I was sitting in front of a young researcher in a small unimpressive room in McLean hospital. I volunteered to be there, to spend three hours being part of her research. I had been there before as a research subject. This time, I played computer games. I did memory tests. I filled out self assessments. At the end, she interviewed me. When I said that I lived on my own, she sounded surprised. When I said that I own my apartment, she asked me if anyone had helped me. I smiled and said no. When I told her that I had always worked full-time, she sounded impressed. “You are doing really well!” I thanked her. When I meet people who know me first as a schizophrenic, I always did so much better than expected.
I had my first psychosis at age of thirty. First, I became hypersensitive to my surroundings, had confused thoughts, then heard my first voice. The “young man” first talked to me for 10 minutes. Then by the end of my full psychosis, he was speaking to me nonstop. The constant talking and not being able to sleep finally broke me. Thoughts were racing; I could not talk. I called a friend in the middle of the night and he took me to see a doctor. Luckily for me, I was prescribed Zyprexa, which was able to suppress my voices and hypersensitivity right away. After missing a few days, I went right back to work.
Life appeared to be back to normal. The medication, however, could not erase the experience that I had and remembered in pieces. When I was alone at home, not at work nor with friends, I would struggle in private. I tried to remember. I asked myself, again and again, what happened. I wanted to find out the truth. I did hear from someone. I did notice weirdness on the street. I knew what I heard and felt. My experience was very real to me. I could not forget.
For the next six years, I lived in two different worlds: normal and private. In my normal life, I was working hard, living independently, traveling the world, and surrounded by friends and family. In my private world, I tried to trace my steps leading up to the day that I could not talk anymore. I did not talk to anyone about what was deeply in my mind. I was very alone in this private mental world.
At the end of the six years, I had a second major psychosis and ended up in McLean. For the first time, at the inpatient unit, someone was interested in talking to me about my private world. A team of doctors and nurses talked to me every morning. They probed and listened. The doctors gave subtle and gentle advices for two weeks. I finally made the connection that I was the only person who heard what I heard. To make a further connection, that my brain created that “young man” and many other experiences. Making a even further leap, the little white pill could alter my brain!
Looking back at my journey, I am very grateful that I am where I am today. By the time I was thirty, I was already a grown-up with known personality and stable life habits. Being treated at McLean was the turning point for me to become aware of what I really have. I was able to fully merge my two worlds into one. Now I can speak clearly with my friends and family about schizophrenia. I look for ways to help, such as participating in research.
After the research was done at McLean, on my way home, I felt the same conflicted feelings that I had before. Even though I was able to merge my two worlds, I am not sure if the world is. I am thankful for the life that I have as a schizophrenic. At the same time, I want to work towards living a even fuller life. I don’t want to be complacent; I don’t want schizophrenia to be a crutch. I work hard and want to be better at what I do. I am diligent about paying down my mortgage and saving for raining days and retirement. I treasure and keep up my relationships with my friends. I hope to stay healthy and hope to practice yoga and run more often. I want to see Africa, South East Asia, and many other interesting places in the world. Most of all, I want to make the world a little bit better, even as a schizophrenic.
Writer’s Note: This was submitted to and passed by the NYTimes. My first try and rejection from NYT. If you are a NYT reader and have suggestions for my next try, please comment below! Looking forward to many more rejections that lead to successes!