Surmounting mental illness
Michelle first experienced symptoms of schizophrenia in high school.
My mom noticed something was up and brought me to therapists, but the paranoia prevented me from engaging in the treatment. I wasn’t able to be open with them. I was stone-faced.
Michelle’s symptoms—paranoia in particular—became most pronounced in college.
I thought my roommate was trying to kill me.
It was then that she realized she needed help. She scheduled an appointment at the campus health center, but her experience was far from ideal. She was given a short verbal assessment and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was referred to the health center’s psychiatrist and prescribed medication.
When I was happy, people thought I was out of line. The medication I was prescribed merely subdued me and did not help with my symptoms.
Looking back now, Michelle wishes she had been properly educated on the medications she was prescribed.
I feel like there needs to be education on medication before being put on any.
Michelle’s first hospitalization happened while she was in college. During a party in her dorm, Michelle was drunk and hurt herself. The residential advisors in her dorm called security, and she was admitted to a hospital where she was treated. She then returned to school and was punished for drinking in a campus dormitory.
The only reason I was willing to stay and not transfer was because of the support I got from my sports team.
Michelle recalls meeting with a psychiatrist when she was 22 who actually listened and gave her the proper diagnosis of schizophrenia. According to Michelle, this doctor was direct and blunt and encouraged her to answer the questions he was asking despite her hesitation.
The doctor that spoke to me and who gave me the correct diagnosis made me hold myself accountable.
When we had our first session, he was asking me the basic questions you go through when you see a new psychiatrist. When I said I didn’t want to answer certain questions, he basically told me that I paid a lot of money for this session and that I was going to answer these questions.
I never had a doctor do that to me before. Other doctors usually just skipped it. This was when I decided I liked this doctor because he wasn’t letting me get away with my nonsense. He actually was going to help me, and he needed me to answer these questions to get me there, even if I didn’t want to answer the questions.
Finally, Michelle was on a path toward stability.
It took about five years to find the medication regimen that worked best for me … but since we found it, it’s been super helpful.
When Michelle told her friends about her diagnosis, they were extremely supportive and did not treat her or think of her differently. Unfortunately, she still faces the reality that some people are not so accepting.
In many of her jobs, Michelle has chosen not to disclose her mental illness for her own protection. Beyond the unfortunate reality of stigma in the workplace, she has found that the inflexibility of the typical 9-to-5 job is difficult to balance while managing her mental health.
Michelle has since founded a clothing and lifestyle business. In addition to participating in a cause that she is passionate about, Michelle also has more control over her hours. A percentage of the profits go to organizations that support New Yorkers who have been displaced due to homelessness.
Her business has “pop-up shops” on the New York City streets, and she engages passers-by in conversations about mental health. Michelle maintains the importance of being transparent when talking with the people she meets through her store.
When I am open about my experiences, I have found that people are likely to open up and talk with me.
If we just talked about mental illness more, there would not be as much stigma.
Just because you get a schizophrenia diagnosis does not mean your life is over. It can be just the beginning because you have the correct diagnosis and can treat it.
The diagnosis does not mean you can’t fulfill your dreams, be successful, or be happy.
Being diagnosed was the best thing that ever happened to me because then I could be treated for the correct illness.