The following is a narrative of the onset of schizophrenia, told from the perspective of the individual who is in the process of becoming ill. This is not fictionalized, and it is not conjecture. Some details have been changed, but otherwise, this narrative is genuine. I am the author of this piece, and I suffer from this disease. I have now controlled my disease through proactively accepting treatment, with no relapses since 1996.
You were told throughout your youth that you were exceptionally smart. At the same time, your youth was troublesome because you had a lot of difficulty fitting in with students and making friends—you may have had just a few close friends, or you may have had none. You might have started college or a job. You begin to feel increasingly disconnected from other people.
You start to get unusual thinking. At some point, you may believe you are close to a brilliant theory about the world. On the other hand, friends begin to avoid you. Throughout this time, your emotions could be running strong. For some, this reaches extremes. On the other hand, some may not experience intense emotions. We may feel terrified, enraged, restless, anguished, sad…anything the human brain can generate. This reflects the internal chaos of the worsening illness.
The unusual thoughts increase in number and intensity. You have difficulty maintaining basic responsibilities and self-care. You begin to be afraid. You believe people are out to do harm to you or do something to you. Or you may believe you are headed for greatness. You might believe you could run for President. You might believe people are about to throw you a surprise party or a parade.
You lose the ability to communicate with people. People speak to you and you do not understand what they’re telling you. You begin to experience despair. You wish things would go back to normal. Finally, your despair became so awful that you totally lose hope. You act. You might harm yourself or might harm someone else or their property. Soon, police forces arrive.
You may be put in restraints and taken by ambulance to a hospital. You may be taken to jail. For the sake of this essay, let’s say you are taken to a hospital. Staff physically restrain and medicate you. Soon after, you become unconscious.
You wake up and you are in a bed with clean sheets in an unfamiliar room. You soon realize you are in some sort of hospital. A voice is speaking through an intercom telling you that it is time to wake up. A man is pushing an exceptionally large cart, and on it is a big box with sets of metal drawers. He reads from a clipboard. He says to you, “Mr. Bragen, please take this pill and drink this liquid.” You do not understand any of what is happening. You decide to take the pill and drink the liquid. The liquid is orange juice, but with something else in it that gives a bitter flavor.
You come to realize that you have calmed down a lot from the night before. However, you still cannot make any sense out of your thoughts. You have a lot of difficulty focusing your eyes, and your vision is blurry. Your neck feels very stiff.
A tall thin woman with spectacles and a white lab coat enters the room. She explains that she is a psychiatrist, and she tells you that you are suffering from psychosis. You do not understand what she is talking about.
Weeks pass in this place. Family periodically visits. You regain the ability to think. You feel awful and a fellow patient tells you it is “medication side effects.” At some point, the hospital releases you. You have been diagnosed “schizophrenic,” and are admonished that you must not stop your medication. Yet the medication makes you feel so awful that you decide to stop taking it. In a few weeks, the strange thoughts come back, and you don’t know it, but you are headed for the same scenario all over again.
Jack Bragen is author of “Revising Behaviors that Don’t Work,” “Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia,” and “Jack Bragen’s 2021 Fiction Collection,” and lives in Martinez.