A first-person perspective on living with Schizophrenia.
By Kyle Abeysinghe | USA
Almost three years ago, the first of many voices declared its presence inside my head. It was an ordinary afternoon, and I was sitting alone in my bedroom, reading a book. At first, the voice was subtle, and I didn't react to it. I assumed it was someone speaking outside my room. But there it was again, a few moments later. Then again, some minutes after that. It became louder, louder, and louder until finally, I could no longer ignore it. It was next to me, behind me, above me. It was all around me. Expressing how it feels to hear a stranger’s voice echo within myself has proved to be a challenge, but simply put, I was utterly terrified. “What is this?” I asked myself, as a blanket of fear and anxiety smothered me.
My heart rate began to quicken. My breath laboured. The hair on my arms stood on end. A chill ran down the length of my spine. I looked around my room and under my bed, thinking someone was attempting to pull an ill-advised prank on me, but there was nobody there. I was alone. My head began to spin as the world collapsed in on me, becoming smaller and smaller. Then suddenly, I was falling. The floor had opened up beneath me, and I was swallowed, plummeting into a panic-induced void. I had stepped foot into dangerous waters, and the more I searched for an explanation, the faster everything slipped away from me. It felt like my mind was caught in a vicious rip current. Huge, black waves churned around me as I was helplessly carried out to sea. Over and over, I was dragged down into the dark and icy depths, and just as my lungs were about to give, hauled back to the surface. Each breath I was allowed, was less than the last. What felt like an eternity of abuse came to an abrupt end when I found myself back on shore, heaving.
After a few minutes, I was able to calm myself. I closed my eyes and breathed in and out as slowly as possible. My heart rate steadied, and the shackles around my chest unclasped. When I opened my eyes, I was back in my room. The voice was gone. There was nothing but the book, still resting in my hands and the deafening silence of my newly founded isolation. I’d never experienced anything like that before. Had I woken from a nightmare? Should I tell someone? How would I even explain what had just happened? So many questions, so few answers. I was shaken, severely disturbed. But I wasn’t uneasy because the voice was menacing. Oddly enough, all it had done was provide commentary on things that I was either feeling or doing in real-time.
“He is scared. He doesn’t know what’s happening. He’s looking under the bed.”
That sort of thing. Strange, certainly, but not all that frightening. I was afraid because I couldn’t understand what had just happened to me, and that was a far more profound anxiety. At the time, there was no way to rationalize the sound of another voice reverberating within the confines of my mind. A voice, not only unrecognizable but one that seemed to belong to a wholly separate entity. A foreign conscience that lurked within mine. Thankfully, I later learned that was not the case, and I wouldn’t be needing the assistance of Ed and Lorraine Warren. No, the voice was a hallucination; a symptom of an illness I’d only ever heard of in films, which for the most part, were grossly sensationalized portrayals, totally misrepresentative of the actual struggle we who have this disorder go through. All of the questions I’d been asking myself for months were finally answered in a single, blunt sentence by my doctor. “You have schizophrenia.”
Now, I have been an athlete since childhood. In that time, I have suffered my fair share of physical injuries. Every now and then, I’ve even had mental setbacks. But these were never obstacles I couldn’t overcome. Each time I was injured, there was a clear path to take—
diagnosis, then treatment, and eventually, getting back to life as usual. There was something I could focus on to better myself. An almost inevitable outcome, and always, a positive one. A light at the end of a tunnel. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this time around. Losing autonomy over one’s mind isn’t quite that simple. There was no light at the end of this tunnel. In fact, there was no tunnel. Before me stood a ladder. I couldn’t see where it ended, but I knew I needed to climb it. The higher I went, the more dangerous it became. Each rung took me further off the ground, but seemingly, never closer to where I needed to be. The road to recovery becomes arduous with no promise of success. It is steep, narrow, winding, and there are no guide rails. Treading this path is daunting, but walking it alone makes it all the more painful. That is the cruel reality most of us who suffer from these types of health issues face. We are alone, alienated by the world around us. The many stigmas that surround mental illnesses do not exist elsewhere. Following a diagnosis of diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, there is no worry of societal discrimination. Even telling my family was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It made me feel vulnerable and exposed, and after my diagnosis, I began to isolate myself. I felt like a misfit or an outcast. I distanced myself from all of my friends and neglected my physical health and hygiene. I ended up in an awful place. But over time, I realized there was only one way for me to overcome this. I had to open up. This wasn’t something I could shrug off. I needed the aid of those around me, and something I will always be grateful for— they were more than willing to help.
The ladder may never come to an end, but maybe that's what life is. An endless climb; each rung passed is just a tiny, momentary triumph. That sounds tiresome, but this journey has taught me to appreciate the beauty of struggle. It has shown me there is victory even in defeat. And though the road has been long, and there have been several pitfalls along the way, I feel very optimistic about where it leads.
I go to therapy every week, and I have to take medication every day, but I’m able to live a normal life for the most part. My friends and family came through for me when I needed them most. They played an integral role in my recovery, and more importantly, they never made me feel excluded. I have been very fortunate, far more than some, to have had such an amazing support group around me. I don't take that for granted, and it's why I am an advocate for those who haven't been as lucky. In an ever-increasingly stressful and emotionally demanding world, we must strive to treat each other with respect and kindness. Our ability to empathize with one another does not collectively weaken but strengthens the veiled mould that binds society together. To those who feel alone in their struggle; you’re not, I struggle too. To those who feel like their voices fall upon deaf ears; I hear you, I’m listening. It is my earnest hope that everyone who reads this will open up, and listen with me. You never know who might need your help.
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