by Allie Burke
*Trigger Warning: Mental Health and Suicide
I was 24 years old. I smoked weed like so many others my age, took muscle relaxers for fun. Daily, I heard these voices and saw these shadows, but they had always been around. It wasn’t like they were new. I’d learned to live with them like they were allergies on a spring day. But when my marriage started failing, I started to accept the fact that there was something wrong with me. I could live with hallucinations; I could not live as a divorcee. I wasn’t my mom, and I had to make it work.
Sitting in the waiting room of a psychiatrist’s office is so awkward. It’s not like a regular doctor’s office. You don’t think twice about someone who has an ear infection or a sprained ankle. Shit happens, right? But when you’re in a psychiatrist’s office, you start wondering what’s wrong with the others sitting around you. Is this old lady going to start talking to herself at any second? What should I do? Why are there kids here? What trauma has led them here? What are they thinking about me? I bet they think I’m crazy. Maybe I am fucking crazy. I’m here, aren’t I? I am definitely crazy.
The doctor has a kind smile. I sit and tell him the reason why I’m here. “I hear voices. I see these dark shadows everywhere.” I try not to cry. “I see people that others can’t see.” I’ve only said these words once to anyone, to which they said that I was scaring them. Do I scare people? Is that who I am?
“Are you depressed?” the nice doctor asks me.
I think of all my time spent in bed. Feeling like I can’t do anything. Like I don’t want to ever do anything ever again.
“I think so.”
“Schizoaffective.” I’ve never heard this word before and he doesn’t make a move to elaborate. I’m naturally too timid to ask, so I guess I’ll just Google it later.
The medication worked too well. I felt so sedated during the day that I could barely keep my eyes open. Working at a desk was difficult. My vision was so blurry (even with my glasses on) that I could barely see what was on the screen. We tried again and again. Abilify. Latuda. Some others I can’t remember. They either worked by turning me into a zombie, or didn’t work. I thought about ending it. It would be so easy to slit my wrists in the bathroom and be done with it.
I took the medication, I didn’t take it. When I stopped taking it, it would take days for me to feel normal. Then I would think about dying again. I’d take it, and life was miserable. I couldn’t work. I could barely stay awake. I talked to no one. Spent my lunches and breaks by myself on a patch of grass in the parking lot. I read to distract myself. I read as many books as I could get my hands on, but I couldn’t write anymore. I couldn’t focus on any task that lasted more than 30 seconds.
I was fed up. Is this all there was to life? Walking around without a thought in my head?
I checked into a mental hospital with what I would learn was non-commanding voices. The voices were loud and scary, but they didn’t tell me to do things. I had it good, I figured, compared to other people like me. I felt like I was making a big deal. I was obviously complaining too much. I had a job and a husband and an apartment to live in. So many people had it so much worse off than me.
There was a man roaming the halls with no pants on. The others didn’t appear to have life in them. Their eyes were distant. So far away that I didn’t think I could reach them. I cried. The woman in the bed next to me told me it would be okay. That they had good doctors there. That she often checked in when her meds got out of whack. She had two kids. She was really nice.
I didn’t stay in the hospital. I thought it was like being in the movies where they could cure you in an hour. I checked in on a Friday and thought I could be out by Sunday. I did have to go to work after all. I had to support myself. So when my roommate told me she had been there 6 weeks, I freaked out. I told them I wanted to leave. They tried to get me to stay, but I won in the end. I was given back my purse (I never dreamed that they would take your shit) and I walked out.
I was back at square one. In the same position I started in with nowhere to turn. I went back and forth on meds, and paranoia came into the mix. I became sure that someone was trying to poison me. I wouldn’t leave the house without a hood on because I was convinced someone would place an LSD tab on my head. I wouldn’t drink out of glasses I walked away from because I was sure I would be a victim of poisoning. They were irrational thoughts, but I couldn’t stop. Eventually my diagnosis changed from schizoaffective to paranoid schizophrenia. This changed nothing in me. I was still a mess, afraid for how long I would survive these challenges.
After some guidance from my psychiatrist about marriage, I left my marriage. I spent some years without medication. I heard the voices and saw the people that weren’t there, but it was worth it to me. Worth it to be able to express myself creatively in a way that the medication masked. I saw a vibrational energy therapist and ate the right foods. I took supplements and meditated. I ran. I began working 12-hour days, because I began to love my job so much. I got a boyfriend and moved in with him. We drank boba and played cards. He was exactly who I needed, until he wasn’t. In the end, he wasn’t the person for me. When I say I crashed, I crashed hard. My depression was worse than it ever has been. My psychologist put me on medical leave. I’ve been barely able to work 8 hours, never mind 12. I felt so much shame. My pride was bruised. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was.
Since then, I’ve been working with a really wonderful psychiatrist who truly cares for my wellbeing. I’ve tried to be patient with the process, and it paid off. I am on two medications now that help me sleep and function well. Actually, the latest dose made me feel great. I’ve spent my first happy week in I don’t know how long.
It’s been a long seven years, from diagnosis to now. But I still feel lucky. So many people with this disorder don’t have a job or family to support them. So many people with this disorder have died. I’m still alive.
What would I say to other schizophrenics? Be gentle to yourself. I’m not good at this, but if I were, I think it would have been a lot easier to cope. Not everything I’ve been through is entirely my fault, and I need to learn to accept that. That I am doing the best I can, and that is enough.
A Bestselling Author and Mental Health Advocate from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.
Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.
From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.