Schizophrenic Parenting

It’s pretty nice to be at a point where I can think about what I want for my ‘future’.  I didn’t always think I’d have one – I didn’t always want one.  I still have days where I don’t.  But, generally speaking, I do.

So, what comes to mind when I think about my life five, ten, fifteen years from now?  Kids.

Do I want kids?  I honestly do not know.  If I do have kids, though, it definitely won’t be any time soon.

I need to be realistic and honest with myself.  I need to think of the pros and cons.  And I can’t be selfish about it.  Would I really be able to raise a healthy, stable-minded child, when I can’t even describe myself that way a lot of the time? And even if I did manage it – hopefully, with the help of said child’s paternal figure – would it really be the right thing to do?

Even if I can teach a child right from wrong, how to cross the street safely, how to feed him/herself, etc… do I really want to subject my own flesh and blood to a life of living with me?

Like I said, I need to be honest with myself.  And realistic.

Schizo-affective disorder is likely with me for life.  And there is no telling whether it will get worse or better, stay the same, or if I might pass it on to future generations. Genetics aside, though, I just don’t know if it’s fair to bring a child into my world of uncertainties.

Looking back at my not-so-distant past, there were periods where I was the child.  A grown-up child – the worst kind.  I needed to be taken care of.  I needed people to watch out for me, to keep me safe, to make sure I was keeping myself healthy and alive.

If I fall into a state like that again, what would happen to that poor babe of mine?

I can say – and part of me believes it – that it wouldn’t happen if I had a child.  I’d persevere.  I wouldn’t let my mind stop me from taking care of my baby, because my maternal instincts simply wouldn’t allow for it.  But is that really true?  Would it really all pan out that way?  It kind of seems like a naïve way to look at parenting.

But then again, by saying this, am I just furthering the stigma about mental health?  Am I just putting myself down?

We’ve all heard the stories about mothers hurting their own children while in a psychotic state.  Sometimes, the poor mothers and children don’t survive.  Sometimes, they do survive, but are left with a scar and an inability to trust the very person who brought them into the world. This isn’t always a woman who suffered with her mental stability before she had kids.  Postpartum depression comes in many forms and severities – mild to downright scary.  All this tells me is that having kids is always a risk, regardless of your state of mind beforehand.

So, there are some of the cons.  What about the pros?

With me as a mother, I think any child would have a rather open mind.  They’d have to.  They’d be surrounded by me and my loud opinions, and I’d certainly introduce them to other opinions – even some I don’t necessarily agree with.

They’d grow up with an understanding of life that a lot of kids are likely sheltered from. It isn’t all black and white, and no baby of mine would be a stranger to that knowledge.

They’d grow up with more responsibilities than the average child.  But, at the same time, I would baby them more than I probably should.  It’d be an interesting mix.

“Come on, you’re 8 months old – make your own dinner!”
“Oohh, come here, let me cuddle you to sleep even though you’re 15.”

I think, especially for me, a very important factor about becoming a mama would be to make sure I had that perfect partner in crime.  I’d need a dude with a clear understanding of me and my quirks.  He’d need to know how to deal with me at my absolute worst, and he’d need to know how to encourage me to be my absolute best.  He’d also need to understand that I’ll have days where I hate him for doing just that.  But he’d have to stick to it.  I don’t need to be married to him for all eternity – but I do need to know, with confidence, that he’s up for the challenge – and the ultimate reward – of parenthood.  With me.  For good.  But isn’t that the same for everyone?

Finally, the biggest and most important pro of all: that baby would be LOVED.  I would love that tiny human with my entire soul and more.  I’d shower that munchkin with hugs and kisses and words of affection.  I’d embarrass that baby well into their teenage years.  I’d bake them their favourite cookies at ungodly hours and I’d always let them crawl into my bed, regardless of how silly the reason.  They’d be my entire universe and they’d be well aware of it.

While love is a very important tool in parenting and life in general, it doesn’t solve everything.  It can’t pay the bills.  Love isn’t going to pull you out of bed when you’re feeling low.  Love, sadly, can’t conquer everything in the world we live in.  There is a lot that goes into raising a child, and I still don’t know if I’ve got it all in my schizo-self.

I really don’t know what defines a good potential parent.  A person could appear to be the strongest and most reasonable person on the planet, but then the responsibility and the feelings of vulnerability that come with parenting may break them down completely. How can you know what kind of person someone will be once their entire life has changed?  How can you judge someone’s ability to do something without giving them the opportunity to actually do it?

Unfortunately, though, it seems to me that the people with the strongest opinions on the matter are usually the ones who don’t really have a clue.

Often times, I hear people talk negatively about schizophrenia, bi polar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder (the list goes on).  As soon as I mention I’ve got one – or two, or a combination – of the above listed disorders, they’re extremely surprised, “oh my god!  I’m so sorry!  You totally don’t seem messed up at all!”  they go on about how guilty they feel about all the nasty things that just escaped their mouth.

But maybe, if you’re so surprised, and you feel that guilty about what you just said, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

I think there are a lot of factors to consider, and I think there are a lot of uneducated people with skewed opinions on the matter who spread the wrong kinds of information.

So, what do you think about it all?  Should the mentally ill be parents?

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What the f#$% is schizo-affective disorder?

Schizo-affective disorder and I have gotten to know each other pretty well in the recent years, but not many other people know what it is.

I remember when I first heard of it. My GP and I were sat in his office. We were discussing my downfall, and finally working on a referral to a psychiatrist. He needed to give them a preliminary diagnosis. He heard me out – he listened to my symptoms, looked back on notes from previous visits. He told me not to flinch at the words, and then he said them: “Sounds like schizo-affective disorder. I can’t diagnose and treat you for it, so we need to scare the psychiatrist into seeing you as soon as possible.”

