If you had symptoms of mental illness as a child, the idea of normality eventually came into question. Nightmares, abuse, acting out, pot smoking, using harder drugs and social isolation overtook my reality. These sufferings, manifesting disease, cast me out from college. Clinical signs of anxiety, depression, psychosis and mania seemed to lead naturally to self-medication.
Verily, the best thing I ever accomplished (with help) was quitting marijuana. Because of that I was able to utilize my new found feelings to graduate with an advanced degree. My saving grace was working with my doctor to overcome the addiction – yes, addiction to pot. Please understand that I had some fun times and weird times inhaling the stuff, but eventually it was a monkey clawing at my soul. I had evolved into a recluse, a stoned hermit. My entire waking day became a ritual to obtain, process, smoke and sell weed. For me it proved a gateway drug and exposed my genetic predisposition to a pandemonium of brain disorders.
I still look back on Yale University as if it were a dream, having flashbacks of emotion so strong that if they lasted I felt like I would die. Back then my affect was restricted to primitive emotions — mainly fear, anxiety and getting “high.” However, I know that most classmates and I cared for each other. In my term at the “commuter school” George Washington University, I had an erratic experience, falling in love during my first mania (later nearly giving up on achieving my B.S.), attending St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and finally rejecting pot. I ultimately denied smoking buddies, alcohol and crude neuroleptics but promised spirituality after a week of intense nausea. Having rejected marijuana, I finally achieved a peacefulness which overcame any need to get high. I am still drug-free after 29 years.
Sick from giving up street drugs and transitioning meds, I had been given a choice of self-destruction or gradual betterment. A very good friend of mine had died by suicide two months before. Street drugs made me feel elated at first but ended up with physical dependence. The appropriate prescribed medications and my abstinence from dope gradually overcame psychiatric symptoms as they did for most of my consumer friends. I am fortunate to have visited a respected psychiatrist for three decades and count parents (despite their failings) who looked after me until several years before their deaths.
Volunteer jobs taught me great responsibility as an energy auditor, an assistant Scoutmaster, a Goodwill Industries volunteer, an award-winning park worker, a nursing home caregiver and a NAMI HelpLine Information Specialist. In the meantime I achieved my master’s degree in physics. I discovered new friends and established a paid position at NAMI. NAMI outreach sharpens my mind by acquainting me with the HelpLine team, learning computer programs, writing emails, adopting office professionalism, interacting over the telephone and practicing empathy despite great stress sometimes.
By my fifties, my body has deteriorated somewhat, but I have moments of exercise now and then. My base weight is 175 pounds, which I now exceed by 40 pounds. I am sorely amazed that psychiatric medicines cause my previously tame belly to expand. Walk-run, sit-ups and push-ups, no matter how strenuous and moderately endured have not affected my mass much. Diet generally has had a positive effect, especially the curtailment of sugar for losing 20 pounds and vegetarianism for overall health.
However, I feel and think better than ever in my life. Physics (including mywebsite at www.quantumdream.net), mathematics and poetry entertain my free time, as well as what I consider to be quality reading, TV and radio. I am proud to say that I have a rewarding and loving relationship with my current girlfriend, even though I am reminded that much less than half of all people with schizoaffective disorder eventually marry, over 90 percent of those get divorced and about 20 percent have children.
If I had the choice to relive my life, I would not. However, I choose to revisit the times which built me up to who I am. Coping with voices, moodiness, fear and my ego is just part of my self. My personality allows what is real and what is not. I am not insane, but blessed.