“My name is Sarah, I’m now 35 and I’m a normal woman living in NY.
I’m not married, but I live with my son, life partner and dog. I spend my free time at home cleaning, dishes, folding laundry and writing a lot. I also have two college degrees and work as a project manager for an international Legal firm.
But what most people don’t know, is that I also suffer from schizoaffective disorder.
Actually, most people probably don’t even know what skizzoaffective disorder is. Basically, I have symptoms of both paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
A few weeks before my 17th birthday, my world changed in ways that I never expected. I started hearing a voice inside my head that I hadn’t heard before. When you watch movies and people start hearing voices, they always portray it as if they are talking to someone who isn’t really there.
I convinced myself that this voice was normal. I told myself that I was stressed out by school and my relationships with my parents and my boyfriend and that this was just a part of me that I hadn’t paid attention to before.
But over time the whispers turned into a screams and within days of starting to hear this voice, I wrote a suicide note and swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills.
After that I spent the next few weeks in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital. The voice had completely disappeared and I began to understand that what I had experienced wasn’t normal. I was extremely paranoid that the doctors were going to commit me. I didn’t tell anyone about the voice. I started telling everyone what I thought they wanted to hear. I told them the pressure of school just got to me and that I would never do anything like that again.
So I received no help after leaving hospitals, when in reality I was completely psychotic the entire time and no one knew that. I never followed up to receive psychiatric care or stay on medication. For the next couple of years, I experimented with drugs and drank a lot and I had again about sixt suicide attempts.
My insane habits eventually had consequences and at 21, I got pregnant.
My son became the most important thing in my life. I tried my best to be a good mom. I still hadn’t dealt with my mental health issues so the majority of my twenties were a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.
What I know now are my manic episodes are triggered by stress and can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months. When I am manic I seem happy to everyone around me. I’m creative, talkative, have tons of ideas, and become extremely goal oriented. I feel like I can accomplish anything and I am able to survive on very little sleep.
I can’t tell you how many projects I have started, things I was so excited about, that I eventually lost motivation for and have never finished.
But one day, I was 27, encouraged by my sister Carol, I met the Doctor Hoffmann for the first time.
He became my psychoanalytic therapist for a lot of years.
I began seeing him two or three times a week for eight years and after a year of therapy he had the great idea to encourage me to start writing.
Yes, exactly the most important thing I’ve done in my life after my son is to start writing.
Even without specific studies I decided to write poetry opening my dark life to others and so trying to raise awareness and understanding about what it’s really like to live with the my illness.
The paranoia, intrusive thoughts and delusions can be a daily battle at times. It can be a very lonely and exhausting battle too. But for me the biggest and toughest battle of all about having schizophrenia is living with the stigma attached to it.
Most of us who have shizzooaffective disorder re not violent or dangerous and yet this is the only thing the public seem to be constantly told about the condition by the media.
Infact there’s a culture of fear that exists around schizophrenia now and it’s time to show people that those of us with this kind of mental illness are really just human.
It’s time to stop the stigma, it’s time to write, think and talk.
I want people to recognize themselves in my stories giving them the strength to be honest with the doctors and herself, get treatment, and avoid years of unnecessary pain. Speak up and get help. Life is too short to suffer in the darkness alone.
Obviously I still hear voices inside my head, but before they turn into screams I can talk to them and I’ve now learned managing those whispers by writing.
I’m not yet come through my mental illness.
I can’t change my past, but I’m not going to let this illness destroy my future anymore by continuing to ignore it.
One in every two hundred people has schizoaffective disorder. If you’re reading this and you’re suffering with the same diagnosis, know that you’re not alone, you deserve to be happy, and that you don’t have anything to be ashamed of.
Maybe someday the world will be more understanding to people with severe mental illnesses like me, until then we have to stop being silent.
I have accomplished a lot despite my illness and I know I will be able to have a lot more success and happiness when I get it under control and stop being my own worst enemy.
For this reason I never get tired of writing and luckily I’m still alive.”
Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression.
Many people with schizoaffective disorder are often incorrectly diagnosed at first with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia because it shares symptoms of multiple mental health conditions.
