If the Voices Could Talk
A Look Inside the World of Schizophrenia
It is April of 2018.
Like so many times before, poor planning has lead me to run out of one of my most crucial medications. However, unlike the preceding times, I choose not to scramble to have it refilled. Tired of feeling fat, exhausted, and uninspired, I decide to take my chances and go without it (call it morbid curiosity.) I won't die without this medication--it isn't for that kind of illness. Schizophrenia isn't inherently deadly, though those afflicted live on average thirty years less than their neurotypical counterparts.
I like to believe that this won't be me.
Within days of tossing the empty medication bottles in the trash, my comfortable little life in Scotts Valley, California begins to change. For me, this is a very insidious process, similar to what one might imagine it is like to be swept out to sea in a rip tide. However, in contrast to this scenario, I become less and less aware of what is happening to me as time goes on. As reality begins to rip open around me, I fall into the resulting chasm and my brain fills in the blanks from there on out. My experiences tend to be related and to build on each other, and this most recent psychotic break of mine is no different. Slowly but surely, here come the voices. At first only at night, but creeping into the daylight hours as the days wear on.
I am a radio antenna, and this is why I can hear all of these people in my head.
This is what I believe when I am slipping. I have the power to hear people in other dimensions as they go about their daily lives, just as I do mine. Sometimes they recommend products (buy the orange hand wipes) when I am not shopping. Other times, I intercept tiffs between married couples (I'm going back to him if you say that one more time!) One thing is a constant no matter what I hear: it never has anything to do with me.
Two weeks go by, and by this time, I am as deep into the chasm as I have ever been. My old tormentor, who goes by the name of "The Dark Man," as seen in Stephen King's novel The Stand, has found me again, despite me banishing him to an alternate universe. He is coming for me, but he is the least of my worries. The inter-dimensional, omniscient beings who have been following me since high school are threatening to slip into this world, and they aren't the only ones who want me. The aliens who have been stalking me on and off for several years have returned, and this time they might actually take me.
I am completely overwhelmed, but I'm functioning. When I am psychotic, I don't run up and down the streets, shouting my delusions to the heavens. Instead, I play it cool while a constant, ferocious battle between the real and the unreal rages within my cranium. I don't know which side I want to come out on top, but I don't seem to have a say in the matter either way: things only continue to get worse.
I am going about my routine one day when a nasty idea turns from a seed buried deep within my brain tissue into a full-fledged weed. No--it is more powerful than that. It strikes me as if with physical force, and it shatters everything I believe I have left:
None of this is real. Oh my god, none of this is real, and my loved ones were placed here in order to keep me trapped in a reality that I do not belong in.
I become convinced that this ties up all of the loose ends of the theories that are crowding my mind, and I am possessed with the notion that I have to get "home." More than anything, I am filled with a devastating sense of loss, betrayal, and abandonment. I have a large, wonderful family and a girlfriend who I am deeply in love with, and to now have the knowledge that my life with them is a complete farce is almost unbearable. I know that the only thing to do now is to leave my house in search of a way to enter the dimension I am truly from.
I stuff two Trader Joe's bags with clothes and pack a backpack full of survival gear and and I'm ready to go. I hang a bag on either handlebar of my trusty mountain bike and ride down to the bus station, where I promptly catch a bus into Santa Cruz. The sun is beginning to set by the time I get there and I know I have to begin hunting for a good place to make camp, though I'm much more wired than tired. I haven't slept in days and my entire body is shaking uncontrollably, but I know that I have done the right thing. I make my final purchase with my debit card at a CVS (garbage bags) and settle down under a bridge, listening to the water trickle by as I lay in the dirt and traffic continues at a dull roar overhead. I am so far gone that I find myself feeling suspicious of the ducks that are floating on the river nearby. Could they be spying on me?
I don't sleep, except for perhaps an hour or two in the morning, before I know that it is time to move on. There's a Starbucks a few streets over that I like, so I pack up camp and set myself up in there where I can get some food and water. I am only there for a half hour or so when I notice something strange.
Is it just me, or are there a lot of cops in this area?
