My Recovery from Mental Illness – Kim

My Recovery from Mental Illness

By Kim Vandyk

 

My experience with mental illness began at the age of 19 when my schizophrenia began to take effect.  To give some context I will explain the timeline.  It was early December 2001 I had moved into a new apartment with my mother and began experiencing subtle paranoia and by late January 2002 I was hospitalized. My descent was rapid but fortunately not unnoticed. My time in the psychiatric ward was equally brief as I sought legal help to secure my release.  Truthfully I was not well at that time but was released anyway.  I was however on the road to recovery due to the fact that I was on a long acting injection that was to be given monthly.  The option to refuse treatment was not there, and I was fortunate that as lucidity returned I was able to realize that I was in need of help.

My symptoms of schizophrenia  began with small delusions.  The feeling of being watched.   The thought that TV and radio were communicating secret messages to me.  I began to believe that there were microphones and cameras in my apartment that were there to monitor me and steal my comedy ideas.  Later I believed I was the star of a reality TV show but to maintain its purity I wasn’t supposed to know so that’s why my family and friends had never admitted to it. As the delusions became more severe,  I began to believe I was a spy trying to combat government corruption.   Eventually I thought I was the president of the United States and later basically emperor of the universe.  There were many intergalactic battles that happened solely in my mind.  I vividly remember sending my brother-in-law to an alien space ship with only a prison lunch tray and he took over the ship with it. Nonsensical, yes, but to the schizophrenic mind it is so very real and rational.  It is very hard for someone who has not experienced the gradual progression of schizophrenia to understand how convincing and rational the hallucinations can seem. Beginning in a manner which most would pass off as one’s mind playing tricks. Small auditory hallucinations, and with no reason to disbelieve my own senses I too would brush it aside. It was not long however for these slight sounds to become voices, voices which I could hear as clearly as anyone who talks to me today. The voices would often comment on things I was doing.  I can remember a time when I was angry because I thought there were cameras in my apartment watching me so I hid under my bed and started banging on it as hard as I could,  the voices followed along saying “He’s under the bed. He’s banging on the bottom of the bed!”.  One of the hallucinations I still find strange to this day is when I would hear “Hey Kim… Hey Kim”  over and over.   From different directions and different voices of people I knew.  Eventually I would ask  ,   “What?”  then they would go quiet.  It is still slightly annoying when people come up and say hey Kim.   I can’t even be angry.  Its just something I have to deal with. Once while I was talking to the voices and my mom asked who I was talking to and I told her I was talking to my pet turtle. The voices too however progressed becoming more abrasive and insulting with increasing frequency, ever seeking to elicit an emotional response from me seemingly for their own entertainment.  Again I struggle for the words to help one understand what it would be like to perceive and sense  something only later to discover that it was not real, how does one separate fact from fiction in their own memories, all a part of our road to recovery

I will elaborate on the circumstances surrounding hospitalization.   My sister was the first to mention her concern that something was seriously wrong.  She was in the province of B.C. and I was in Ontario but she noticed I had a problem during a phone call when I was yelling at voices and what I called digital people. In my mind the digital people were people watching my reality show on the internet.  She tried to convince her husband of my problem and when he asked me about it I told him I was just messing with her.  It wasn’t until I admitted to her husband some of the delusions that he understood and they began to work on getting me help.

 

By this time in my mind I was the President, and my sisters husband was my national security advisor; despite the risks of blowing cover I wanted him to admit this.  When he refused I threatened to bash his head in with a shovel.  I didn’t actually mean it but once those words exited my mouth, they knew I had crossed the legal line necessary for commitment, potentially I was danger to myself or others.  However the first time I was sent to the hospital I was misdiagnosed with “reefer madness”  which was ridiculous.  I wasn’t on drugs.   A few days later with my symptoms still escalating I was kindly escorted back by a police officer and correctly diagnosed.

After Diagnosis

The first two or three years after diagnosis were probably the hardest years of my life so far.

The side effects of my medication were numerous and severe, including drooling, my mouth hanging open and many involuntary motions with my hands and arms.  Its  hard to feel good about yourself with things like this happening.  I don’t think I could ever totally communicate the despair and hopelessness that were a part of my life at that time.  This led to a passive resignation in regards to my treatment and without my input necessary changes were not being made. Two years after diagnosis I moved to BC hoping that the change would do me some good.  My sister and brother in-law had been researching my illness and were optimistic about some of the newer generation of medications. Upon arrival I sought a new psychiatrist and discussed with him  my symptoms and my concerns, this led to a far more involved relationship than I had ever had before with my doctor, my treatment had become a mutual effort.  He put me on a modern medication and gradually the side effects went away.

I have had several caring family members,  whose support has greatly affected my recovery and without whom my story could have been so very different.   I would like to mention that I have only been in the hospital once.  With my input the doctor has made adjustments as needed to my medication and I no longer experience delusions and I don’t hear voices.  I had the symptoms of schizophrenia for about a three month period.  There is a little lingering nervousness and I have to deal with the memories of my experience for the rest of my life. I still occasionally have dreams of being in the hospital.  And hearing the words “Hey Kim” can still make me cringe a bit, however, as of 2012 I have been in recovery for 11 years.  I have not been hospitalized since the first and only time.

There are a few things I would credit for enabling me to be at the stage of recovery I am at now.  Unwavering support from my family and friends as well as the understanding I have received from peers I have met through the Creative Center Society.  I have been able to get involved in a stand up comedy program through the center, which helps a lot because stand up comedy was something I had wanted to do since I was 14 years old. I now have been involved in Stand Up for Mental Health for six years, and traveled to perform for audiences internationally. I am at present preparing to take my act to Yuk Yuks in Vancouver and hope to one day become a professional in what has been a life long passion. One of the things which has benefited me the most was the informal therapy, the time spent discussing the subject with other people with diagnosis. To know that I am not alone in this struggle and to let others know that they are not either has built both a quiet confidence in me as well as a sense of empathy for those who struggle as \I once did. In order to help others understand this complex illness I share my story of recovery through a program called Partnership. This program has helped me to look at my illness, write about it and try to put it into context when compared to the rest of my life.  Schizophrenia is a difficult thing to accept because it is not easy to admit you have a problem with your mind.  It took me a number of years before I stopped feeling shame about it.  This experience taught me that people may sometimes have problems that are not in their control.  I would say to anyone newly diagnosed with schizophrenia not to be afraid to speak up if treatment isn’t going well, develop an honest and collaborative relationship with your doctor.  And to anyone with any diagnosis  please don’t give up on yourself.  Hope exists, and you may find support from people and places you didn’t expect.  To the diagnosed and families of the diagnosed recovery will take time, it took me many years to come to the point I am at,  and I have so many things I still need to do to continue my recovery.  I often find myself having to put aside my paranoia to care for my nephews and niece, a task which really requires me to rise above my illness.  The guy that doesn’t want the responsibility of a house plant or a small pet.   The phrase “trust me”  may seem simple to most but not to a paranoid schizophrenic.  I am often put in a position where I am required to ignore the default instinct of my condition for the sake of the needs of my family.  I try not to let my illness own me, it is however sometimes difficult to realize when I am being silly.  The things I have discussed in my recovery story are all difficult things to deal with.  I am lucky I received treatment so soon after the onset of schizophrenia and  I continue to make the effort to cope with,  but never forget the impact of schizophrenia in my life.   I would like to thank anyone who has taken the time to read this,  and would urge people with any mental health issue and their families never to give up.  There is hope and recovery is possible.


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