Our Readers' Lives with Schizophrenia

Chapter 4. Nonpsychotic Symptoms


Updated: July 19th, 2001

Contents


Generalized Anxiety

Reba, mother of Eric:
Eric has suffered from anxiety and displayed antisocial behavior since his pre-teen years. We would plan family activities and at the last minute, Eric would refuse to attend. His isolation became unbearable for me to watch, since he had lots of friends but never felt "good enough" for them. He suffered from a low self-esteem and self-confidence. There is still much anxiety in Eric's voice, for he fears that he will not be able to adapt to his new environment of a group home and fears failure in his treatment program. It is difficult for him to meet financial obligations because of his limited income and he worries excessively about every issue he has to make decisions about. He gets extremely apprehensive over medications and medical procedures. He releases his emotions in his art work; at times producing beautiful paintings, at other times, very disturbing paintings.

Rachel:
I first started getting anxious at university. Large crowds of people, buses, shops and other such things all got too much for me and used to send me into a panic attack. I'd also get anxious at home, for no real reason. That was the hardest to deal with because I'd constantly be running from my own anxiety, needing people to be with and not giving myself any space.

I use music now to deal with these symptoms. I've written lots of self- absorbed disturbing stuff that comes straight from the heart.

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Social Withdrawal

Reba, mother of Eric:
Symptoms of withdrawal and isolation have plagued Eric for years prior to the full-blown onset of schizophrenia. In his pre-teen years, Eric "walked on eggshells" actually on his tip-toes. He excelled in Boy Scouts but he was unable to cultivate the friendships he so desired. At the time, I assumed he suffered from depression. We, as parents, need to address issues that appear to be abnormal. There were several "red flags" that I ignored thinking that the problem would correct itself and things would be fine. Eric has a couple of close friends, but genuinely trusts no one.

Rachel:
While I was at university and things became more serious, I would spent most of my time alone in my room thinking of what people were saying about me, afraid to go outside and too unmotivated to do anything else. I found social situations really anxiety provoking.

When I did go out, I spent days afterwards feeling paranoid about what I'd said wrong and what others thought about my behaviour. I just didn't seem to fit in.

This was at odds with my previous behaviour and thinking, as I was a really social person through school. Now I'm recovering from my illness, I'm once again going out and seeing people.

Lindsay:
[Dec 16, 1999]
I have serious social withdrawal. My behavior got so bad when I was psychotic that I didn't want to be around anyone, and they didn't want to be around me! In fact I was recently diagnosed with comorbid Social Phobia in addition to my Schizophrenia because I am still terrified of talking to people face to face and talking to them gives me panic attacks.

[Jan 4, 2000]
I find the toughest thing with dealing with school is that, because of my medication, I am heavier than I was before. And kids don't accept that! I have Social Phobia which makes it ten times worse. I am afraid of being criticized by people unless I know I am accepted.

[Dec 16, 1999]
I don't have a lot of friends, only over the internet, especially Susan, the owner of www.guess-what.com. She has been so supportive and I would have never thought she has the same illness I do!

Ron:
[Jan. 22, 2000]
Withdrawal has always been one of my worst negative symptoms. I live in the middle of nowhere and isolate myself badly. I've been on medication for 17 years. I don't go out much.

Algaz:
[Jan. 23, 2000]
After being diagnosed with Schizophrenia 12 months ago and commencing treatment on Clozaril I find that most of my symptoms have ceased but I am still left with Social Phobia. On a one on one basis I am fine but in a large group situation I become agitated and nervous and find that I have to retreat.

Jimmy:
[June 16, 2000]
There has been a lot of spare time recently between calls, among us workers, at a call center where I work part-time. A group of 4 or 5 people will be chatting around me sometimes. I wonder with the Risperdal and years of Schizophrenia why I am at a loss of what to say and do with them. Is it an inevitable facet of disability, or can I maybe relearn some social skills that I had as an outgoing and extroverted teenager. Speaking with people one-on-one I am OK with, but with a group of 4 or 5 people, it is laughable because I am so inept. People jump around from subject to subject and just blurt out whatever thought and feelings comes to their minds. They don't mind sharing their feelings and concerns with their coworkers. I worry that my feelings and concerns might be inappropriate and I should keep quiet. My girlfriend (that I met at work) has no mental problems and has been helping me to understand that a lot of my feelings are OK and natural. For just one instance, everyone gets burned out or brain dead after a long stressful day full of calls from customers and their problems. I now share being brain dead sometimes with my bosses and coworkers and make jokes about it without worrying that someone is going to call the police on me and I am going to jail and mental hospital for having cognitive problems or something.

Laura:
[Oct. 19, 2000]
My son has always had a social problem. He didn't like other kids to be around him. He would rather play by himself. If he did go around another child to play, he would most of the time hit them or take their toys away from them. This put a real strain on my relationship with anyone. It got to the point where I had no friends or family that I could turn to. They wanted nothing to do with us! This made my son get even worse. He would act out in the schools and be very disrespectful to any adult. No matter what I did it didn't help, so I started to stay away from other people just so they wouldn't get hurt by my son.