My girlfriend has been trying to get in touch with me over the Internet all day (my phone is turned off so I can't be tracked, but I do have my laptop) and I have been ignoring her, knowing that she is the most powerful weapon that can be used against me, and that if she tells me to come home, I might not be able to say no. I decide to cautiously check Reddit to see what she has been up to, as I know that she frequents some of the same mental health forums as I do. Sure enough, there is a post about me being missing, but when I read the comments, I come across one from fifteen minutes ago telling others not to worry: I've been found.
The terror I feel is unlike anything I have experienced in my life. I throw my things in a bag and try to escape the coffee shop, but it's too late: before I can unlock my bike and ride away, the police are coming towards me with my beautiful girlfriend in tow. I want to turn and run, but I feel so weak at the knees that I know that I will probably be caught. I'm doomed.
They talk to me for a few minutes. They ask me if I'm on drugs, and I say no. I don't think they believe me, but I don't expect them to. All I care about is that they don't send me home with my girlfriend, because if they do, I don't know what will become of me. Eventually, they ask me if I will come with them to a hospital. I don't want to, but I say okay because I don't think that "no" is an answer. They let me bring my backpack as I climb into the back of the police vehicle, and they take me to the nearest--and only--mental health facility in Santa Cruz. I've been there a few times, so I recognize the drive and I know where I'm at when we get there.
They let me out and someone comes to take me in so I can fill out some forms before they try to decide what to do with me. I take this as a chance to escape again, so I simply set down my forms while no one is looking, grab my backpack, and walk out the door. I move as quickly as I can to get away from the premises, and I get a good amount of walking in. In fact, I walk all the way to Capitola before settling down in a mall, in need of food and water. All of the goods I brought with me are gone now, so I figure that a mall might have some trash cans I can forage from.
I find a table in the food court and sit down, pulling out my laptop to do some work while I wait for someone to finish their food. I see that I have a multitude of emails from my girlfriend, and, knowing that I am showing weakness, I read them. Just as I predicted, I am unable to resist writing her back, even though I know that she doesn't love me and never has. She responds right away, and, bit by bit, she begins reeling me in. Things that I thought I knew feel blurrier, and old thoughts begin to settle in.
I want to go home, I think.
I'm sick and I need help, I think.
Soon, our conversation leads to me feeling so exhausted that I can no longer keep my own delusions straight. She asks me where I am and I tell her. It turns out that she's already in the area looking for me, so she says that she's on her way. I pack up my things and meet her in front of the mall, where I get in her car. I am confused and tired and angry that I have no idea what's going on anymore. I want to go home, but she tells me gently that we have to go back to the hospital. I don't have the energy to disagree with her, and I know that she must know what's best, so I don't argue.
After about eighteen hours, I end up in a different hospital in Los Gatos. My stay there spans a couple of weeks, though things are too foggy for me to know for sure how much time has passed. In my time there, I encounter an alien, a ghost, a millionaire, and some of the kindest people I've ever met while things normalize. The hospital is the nicest one I have ever been to, and my girlfriend comes to visit me often. I attend groups and sleep more than I should, but things aren't so bad.
After my stay at the hospital, we soon realize that I am not stable enough to resume my regular life, and I go to a residential treatment program in Palo Alto (Momentum for Mental Health, if you or someone you know is in need of mental health services. I would highly recommend them.) I stay there for the next several months, and graduate from the program just in time for Thanksgiving. My girlfriend's family and I travel to Disneyland and I have the time of my life, knowing that I have so many incredible people and things to be grateful for.
It's the beginning of the new year now, and I'm hoping that with it brings less hospitalizations and more time pursuing my goals and dreams. While at Momentum, my psychiatrist and I worked together to find a medication regimen that works for me, and I've been stable ever since.
My story has a happy ending (or at least it does for now,) but many other people with schizophrenia are still struggling. I am surrounded by a network of people who love and support me in whatever I do, and when I go off the rails, they are there to right me again. This is not always true for those with mental illness, and having a family and a loving girlfriend on my side are enormous privileges. I am also extremely fortunate to have a medium in which people want to listen to me and learn more about my story, as well as the stories of others with the same diagnosis.
If you take anything away from this article, know that those of us afflicted with mental illness are, for the most part, ordinary people with a bothersome condition. Just as someone is not their diabetes, I am not my schizophrenia, or any of my other diagnoses. Be kind, and lend us your understanding. If we all work together--and I mean all of us--we can get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness for good.