A Journey with you by Rebecca Chamaa

I am not a genius or a madwoman.  It is true, I have paranoid schizophrenia, but I’m not creating

breakthrough math formulas, or plotting to shoot up a movie theater.  When I go downtown I

don’t stand on street corners and talk to people only I can see or hear.  I don’t spend my days in a tinfoil hat, and I don’t believe the numerous fillings from cavities are transmitting anything with

the exception of bacteria to the rest of my mouth.

I am fairly certain that I have more in common with you than we have differences.  I belong to a

political party although there are times when I vote across party lines if the candidate appears to

stand for what I believe in.  There are television shows that I like to binge watch, one being

Orange is the New Black.  I also love a good documentary.  I have spinach in my smoothie every

morning but Oreo cookies or popcorn are what I take to bed.

I am married and perfectly capable of being a loving and supportive partner.  I like to bring my husband coffee in bed.  I also take him to the doctor any time he comes down with the flu, because I am slightly over  protective and he has an autoimmune disease.  I can handle all of the grocery shopping, although I’m not much of a cook.

You are probably wondering how I got diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia if I think I am so

much like you.  At twenty-eight years old I became psychotic.  At the time, I thought everyone

was out to get me.  I believed I was in danger and safety was something so elusive I couldn’t

even find it in the comfort of sleep, mostly because I wasn’t sleeping more than an hour at a

time.  I feared everything I was eating was poisoned.  I thought I would be raped and tortured.  I

was terrified.  I couldn’t sit still.  I paced.  I ran.  I tried to jump through windows.  I barricaded

my mother in a room.   I smoked two or more packs of cigarettes a day.

During the time that I was psychotic you would have felt cozy and comfortable with my behavior

because it was within the normal ideas about mental illness.  I was in a psych ward.  I was in a

locked room.  I did things that were rational only to me, and I couldn’t hold a conversation.  I

was heavily medicated and was sent to craft classes where I made refrigerator magnets that

looked like the work of a third grader.  I was trapped in my mind.  I was contained both

figuratively and literally.  I had too many cares and I wasn’t free.

It hurt my self-esteem to have to live with the new me, the one that was mentally ill, and I didn’t

always follow the doctor’s directions for my medication.  I ended up psychotic again less than a

year later.  This time the voices came.  If you have never heard voices before, let me tell you at

first you are confused by their presence. At least I was.  I thought I was hearing directly from

God or angels.  I thought I was having a religious experience and that the voices were teaching

me to overcome my fears.

I stood on the railing of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, hundreds of feet above the Puget Sound

until a stranger took my hand and pulled me to safety.  I took all of my medication and another

stranger found me passed out on the side of the road and waited with me until an ambulance

arrived.  They had to jump start my heart.  Two strangers, two suicides attempts, one life saved.

I took my treatment more seriously after hearing voices that told me to kill myself.  I didn’t want

to die.  I didn’t want to hear voices that were out to injure me.  I was terrified that maybe

someday they would be successful in killing me or hurting someone else.  I took my medication

regularly, until I didn’t.

During my next psychotic episode the voices were back and I was certain that I was Jesus.  I

walked sixteen hours through the streets of Los Angeles, believing I was the Son of God.  I

perched on the corner of buildings high above the city, believing that if I fell, God would protect

me from harm.  When I walked through dangerous neighborhoods, the voices pointed out the

evil.  I thought I saw devils.  I thought I saw demons.  I was convinced that I needed to get back

to Washington State.  My husband and I drove to my parents’ house in just under twenty four

hours.

This time, I took the medication exactly the way it was prescribed and I was fine for eight years.  I worked.  I made friends.  I kept house.  I completed a leadership training program for

the city we lived in, and I sat on boards for the city council.  I felt like I had made it.  I had built

a successful life despite my mental illness.

I was doing so well that the psychiatrist who had been treating me  over six years, said there was

no way I was mentally ill.  He believed my psychotic episodes were due to trauma, and that as

long as life was good, my mind would remain sound.  I could be counted on.  I was rational.  I

was funny.  We believed I was cured.It took a year without medication to decompensate completely.  I was psychotic again, and this time there were voices that were so strong and powerful that I couldn’t even talk to other people because they were so distracting.  “Divorce your husband,” they said.  “Go live at the beach.” “Run away.Run. Run.”  I got in the car and drove. “They are listening to you.  That radio is bugged.  They can hear you and see you through the TV.”

My husband tracked me by our credit card.  I stayed at the beach in a little motel for a week or

more.  I finally went home.  My husband found me a psychiatrist and I started on medication, but the voices continued for six months.  We barely made it, my husband and me.  We had just

moved to San Diego, he had a new job to be concerned about, and a wife that was far more

interested in voices from places she didn’t know than the voices of people standing next to her.

After months of being psychotic the voices turned menacing and again, they told me to kill

myself. Something inside of me woke up.  Something didn’t want to die.  I called my husband and said,“Please help. I need to see a doctor again.”  He came home from work as fast as he could and took me to the emergency room.  The doctor there was comfortable increasing my medication. In two days, only echoes of the voices were left.  Once again, I had to rebuild my life. That was eight years ago.  My mind is silent now.  Occasionally I hear a song run through my mind and it will play over and over again for what seems like days, but there are no voices.  No voice.  Only a white blank slate, a board I fill with writing.

I have symptoms of my illness because I have paranoid schizophrenia, but the symptoms are only obvious to those I trust. Occasionally I can’t eat food because I believe it is poisoned.  Occasionally I have overwhelming fears that I am dying.  There are times when I don’t trust anyone but my husband.  Even though Paris is my favorite city, I don’t like to travel because I am afraid that my medication will be lost or stolen.  I must have my medication, every day at breakfast and dinner.  I live around my medication schedule.  The pills are my security blanket, helping me to live a normal life.

I want a normal life.  I love the mundane. Before I go to bed each night, I ask my husband the same question, “Guess what I am excited about for tomorrow?”  He knows me so well, he can often guess.  “Your morning coffee,” is always his first answer.  If I shake my head, “No,” he tries again with, “The mail.”  Those two things are highlights of every day, but occasionally it will be something unique, like making a deadline or hearing from a magazine about some writing I submitted.  I enjoy the simple things, a call from a friend, or a walk to the park.  These things that seem so small to other people keep me going and make my heart full.  I don’t have a complicated life.  It is simple.  I am extremely happy.

You know what?  Maybe, we don’t have as much in common as I thought.  I don’t know, if you take normalcy for granted, we are not so similar, because I relish in it.

I have paranoid schizophrenia, and I love my life.