To learn more from others, check out these resources
The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks. New York: Hyperion, 2007.
The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut. New York: Praeger, 1975.
The "First Person Account" Special Features in the quarterly journal Schizophrenia Bulletin, www.schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org.
Making It Crazy by Sue Estroff. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1985.
Me, Myself, and Them by Kurt Snyder with Raquel E. Gur, M.D., Ph.D., and Linda Wasmer Andrews. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Nightmare: A Schizophrenia Narrative by Wendell Williamson. Durham NC: Mental Health Communication Network, 2001.
Our Voices, ed. by C. Corr, M. Dunne, M. Kapil, P. Miller, C. Moon. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc. 2008.
The Quiet Room: A Journey out of the Torment of Madness by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett. New York: Warner Books, 1994.
The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.
The Voices of Robby Wilde by Elizabeth Kytle. Washington, DC: Seven Locks Press, 1987.
Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006.
The Four of Us by E. Swados. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1991.
Imagining Robert by Jay Neugeboren. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1997.
Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings by Simon Clea. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
My Sister's Keeper by M. Moorman. New York: Norton, 1992.
"People Say I'm Crazy," 84 minutes, 2004. Palo Alto Pictures, www.peoplesayimcrazy.org.
"Uncertain Journey: Families Coping with Serious Mental Illness," 45 minutes, 1995. Duke University School of Medicine, Division of Audiovisual Education.
"Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia," 57 minutes, 2010. MyDOC Productions, www.unlisedfilm.com.
"When Medicine Got It Wrong," 53 minutes, 2009. Documentary Educational Materials, (617) 926-0491.
It's Just a Disease
Not everyone in a homeless shelter has a mental illness, but many of the individuals staying there do. Ms. Williams was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 28, and has been hospitalized three times since. In her late 30s now, she spent nine months of the past year living in a homeless shelter.
Well, I've got paranoid schizophrenia, of course. It doesn't let me think clearly without my meds. And basically I don't think as clearly with my meds as I did before I was diagnosed. Before I thought a whole lot more rational. Now I question my thinking and hope it is rational.
When I was sick, I was very paranoid, thinking people are seriously out to get me, to hurt me or harm me in some sort of way. It wasn't true, but it was a hurtful feeling, those thoughts. I was trying to fight them, thinking it wasn't true, but the thoughts were still there.
I stopped taking my medicine, and by not taking my medicine, I made some very bad choices--not thinking realistically. My thought process was not clear. I was under pressure to find a place to stay. Not being on my medicine made it hard. I was evicted, and went to a shelter. It was a hard place to be. I wanted to stay on my medications so I could get out of there, for myself and for my kids. My kids are my main motivation to keep myself together.
Going to the clinic has been helpful. I learned some things about my illness I didn't know. It brought a different light to what was going on.
I'm thankful for having my own place now. What I'd say [to others experiencing homelessness] is that it may take time, but if you are serious about doing what you are supposed to do, it will happen. I had to apply for Section 8, I had to look for my own place. I had to do some legwork on my own.
If I had diabetes, I would feel sad, but I'd feel normal, like everybody else. With schizophrenia, you feel different. It's something you can't help, but people just don't view it the same as a normal illness that people can deal with. If somebody had cancer, they would say, 'Aw, you have cancer,' they would sympathize. People don't want to deal with people who have schizophrenia. I know that people, if I'm on my meds, might not be able to tell that I have a mental illness. But once they find out I have to take meds to maintain my sanity, they view me differently. I don't understand why you have to treat me differently. It's just a disease.
I'm a devoted mother, determined to maintain a normal life, not trying to hurt nobody, a humanitarian at heart, suffering from something I don't necessarily want to be suffering with, but trying to deal with it. I am proud of my kids because they are good kids. I'm really thankful for them. I'm proud that we finally did get out of the shelter and we're maintaining okay.
Never Give Up
My child has schizoaffective disorder and has been so sick with the illness that, at times, he hasn’t recognized me. Before he was properly diagnosed, there was agony, fear and denial, worry, self-blame, and exhaustion. But now, with ongoing treatment and support, we still worry but we also have hope.
When my child was 15, he started having outbursts at school. We were told we needed to be better parents. We were told it was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Even though he tried medication for ADHD, his outbursts continued and soon after, he started abusing substances. I got him into outpatient and in-patient treatment for the substance abuse. After one hospitalization – and two weeks of increasingly bizarre behavior – I was told that there was nothing that could be done. I took my psychotic son home. I was terrified.
I continued searching for an answer. After seeing around 20 mental health professionals, we found the one who gave us hope. He made the correct diagnosis and prescribed medications that settled down the psychosis. That’s when our healing began.
Today we manage this illness together. He’s in treatment at a nearby clinic. He gets the services he needs, and I have other parents I can talk to. We’ve both learned so much about his illness. With this support and treatment, he’s been able to resume his education at a local school. He has good days and bad days, but he’s involved with his life and he has goals.
If I could say anything to a parent facing a similar experience, it would be to never give up. Recovery is possible, even with a mental illness.
In and Out of the Hospital
Mandy was diagnosed with a severe and persistent mental illness about ten years ago. Until recently, she had been working at a low-stress job, attending a support group for people with mental illness, and taking her medication. Then she was laid off from work.
Her friends became concerned when she stopped hanging out with them. They went to visit her and found her apartment had not been cleaned and her refrigerator contained only condiments and expired food. They were not sure when she had last bathed and it was obvious she had not checked her mail in weeks. Concerned for her safety, they took her to the hospital.
Like many with a serious mental illness, Mandy can be quite stable until a stressful event kicks off another round of symptoms. Mandy will be in the hospital until she's no longer in imminent danger. For Mandy, that could happen once she is back on her medication, and she could be released in as little as seven days.
During that time, she, along with her doctors and her social worker in a nearby clinic, will identify how she will go about reconstructing a successful, functional life. She's done it before, and with proper treatment and support, she can do it again.