In 1996, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Schizophrenia. Though I have endured and suffered a great deal, I have been blessed with satisfactory mental health care, I have learned a lot about the two conditions and how to cope, and I have achieved many goals and aspirations.
With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, (OCD), I have experienced many obsessions, which are fast, unwanted, intrusive thoughts; the fear of blurting out obscenities and threats to people, the thought that I may have run somebody over with my car, the unexplainable reactions to sounds occurring around me that no one else noticed, the fear of being contaminated from germs. These thoughts have created much fear, anxiety, and worry in me.
The fear, anxiety, and worry made me want to do whatever I could to alleviate it; I engaged in any compulsion or ritual that I thought would free me from the torture. I would whisper the threat to myself when no one was around, with the intent of double checking to see if I recalled blurting anything out. I would drive past the same place where I thought I ran someone over, just to see if there was a body lying on the street. Distressing sounds would make me want to think “happy” thoughts, thoughts that the person making the sound would like, so that they would like me more and not want to torture me with their messages. With the germs, I would wash my hands every chance I would get to make certain that my hands were clean. But, it was never enough.
The paranoia from the Schizophrenia made the OCD worse. Because I thought that I blurted out obscenities in the presence of other people, I was constantly worried that the person would call the police and have me arrested. Because of the thought that I ran someone over, I feared that I might be arrested. I would dread every possibility that I would hear on the radio that police were looking for a man with my description. I thought that everybody was watching me and conspiring against me. I felt that people made distressing sounds around me to trouble me and upset me; that they hated me and were out to get me. With the germs, I often feared that I would become terminally ill or die because I had been contaminated; and that people wished that on me. I couldn’t recognize that these thoughts were irrational.
It was all torture; the fast, rapid heartbeat, the shortness of breath, the agony of never feeling safe, the inability to concentrate, or feel pleasure. Being around people was torture. I saw and knew of other people who had friends and had happiness interacting with others. I felt isolated; I felt like a lesser person, inferior. Why can’t I be normal like everybody else? The depression and the anxiety were unbearable. I never wanted to leave my house.
I have had the privilege of being treated for my conditions, although none of it was easy.
Treating my OCD involved a lot of counseling. I would endure exposure therapy, where I would be deliberately exposed to things that would spark my anxiety; the theory being that once exposed, I would be able to face my fears. The idea was to refrain from compulsions in these situations, because the compulsions would only make you want to perform more compulsions. For example, my counselor would have me drive over bumps in the road, and I couldn’t go back to check whether or not it was a person. Exposure therapy was grueling, but I found that the more that I faced my fears, the easier the battles became. I have found that experience and exposure in dealing with these battles is the best teacher. Also, I learned about the benefits of self-talk and a diverse availability of other coping strategies. Today, I can recognize an obsessive thought as illogical, which I could not before. I refrain from compulsions, and I accept my obsession.
Schizophrenia was primarily treated by medications. The initial side effects of the medications were brutal; excessive fatigue, weight gain, and other uncomfortable side effects. Eventually, once I was on the right medication for me, the symptoms of the Schizophrenia subsided and the side effects became much more manageable. Recognizing triggers to paranoia and the paranoia itself was important, as was self-talk. Today, with the help of medications and counseling, I am able to recognize paranoid thinking and recognize that it is not based in reality.
Because of the counseling and the medications, I have been able to challenge my symptoms and make great strides in recovery. In particular, learning about how the illnesses relate to each other and how the symptoms are similar has helped a lot as well.
Because the illnesses often occur together, recognizing a symptom of one helps me challenge the other. For example, recognizing an obsession helps me recognize that I need to resist performing a compulsion, and instead use my self-talk. I have learned from experience that a symptom of Schizophrenia often follows an obsession. When I resolve an obsession, I expect a paranoid thought to follow, and I recognize it. I prepare in my mind that I will feel paranoia when I think that I ran over someone. I have learned that the paranoia is a greatly exaggerated fear, as is the OCD. The feared event or consequence is not based in reality.
Eventually, I became accustomed to managing my symptoms around other peopIe. It felt like eternity, but I gradually began to feel more comfortable around others. Even better, I benefited from social interactions, and I found myself being able to help people who had similar problems. What a reward!
I have found that conquering the symptoms of my mental illnesses was an opportunity for developing self- esteem and
Self -respect. I noticed changes in my character, among them becoming stronger and wiser. It was like taking lemons and making lemonade.
I have graduated from high school and college, I have held down many jobs, and I have been involved in NAMI; The National Alliance on Mental Illness, where I have had the opportunity to help people who are in my situation. I have high hopes for the quality of my life now and in the future. In addition, my support system, including the Assertive Community Treatment team, my mother, and my friends, has been very important. Recovery from mental illness is possible and your goals, dreams, and aspirations are achievable.
Zach D. Edgerton