When I look back to the time when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I consider it to be both one of the worst times in my life, and also the time I am most grateful for.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness, especially schizophrenia, can feel embarrassing. The fact that I had schizophrenia did not mean I was unaware of the massive stigma. What I knew about the disease came from what I heard in the media. I thought having schizophrenia was about being weak, and eccentric. Before I was diagnosed, in my ignorance, I thought that a schizophrenia diagnosis could serve as an excuse for bad choices, and crimes.
Not only did I see myself as strong, but I knew I was smart. I remembered getting A’s in university classes like engineering physics. I thought that all people with schizophrenia had low cognition (1).
When I was diagnosed, I knew that I was hearing voices and experiencing other hallucinations, but I thought that was no one else’s business but mine. I tried to convince myself that everyone heard voices– and that the important thing was to not admit it was happening.
Feeling the shame, disbelief and insult of being told I had a mental illness was certainly the low point in my life. But what I did not understand was that because of my diagnosis, I would be prescribed medication that could alter the course of my life. I would struggle for an entire year to find a medication I could tolerate, without severe side effects, that restored my mind. At the end of a difficult year, I found Clozaril. Even for a single, day, I have never missed taking the medication. On Clozaril, I was able to return to the university, graduate with honor, and eventually, publish a book which details my journey back to sanity.
I would encourage every person who has been newly diagnosed with schizophrenia to know that recovery from mental illness is possible today. Today, a diagnosis with schizophrenia is not a “life sentence” as it was years ago.
Schizophrenia is no respecter of persons. It can happen to the richest or the poorest, and to people of every level of intelligence. If you have been newly diagnosed, continue your medication, and do not give up. Know that there is no shame in taking a medication for a disease, including a disease of the brain.
(1) Most people who suffer with schizophrenia have cognitive impairments, but not everyone. Elyn Saks, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, struggled with a mental illness during most of her life.