As I sit at my desk typing this, I am thinking about a strange situation. I have been doing a lot of writing about stigma and how changing the language we use to define illnesses has to change. I should say now that my diagnosis is not schizophrenia, but actually schizoaffective disorder with anxiety. Anxiety is one of the parts of my disorder that isn’t really controlled with medications, but I can recall experiencing it throughout my life. As a teenager, my family took a trip to the mountains. At the time my dad was a heavy drinker and once while we were driving through mountain passes he took and put some rum in a pop bottle and I was so terrified not only that we could go over the 1,000 foot tall cliff and all die, but I was also deeply concerned that my dad would get caught drinking and driving which would cause our family so many problems that I doubt we would have even stayed together. After years, I have been able to reduce how anxiety affects me, mostly by pushing my limits. When I was younger and probably a lot better looking than I am now, I used to push my boundaries by talking to women I met and trying to get their phone number. That was in the days when I either wasn’t properly medicated or wasn’t medicated at all. I really wonder how I came across to people. To me, most of my actions seemed normal but there were times when others thought I was on drugs or something because I would talk fast (this is the bipolar part of my schizoaffective disorder coming out). It was hard for me to stop talking, harder still to let others talk. Then, what was really tragic was when I started to go into psychosis. I would have these thoughts sort of ‘appear’ in my mind. A day comes to mind when I was in a hotel in my home town and these ‘thoughts’ that I think were similar to what others call ‘voices’ told me that someone had bought me the brand new minivan I could see parked in front of the hotel. I went as far as walking up to it and trying the door. If the door had been open and the keys were in it, I would have likely driven it away and been arrested in short order for theft. Instead, following my instructions from within, I took a cab to a place where two former friends lived and somehow their dad not only knew me but saw me as some kind of danger. He called the police but I didn’t get charged, what happened was that everything just got to be too much for me and I called the police myself to be taken to the psychiatric hospital. Being in psychosis is such an awful thing to experience. You get these preposterous thoughts and you feel compelled to act on them even though in my case I had a pretty good idea that I was ill. The thing I will never forget is that somehow each time I went into psychosis, I also experienced severe stomach pains, some blindingly painful. Another thing I found out is that if you continue to go untreated with psychosis, you can suffer brain damage.
But what I wanted to get at was the language of mental illness. Right now, and for a couple of years, I haven’t experienced any psychosis. I also have rarely experienced any kind of manic state or even depression, aside from some mild winter blues that went away in a few weeks. I see my doctor, I take my medication and I sleep reasonable, regular hours. To me that doesn’t sound like a person one would call crazy or insane. I think there should be new, less stigmatizing definitions for people who have an illness that is under control. I hate some of the terms they use like ‘high functioning schizophrenic’.
What I do remember is that when I first got out of the hospital when I was 18, I didn’t care about anything. Just before that, my dad had taken my gun away and sold it. It wasn’t much, it was just a target rifle, good for shooting squirrels and not much else. But it was my one connection to nature. The times I would spend tramping through the woods trying to get rabbits or doing target practise were my only really happy times. I ended up also being kicked out of my parent’s house and lived in a downtown neighbourhood for a while where I saw a gun for sale that I wanted to buy with the intention of robbing a bank with it. It doesn’t surprise me to look back at that now because all my life I had been mistreated and abused, bullied and beaten, insulted and belittled. Then I was put in the hospital when I made the slightest deviation from normal. Fortunately I had some positive influences in my life, and despite how difficult it was, I pieced my life back together, eventually settled into a medication and sleeping routine, and even worked well paying jobs (right up to present day). And although I am doing so much better than when I was last ill, I am still tormented by memories of my past. I think soon I will be ready for the next step, which would be to try and get some counselling just to help sort out my thoughts and feelings. Chemically I am doing well, but psychologically there are some roadblocks to perfect health.
So, in summation, I ask all those who read this blog to brainstorm with me. What is a better name for schizophrenia? What is a good name for people who were diagnosed with schizophrenia, but have had their illness under control for some time. Please leave any suggestions in the comments and have a very happy holiday season!