The following are stories told in their own words by Schizophrenia Alliance/Schizophrenics Anonymous members.
My relationship to the Schizophrenics Anonymous group? It’s two years, every Sunday, including game nights, Christmas parties and picnics. I first read an article in the paper and mentioned it to my mother, who had read it also. I called and talked to Joanne. I was afraid it was going to be self-pity group, but Joanne assured me the people were quite high functioning. As a matter of fact, my first impression was that the group was too high functioning. Led by Joanne’s formidable example, it seemed that everybody was trying pretty hard, and I was taken aback by the generally stressful (high energy) level of the meetings. The general impression the group first makes is that finally, here’s a place where my schizophrenia can be discussed with a sympathetic, like minded group. One finds that one can relate to specifics of the disease as they come up in the meeting. One often thinks, “I felt that too,” or “That’s happened to me.” It’s a relief!
We have also had some excellent speakers, specifically, a doctor from the Lafayette Clinic, who brought us up to date on the latest research. And now researchers think they have discovered a genetic basis for schizophrenia along with the psychological and emotional aspects.
There even was a time when my treatment was affected. I complained at a meeting how I was feeling. At the next session, the doctor gave me a little more medication in my injection. He did it only once buy my symptoms cleared up. Next month he went back down to the previous level.
Hi, my name is Jamie and I found I had symptoms of schizophrenia when I was 15 years old. At first I thought it was “growing pains.” My first stay in the hospital was very strange. I heard voices, had delusions and I felt very depressed. The depressions could last from one week to six months. Working was hard for me because of the voices and fear, so I jumped from job to job, holding about two dozen different jobs in just seven years.
I had many hospital stays, including three separate stays in each of two hospitals. I tried several different medicines, including Stelazine and Haldol (which stopped the voices but left me still depressed and filled with irrational fears) and finally I tried the new medicine. I now take a maintenance dose of the atypical medication and my doctor tells me I have no negative symptoms. My future looks bright and hope-filled.
Having worked at part-time jobs and volunteered at the local community mental health center, I was asked to be on the Woodlands Recipient Rights Advisory Committee. I served this group for six years. In 1998 I started on the Woodland Consumer Advisory Committee. I am active as an SA Group Leader Liaison, coordinating group development in Michigan. SA has enriched my life with friends and a satisfying job. Thanks, Schizophrenics Anonymous!
I always considered myself over-qualified for life. I grew up in Waterford, Michigan and was always popular. I was the student council president in junior high; I was blessed with a gift for music and won numerous awards for solos and ensembles in statewide high school competitions. I sat first chair playing the baritone horn in symphonic band and was captain of the high school marching band.
My nightmare began when I was a junior and grew rapidly by the time I graduated with honors from high school. My first hospitalization was a year later when I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The medications they put me on helped and my life began to improve.
I worked several jobs for the next seven years until I had my next hospitalization. My medications were adjusted and I was discharged. Four years later I stopped taking my medication and landed in state hospital for thirty days. I’ve been improving ever since.
About this time, I started attending a day program for people with mental illness. One of the people there suggested that we begin a Schizophrenics Anonymous meeting. I co-led the group and it helped me get along better with people. It also makes it easier for me to accept my schizophrenia. Instead of hiding my illness, I would like to think that I am helping to erase stigma. More honest and steady attendance at Schizophrenics Anonymous meetings has enabled me to open that closed door a little more each time and come into life’s sunlight.
My name is Joseph and I have schizophrenia. I got my first taste of mental illness when I was in my junior year in college at the age of 23. The doctor diagnosed my condition as severe mental depression. I was prescribed an anti-depressant for depression and a tranquilizer for panic attacks. I was so depressed I could not even eat without becoming sick. As a result, I lost 20 pounds. The medication did not seem to help; It took me about a year to recover.
I eventually graduated from college with an accounting degree in December of 1996 at the age of 25. After graduating from college, I secured a job with the teamster union in Washington D.C. as an accounts payable clerk. I was on the job 2 months when I became ill a second time. I did not experience depression but something just as dreadful, a head full of delusions with paranoia. Soon thereafter, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. I am now 29 years old and have been living with schizophrenia for four years. I still am unemployed but I am actively working to improve myself by reading and going to the gym to work out. Last month I started attending Schizophrenics Anonymous. I found the people there to be friendly and struggling with some of the same problems that I have been battling with.
