I cannot live in fear anymore . . .
My name is Cecilia McGough, and I have a severe case of schizoaffective disorder depressive type (schizophrenia + depression).
Today, I have returned from my second hospitalization this year. This is a condition that I have been struggling with all of my life but has worsen exponentially since junior year of high school. In result, I have become reclusive. I have lost “friends,” opportunities, my confidence, but most of all time. Not five minutes go by without me being aware of my affliction. I cared too much of what other people might think as if having schizoaffective disorder was in anyway my fault. I am not making my illness public for any sort of attention or sympathy. Hiding my illness has become more difficult as of late, and I am tired of lying and going in extreme measures for people to not find out. I am not going to let my illness define me or run my life anymore. It is time for me to be me again. I am proud of who I am, for not giving up, and of what I have accomplished with this life crippling illness. This writing, however, is about me taking ownership of my life back.
“The schizophrenic mind is not so much split as shattered. I like to say schizophrenia is like a waking nightmare.”–Elyn Saks
I have been dealing with symptoms of schizophrenia for as long as I remember. Until I was about eleven, all I saw was this shadowy figure at night, “Mr. Blob Man.” At eleven, I started having panic attacks and severe depression, and I was thirteen when I started hearing whispers that were not there. During this time, I had stressors such as my parents separating, changing schools, and even living in a homeless/domestic abuse shelter for the beginning of my freshman year of high school.
The voices started out as just whispers, and I could not really tell what they were saying. It was like static and noise you get when your radio is getting reception from two different radio stations. I somehow thought this was normal, and I continued on with my life.
By junior year of high school, the before whispers in my head became this dominant middle aged girl who would yell hurtful things to me like, “just die already,” “you cannot do that,” “you are stupid–stupid ” and more harsh of things. Again, I did not think much of this. I suspected that I was depressed, and I saw a doctor for depression, vocal cord dysfunction, and acid reflux. I did not say anything about the voices. I thought that everyone had this; I was not any different.
Nonetheless, I did not let this hinder me. I applied myself to academics, and I excelled in astrophysics: the pulsar discovery and the International Space Olympics. School was going wonderful. In the wake of an abusive home situation and medical problems, academics was the one thing in my life that I could control, so I applied my whole self to it. I do regret, however, that I shut myself away from my family especially my sisters in their times of need. I think that it was a way of me trying to protect myself from not being hurt. I would often hide myself away when I heard fighting so that I would not be triggered to have an episode. I would sometimes hide away under a cramped little space under a table in our storage room, or I would blast P!NK as loud as I could to drowned out the voices. I even eventually during senior year of high school cut my hair short and bleached it like P!NK’s. I still have trouble communicating with my family because they trigger the symptoms. This is something that I hope would go away with time.
“Change the voices in your head. Make them like you instead.”–P!NK
Junior year was when I started seeing things that were not there. I loved camping with Venture Crew 247. Venture Crew is a high adventure, coed branch of the Boy Scouts of America for youth members ranging from thirteen to twenty-one. I was president at the time, but it came to where I got too scared to really want to camp or go out in the woods especially at night. It started out just shadowy figures from the corner of my eye, then I started seeing It. Yes, I literally started seeing “It” ; a clown like figure that closely resembled the clown from Steven King’s It. He would not talk much, just giggle and taunt. At the beginning, I only saw him at night when it was dark. His white death like skin would glow in the darkness. He became more active as time went on.
I did not have much support. I finally got the courage to tell my boyfriend at the time what was going on. He laughed at me. He had never seen the movie It. He looked it up and laughed that I would see such a thing that he found more funny than scary. I also told my mom. My dad is a flight attendant, so when he was not home, she let me sleep in her bed at night with her. I was instructed though not to tell anyone about the hallucinations. This was an instruction that I brought with me all the way until second semester of college.
I understand why my parents thought it best not to tell anybody about my condition. They thought that people would think that I was “crazy,” “dangerous,” and that “I wouldn’t get a job” if I told anyone which is a bunch of hogwash. I learned later that in the profession that I am seeking (being a professor) that it would be discrimination if my schizoaffective disorder was the reason that I was not employed. This fear and misunderstanding resulted in years of not being treated. Regardless, living a life with schizophrenia is not worth it and unhealthy. Seek help.
