You wake up with a feeling of dread. A voice in your head tells you that you’re bad and the police are after you; or you see something that others do not. Nagging thoughts, images, annoying sensations, sounds, and constant mood changes make you want to stay in bed, avoid bathing, and hide from the world. This is what it can be like to have schizophrenia.
What is real? What isn’t? Where do you go from here?
Schizophrenia Is a Severe Mental Health Condition
Many people do not know much about schizophrenia or have a vague idea about the disorder that may or may not be true. Others are frightened and skittish to be around anyone known to have it. What does schizophrenia feel like? How can anyone know what it’s like to have schizophrenia? In our exploration of these questions, bear in mind that two people with this diagnosis can have different experiences of it. Our answers can provide some general insights into what living with schizophrenia is like, which may resonate with some individuals but not others.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes schizophrenia as a mental illness that is chronic and severe. Schizophrenia affects the individual’s behavior and how they communicate with others. It can negatively affect relationships, work, and social interactions and become severely debilitating. Hospitalization may be required in a crisis or during severe symptoms.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
When characterizing what it’s like to have schizophrenia, it can be helpful to discuss common symptoms that someone with this mental health condition may exhibit. Depending on the different types of schizophrenia, these symptoms include some combination of hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking and motor behavior, and functional impairment.
Symptoms are described as positive or negative. Positive signs are apparent and overt (and should not be there), while negative symptoms lack expected characteristics.
- Hallucinations: Seeing, hearing, or perceiving things others do not. Auditory hallucinations are the most common, but others include visual, tactile (feeling), olfactory (smelling), and taste.
- Delusions: Refers to untrue ideas, such as believing someone is out to get you. Paranoia is a common delusion. Types of delusions include erotomanic, grandiose, persecutory, somatic, and referential.
- Abnormal Motor Behavior: Catatonic behavior is an example of abnormal or disorganized movement.
- Apathy: The absence of emotion or feeling
- Lethargy: What does schizophrenia feel like here? Doing anything other than the slightest activity is tough. There is likely a significant lack of energy.
- Social Withdrawal and Isolation: Avoiding personal interaction, staying home, and refusing contact.
- Anhedonia: Finding pleasure in anything is greatly diminished.
- Avolition: Difficulty beginning or maintaining an activity.
- Cognitive Symptoms
With respect to the last symptom, disorganized thinking is one of the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia. What does schizophrenia feel like in this example? It is difficult to keep thoughts together or say what is on one’s mind. Others find it challenging to figure out what the person with schizophrenia is attempting to communicate or follow the thread of their conversation.
Types of disorganized thinking include talking in circles, shifting topics, tangential thinking, choice of words for sound, and incoherence.
Making decisions is extremely difficult as a result of disorganized thinking. Memory, attention span, and planning are also problematic.
Personal Accounts of Living With Schizophrenia
What do schizophrenics do in their daily life? While the appropriate terminology is “people with schizophrenia,” this popular query indicates a desire to know more about the mental health disorder, how it affects those who have it, and how to help and support them.
What it’s like to have schizophrenia is perhaps better understood by looking at the personal accounts of those with schizophrenia.
Jason Jepson, in Schizophrenia Bulletin, details how he walks every day. Encountering something different is a trigger for mind wandering. He’s not necessarily hallucinating; it is more like an image his brain sees. He tries to ignore these thoughts and images, but that won’t stop them.
While these thoughts occur, it doesn’t mean his medication is ineffective. The meds may not always work or quell paranoia, but he uses specific questions to help him gauge reality or his “unreality.”
“Schizophrenia is like a heavyweight fight, but it will not knock me out,” Jason says. “It might cause me to have things to ignore or beat down … but I will not react to a delusion unless I have real evidence that it is true.”
Donald Carroll has had severe schizophrenia since he was 28, suffering non-stop visual and auditory hallucinations and those of taste, touch, and smell. There is a family history of schizophrenia on his father’s side. He says he experiences voices, annoying sensations, and symptoms that discomfort him all day. He’s tried everything to cope with the mental illness: antipsychotic drugs, several hospitalizations, electric shock therapy, substance abuse, mysticism, yoga, psychology, and paranormal studies.
