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I am 32 years old.
My path has ebbed and flowed. I’ve had great losses, and uncured massive growth. I’ve been learning to take each loss as a lesson, a chance to take in something new. I am also learning new ways to cope, and healthy ways to move forward with my life.
I consider myself deeply lucky to have been given the gift that we call schizophrenia.
The stress of the condition is major, can be deeply distressing, and creates a much harder life to live. But nothing would be worth enough to trade what I consider to be one of the most unique perspectives of this world.
I have schizophrenia—but I don’t think I’m Jesus, and I don’t believe I can fly.
I will start by eliminating one of the most incorrect stigmas about my condition: I do not have several personalities. This is a completely different disorder called Dissociation Identity Disorder (DID), otherwise known as split or multiple personality disorder.
Schizophrenia’s biggest characteristic, for me, is that I can have visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), tactile (feeling), tasting, and olfactory (smelling) feelings about things, people, and/or objects that only exist to me.
These hallucinations are as real to me as the computer screen you’re reading this on, the smell of your supper cooking in the kitchen, the feel of the clothes on your skin, and the click of your mouse as you scroll. These hallucinations are only the tip of the iceberg of symptoms that I deal with on a daily basis.
I have severe delusions that affect my daily life, ranging from “Has my wife poisoned my supper?” to “That man is plotting to torture me.”
These symptoms still happen daily, even with 29 years of questioning everything and everybody in my life.
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder. It is a physical illness that presents as a mental health condition. Being on this path was not the result of choices I had made; I was born with it, and I will die with it. The symptoms will never go away, and I will never live a moment in my life where it does not affect me.
On a daily basis, I deal with social anxiety, general anxiety, paranoia, depression, stuttering, tics, being unable to speak normally, being unable to connect my thoughts to form sentences, having a short-term memory, and not fulling understanding facial expressions and social norms.
All these things make my life a constant bucket of stress. And it’s not that I can’t deal with stress like others do; in fact, because of this disease, I deal with stress better than most. The difference is, I deal with an enormous amount of it, which makes normal activities like having a job or walking to the store just that much harder.
When I was a young child, instead of learning how to socialize using imaginary friends, I was learning how to tell the difference between best friends who were standing next to me in reality, and which ones were imaginary. When I was in elementary school and should have been learning common social behaviors and how to socialize with other children, I was learning that it wasn’t acceptable to “tell stories”—that to me, weren’t stories at all.
In high school, where I should have been studying, learning how to adapt to changing environments, and getting to know myself, I was still learning how to figure out who was real and who was not.
When I graduated and left home for the first time, instead of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and who I wanted to be, I was learning how to deal with voices that told me to die, that I wasn’t worth anything, and that I was ugly. Or to deal with feeling a hand on my back when no one was home. How to handle my severe fear that I had done something wrong, that the government was after me, that there were tracking chips installed in my body, and that no matter where I went, I could not hide from the people who were always watching and following me.
When I turned 20 and should have been out with friends, going to parties, and having a young adulthood, I was put into an institution and given drugs that made me feel like I was a zombie.
This did not make the images, voices, delusions, and lack of any real cognitive function go away.
I spent the next 10 years in and out of clinical insanity and on and off different medications that did everything from make me gain 170 pounds, to make me an insomniac, to make me do nothing but sleep. I went in and out of more jobs than I can remember, trying so desperately to be “normal,” to exist in a world that I am only partially equipped for.
I would never expect anyone to fully understand my life, or my experiences.
The simplest way I have figured out how to explain my disease is that my brain is just not wired the same way. I am not aggressive or violent, no matter what state I’m in. From the perspective of general society, perhaps I’m viewed as “different.” But this is nothing more than a judgment from a passerby.
All I ask, before you judge me or the way I am, is to respect that I am Jake Patterson and I am a human being. I am only trying to survive, just like everyone else.
My goal with this article, and in my life, is to normalize mental and emotional health. To speak out about depression, anxiety, grief, and pain, and how large an affect they have on our ability to feel and express other emotions, like happiness, joy, and excitement. These are all states of mind that move through us. We have no control over our emotions, what we feel, how, and when. What we can control is how these states affect our actions, intents, goals, and dreams.
For those who are living with a disease like mine, know this: we are more than our mental health.
We are bigger than our losses and stronger than our lowest points. As we allow our pain to flow through our creative endeavors, compassion and love for ourselves and for others grows.
Everyone’s battle is different, but we are all equal. My battle with schizophrenia is no harder than someone else’s battle with depression. The intensity may be different, but the core strength it takes to overcome it is the same.
Share your story. Share your vibe. And own yourself for everything you are. Become who you needed when you were a child. Your people, your tribe will accept you as you as are.