Mind in a Haze

by Ben Albus

TW: drugs, hallucinations, suicide

My story starts as many others do. I had a normal childhood, or so I feel. I had always really felt like an outsider in every group I’ve been in and that had led me to really isolate myself at times during young adulthood. Looking back, I think this isolation may have played a role in my development of schizophrenia, but I would have no idea until after the semester I graduated college. My symptoms showed subtly at first and gained traction slowly it would seem, starting as small visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and general cognitive confusion or haziness.

My hallucinations started out as auditory: my name being called amidst the public. I would look around for someone yelling my name in public, or hearing my name whispered when alone. Sometimes the voices were familiar, sometimes not. The visual hallucinations came later. I recall the first time being as I left work, seeing little orbs of light fly around me as if I could catch them. I call them flies, since their pattern of flight resembles flies. I’ve had various delusions of grandeur as well as romantic delusions throughout my life. Such as believing I had powers or believing someone was in love with me when they clearly weren’t. The combination of medications and therapy has helped me to manage these more serious symptoms. Specifically, I am able to discern what is real and what is not more readily.

Depression and anxiety have played a role in my life for as long as I remember, particularly in a social sense for anxiety. My depression came to a head during my last semester on campus when I tried taking my own life in my room after self-medicating far too much with alcohol, which had become a problem towards the end of college. I began seeing a therapist as my hallucinatory symptoms intensified after school, I sought treatment during school, but it led to an experience with a hypnotist that didn’t seem to work. I began seeing my current therapist soon after moving back home following graduation. Suicidal ideation has often been a problem for me, since being a teenager, and even lead to my hospitalization where I spent 3 days in a psych ward in my early 20s (this was also during some serious issues with psychosis that led to suicidal ideation involving agency).

Oh yeah, I was also simultaneously serving in the Army Reserve, which was one weekend a month, two weeks during the summer typically. Shortly after receiving my diagnosis from a medical professional, I notified my leadership with my unit. It was emotional admitting that I was no longer fit for service and was then medically discharged. I am still trying to get the VA/Government to recognize my illness to this day, since schizophrenia is listed as a disabling illness… I have had a struggle with being taken seriously in my opinion. And maybe it is hard to take seriously given that it is often difficult for me to recognize what is real and what is not from the illness that I didn’t choose to have.

It is also well documented that schizophrenics often abuse drugs, including alcohol: a drug, in a form of self-medication. The biggest doorway to this form of self-medication for me has been a lack of sleep. Ever since the onset of schizophrenia began in my mind, I’ve struggled with sleep. Over-the-counter medications did not work anymore. I began drinking or smoking marijuana to sedate my mind into finally falling asleep. And it worked! The alcohol with much more negative after effects such as dehydration, hangover type things, and the marijuana with the sleepiest helpfulness vs. after-effect ratio between the two. However, any kind of medication comes with side effects it seems, and marijuana, as well as alcohol, are not helpful to the health of the mind as far as I know, so I would not recommend taking these routes. Go to a doctor and trust their judgment. The first antipsychotics I was put on changed my world from a nightmare to reality and there is so much value in that.

A schizophrenia diagnosis is not a joke. It’s not a word that’s meant to be used casually either. Psycho is not a word to be used casually when there are people with very, very, serious psychosis who are beyond any realm of awareness that they are experiencing an illness at all. And it is seriously like that for me at times. I am heavily medicated. Antipsychotics, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, and more to help regulate the symptoms of taking these types of medication. I don’t mean to sound doomy regarding this illness. There is victory in spreading awareness of it and ensuring that the world knows it exists. 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenia. 1 in 100 will follow a similar path to what I have experienced. Why is it controversial to take care of them, often those that are found homeless in the streets, absent of awareness that they have a mental illness, when many in the U.S. still don’t believe in mental illnesses.

Today I struggle with every job get, with subsequent physical ailments to accompany my poor mental health. I can’t work a full week, I often have poor attendance due to serious medical concerns mentally or physically (not to mention appointments), and I struggle with hallucinations, paranoia, and anxiety while in a work environment, medications help, but they aren’t a cure. For fun I like long walks, bird watching, playing guitar, listening to music, and writing 😊. I hope to one day be some sort of writer, be it music, books, blogs, copywriting, or whatever!