My family has a long history of mental illness. You name it, someone has probably had it; bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia have all made appearances. Those first two, while often stigmatized, are also often easier to hide. Schizophrenia not so much.
My father’s family is loud and boisterous. When all the siblings are together, it sounds as though the circus has come to town. They all talk over each other, all of them except my Uncle Danny. I remember him being the quiet one. Always watching, chiming in from time to time, but generally sitting off to himself. It was only when I was in high school that I learned Danny was a paranoid schizophrenic and tended to be quieter than the rest because of the medications he was on.
Over the years I’ve become closer to Danny and have learned more about his life. I’ve witnessed moments when the delusions seemed to be too much for him. When I still lived at home I remember taking phone calls from Danny; he’d ask for one of my parents because the “voices” were getting loud again. They’d often be telling him what he called “bad things”. Uncle Danny has agreed to share his story with me as part of our series “Making Sense of Mental Health” as well as some of his writings.
Today I started out slow and easy.
I took one little step after another.
I kept walking out farther and farther,
Walking, step by step,
Cautiously and carefully
Faster, then slower
Before I knew it, in just a short time,
I had walked for an eternity.
Myself, someone who was formed and shaped and molded
From the cross of suffering and the trials of adversity
Myself, a complex, manysided, uncut diamond.
Someone who lives life walking on a tightrope
And at times has intense tidal waves of thoughts and emotions
Myself, who is searching for identity, reality and the shield of truth.
Someone who is guided by HIS spirit
And is made strong, wise and noble by the lessons of HIS life.
Myself who is forever a child and yet a man.
Someone who has come out of the darkness into eternal light.
Myself who has sailed on seas of tempest and calm and risen
To heights of victory and glory.
Someone who has explored different paths and found myself
And seen the nakedness of my own soul.
Myself who has touched the wonderful mystery of GOD
And beheld the PRECIOUS SON OF GOD.
Writings from my Uncle Danny. Danny has found solace in religion and partially credits his belief for his ability to live as close to a normal life as he can. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic more than thirty years ago.
UAB’s Dr. Jackie Feldman is a psychiatrist who counsels people living with schizophrenia. She says while researchers know the illness is passed down through families — there’s still more we don’t know than do about the illness and its genetics.
Medication is a big issue surrounding schizophrenia — most notably the idea of forced medicating. Schizophrenics, like many people who need medication for the majority of their lives, tend to go off their meds at a high rate. Feldman says even with newer drugs that have less severe side affects between 65% and 85% of schizophrenics go off their meds at one time or another.