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. Did I leave the stove on? Did I touch my face with contaminated hands? Why do I doubt so much? These thoughts resulted in acute anxiety, fear, and worry.
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 ask people if my fears were legitimate, for reassurance. I would wash my hands until they were raw. I would double check everything. I felt the need to check and double check; no amount of checking was enough.
The Schizophrenia made me feel that people were conspiring against me and wishing ill of me. A significant aspect of my anxiety was my paranoia. I was afraid that the FBI was after me. I would dread every possibility that I would hear on the radio that the FBI or CIA was looking for a man with my description. 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.
It was all torture; the fast, rapid heartbeat, the shortness of breath, the agonyof never feeling safe, the inability to concentrate, or feel pleasure. Being around people was unbearable. 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 excruciating. I never wanted to leave my house.
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 performing compulsions in these situations. The counselor would make me turn a stove on and only check to see if it was off once. I wanted to double check, but couldn’t. The counselor would make me touch door knobs and money, refraining from washing my hands. Exposure therapy was grueling, but I found that the more that I faced my fears, the easier the battles became. Also, I learned about how to cope with OCD, such as recognizing the worry, doubt, or anxiety as exaggerated and unlikely. Or, I develop the courage to accept anything that I feared.
Schizophrenia was primarily treated by medications. The initial side effects of the medications were excessive fatigue, weight gain, and low white blood cell count. Eventually, once I was on the right medication for me, the symptoms of the Schizophrenia subsided and the side effects became much more manageable. Counseling was also important. Today, with the help of medications and counseling, I am able to recognize paranoid thinking and recognize that my paranoia 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.