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Depression and Suicide

Rachel:
I've also been depressed much of the time that I've been schizophrenic, ever since I was about 11 or 12 when my symptoms started. I felt like there was this great weight on me and everything was so hopeless. I fantasized about death constantly, but only acted upon it later, earlier this year.

I had 3 suicide attempts from paracetamol (acetaminophen) and medication, and at the time it really felt like the right thing to do. My first attempt was purely psychotic. I had these voices telling me to do it and that they'd help me. So much was going on in my head that I ran off from hospital and got the tablets. Nurses later found me cowering in a telephone box down the road. I've got only a vague idea of what was happening, I know I was petrified.

The other 2 times I was depressed both with life and my illness. I was in hospital for 9 months and that in itself gets you feeling like it's not worth it. There is a big part of me now, though, that wants to live.

Andy:
[Apr. 26, 2000]
I suffered from severe depression off and on for about ten years before I developed any schizophrenic symptoms. Strangely enough, I've been much less depressed since I became psychotic.

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Lack of Motivation or Apathy

Reba, mother of Eric:
My son had just been discharged from the military and had not yet been diagnosed. I was amazed at his lack of motivation since previously he was always physically active and usually ran up to 12 miles per day. Now, he was energetic at times, then lethargic at others. I felt so horrible for insisting repeatedly that he job hunt. He kept telling me he was "sick" but he did not reveal that he was having hallucinations, delusions, and negative thoughts. At that time, I thought he was extremely depressed and attempted to seek professional help to no avail. It is important for the family network to be supportive and encourage the individual without pushing, arguing, or insisting that something be done, which only makes matters worse.

Rachel:
I was apathetic about everything and everyone. At my worst nothing could get me going.

Lindsay:
I have memories of my mother and me at home and her begging and pleading for me to help her clean the house and I just wouldn't answer so she thought I was playing around. Pretty soon after that, though, like ten minutes later, she would start yelling at me that I was just lazy and fat for shock value (even though I weighed 130 lbs at 5'9") and that I wouldn't help her if my life depended on it. I just shrugged off her yelling and fell back asleep. I felt like doing nothing!

I don't even like to get up to take baths, I'd rather sleep the whole day!!! I have a busy schedule though because I am trying to "get with the program" as friends call it. Another thing is I am so apathetic that I am always asked if I am stoned! They think I'm on drugs, like weed or something!

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Regression

Reba, mother of Eric:
When Eric was first diagnosed at age 27, he was actually rescued off the streets and taken to hospital. He was treated for several weeks then flown home. When I arrived at the airport to pick him up, I had not seen him in seven years. I did not recognize him. His personal appearance had deteriorated to a point beyond recognition. This could not be my son, I thought. But his voice sounded the same and I knew it was him. His behavior was so childish and bizarre that it broke my heart to see him in this condition. He would act like a toddler begging for a cigarette. It took weeks before he would sit at the table and eat dinner with his family. He would stand with his back to us and eat his meal with his fingers. Several times Eric has experienced regression and it is very difficult to watch. Patience is a virtue and consistent, repeated effort in a kind but firm voice must be practiced when dealing with periods of regression. It is certainly not appropriate at any time to laugh, degrade, or scold in anger for regression is a part of this disorder.

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Guilt

Laura:
[Oct. 19, 2000]
I have a lot of guilt about my son. I felt that there might have been something that I could have done to prevent him from having this terrible disease. I wish that I could make it all go away. That's what mothers are supposed to be able to do. But I couldn't. I had no control over any of this. I felt useless. I blamed myself the most because mental illness runs in my family and I had a baby anyways. I never thought that he would go through all of this. To this day, I still feel guilty, wondering if I could have done something different and it wouldn't have turned out this way. It's hard enough to watch an adult go through this than to have to watch a child and not being able to help him.

DJ:
[Jun. 27 2001]
Hi. I was just reading about the experiences of various Schizophrenics (though it's hard to label someone that) & felt like sharing in the hope that it might help someone somewhere. I am DJ and have been seeing psychiatrists since Nov.1990. Besides I have been attending Day-care facility since June 1995. I find myself identifying with the other patients of Schizophrenia in that I used to feel like confessing every little "crime" that I had committed as I felt very guilty and felt lighter as I felt that the persons around me anyway knew about my activities because they could read my mind. I must hasten to add this used to be the case only when I was very ill. I have had three breakdowns in the last 11 years & each episode was characterized by similar thought patterns.

DJ:
[June. 27 2001]
Hi, I am DJ. I have been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder & Schizophrenia by various psychiatrists. I fell ill when I was 21yrs. old in an Engineering College. In my three episodes of severe illness I have regressed to the state that I felt people were helping me to defecate. Besides in the summers when I would swim for an hour continuously, I would think that the others were aiding my breathing. I am an avid listener of Pink Floyd and would think that scientists who were doing research were communicating through Roger Waters' lyrics, amongst other musicians. I am a reasonable singer and was under the impression that people were helping me in singing up to my full potential.

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