Some people consider schizophrenia the most debilitating of mental disorders, and indeed, if you ask almost any unaffected person to describe the disorder, they will probably rattle off symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, bizarre outbursts and the like. However, when diagnosed, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be kept at arms length with support from family and friends, medication and therapy.
Bill McPhee is living proof that schizophrenia can be controlled, and those with the disorder can live productive, loving lives.
I love to pop some popcorn and watch an unassuming protagonist discover that his friends, his family, his whole life is not quite what it seems, and then go about the dangerous business of solving the mystery that has become his reality. Others may try to convince the hero that he’s confused or delusional, but part of what I love about a good psychological thriller is that the hero is always vindicated in the end. And while there are real people whose lives are as filled with conspiracy and intrigue as a box office hit, many of them are living in a false world made up of schizophrenic delusions. And it’s not a glamorous world. It’s a world fueled by mental illness, by the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Childhood schizophrenia can be very difficult to diagnose. It mimics other illnesses and becomes even harder to distinguish if alcohol and drug abuse become part of the picture as well. Our guest on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show, Randye Kaye, knows all about this firsthand.
“Who are you and why are you doing this to me?” Those are the words Sandra Yuen MacKay wrote in block letters across her family’s porch when she was 15 years old. She knew someone was spying on her; she could hear voices outside her house, talking about her and commenting on what she was doing.
I believed there were microphones and cameras built into the walls of my house because the voices always seemed to know which TV show I was watching or my location inside the house. I felt eyes on me wherever I went.
When she was taken to a hospital, she hoped the plot against her would finally be uncovered. The truth about Sandra’s predicament did come out during that first hospitalization – the first of many. But it wasn’t the answer she was expecting: she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Tormented by Schizophrenia
Sandra didn’t understand at the time what schizophrenia was, but she knew she was desperate for relief from the voices, the intrusive, foreign thoughts, and the enormous stress.
I felt utterly alone. Slowly, the gate was closing separating me from a normal existence, but I didn’t realize it…. I wished that my painful experiences could have been erased. Instead, they haunted me for decades. I could not separate truth from fiction.
Now 45 years old, Sandra has been in treatment for 30 years. During that time, she not only struggled with the symptoms of schizophrenia and the side effects of medications required to keep those symptoms in check, she also managed to earn a Fine Arts Diploma and a Bachelor of Arts in art history.
Triumph over Schizophrenia
Though not cured, Sandra is no longer debilitated by the symptoms of Schizophrenia. She’s a successful writer, artist, and advocate. Her memoir, My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness, details her journey through schizophrenia’s earliest warning signs, subsequent hospitalizations, treatment, and eventual recovery. Now diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, Sandra says she thrives on life, despite her mental illness.
And here’s the table of contents for all mental health video interviews from the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show.
Share Your Experiences
Have you been diagnosed with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder? We invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experiences and insights. (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
Dr. Frederick Frese is an amazing man with a great sense of humor. He was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966. During this week’s HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show, Dr. Frese recalls his first run-in with schizophrenia while guarding nuclear weapons at a naval base and subsequent hospitalizations where he was declared by the state to be “insane.”
Later in life, Dr. Frese would obtain a graduate degree in psychophysiology and come to be appointed director of psychology at Ohio’s largest mental hospital. He also served on the national board of directors of NAMI and is a well-known consumer advocate for the mentally ill.
Schizophrenia is usually characterized as the most devastating mental illness. During our interview, Dr. Frese said there were others, like himself, who recover from Schizophrenia and manage the illness quite successfully. What struck me about Dr. Frese’s life story was that, for him, schizophrenia didn’t destroy his life. It was simply a challenging obstacle on the path to a successful life.
For most Americans, our experience of someone living with Schizophrenia comes via seeing some street person who appears “out of their mind” or watching tv news and finding out a person with schizophrenia has killed someone or wrecked havoc. (Schizophrenics Find Stigma Is Even Worse Than the Disease) That’s why it was amazing to watch our interview with this week’s guest, Kristin Bell, who sat there calmly sharing her story like anyone else. But it also speaks to how far we’ve come in treating this devastating mental illness. People with schizophrenia live with hallucinations and delusions but, unfortunately, many can’t afford to get the treatment for schizophrenia that they need to maintain a stable, productive life.
Kristin Bell is one of the fortunate one’s who can. She was our guest on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show on April 13, 2010. You can watch the interview “on-demand.”