Schizophrenics Anonymous has helped me learned to accept my paranoia and delusions. I have begun to accept myself with all my strengths and weaknesses. My confidence will continue to grow as I become a more complete person. With Schizophrenics Anonymous I am rebuilding my life and I know that I can become the very best I can be.
It was late 1988 and early 1989 and I was having difficulty at work. I was sent to the Employee Assistance Program and given the choice to seek help or be dismissed. I chose to get help only by way of family intervention. After three months in day-hospital I returned to a different job at the same company. I had a therapist who recommended to me that a support group would be good for me, so I joined Joanne’s SA group in Southfield.
Schizophrenics Anonymous was a place for me to learn about mental health. I was very depressed about many things. For instance, just having an illness was difficult. I didn’t understand the illness and how it affected me in terms of stigma, personal status, economic factors, and relationships. My dream and desires had been altered. What I didn’t know was that this was the turning point or motivational level I needed to get back on track. That’s what SA has done for me.
As I was recovering and getting my self-esteem back, I started graduate school. My new boss promoted me after two years, and in 1993 I received my M.A. degree from Eastern Michigan University. I also became a group leader for SA for about two years. Later I started giving speeches about the importance of S.A., and in 1995 became a statewide speaker for SA. Schizophrenics Anonymous helped me integrate my illness into myself, by understanding others.
SA helped me look at myself and to make decisions that would integrate my person and illness into one. I started to become more sociable, realizing that I had to try twice as hard as the normal person to accomplish the same goal. I worked very hard at my interpersonal skills. I learned by doing my master’s that stigma can only affect me if I let it.
Today I feel whole emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I feel sound. I’ve been inspired by SA to consider taking additional college coursework in social work. I hope this will inspire others to try to overcome adversity and recover to the best of their capabilities–and to be happy with themselves. I think that it’s important to remember that one has to do homework in order to get a grade. And the grade someone wants as a person is up to him or her.
I was always told that I was different from other kids when I was born. Somehow, I sensed this from an early age. I always liked to be by myself and felt socially awkward. I didn’t have many friends, so I found myself in reading books and other materials. It started to get worse when I was 15. I had trouble concentrating on my studies in high school. I played on the high school sport teams. I thought that I never would fit in anywhere. When I was 17, I started to attend church services and thought that God was talking to me. I later dropped out of school and got married. I worked for four years at a few jobs before joining the U.S. Army in the early 80’s. While stationed in South Korea and visiting on the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone), I got very paranoid while I was there and thought that the North Koreans shot down an alien spaceship. I blacked out on the side of a main road while walking back to the base. I never felt the same way about myself again.
I went home and was stationed in recruiting command in Cleveland, Ohio. I did a lot of traveling in that duty. I was having hallucinations and delusions while I was driving long hours for the Army. I was later stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, still having full-blown symptoms of schizophrenia. I couldn’t do my job anymore and was hospitalized my last six weeks of my military career. I was unable to find any employment due to my illness and had to be re-hospitalized at the VA hospital in Brecksville, Ohio.
I found out that I had schizophrenia and had it for some time. I got medication and went back to school and got divorced from my wife. I never got back what schizophrenia took from me, but I was determined to beat it and/or live with the best way I could.
I stopped taking my meds, because I felt better. I thought that I didn’t need it anymore. I later spent the next 100 days in the VA hospital. I was homeless and felt hopeless. I felt like quitting, but I never gave up on myself. I got some help, and I still couldn’t made it on my own. I got in trouble with the law and could have spent up to five years in state prison, but my higher power thought otherwise. He (my higher power) helped me get out and find me find my purpose in life.
In February 1997, I was told about an SA meeting in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. I went to it and I fit in nicely. It took a few meeting to find out about myself. Here, at last, was a group of people that accepted me for who I am and what I had become without question. I felt drawn to running a group and later attended the SA Leadership Development Conference in Novi, Michigan. While there, I was still hearing voices. I thought that someone called my name out loud. I asked Joanne V. if she heard it too. She said no and I jokingly told her that I must have been hearing things. When Joanne told me not to worry and that I was among friends. I knew I was truly home and that SA would be something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I’ve taken on more responsibilities in SA, and I’m thankful that SA was here for me. With that thought in mind, I will always remember everyone who gave me hope and joy.
SA has been that joy in my life. Thanks to SA, and thank you Joanne, for the gift. I must give it away to everyone I meet.
