Living with Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a challenging disorder that changes the lives of those who suffer from it. They may go through times of emotional turmoil as they come to grips with a world that at times seems frightening and mysterious. But with good support and high-quality care they can still enjoy a satisfying and rewarding future.
Life with Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is one of the least understood of all mental health disorders.
Many people associate it with psychotic episodes that cause severe delusions and hallucinations, leaving an individual with schizophrenia lost in a frightening alternative reality. But this view of schizophrenia is both inaccurate and incomplete.
Episodes like this do occur in some (but not all) schizophrenia sufferers. When this happens immediate medical attention is required, and the individual suffering from these debilitating symptoms will likely need hospitalization. However, for most schizophrenia sufferers psychotic breaks with reality are a rare phenomenon and have little to do with the day-to-day challenges they face.
As their condition progresses, people with schizophrenia do struggle to make sense of a world the rest of us take for granted. But individuals with schizophrenia retain controlled, complex inner lives, preserving their ability to comprehend and reason. Despite their diagnosis they can still communicate for the most part, and their separation from others tends to be partial rather than complete.
Nevertheless, their connection to their environment and to other people is forever altered by their illness. The schizophrenia sufferer’s perspectives and perceptions will shift, often to the point where their daily functioning is compromised. Their thoughts, actions, and reactions are out of step and out of synch with friends, families, employers, teachers, and others, and this disconnect creates barriers they must learn to overcome.
But there is good news. While there is no cure for schizophrenia, those who suffer from it can experience significant improvements in their symptoms if they follow a well-designed plan for recovery.
Getting a Schizophrenia Diagnosis
The early signs of schizophrenia have much in common with the symptoms of other mental health disorders. Consequently, they may not be recognized for what they are.
For example, disorganized schizophrenia, which manifests as a lack of energy, focus and engagement, can be misinterpreted quite easily as depression. Meanwhile, those suffering the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia (the most common subgroup of the disorder) may exhibit odd or strange beliefs that seem eccentric but are not interpreted as a sign of mental illness. Catatonic schizophrenia, a third frequently diagnosed form, is characterized by severe social withdrawal that could be confused with extreme depression or even substance abuse.
In the beginning stages it may never occur to most people to ask, do I have schizophrenia, nor will family members or friends usually consider such a shocking possibility. Confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety mark the early stages of a schizophrenia disorder, and only as the symptoms deepen and intensify does it become apparent that medical attention is required.
No one is ever prepared to receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Once it happens there is no going back, and even when treatment plans are developed, mental health professionals make no promises about what the future will hold.
Fortunately, treatment options do exist that can help sufferers manage the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia disorder, and after the initial shock wears off there is every reason to hope for an eventual recovery.
Schizophrenia from the Inside
Schizophrenia treatment can help sufferers cope with their symptoms and adjust to their new reality. But no matter how effective treatment is, schizophrenia is a life-altering condition with profound consequences. It changes everything and touches every aspect of an individual’s life, and those who have it feel its presence every single day.
On the outside, schizophrenia sufferers may appear placid and well-adjusted. And for the majority of the time they probably are okay, absorbed in their daily activities as they go about the business of living. But at various times they may experience a wide variety of strong emotions as they contemplate their lives, futures, and relationships with other people.
Emotions common among individuals with schizophrenia include.…
- Depression. It is natural for people with schizophrenia to feel depression over their circumstances on occasion, especially if they struggle to accept the absence of a cure. Many schizophrenia sufferers become isolated either by choice or because others abandon them, and that is another reason why they often feel depressed.
- Fear. Fear is a dominant emotion for many individuals with schizophrenia. They’re often afraid they won’t be able to take care of themselves; that they’ll lose their jobs, homes, relationships, and ability to manage the details of their lives. They may become afraid of psychotic episodes, to the point where they’re reluctant to leave their homes. They may fear their conditions will worsen or that others will judge or reject them because of their illness.
- Frustration. Feelings of helplessness and dependence can leave schizophrenia sufferers frustrated to the point of tears. They may be frustrated by their inability to express themselves clearly, or because they have trouble focusing, concentrating, or remembering. What was once easy now becomes difficult, and that can frustrate people who are used to performing at a much higher level.
- Anger. While they strive hard for acceptance, from time to time individuals with schizophrenia may curse fate, the universe, or the gods for their disorders. They may even curse their families, if they think the condition was inherited. They may get angry at others for not understanding them, or for failing to stand by them in their hour of need. Sudden outbursts of anger and aggression in general are a symptom of schizophrenia, and they may not have any specific cause.
- Anxiety. Like any form of mental disorder, schizophrenia puts sufferers in many stressful and difficult situations, which are often far beyond their capability to handle. People with schizophrenia are frequently wracked by self-doubt and uncertainty about what’s expected of them, and that brings anxiety when they’re forced beyond their comfort zones. Breaks from routine may also stress schizophrenia sufferers, who may panic or lose their composure in the face of surprises or unexpected developments.
- Insecurity. Individuals with schizophrenia lose trust in themselves, and they may lose trust in their caregivers or loved ones when they suffer from the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. The world becomes an uncertain and unpredictable place to those working through this disorder, making it hard for them to relax or feel comfortable. They may be especially insecure about their future and their ability to overcome their illness.
- Embarrassment. There is an unfortunate stigma still attached to schizophrenia, and people with the disorder are often self-conscious because of it. They may also become embarrassed by their own behavior (e.g. sudden irrational outbursts, incorrect use of language, memory or concentration lapses, public breakdowns, etc.), which often surprises even them.
- Guilt. No one should ever feel guilty about having a mental illness, but sadly many schizophrenia sufferers hold themselves responsible for their failure to control their symptoms or keep their lives organized. Other people may exacerbate these feelings inadvertently, since their discomfort may make an individual with schizophrenia feel responsible.
- Grief. No matter how resilient and determined to overcome their schizophrenia someone may be, there will be moments when they grieve for what has been lost. Acceptance is essential to the process of coming to terms with schizophrenia, but acceptance is never easy and regrets are inevitable.
- Loneliness. Family members, friends, therapists, medical professionals, peers in support groups, employers, and educators may be helpful, supportive, and sympathetic. But regardless of how extensive their support network is, schizophrenia sufferers sometimes feel lonely, isolated, and misunderstood. Schizophrenia puts a strain on interpersonal relationships and can make forming new ones extremely difficult.
In an ideal world, schizophrenia sufferers will have kind, compassionate, and skilled counselors they can talk to about their feelings, as well as family members they love and trust enough to confide in.
Unfortunately, some individuals lack the latter in particular and that can reinforce their negative emotions, making it difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel. But community mental health organizations and schizophrenia support groups can change the dynamic, offering advice and assistance in peer-managed environments where participants understand the impact of the disorder and know the challenges it can present.
The Healing Power of Hope and Love
When an official diagnosis of schizophrenia is made, the first thing most sufferers want to know is, can schizophrenia be cured. It can be devastating to be told it can’t be, and many who receive such a diagnosis are initially discouraged about their futures.
This judgment is understandable, but it is premature. Right from the first signs of schizophrenia, treatment can make a difference, and sufferers who receive quality care and have the love and support of their families and friends have good reason for optimism.
They may still have their bad moments, and at times their frustration and regrets may feel overwhelming. Their disorder may interfere with some of their activities and prevent them from doing everything they might like. But with individual and group therapy, life skills training, medication, peer support, family support, and occasional assistance with daily activities people with schizophrenia can be productive, independent, healthy, and happy.
When individuals with schizophrenia have hope, their prospects soar, and once they find it all things seem possible.