Blog: Stress and the Epidemic of Schizophrenia

Trigger warning: schizophrenia and suicide

I hate the 4thof July, I’m sorry, but I do, I hate it. 

I have had pets all my life—they have served as my companions and my therapy for as long as I can remember—and every year I dread this day. When there will be loud noises in the sky that will terrify my animals, and me. 

I have paranoid schizophrenia. Loud noises are very difficult for me; they always have been. My stepfather used to scream at my mother, and that’s part of it. The other part is that as someone who visually and audibly hallucinates, surprise noises scare me because I don’t always know if other people can hear them, or it’s just me. I can go to concerts, because I’m expecting it to be loud. Same thing with car races, but I will admit when the cars backfires I panic. Imagine being someone who sees and hears things that no one else can hear, and having to endure random pops in the sky, over and over again, for days. Now imagine being a dog. Imagine having amplified hearing and having to go through that. 

Everyone kept asking me, “What are you doing for 4thof July?” and I kept saying, “Nothing, I have pets. People with pets don’t have the luxury of celebrating the 4th.” And everyone looked at me like I was being funny or something. 

Thursday, on American Independence Day, I was by myself, watching two dogs and my cat, Ronan. The fireworks were popping off, and I was sitting there with my eyes closed, my heart beating so fast, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, when I realized the dogs were freaking out. I mean freaking out. They jumped in my lap; they were shaking. Ronan was fine; he fell asleep. I was texting my boyfriend, who was home with his dogs; he told me that it was going to be okay. I gave them some anxiety medicine and covered them with their favorite blanket, a Lion King one, but it did not help. I sat there for hours, just, frozen. I didn’t know what to do; I wanted the dogs to be okay and I wanted to be okay. Thanks to anti-psychotic medication and my sleep aid, I eventually fell asleep, and found them wrapped up in their blanket the next morning. 

I had to go to work, so I went. It was Friday. Usually I stay at my boyfriend’s house on Fridays, but I had a bad feeling that the fireworks were going to be worse that night, so I went home. First came the earthquake. It was a 7.1 on the Richter scale, the biggest earthquake in California in decades. Usually, I’m okay with earthquakes—as a Californian I’m used to them and understand that most of the buildings are rated to withstand them—but I was by myself and already on edge. The fireworks started five minutes later, and it was the same thing. I took my regular anti-psychotic plus a supplemental med for stressful situations, as approved by my doctor. Ten minutes later, my boyfriend called me, on his way home from work. When he got close to his house, he told me that there was a dog on the side of the road. The dog had been hit by a car. He hung up in a panic. Five minutes passed, and he called me back. The dog was one of his dogs. He has three. Two of them dug a hole underneath the fence in a panic due to the fireworks. One got hit and had a broken leg, and the other was missing. His dad came, and they took the dog who was hit, to the vet. The vet told him that his injuries were much worse than he initially thought. As a senior dog, it was unlikely he would survive the surgery. If he did, he would need several more. My boyfriend, the doggiest dog person ever, put his dog of eleven years to sleep. While all of this was happening, I lay in bed, waiting for his call, as I had already taken my medication and couldn’t drive (we live over 50 miles apart). I called one of his best friends and asked him to go over there and help him find the missing dog. My thought was, my God I hope he doesn’t die, and then my logical brain was like, it’s just a broken leg, he will be fine. If you’ve never taken anti-psychotic medication, it is like you haven’t slept in a week and feel like you’re going to throw up if you don’t sleep. I took extra meds, so there was no way I would have survived until 1 AM when my boyfriend called me to tell me his sweet boy had died. I fell asleep around 11 and woke up at 4:30 AM in a panic. I had placed the phone by my ear and set three alarms so I would wake up, but anti-psychotic medication doesn’t care. That’s not how it works. You wake up when you wake up. My dad has to wake me up for work all the time. When I saw that my boyfriend had called me six times and left me a voice mail, I felt like the worst piece of shit that ever lived. I wanted to die. I thought of ending it right there. Here was a man, who is always, always there for me, and it’s the worst night of his life, and the one person he is supposed to count on is fucking sleeping. Of course, he wasn’t mad; he understands it. He gets it. He’s one of the only people who gets it. I was crying, and he said it was okay, and I told him I was on my way. There was a drunk person on the freeway; they almost hit me like three times. Fireworks and drunk drivers. People just have no idea. 

So, I got there, and he obviously had not slept, and I hugged him and told him I was so sorry. He had his shoes on so we could go look for Roscoe, his missing dog. We looked in the area for two hours.  We didn’t find him, so we went to the shelter. We spent some time there looking in every kennel, but he wasn’t there either. I went back to my house to print out some flyers and came back. We looked some more before it was dark, but there was no sign of him. It was Saturday night. There were more fireworks. We went to Target to get ice cream. On our way back, we saw animal control, and a dog laying on the ground, unmoving. I turned the car around and told him to go. He rushed out of the car, towards the flashing lights. I parked the car and ran to him. It wasn’t Roscoe. 

We had plans to return to the shelter the next morning. 