My involvement with SA began in the 1990’s, when I was contacted by the Mental Health Association in Franklin County, Ohio. I had been a group leader for Recovery, Inc. for 15 years and was well known for my public speaking and leadership skills. The name, “SA” bothered me at first, but once the group came together, it was a relief to use the “S” word. At Recovery, Inc. we were not allowed to talk about diagnoses. Hallucinations could only be called “imagination on fire” or “nervous symptoms.” It was a relief to say, “Hi, I’m Larry and I have schizophrenia.” It felt like basic honesty to say, “I have bizarre visions and hear voices” and “I often see the world as a very strange and frightening place.”
It has been very hard at times to cope with medication side-effects; I had tardive dyskinesia for 16 years, with painful twisting in my neck muscles. I think the only reason I got along as well as I did was that I have the most supportive wife and family anyone could ask for. That includes my extended family, my SA group members! My last hospital stay was in 1996, when my blood pressure, pain & dyskinesia drugs conflicted with my schizophrenia medications, so I went to the hospital with a drug- induced delirium. I spent four days in the hospital, just long enough to get it all adjusted. I’ll never forget the compassion I received from my wife, SA group, and my church during my fight back! It was in SA that I learned about the “atypical” anti-psychotics being approved by the FDA. Only 13 months after my new drug treatment began the dyskinesia and neck spasms vanished!
But the most I have learned through SA, is the lesson of true leadership. The best leader is the one who seeks & empowers the leadership skills of the group, it is THEIR group. When the goal of the leader is to practice humility & self-leadership (especially over those nasty impulses to dictate and boss others) group members don’t have anyone to resist, resent or rebel against. When the roles in the group are open to everyone to try, leadership is shared and everyone learns leadership. Every member is a leader; they just need to find the leadership role they do best. No role is unimportant. The member who passes out and collects the Blue Books at the meeting is just as important as the one who reads the Welcome Statement, or who chooses and reads the Affirmation, or who calls and visits a group member who is back in the hospital.
Leadership is contagious! Spread the leadership around until everyone gets it! For me, this is the heart & soul of Schizophrenics Anonymous.
I first attended Schizophrenics Anonymous in the summer of 1987. I found it to be a friendly group of individuals, with background similar to mine, who struggled with many of the same symptoms that I endured for years. I liked the non-threatening atmosphere and thought that it might be a nice place to make a friend or two. It was hard to speak when my turn came, but I felt that the understanding and compassion of the members would excuse the confused words that I nervously spoke. I returned the following Sunday and every Sunday since.
Looking back, I can see that I have received much more than I had hoped for. I have formed friendships that have added meaning to my life. I learned to accept my paranoia and have discovered that there is life and beauty beyond the rigid limits imposed by fear. The humanity of the members has helped me to survive the occasional trauma of social awkwardness on my part.
By beginning to accept myself with all my weaknesses, I have discovered inner strengths that have permitted me to grow as a person and contribute to society. I still can’t work, but have been able to volunteer two days a week at a community mental health clinic. I also have been entrusted to start and lead a chapter of Schizophrenics Anonymous there.
The main benefit I have received is the confidence that I will continue to grow and become a more complete person. I am a participant, struggling day-by-day towards a fuller existence. I am no longer a spectator, passively recoiling from symptoms, afraid and alone. I hope to be able to work full-time someday and to find a soul mate to spend the remainder of my life with, but I can optimistically accept my poverty and emptiness because I am actively working to improve myself. With Schizophrenics Anonymous I am rebuilding my life. I know that I will succeed at becoming the very best that I can be.
My name is Laura. I am a paranoid schizophrenic working for recovery. Prior to starting the SA group, I had lost my job and had no social life. Within four months, I had enough confidence in myself to begin again. So I enrolled in college and became a leader of a chapter of SA.
The first semester I had to withdraw due to my illness, but with the help of the group and my therapy, I managed to stay out of the hospital. I didn’t give up. I went for the winter term and reduced my classes. To my amazement, I did quite well. I have a 3.6 average, and I will be returning this fall.
Needless to say, I have made many friends. With the help of everyone around me, I can go forward with being both happy and successful. Realizing that I do have limitations was very hard. But it is the key that is opening doors to success for me.