From Kristin Bell
My name is Kristin Bell. I am almost 37 years old and I live just outside of Portland, Oregon with my parents and cats.
I have been living with schizophrenia since the age of 15, although I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was 16. I have an undergraduate degree and have worked many different paid and volunteer jobs, although I am not currently employed.
I keep busy as a YouTube partner making videos where I talk about current events and my life and I also have a blog where I talk about life with schizophrenia, as well as share my art and other things. I sometimes take courses at the local university. I currently see a psychiatrist once every 2-3 months and I see a therapist every couple of weeks.
For the first 12 years of my illness, I had a long, tough struggle both with coming to terms with my illness and finding good medical treatment; despite the fact that I had health insurance. My main schizophrenia symptoms were/are paranoid delusions and depression, and because of those I have done and thought many strange things!
My family has been through the ringer with me and we have all learned a tremendous amount. I have one older brother who does NOT have a mental illness and neither of my parents have mental illnesses. I have been stabilized on antipsychotic medications since about 2001 and much of that has to do with having a great doctor, a supportive family and the right medications. I ended up having to get Haldol injections once per month, because otherwise I would somehow always end up going off my meds. I like to share my story with people just so others know that it is possible to live with schizophrenia and not be destroyed by it and I think the more people know, the less people will live in fear.
Share Your Experiences of Living with Schizophrenia
Whether you’re a patient or a loved one of someone with schizophrenia, we invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experiences and insights on what it’s like living with schizophrenia. (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
You can watch our interview with Kristin Bell on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show homepage by clicking the on-demand button on the player. The show is titled “Living with Schizophrenia.”
During this time, she was seen by a team of psychiatrists in Vancouver who specialize in refractory psychoses; we later found out from one of the participants that the team considered her to be one of the most ill teens they’d seen and some of them predicted that she might have to be institutionalized for life. She was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder. During these two years, her mood disorder had been brought under control through the use of Tegretol. However, her delusions, auditory and olfactory hallucinations, and thought disorder continued to worsen.
Seeking Treatment for Severe Psychosis
We decided, with the full support of local psychiatrists, to take her to the Menninger Clinic in the US; this eventually led to a much higher dose of antipsychotic medication which allowed her to emerge from her severe psychosis. Although she has had several relapses since then, she has never become as profoundly psychotic as she was during this two year episode.
When my daughter became ill, I was unable to find any accounts of the experiences of other parents in similar situations. Many of these kinds of memoirs by parents have been appearing in the U.S. in recent years, but they have been quite rare in Canada. My book, After Her Brain Broke, Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity, describes the long process to help my daughter (called Molly in the book) rebuild her life.
Challenges Severely Mentally Ill Face Integrating into Society
One of the big challenges was finding educational opportunities. She had dropped out of secondary school and experienced serious cognitive deficits after her psychosis. Fortunately, Vancouver Community College has self-paced programs that enable people to develop or rebuild the academic skills they need to continue their educations. Molly spent four years there slowly doing the kind of cognitive remediation that many people with schizophrenia need. She became better able to focus and to generate and organize her ideas. She is now taking courses at another community college and still struggles with the symptoms of her disorders.
During Molly’s two year psychotic episode, and in the following year when she was experiencing severe obsessive compulsive disorder, she was able to attend an unusual program (Hamber House) run by the Vancouver School Board, Vancouver Children’s Hospital, and several provincial agencies for the dozen most severely mentally ill students in Vancouver. Once she had recovered from her psychosis, Molly was able to participate in their psychoeducation program and learned a lot about her illnesses. Her understanding of her illnesses was greatly increased by taking the BRIDGES psychoeducation program that was developed by NAMI in the US; this is now widely available in the Vancouver area. These programs helped Molly also develop a deep acceptance of her disorders.
In recent years, Molly has participated in a number of public speaking events discussing her experiences with severe mental illnesses. Because she was so profoundly ill for so long, her prognosis was very poor. Her story provides great hope to other people. Not only is Molly able to continue her education, but she has many other wonderful parts to her life. She has a boyfriend who understands her illnesses and offers her constant support. They like to ski, snowboard, play golf and tennis together. They also go to lots of films and concerts. Molly often says how much she likes her life.
Share Your Thoughts or Experiences About Getting the Best Mental Health Treatment For Your Child
We invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experience and insights into getting mental health treatment for your child. (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.