I woke up this morning, Sunday, instinctively saying to my boyfriend, “I love you,” and nestled up to him. It was around 6 AM. Not five seconds later, his phone rang. His close friend had spotted a dog who looked like Roscoe. He was scared and running. We jumped out of bed to put shoes on and ran to the car. We saw his friend who was outside on the phone, talking to us, and he pointed. We drove, and saw a dog running like the wind down a sidewalk. He is a dachshund; he has short legs but man can this dog run. He turned left, and so did we, in the car. My boyfriend slammed the car in park and got out of the car, calling his name. Roscoe leaped into his arms. In an effort to respect my boyfriend’s privacy, I will not describe what happened next, but it’s something that made me cry and also something I could not describe with words even if I tried. Needless to say, Roscoe is home, sleeping. At first, he wouldn’t sleep in the bed because when Vince, the dog who passed away, was here, he always slept in the bed. Though there was room for both of them, Vince liked to stretch out, and Roscoe always slept on the floor. He didn’t mind. My boyfriend gave him Vince’s collar to sniff, and he was just so sad. I’ve never seen a dog cry but in that moment I swear he did. Now, he is in the bed, with his blanket, kicking his little legs. I like to think he is dreaming of running free with his best bud. I told him today that Vince was in heaven getting into mischief and pooping in everybody’s shoes. 

This afternoon, I lost my shit. I missed my damn homework; I just completely forgot about it in the midst of all this. So, I did that and emailed my instructor with an excuse of why it was late. I needed to take a shower, clean the house. But I couldn’t. I just buried my head in a pillow and cried. I was hearing my lovely voice who likes to tell me that I am useless and everyone hates me, including my boyfriend. The voice told me that my boyfriend blames me that this happened, because I wasn’t there, and that I should kill myself because he’s going to leave me anyway. I went outside and chilled with my buddy Kona, who is another of my boyfriend’s dogs. He is a natural ginger like me, so we are best buds. 

I came back in and started cleaning. I didn’t want to; it was so hard, I just wanted to lay down. But I just got done telling my doctor last week that I need to try to not shut down when I’m depressed; this is a personal choice, I understand that this is not the same for everyone and in no way am I saying laying down when you’re feeling this way is a bad thing, it’s just a bad thing for me specifically. I cleaned some shit. My boyfriend went out to catch PokeMANs as he calls them, so I stayed behind to watch Roscoe. He’s a chill dog, unless there’s food. He steals everybody’s food; hence the name Roscoe, like Rascal. I cleaned like, a corner, and was like, fuck it, and sat down to write this. 

I received a notification on my phone that someone was having a hard time. A schizophrenic (please do not comment on this to try to bully me into saying “person with schizophrenia”, I know how you feel; both my friend and myself identify this way and it is our choice, please respect it) who is close to me (emotionally, not physically) has a lot going on. Stress can be a huge trigger for people with schizophrenia (there, I did it), as evidenced by the last few days. I talked to him, helped him cope and gave him a few things to do. He seems okay now; I’m texting him and we are talking about sharp cheddar cheese and Crash Bandicoot. I reached out to some people; I’ve got them on call if he needs us. I just feel so powerless. What else can I do? There are millions of people around the world living with mental illness and society thinks that we are either dangerous or just looking for attention. They think we don’t need medication; they think someone should lock us in a hospital and leave us to die. They think there are much less of us than there actually are. 

Look, bro. I have a job. I pay rent. I have a cat. I play video games. I read books, I watch TV. I have social media accounts and I shop on Amazon. On the exterior, I’m not that different than you. In fact, people tell me “you don’t look schizophrenic” all the damn time, whatever that means. And even though I hear voices and see things and have depression and anxiety, I still deserve kindness and inclusiveness and for people to stop looking at me like an alien as soon as I say I’m schizophrenic. We just…we need to do better. There are people like me and my friend who struggle sometimes; it’s hard when you are depressed and also hallucinating and you don’t know what or who to trust. And as friends, what are we supposed to do? What am I supposed to do when I have someone across the country struggling? I don’t know anyone there. I can call all my friends and tell them our friend needs us. We all have our phones and are gonna stay up all night because we have been there and we know how it is. But what else can I do? I can’t send him to the emergency room; the last person I sent to the emergency room got sent away because he wasn’t “depressed enough”. It’s Sunday; there are no doctors available. I sure as hell can’t call the cops to get him somewhere they can help him; my friend is black. If he gets scared and resists—a natural reaction to a schizophrenic, to always be scared—they’ll shoot him. A cop on the force for 11 years, reported as saying “I’m here to kick ass and take names,” according to Vox, shot an 18-year-old with schizophrenia. 18 years old. He died. A mother is left without her 18-year-old son, which could be due to a lack of training, but, “I don’t have time for this shit,” tells a different story. Let’s give the cop the benefit of the doubt though. He has a lack of training. Okay, who addresses that? Not the schizophrenic people. You don’t blame a customer because your customer service at your call center sucks. You need to retrain your damn people. 

We have been dealing with this for a long time. This is not new. People treating us horribly when we are doing well, and even worse when we are not, to the point of us losing our lives. So, what are we supposed to do? We take our meds. We go to therapy, during business hours. We tell our schizophrenic friends that we need help. And they help. We do what we can to survive. A lot of us don’t survive, though. Most of us are too scared to say the word schizophrenia for obvious reasons. I am scared to say it even still, but I have to do something. It’s a damn epidemic as far as I’m concerned, how many of us die too young. And if I am in a position to raise awareness, I’m going to do it. 

What can you do? Read some essays and books from people with schizophrenia like Rebecca Chamaa, who is the first person I go to for help when I need it. Stop making schizophrenia jokes. Behave with kindness with those who are around you; don’t assume you don’t know anyone with schizophrenia because you probably do. Support organizations like SARDAA, if you have the means. And please, please, stop saying hurtful things. We are not bad people. We just want to live our lives, just like you.