It was senior year of high school that things started to really go down hill. This was probably because of the stress of college applications and disappointment of SAT and ACT scores. This is where I noticed that my thoughts were becoming more and more difficult to organize. I would try to speak, and “kaboom” my thoughts would go everywhere. I would have a difficult time defining them. I also started seeing this other figure as well. It was deathly white with a cloak made out of crow feathers. It had long fingernails that curled, and it was completely bald with a pointy nose. At the time, I was very religious and convinced that it was a devil or something and that I was possessed or being punished. Now, I am very ashamed of my past archaic beliefs and my lack of knowledge of mental illness. I did not see that figure for very long, and it never talked. It was the first to ever interact with me though. One day, this crow cloaked figure was gone–maybe for forever. The girl (audio hallucinations) and the clown (visual and audio hallucinations) continued.
I graduated high school, and then I entered Penn State Schreyer Honors College. I was ready to go. I was still not treated for schizoaffective disorder. I struggled through the first semester. Second semester, I got into a bad place. It became impossible to work. Whenever the girl would talk to me, sharp pains in my chest and thighs would start. I started seeing the clown all the time now, and he would interact with me and the surroundings. It did not matter if it was night or day or if I was stressed or happy. When I walked in crowds, I would see seas of imaginary people and objects flying about, and the world sometimes seemed to be spinning. It became unbearable.
“All sorts of very accomplished artists over the years who have turned out to be schizophrenic, and schizophrenia is not what made their creativity possible. Schizophrenia is what destroyed their careers.” — Dr. Robert Sapolsky
I closed myself off from everyone. I stopped talking to my family. I would go days not eating and just hiding in my bed not going to classes. I was too scared to go to class. I ended up dropping the semester for medical leave.
During the summer after freshman year and the beginning of fall semester of sophomore year, the hallucinations became worse. The girl’s voice became louder than the voices of real people talking to me.
Fall semester of sophomore year became a nightmare. I did not understand how someone so highly functional could just fall to pieces like this. I encourage all those who have a mental illness to seek treatment. There is help out there. Quit the suffering.
Because of my hospitalization and out patient care, I had to take another semester off of school as a medical leave. I am so thankful for all the support from Penn State University and the Schreyer Honors College during this time for not giving up on me.
It was a roller coaster ride throughout the process of trying different medications. Some made my blood pressure drop scary low and had liquid coming out of my ears. Others made me throw up every day. Others made me restless and always want to move around. Others made me very, very sad all the time. Others made me gain weight.
During this time, the color of the hair of the clown would change from red to green to yellow dependent on what medication that I was on. I even saw a giant hairy spider for a time while in the hospital, then I saw this yellow smooth spider that had a child’s giggle when it scampered. The scariest for me though was when I saw the girl for the first time. She was blueish white with long dark uncombed hair. She was wearing a hospital gown. She looked like a drowning victim. Unlike the clown who bounced around in front of me while I walked, she walked beside me but a little behind me as well. What scared me the most was that I would sometimes give her sidewalk space when we were walking around. She held two things: a teddy bear from my past, Brown Bear with Two Shiny Buttons, and a long sharp knife. I finally realized what those sharp pains in my chest and thighs were from; they were from the girl stabbing me. She still stabs me, sometimes in the face. Both the clown and the girl are very against me taking medication. They say that it would not work and that they would never go away. To try to convince me, the clown even took off his makeup and looked like a sad old man. They were both such sad beings. In a way, was I looking at myself?
I am proud to say, that I ignored them and that I was strong. After my second hospital stay, I am currently on a medicine that is finally working. I do not see the girl or the clown everyday anymore. These days of clarity and peace have given me hope. I am still on a very low dose of this medicine, and we are walking it up to a larger dose. Even if I may never get rid of my hallucinations completely, I am confident that I can lead a highly functional and happy life due to medical help, therapy, and the support from the people around me. I encourage people like me to seek out people that you can trust. Do not suffer with this alone. Also, get medical help. There are so many resources out there and people willing to help.
Do not live your life in fear. Get Help.