In January 2017, I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. I experienced severe paranoia, crippling anxiety, and deep depression. The best way I can describe it is this: imagine your brain has led you into an extremely convoluted but unreal maze and you cannot find your way out.
I believed my cell phone had been hacked. I believed I was being followed by strangers everywhere I went. I believed I was being secretly recorded on camera in my home. I spent countless hours crying in the shower. I couldn’t watch tv or listen to music without being triggered. I slowly stopped trusting each and every person close to me. And my symptoms were keeping me from being a fully present mother.
My children saw me desperately fight for my safety as my paranoia grew. They saw me experiencing deep psychosis that included talking to myself and other imaginary people. They saw me cry and scream and throw objects. And they saw me cling to my life as more than once I was tempted to kill myself, abandon them, and just give up. Uncontrollable fear led me to lash out at everyone I knew — not because I was dangerous and wanted to harm people — because I was very sick and very confused.
I spent three separate weeks in a psychiatric facility over the course of a year trying to make sense of what my brain was telling me and figuring out what medicines would stop my symptoms. Those who love me most stood by and waited patiently for me to get better, but my husband did not, and I was left dealing with a divorce and making the decision to give up custody of my children all while striving to get healthier.
Miraculously, I’ve found which concoction of medications allow me to lead a symptom-free, fully functioning life. A lot of my free time when I am not taking care of my children is spent at therapy appointments, psychiatry appointments, support groups, getting medical injections, and learning as much as I can about this illness. My children are my biggest motivation to overcome my disorder. Everything I do to take care of myself when I am not with them is so I can take care of them when I am with them.
There is no cure for schizophrenia, only treatment. I know I will battle this for the rest of my life. But I also know that I’ve fought with everything in me to get to where I am today and to be healthy, and I will always be my biggest advocate. I see homeless individuals on the streets in my neighborhood, clearly struggling with their mental health, and I thank God every day that is not me. I’m so glad that mental health is becoming a bigger topic of discussion in general.
To any of you who suffer from a form of mental illness, whether it be anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anything else: fight for your health, take care of yourself, lean on those who will support you, let go of toxic relationships, seek professional help, take medication if necessary, and refuse to live your life in shame.
Be strong. You will get through this. You will live your best life.