After 10 months of hearing voices that took many forms of disjointed reality, thinking people could read my mind, thinking the radio and TV were talking about me, hearing voices through the walls at work and at home hallucinations, I had major paranoia thinking that the KGB, FBI, CIA, and Mafia were after me. I also experienced feelings of apathy (the lack of caring about myself and others) and extreme confusion and disorganized behavior. In 1985 my boss persuaded me to seek professional help. I was immediately transferred to a local hospital where I was diagnosed as “Chronic Paranoid Schizophrenic.” My stay was 10 days.
In May 1987 my father’s sister died of a brain tumor and in July 1987 my father also died of a brain tumor. My symptoms worsened to the point that I thought that radiation was coming out of the computer and I had major paranoia and delusions. In October of 1987, I was admitted to another hospital where I stayed 3 weeks. After getting home, my sister-in-law saw Joanne Verbanic, founder of Schizophrenics Anonymous, on a cable TV program and persuaded me to attend the SA Meetings. I am thankful that she told me to go to the meetings.
In May of 1988 I was fired from my job due to major symptoms. I wasn’t showering, not eating right, wasn’t sleeping, and wasn’t cleaning the apartment. Along with psychosis, I suffered from depression, and in March of 1989, I admitted myself into another hospital where I stayed 2 months. After several hospitalizations, the stays were basically the same and the recovery was gradual. In February 1995 I moved into a semi-independent living apartment where I am now.
I’ve been a Schizophrenics Anonymous Group Leader since 1987, and in 1999 I received the “Above and Beyond Award” from SA. I travel around the state speaking and helping with conference exhibits. I have been asked by many places to speak.
With the help of SA, friends, family, church, clubhouse and the right medication I’m on the road to recovery. My nieces and nephews send me letters and cards through the year. Thank you Baylerians! I have learned that I am not alone in this illness.
In the past, I have had two psychotic breaks (meaning: breaks from reality). During the first break I experienced abnormal thinking, voices, and visual hallucinations. I thought that the world was coming to an end. Naturally I feared for my family’s lives, hoping to save them from this great catastrophe. They knew that something was wrong with me as soon as I began describing to them what I thought. Then I received treatment at Clinton Valley Center, a state mental hospital, and it took about a year outside to recover from the shock (of being in the hospital) and depression. At the end of that year, December 1985, the doctor and I talked about schizophrenia. The medicine, Haldol, took away all the symptoms.
In February 1986, I got sick again, experiencing a complete new set of hallucinations, like the one I call the “Sun Dance.” While “sleeping” in bed, I had a Native American drummer pounding a drum, and I’d see these visions. Of course, the whole thing was a hallucination; however, this time I didn’t panic throughout the experience. I sort of had a scientific detachment and fascination with it. After February, I went back to the doctor to resume the medicine.
Then I discovered the SA group to help me battle schizophrenia. The group has helped me psychologically to fight my symptoms (voices), and the medicine does the rest. The voices are not a nuisance, because they usually last a few seconds while I’m attempting to sleep (day or night). In short, schizophrenia is a frightening experience, but that’s in the past. For me, recovery and overcoming apathy are important today.
As a young child, I was sexually abused. By the age of 6, I had been in court twice to testify. I was very withdrawn and very afraid of men. I was assigned a visiting teacher to try to help me with the emotional problems that had developed. She was my counselor until I graduated from high school.
As a teenager, I became very suicidal and attempted to kill myself numerous times over the next 25 years. I was diagnosed as schizophrenic, given shock treatments and very strong medications, but these did not help. My mother was told I would never leave the hospital and that I would most likely kill myself, but they would continue to work with me. I was self-destructive and I very deeply believed I was a bad person.
When I was in my early twenties, I fell in love and married. He knew nothing of my problems, but I loved him and knew we would conquer anything. I believe this was the worst experience of my life. He did ungodly sexual things that I had never heard of or thought possible; thus I could not respond correctly to him, and after a few weeks we separated and eventually ended our marriage. This added to the self-hatred, and again I tried to kill myself. It seemed the answer to every problem was to end my life. I could not find anything good in myself. I honestly believed that I was bad and I had no right to be happy or even live.
For years I was in the state mental hospital more than I was home, until about two years ago. At that time, I was in a medical hospital with IVs and unable to keep anything in my stomach. I decided if I was ever going to be helped, I had to want to be well because all the doctors and therapists could not help me unless I helped myself and really wanted to live.
