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An Excerpt From My Memoir
by Robin Cunningham for the HealthCentral Network
The perspectives I can provide on schizophrenia are not those of a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed clinical social worker, but rather those of a consumer and a family member. I have walked the walk on both sides of the street. As such, I can speak with experiential authority. It is my objective to share with you, as best I can, what my experience with schizophrenia has been like on a day to day basis, i.e., to compare notes with you. I will also make observations about being a family member and advocate based on my own experience. Any observations or comments you choose to make in return will be of great value.
In this blog, I'm going to present an abridged excerpt from my upcoming memoir "One Mind Two Worlds" along with commentary. The narrative prior to the excerpt is to set the scene. In my closing observations, I will indicate what I believe to be the significance of the events described.
* * *
The first symptoms of schizophrenia I experienced were thought insertions.
Raised in a fundamentalist religious sect, I had been taught all my life that Satan was after me, was clever and ruthless, and I had to be forever vigilant. It was, therefore, no great surprise when he first inserted blasphemous thoughts into my mind using my own voice. I was stunned, however, when my family tried to convince me I was mentally ill and needed treatment. I was greatly offended. Their suggestions terrified me. Severe bouts of anxiety soon followed.
From the outset I also experienced anosognosia and soon became delusional. I did not believe I was ill, but rather under siege by Satan because God had given me a sacred mission that would save the universe.
Within a week I found myself in a private psychiatric hospital. I vowed to refuse all treatment.
The following abridged excerpt recreates my first encounter while in the hospital with my psychiatrist and shortly after an agonizing bout of anxiety.
"Your nurse, Beth, told me that things got a little rough this morning." Dr. Levy said.
I did not respond.
"Is Satan still putting thoughts directly into your mind?"
"Beth says you left us for about an hour, that you turned completely inward. She was worried about you."
"She doesn't understand."
"No. I suppose not. But then, she didn't do anything to make matters worse, did she?"
"Well, that's good. And you're right. She doesn't understand what you were going through. Perhaps she never will. But that's not surprising. Not many people do, you know."
"But you understand, don't you."
"Perhaps I do, at least more than some."
Dr. Levy was being modest. I knew intuitively that he somehow fully appreciated the nature of my terror.
"How is it that you understand when no one else does?"
"Well, I've been at this for a long time."
Neither of us spoke for several minutes.
"Well, if there's anything you need, just let Beth know, and we'll take care of it."
Dr. Levy got up to leave.
"Does everyone think I'm sick?"
"Does it matter?" He asked, sitting down again.
"Then why do you ask?"
"You told my mother when we were in your office that you had treated my Uncle Walt and Aunt Mildred for a while. Were they sick?"
"Why do you ask about them?"
"I'm not sick. It would be a mistake for anyone to think that I am."
"Why does that concern you?"
"I don't want to end up in the state hospital like they did. I've visited my aunt there. It's a horrible place."
"Why did it seem so horrible?"
"It was full of really strange people. They scared me. They didn't know what they were doing."
"I can see where that must have been frightening. But you don't have to worry. You're not going to end up at Eastern State. I promise. You and I'll make sure of it."
"Good. It wouldn't be right."
We sat in silence for several minutes.
"Well, I have to get back to my office," Dr. Levy finally said.
Again, he got up to go.
"Do you think I'm sick?"
"You've told me that you're not. That's good enough for now."
The significance of this pivotal conversation with Dr. Levy was his unconditional acceptance of me and what I perceived to be my circumstances. Dr. Levy was the only one that didn't insist I was mentally ill, didn't immediately challenge my delusions, didn't try to tell me he knew more than I about what was happening to me, didn't make demands upon me I could not fulfill, and didn't lay a guilt trip on me. In other words, he treated me with respect. This cemented our relationship from the outset and initiated a foundation of trust which enabled me to take the medicines he prescribed and embrace his many suggestions, including effective coping mechanisms.
Reprinted with permission from HealthCentral's Schizophrenia Connection at www.schizophreniaconnection.com