Schizoaffective disorder is seen in about 0.3% of the population. Men and women experience schizoaffective disorder at the same rate, but men often develop the illness at an earlier age. Schizoaffective disorder can be managed effectively with medication and therapy. Co-occurring substance use disorders are a serious risk and require integrated treatment.
The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can be severe and need to be monitored closely. Depending on the type of mood disorder diagnosed, depression or bipolar disorder, people will experience different symptoms:
· Hallucinations, which are seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.
· Delusions, which are false, fixed beliefs that are held regardless of contradictory evidence.
· Disorganized thinking. A person may switch very quickly from one topic to another or provide answers that are completely unrelated.
· Depressed mood. If a person has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder depressive type they will experience feelings of sadness, emptiness, feelings of worthlessness or other symptoms of depression.
· Manic behavior. If a person has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder: bipolar type they will experience feelings of euphoria, racing thoughts, increased risky behavior and other symptoms of mania.
The exact cause of schizoaffective disorder is unknown. A combination of causes may contribute to the development of schizoaffective disorder.
· Genetics. Schizoaffective disorder tends to run in families. This does not mean that if a relative has an illness, you will absolutely get it. But it does mean that there is a greater chance of you developing the illness.
· Brain chemistry and structure. Brain function and structure may be different in ways that science is only beginning to understand. Brain scans are helping to advance research in this area.
· Stress. Stressful events such as a death in the family, end of a marriage or loss of a job can trigger symptoms or an onset of the illness.
· Drug use. Psychoactive drugs such as LSD have been linked to the development of schizoaffective disorder.
Schizoaffective disorder can be difficult to diagnose because it has symptoms of both schizophrenia and either depression or bipolar disorder. There are two major types of schizoaffective disorder: bipolar type and depressive type. To be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder a person must have the following symptoms.
· A period during which there is a major mood disorder, either depression or mania, that occurs at the same time that symptoms of schizophrenia are present.
· Delusions or hallucinations for two or more weeks in the absence of a major mood episode.
· Symptoms that meet criteria for a major mood episode are present for the majority of the total duration of the illness.
· The abuse of drugs or a medication are not responsible for the symptoms.
Schizoaffective disorder is treated and managed in several ways:
· Medications, including mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants
· Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or family-focused therapy
· Self-management strategies and education
If you have schizoaffective disorder, the condition can control your thoughts, interfere with relationships and if not treated, lead to a crisis.
Here are some ways to help manage your illness for themselves:
1. Pinpoint your stressors and triggers.
Are there specific times when you find yourself stressed? People, places, jobs, and even holidays can play a big role in your mood stability. Symptoms of mania and depression may start slow, but addressing them early can prevent a serious episode. Feelings of mania may feel good at first, but they can spiral into dangerous behavior such as reckless driving, violence or hypersexuality. Depression may begin with feeling tired and being unable to sleep.
2. Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Substance abuse is common with schizoaffective disorder but using these substances can disturb emotional balance and interact with medications. Both depression and mania make drugs and alcohol attractive options to help you “slow down” or “perk up,” but the potential damage can block your recovery.
3. Establish a routine.
Committing to a routine can help you take control and help prevent depression and mania from taking control. For example, to keep the energy changes caused by depression and mania in check, commit to being in bed only eight hours a night and up and moving the rest of the time.
4. Form healthy relationships.
Relationships can help stabilize your moods. An outgoing friend might encourage you to get involved with social activities and lift your mood. A more relaxed friend may provide you with a steady calm that can help keep feelings of mania under control.
5. Self-management strategies, education, learning new skills.
Learning strategies to manage the symptoms of your disorder are critical. Coping strategies may also include work-and-school rehabilitation and social skills training. Studies have shown that ACT can reduce hospitalizations for people with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia by 20%.
6. Start Writing:
Many mental health experts recommend writing because it can improve your mood and manage symptoms of depression. Studies support this and suggest it is good for your mental health.
It may also make therapy work better. Obviously it is not a cure-all, but there are plenty of benefits.
How It Helps:
Makes you more aware. It helps you get to know yourself better.
Expressing yourself in a novel o poetry can bring your thoughts and feelings to the surface. Many people are surprised by what they write, says Denver psychotherapist Cynthia McKay.
You may discover you’re worried about something you didn’t know was upsetting you until you wrote it down.