For years he struggled to work, but out-of-body experiences and worsening negative symptoms made that problematic. Yet he managed to have a 15-year successful career, despite a doctor’s grim prognosis.
Treatment-resistant and high-functioning, he chronicled his journey in The Awakening of John David, which he wrote to “enlighten people” about what it’s like to have schizophrenia, “and how to best cope with them [experiences], and even thrive.”
The Impact of Schizophrenia on Daily Life
What does schizophrenia feel like in daily life? It is an enormous challenge, according to those with schizophrenia, as well as the doctors who treat them, loved ones, family members, co-workers, and others who interact with them.
Challenges in Relationships
Because people with schizophrenia often seek isolation and withdraw from others to minimize contact, maintaining relationships becomes difficult. Their inappropriate mood behaviors are off-putting and tend to wreak havoc on new and existing relationships. Break-ups and divorce are common in those with schizophrenia. Home life is also disrupted when hallucinations or delusions occur, and a family member with schizophrenia cannot participate in household activities and chores.
Challenges in Work
An inconsistent work history is another typical result of what it’s like to have schizophrenia. Experiencing delusions, hearing voices, feeling paranoia, and being unable to distinguish reality from unreality is not conducive to securing or maintaining gainful employment. those who manage to keep a job struggle to function despite persistent or recurring symptoms, trouble sleeping, and the need to spend more time relaxing and regaining energy.
Challenges in Social Activities
If someone with schizophrenia finds it difficult to separate reality from unreality, interactions with people in social settings and activities become challenging. Besides, trying to act like everything is fine is exhausting, let alone simultaneously dealing with voices, delusions, hallucinations, or other symptoms of schizophrenia.
Coping Strategies for Schizophrenia
What does schizophrenia feel like when the world feels out of control? Do people with schizophrenia know they have it? After experiencing a cascade of symptoms, some people with schizophrenia who are undiagnosed may instinctively know something serious is happening, yet they may attempt to deny or disguise it. While some individuals try coping by drinking and drug use, these are ineffective and can lead to addiction.
Coping strategies for schizophrenia that can help sometimes significantly include:
After receiving a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the treating psychiatrist typically prescribes a regimen of medications to help manage symptoms and facilitate receptivity to therapeutic approaches specific to the schizophrenia type. Since schizophrenia has no cure, it requires ongoing treatment. Antipsychotics are the most commonly prescribed medications for schizophrenia.
When directing treatment, the psychiatrist usually starts with the lowest dose effective to manage symptoms. Managing medications over time is necessary to achieve the desired results. This often means utilizing different drugs, quantities, or combinations of antipsychotic drugs. Other medications carefully managed may include anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants.
Side effects of the medication may occur, in which case the treatment team works to minimize discomfort, switching to a different medication or dose. Injections may be used for those unwilling to take pills.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, alone or in combination with motivational interviewing, can help improve symptoms. Research has shown that this combination can effectively improve schizophrenia’s negative symptoms. By focusing on personal interests, goals, and strengths, therapy helps those with schizophrenia make progress.
Psychosocial interventions may be part of the treatment plan. These include individual counseling, family therapy, training in social skills, vocational rehab, and employment support.
Support From Loved Ones and Community Resources
Since people with schizophrenia often have difficulty managing daily living, support from loved ones, family members, and resources available in the community are a mainstay of treatment. Community programs that assist people with schizophrenia in finding housing, employment, support groups, and help during crises are invaluable.
The Importance of Mental Health Stigma Reduction
Reducing the stigma surrounding mental health conditions requires increased awareness and an understanding of schizophrenia. Stigma and discrimination continue to cause significant problems for those with schizophrenia.
Getting Help With Schizophrenia
While schizophrenia requires ongoing treatment, those with schizophrenia can learn to manage it and lead productive lives. Although it may be hard to fully understand what it’s like to have schizophrenia, seeking help and support is essential.