Text: Laura’s story
Laura: My name is Laura and I’m finishing off my masters in drama therapy. And I am also in theatre, and do performance and spoken word and write plays, and put them on actually—often related to mental health advocacy kind of stuff.
Schizophrenia is a type of disorder where you often have positive symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions, like hearing things that aren’t there or thinking things that aren’t based in reality. Or the negative symptoms, which is often not being able to feel very much or very intensely, having sort of a flat gaze, having an inability to communicate very well. And the cognitive symptoms are just feeling really slowed down intellectually because of the whole process.
Text: Sometimes people with schizophrenia don’t believe they are sick.
Laura: Psychosis is one of the symptoms of schizophrenia. That’s basically when you have a break from reality, and you often will hear things or see things or feel things that aren’t there. And you’ll have thoughts that aren’t based in reality, either. I first started hearing music that wasn’t there. I was on the bus and I was going to an appointment, and I heard this beautiful opera-type music. And then after about 10 minutes of listening to it, I realized that there was no source of this music. And then I started hearing voices. And then I stopped having emotion. And I stopped being able to really think or feel, or read or write, or understand when people were talking. I was terrified. I was really scared. I told some of my friends. Two of my good friends stuck around. Two of my other good friends couldn’t deal with it and they, sort of, stopped talking to me. So that was hard. That was a really hard time. One of the hardest things for me was losing my ability to function the way other people my age could function for a while. And having any kind of faith that that would return was really hard, especially because a lot of the information out there is quite negative. However, it tends to be quite outdated, and a lot of really important studies have been done that show that people have a very high chance of recovering, especially if they get treatment early.
Text: Schizophrenia usually starts between the ages of 16 to 30.
Laura: I went to see doctor after doctor here, until I finally got to the early psychosis program, where they identified it as a psychosis. And I was eventually given the label of schizophrenia. And I was given antipsychotic medication, which made the hallucinations and delusions, the strange thinking, and all of the seeing and hearing things, those kinds of things, they went away. But it was the confusion and the lack of the ability to think or feel, which took a lot longer to come back. But my doctor just kept telling me to be patient and to just do things because you can’t really get better if you’re sitting back and doing nothing.
The stereotypes are often that people think that you’re dangerous, that you are useless, that you are totally off-the-wall unpredictable. When someone thinks that because you’re having a bad day, that it related to your illness, or they think that because, no one takes you seriously sometimes because they think you’re paranoid or whatever, I mean, there’s a lot of things like that. A lot of the things that you’ll read are totally not up-to-date and not accurate on the Internet, I would also say that. There are a lot of normal people living normal lives with this illness, and yet they probably wouldn’t tell you. One to two per cent of people in the population have schizophrenia. When I met other people who had gone through similar things, that was helpful. When I went to a clubhouse where there were other young people who were going through similar illnesses and they were okay with me not being able to communicate super well at first, they were okay with me, just finding my way back toward being sociable. And being able to just get along with people the way other people do. So it was really nice at that time, to have my little cocoon of people that were sort of like, “We’ve been through it, we don’t care, you know, you can be wherever you are today.” Once I had people who were okay with me being who I was, that really made a difference to me. And it actually, ironically, allowed me to come back to a place where I could contribute a lot more than I would have ever thought I could again.
I would want any young person to know that it’s really, really workable. Anything is workable, if you seek help, if you get treatment, if you allow someone to help you out. Sometimes with schizophrenia, the insight into the fact that you’re ill is not there so you need to have other people help you. If you have someone in your life that is going through something, like, that you think might be this, know that just being there for them is the most important thing you could ever do. I would say surrounding yourself with people who understand. They don’t have to be people who have been through it, but just people who are going to treat you unconditionally like yourself and who are going to have faith that you will recover. Because anyone can and many people do. It can really seem like it’s not possible. It can feel like it’s not possible. But it totally is.
Text: We would like to thank Laura for sharing her story.
Thanks to Dr. Stan Kutcher for helping capture these wonderful stories.
Produced by Gorgeous Mistake Productions
teen mental health