I know I have a long way too go but I am now working with my doctors and therapists and helping other schizophrenic people. I am a member of the Clinton Valley Center Citizens Advisory Council; I led a chapter of Schizophrenics Anonymous at Clinton Valley Center. I have helped take care of an 87-year-old Alzheimer’s patient; and tried to help educate the public about mental illness. I know I will make it because I want to and I have the best support anyone could ask for.
I had just turned 33, and there I was in a hospital bed, wondering why God didn’t let me complete my suicide attempt. My best friend had died recently by drowning; I was now divorced and work was becoming more demanding. I thought now was my turn to die. What had happened was my first episode of schizophrenia. Even with medication I continued bouncing in and out of mental institutions over the next five years. I tried to do what the doctors and counselors were telling me, and I even tried moving from a large city to a small town, but it happened again. This time there were demons everywhere, even in my house. My distorted thinking told me to burn it down. So I did. This time I was really scared. What was happening? What is Reality? And I was on my medication.
So after being in jail for 4 months, I had time to think. It was so easy. It was right in front of my face the whole time: alcohol. Drinking was there all my life and even though I didn’t consider myself a heavy drinker, I didn’t know how to stop or even if I could. But I knew I needed and wanted a better way to live. In jail, I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous and Schizophrenics Anonymous, and when I got out I continued to attend. By working the suggested steps and having a higher power of my understanding, I am now leading a happy and free life. I thank God for putting these programs and people in my life. I am looking forward to the future.
In 1999, at my therapist’s recommendation, I started attending SA meetings weekly. Her concern was my isolation from people. I was not able to express my own feelings prior to that. At the SA meetings, we are not alone struggling with this cruel disease. We talked about how we deal with the symptoms everyday and encourage each other to stick with our principles. After one year of struggling, I found a sense of hope. I started accepting both normal people and people who have mental illness by expressing myself honestly. Without help from people who were attending SA meetings, I am very sure that I could not accomplish this.
I am hoping that one day we all go through recovery steps and have compensated lives. Until then, we must never give up the idea that anybody could recover from mental illness. SA meetings are helpful for us to share our experiences. If somebody is suffering from mental illness, I recommend him or her to attend an SA meeting. I was one of them and am doing better today.
I recently initiated the formation of a SA group, and at the urging of our S.A. members, I am writing this letter to you. I am now 48 years old. I was diagnosed as schizophrenic when I was 13 years old. I spent the better part of my adolescence and young adulthood in hospitals. I decided that I didn’t want to spend the remainder of my life in more hospitals, so I applied to attend a university in California. I spent the next 27 years in and out of hospitals and going to school. I eventually was awarded a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Many professionals discouraged my efforts, but in 1988 I walked to the stage and received my doctoral degree. It was a difficult battle, and I have to give credit to the Psychiatrist I’ve had for the last 21 years, and the Clinical Social Worker I’ve known since my first psychotic episode when I was 13. After I got my Ph.D., I fought my disease and the stigma of mental illness in my struggle for employment. I learned from my mistakes which cost me several jobs, and along with my Psychiatrist, we experimented with different medications. Fortunately, we found a combination of medications which kept me out of hospitals and I kept employment as a therapist in a residential treatment facility for mentally disturbed adolescents for 6 ½ years. I was then offered the position of Clinical Director at another residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents, where I have been employed for the last 3 years.
One year ago, I made the decision to become public with my struggle with schizophrenia, and have now spoken at two assemblages of people regarding mental illness. I was asked to apply for a position on the Board of Directors of our local Mental Health Association and have now been elected Board President.
I really wanted to share with you the thoughts and feelings expressed by the members of our SA group. We meet once a week regularly to discuss many different issues, some of which are: 1) The stigma of mental Illness; 2) How do you know when it is safe to reveal you suffer from a mental illness; 3) The need for intimacy and the problems we face attaining intimate relationships; 4) Wanting children and the risks of having children; 5) Different living environments; 6) Attaining employment; 7) Controlling odd behaviors in public; 8) Medication, its benefits and its side effects; 9) Coping with relatives; 10) The homeless mentally ill; 11) Depression and suicide and many other issues that impinge on having quality in our lives. I am struck with the pertinence of these topics and the level of the articulation at which we express our concerns. What also struck me is that no one or very few people actually ask mentally ill people their opinions on these subjects. While we realize that we don’t have all the solutions or answers to these problems, it is really helpful to have a safe place to discuss these issues and the importance of the support that the SA members provide for each other.