Samuel Miltich, Amazing Jazz Guitarist and Paranoid Schizophrenic
My name is Sam Miltich. I am diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia. I am a full time jazz guitarist based in Minnesota. I live in Grand Rapids, Minnesota which is in the northern part of the state. Its a relatively small town with 10,000 people. I was born and raised here. I have lived breifly in the Twin Cities and have toured extensively throughout the U.S. as well as Canada, Europe, and Japan. I am 33 years old and have been gigging since I was about 13 years old, so I have in one shape or form been performing professionally for about 20 years.
I frequently heard voices that I thought were coming from God.
Schizophrenia is a major mental illness that affects around 1 percent of the population. The symptoms that I have most frequently experienced were delusions, paranoia, auditory hallucination, visual hallucination, cognitive issues, thought broadcasting amongst others. I was not born with schizophrenia. I had my first major psychotic break when I was 22 around 2006 or 2007, and again when I was 30. My primary struggle at 22 was I believed I was the anti-christ. I suffered severe paranoia, believing law enforcement was after me for being the anti-christ. I believed people could read my mind. I was deeply paranoid and felt that I needed to commit suicide for the salvation of humanity. I frequently heard voices that I thought were coming from God. They were extremely condemning and hurtful. I really didn’t understand that I had the illness at 22 because I thought everything I was experiencing was a reality. I really truly believed that indeed I was the anti-christ. I couldn’t distinguish that others were not experiencing what I was experiencing. I truly believed others hated me, and could read my thoughts. After I was diagnosed and was given anti-psychotic medication I felt extremely isolated and removed from the world. I had had such an intense experience, and I then understood, no one else around me had experienced reality the way I did, I felt detached, and like no one could really understand me. I felt like I had peaked into a pandora’s box, that I had seen the other side, and I knew its horrors and pain, and others who haven’t experienced that really couldn’t relate to the pain and fear I experienced. It feels bizarre to have schizophrenia now, because I have this self-awareness about the illness, so now, when I have symptoms I recognize I am having them so I feel like I have two people inside of me, the person who is in psychosis, and the person who is objectively observing me having psychosis. Mornings and evenings are challenging because my ability to think clearly and organize my thoughts is very hard. That’s when I struggle most with my cognitive function. Though all symptoms are hard, nothing is harder to deal with than active paranoia. Schizophrenia affects everyday life for me, but now with treatment, it’s not as bad as before. I always feel it as soon as I wake up. I typically feel panic in the morning, because I can’t organize my thoughts enough to know how to tackle a day. I know I have responsibilities but I can’t figure out what they are. I used to hide schizophrenia because I was afraid people would judge me for it, or assume I was violent. I experience stigma daily. Even from people who should know better. I feel tremendously frustrated, that there are rarely accommodations made for people with mental illness in their working lives. Simply, if I miss a performance because I have symptoms, it could have very negative implications for me.
I want to create a sound that heals my soul
I am a jazz guitarist. I both perform others compositions, and now am also composing my own music. My primary inspiration came from hearing jazz in my childhood home. I loved Duke Ellington most. As a teenager, I loved Django Reinhardt’s playing, and other huge influences are Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Lenny Breau, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, and many others. My primary aim is to create something beautiful. I want to create a sound that heals my soul, and helps heal others as well. I have a very successful career and have gotten extremely good response. I have been featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition as a teenager, and have toured internationally. I am currently touring the state of Minnesota thanks to a grant received from the Minnesota State Arts Board. My program is called: The Improvised Life: Exploring Intersections of Mental Health and Creativity Through Jazz. In my performance, I tell my story of recovery as well as draw parallels between my life and that of Thelonious Monk’s, as he suffered from bipolar. I highlight Monk’s achievements, and talking about how his life and music have inspired me. I feature both my own writing, as well as my musical compositions as well as Thelonious Monk’s as well. You can hear my music at:www.sammiltichmusic.com.
I struggled with accepting the need to take medication, but I have made peace with it, and its a major component of my recovery.
My official diagnosis is “Paranoid Schizophrenia” and PTSD. I felt pretty devastated. I felt like that diagnosis, and what it meant would keep me from having the life I wanted, a career in music, a home, marriage, and children. I have proven that I indeed can have that life, because I do! I was initially told schizophrenia was a genetic condition. It wasn’t till much later that a psychiatrist asked about my personal history and uncovered trauma. My brother died when I was 11, and our family home burned when I was 14. I also grew up in a home where trauma was front and center, as my dad had undiagnosed PTSD as he is a combat Marine Corp Vet who served in Vietnam from 1968-1970. My psychiatrist said these events most likely contributed to my psychotic break. I do take medications, an anti-psychotic, a mood stabilizer, as well as an anti-anxiety, and now I am legally using high CBD Medical Marijuana for anxiety. I see a therapist once a week, as sort of a “checkup”. I really find this to be very helpful. I struggled with accepting the need to take medication, but I have made peace with it, and its a major component of my recovery. I manage my illness with numerous medications, as well as therapy. I also use meditation as a tool. A huge part of my recovery is my music, improvising, as well as my outdoors life. My family has always hunted, fished, and gardened in northern Minnesota, and I am an avid outdoorsman and hunt, fish, and garden as part of my course of recovery and wellness.
I think 2019 will be a great year.
Now I tell almost anyone I have close contact with that I do have schizophrenia, because I know that at some point it will affect my daily life, and how I interact with them. Most people are very open to it and are very helpful. I know a few other people in town with schizophrenia. I continue to read my NAMI magazine that comes to the house about new management approaches. I read a wonderful book by Mark Vonnegut titled “Just like someone without mental illness, only more so.” This book was extremely helpful. Another book I loved was called “Schizophrenia: A blueprint for recovery” by Milt Greek. This book had an incredible impact on me. I had had a terrible psychotic break at 30 years old, and after reading that book, I really changed how I was thinking about my illness and I started to recover more quickly.
I think 2019 will be a great year. I will be finishing up my initial tour of “The Improvised Life”. I will be releasing a new album titled “Peasants With Torches” which features many original compositions. I will be applying for another grant that features the music of Bill Evan’s with my quartet through the Minnesota State Arts Board. I will continue my local jazz series at our local VFW which brings jazz musicians from Minneapolis to Northern Minnesota, which is funded through the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. I also hope to continue my teaching series for string musicians which teaches them how to improvise and play jazz. As for my recovery, I hope to simply maintain my recovery. I sincerely hope I can tour more extensively with my group “The Improvised Life” to help bring greater awareness to mental illness. People can read about my projects, and hear my music at www.sammiltichmusic.com. https://www.sammiltichmusic.com/theimprovisedlife