea that society will always look down on you – besides what you’ve gone through- is frustrating at best.
It was humiliating, having a psychotic break. I was convinced I was fine, so after I got out of the hospital I stopped taking my medication. I enrolled to take upgrades to catch up on courses I’d dropped out of in high school and found full time work.
I made it halfway through my Chem. 12 and Bio. 12 before I had my second psychotic break.
I missed so much I had to drop out again. And my work didn’t believe me that I was having a psychotic break and fired me after three days of missed work.
This time I didn’t have the hope left to believe I’d ever make it as a doctor, and there was no way they’d accept me in the military. I gave up until I found people like Heather who showed me I could still contribute to society in my own small way.
I’ve been recovering for four years now and am going to attempt collage again next year. I’m not becoming a doctor as I had planned, I’ve reached the point now where I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover. But that doesn’t make me less of a person. Or that I can’t contribute to society. And it doesn’t mean I can’t help other people see that.
I’m Sonia Hawkins and I have schizophrenia,
I’m no different than someone who has any other type of permanent illness. It requires management and discipline to deal with. But that doesn’t make me less of a person. And I hope if you take anything from this story that I’ve handed out: it’s that although our illnesses are a little more disturbing then some, we aren’t weak because of it. And I hope it gives you a little more insight on what it means to be schizophrenic.
Thank you for your time.