If you have ever wondered what it’s like to live in an alternate reality, then you have imagined my entire life. In 2018, I was diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia.
Based on my earliest memories, hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre thinking have always influenced the way I see the world. My condition has grown with me, and it has shaped the trajectory of my life.
Without my schizophrenia, I would not be the person I am today. Although my experience has often been harrowing, I am grateful for the life I have lived and the chance it has given me to give back to others.
You may think that it would be obvious to an adult that a child is experiencing psychosis. However, even though I often exhibited strange behaviors and struggled socially, I never got help from the adults around me for these issues. I would try to explain what was going on in my head, but the adults brushed off my experiences.
I realized I was psychotic at the age of 14. By then, I had been hearing voices daily for several years and was having regular visual hallucinations.
I would get up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to do homework, walking down a private staircase to the library of the house I was staying in, and I would experience visual hallucinations that tipped me off as to what was going on.
I would see animals — birds, dogs, and giant spiders that would appear and disappear without a trace — but I knew that they could not be real.
You may be wondering why I did not seek help at this point. After all, if you knew you were hallucinating, wouldn’t seeking medical attention be the obvious thing to do?
By now, my concerns regarding my psychotic experiences had been disregarded so many times, and people had so often mocked me for my symptoms that it felt dangerous for anyone to know. I did not believe that anyone in my life would help me. I resolved to wait until adulthood to get help.
It was a Tuesday during the fall of my sophomore year of university, and I was not doing well. I had been studying for a week for an organic chemistry exam, but nothing seemed to stick. Everything was falling out of my brain straight after going in.
I had recently had a falling out with a friend, and my voice hallucinations were becoming frightening. My therapist suggested that I make an appointment with the school psychiatry office, and I finally obliged.
Leaving therapy, I stumbled across the quad to my elementary statistics class. The professor’s voice seemed to echo as I sat at my computer, staring at a blank page. Then, reality cut in half, and I had a frightening out-of-body experience.
After class, I sent a desperate text to my only friend, telling her that she needed to meet me right away. I lost the ability to speak, only making monosyllabic noises. I also began scribbling nonsensical things in a journal. My friend called campus 911, and they took us to the local emergency room.
My parents drove to my university that night. I was not admitted to the psychiatric ward, but I was released into their care after nearly 9 hours in the emergency room. My parents were hoping, my mother especially, that I would return to the Rose they previously knew, but I would not. Something in my brain had fundamentally changed that evening.
I struggled through a couple more semesters as a part-time student with full-blown schizophrenia but eventually left the university on medical leave. It was devastating, but the loss ended up being my new beginning.
I found my current therapist, Ms. B, whom I truly owe for getting me where I am today. I went through rehabilitation therapy, learning how to read again and gaining social skills.
Losing the ability to read was one of the hardest aspects of my schizophrenia. I went from having a college reading level in middle school to being unable to read a single sentence.
I could not stay focused or process the words. They would just become mental mush.
To rebuild my mental abilities, I spent hours every day for months listening to audiobooks, mostly on abnormal psychology. Eventually, I switched to hardcovers. It took me a month to get through my first one — a short pop psychology book — but I persisted. Within a year, I went from not being able to read to reading Chaucer in Middle English.
Another big part of schizophrenia treatment is learning how to reframe and change how you react to your hallucinations.
In therapy, I learned to stop reacting with fear and to stop fighting the hallucinations. To just acknowledge them and move on. To realize that they hold no power over me.
As I have developed this skill, my hallucinations have become less frequent and more pleasant. This attitude adjustment toward hallucinations has been a major factor in my functional recovery.
Returning to university was challenging, but my path quickly materialized. I began working on my Instagram account and connected with Executive Officer Cecilia McGough of the NGO known as Students With Psychosis (SWP). She offered me a position at SWP, where I currently serve on the Executive Board.
I both serve the psychosis community and draw strength from it. I am heading to graduate school to get my Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling so that I can be a peer-professional therapist for people with psychosis.
I plan to continue advocating for the community for years to come. It is still challenging at times, but after going through therapy and learning the skills to handle my symptoms, I feel ready to face whatever comes.
Schizophrenia shaped my brain and my life, but it certainly did not destroy them. I have achieved with my schizophrenic brain, not in spite of it.
Rose Parker is a blogger, student, and psychosis advocate. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with academic honors and is pursuing a Master’s in Clinical Mental Counseling. She currently serves on the Executive Board at the NGO Students With Psychosis and runs the psychoeducation Instagram page and podcast PsychosisPsositivity. Rose hopes to improve the lives of people with psychosis and their families through education.