My mother remembers it clearly.
I was unconscious at the time, so I cannot recall the details of what happened. I only remember the point of impact as my body collided with the car, a hellish scream emanating from my throat as I faced certain death. Then, according to my mother, my body flew about fifteen feet into the air, only to be hit by four more cars on the way down.
The rationale behind my suicide attempt was simple: for three days I had not been able to sleep because of massive hallucinations, both auditory and visual, which caused a psychotic reaction that drove me to run out of my mother’s car into oncoming traffic on Interstate-5.
Although many people are familiar with schizophrenia, not many people have heard of schizoaffective disorder, which lies on what mental health professionals call the schizophrenic spectrum. Schizoaffective disorder affects about 0.5 to 0.8 percent of the population, compared to one percent for schizophrenia. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), a person can be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when two of the following symptoms are present:
- Disorganized Speech
- Grossly Disorganized Behavior (crying frequently, dressing inappropriately)
- Lack or decline of emotional response, lack in motivation, social withdrawal
My struggle with schizoaffective disorder began in my early twenties, when most people with the disease begin to manifest their symptoms. The symptoms I experienced then were rather nebulous, which made it difficult for me to accept that I had a specific mental illness. I only knew that something was wrong and that it was not getting any better. I experienced bouts of delusional behavior and some hallucinations. For example, I thought the movie, “Fight Club”, was speaking directly to my life at the time. In addition, I suffered from severe anxiety that only got worse with time.
For about eleven years I wandered through my life experiences as if I were a zombie. Though I was able to hold down jobs and function at a bare minimum level, I was severely limited in my ability to grow as an individual during a critical period of adulthood. In addition, many of my friends from high school and college went on to becoming employed and married, but I was stuck working for my family and unable to foster relationships with people in a meaningful way. My symptoms only got worse over the years, which culminated in the psychotic episode mentioned earlier.
In some ways, my psychotic episode was more of a blessing than a bane. It clarified my symptoms enough to become diagnosed, and was a loud wake-up call for not only myself but my family, too. When I had tried to express to my family that something was wrong (before my psychotic episode), they dismissed it and said I was fine. After the episode, however, my family realized that something was indeed wrong, and fully supported the recovery process.
It also helped me and my family to understand the importance of taking medications regularly. When I was hospitalized after my suicide attempt, the psychiatrist put me on a regimen of medications that slowly, but surely, improved my condition – eventually, beyond my best expectations. Though the progress was slow, and at times non-existent, over time I began to feel the benefits of taking medication.
It took about four or five months before I experienced significant improvements in all areas of my life. I began to socialize with people without anxiety. With a few minor exceptions, I experienced no hallucinations or delusions. Life had changed so dramatically that I finished graduate school at UW for a Masters in Korean Studies, a feat that I probably would not have been able to accomplish beforehand. Most importantly, though, I began to feel happier and more fulfilled in life, which came as a natural result of therapy, spiritual direction, and support from my family.
This story would not be complete without mentioning God’s influence in my life. I truly believe that without God, I would be a dead man. It would have been impossible for me to survive my psychotic episode without divine intervention. Now I am truly blessed and can envision a future that transcends the limitations that had formerly restricted me.
This story is not just about me. It’s about all people suffering from mental illness in some way or other. For those suffering from mental illness, I offer the following words of encouragement:
•If you have not sought help already, find a therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional as soon as possible. And stick with it. They will start the road of recovery for you and eventually change your life around.
•Take your medications. Though progress may seem non-existent, over time you will find peace in your life as a result of having taken them. If a medication doesn’t work for you, be persistent enough to experiment with others (with doctor’s supervision). It took me several years to find the right meds, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
It’s possible to lead a fulfilling life with a mental illness. It just takes some time, persistence, and a spiritual foundation. It’s my hope that my story will help others with mental illnesses to take the necessary steps to overcome their illness. Hopefully, over time our society will develop even more effective measures to counteract or cure mental illnesses. Until then, we can continue to hope and have faith.