Apparently schizo-affective disorder was enough to push me to the front of the line. I had an appointment within two days.

It sounded so intimidating. The ‘schizo’ part just screams out ‘you’re crazy!’ I didn’t know what to think of it. Mainly because I didn’t really know what it was. There isn’t exactly a way to describe it clearly. In fact, it’s not very well understood at all – not even by the doctors – which is why it took so long for me to be properly diagnosed.

Schizo-affective disorder, at the end of the day, is a mix-match of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. It’s a hybrid of two very well-known mental illnesses, but it means something different for everyone with the diagnosis.

Some people with schizo-affective disorder may only have very mild schizophrenic symptoms. Some may have very severe ones. Some may have seemingly none at all.

Schizo-affective disorder can disguise itself unintentionally. Since it embodies characteristics of other better-known, more common disorders, it can be extremely difficult to recognize.

So difficult, in fact, that it took over a year for my doctors to finally agree that I might indeed have the disorder.

The problem with diagnosing a mental illness is that there is usually nothing physical to examine. Doctors rely greatly on a patient’s own description of their symptoms. The problem with this is that many people suffering from mental illness are unable to articulate what’s happening in their mind, and therefore can’t always provide the information the psychiatrist needs. I was no different.

My doctor asked me if I had any close friends who would volunteer their time to speak with him.

About me.

That made me feel uneasy. One of my main concerns was people talking about me. It’s the last thing I wanted. At first I refused. I used the excuse that no one knew what was in my mind anyway, so they’d be useless. He assured me my behavior was just as important as my thoughts.

Nick came with me to my next appointment.

We sat there all together, the three of us. I remember feeling really nervous. I never knew what to say at these appointments. What was I supposed to tell the doctor? He’d ask me how I felt, I’d say I felt bad. He’d ask me why, I’d say I didn’t know. Isn’t that why I was there in the first place? Because I didn’t know? Surely, if I knew why I felt so horrible, I would do something about it that didn’t involve sitting in an uncomfortable office.

I started to cry. He asked me why I was crying. I didn’t really know why – I just felt overwhelmed. He told me to relax, Nick told me to relax; everything was fine. They started to talk about my moods, my behaviour, my sleeping patterns. I don’t remember any specifics. I was in the room but I was in another zone.

He talked with Nick for a while, then he talked with me for a while, and then Nick and I went home… with another few surveys to fill out.

Eventually, many appointments and surveys later, my psychiatrist came up with a final diagnosis: schizo-affective disorder. Surprise, surprise, my GP had been right all along!

In order to decide which medications to use, we had to really discuss my symptoms in depth. As with any mental illness, schizo-affective disorder needs to be treated differently depending on how it is manifesting itself in the patient. There is no magic medicine designed specifically to fix up a person suffering from the disorder.

For example: schizophrenic symptoms come in many forms. Auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, disorganised thought and speech. The list goes on.

The affective (mood) symptoms also vary greatly. Some patients might suffer only slightly – others, nearly exclusively – from mania. One person’s manic symptoms may differ from another person’s. Some people may experience depressive episodes more strongly. Some, like me, may have a nice mix of the two.

For me, the ‘affective’ aspect of the disorder was always quite clear. That’s probably why I was misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder. I had week- or month-long episodes of depression, followed by episodes of mania lasting a similar amount of time. This had already been going on for years.

My schizophrenic symptoms, however, were harder to pinpoint.

I had hallucinations, but I was always able to recognise that they were simply that: hallucinations. Typically, they’d be visual (but I did have auditory ones as well): I’d see a person out of the corner of my eye. If I kept them in my peripheral vision, they were very much there, but as soon as I’d turn to them, they’d disappear. This is how I was able to distinguish between real people and fabrications of my mind. Since I was aware I was hallucinating in the moment, my psychiatrist figured it didn’t really count, and more or less dismissed the hallucinations entirely.

One symptom he definitely focused on was my delusional thinking; I would create wild stories in my mind and believe them. I was convinced everyone in the subway was staring at me and talking about me. I thought people were watching me all the time. At one point, I genuinely believed Nick was an alien. He has a vein in his forehead that sometimes buldges out, and my mind came up with an explanation for it: he’s an alien, obviously.

Despite having these crazy thoughts on a regular basis, I would also have spouts of clarity where I realised how ridiculous I was being. Did I really think that Nick was from another planet? At some moments, yes; at others, no, of course not. I was always sane enough to hold back from sharing my ideas with people, because I didn’t want them to get the wrong impression and think I was a whack job. I definitely did have some crazy thoughts, but the crazy never took over my mind for too long.

I always snapped out of it.

But the reality of the situation was that, although I wasn’t suffering 100% of the time, I was still suffering. I was still delusional and paranoid. Although I could distinguish between hallucinations and reality, the hallucinations were still very distracting. These things were having a big impact on my every day life, and something needed to be done about it.

So, we started to experiment. We stuck with the quetiapine, a drug I had been on for months to help me sleep, and tried a few different medications before we reached a cocktail that was suitable. Finally the tunnel was getting a little brighter.

My treatment doesn’t rid me completely of the effects of my disorder; I still suffer from all things listed above – just on a much, much milder level. I can live like a regular person 75% of the time, but I still have days where I can’t get out of bed.

Schizo-affective disorder is probably going to affect me for the rest of my life but, it isn’t going to dictate my life. That’s my job. I’m still in charge here.

23, broke and happy

So let’s just start out with the main points: I’m 23 years old.  I have zero money to my name (in fact I owe some!) and yet I’m completely happy and do not feel threatened in any way.

What?

If, at 18, someone had asked me how I pictured myself at 23, I would not have imagined this.

I would have pictured someone more ‘responsible’.  I would have pictured someone who had a good job, with savings in her bank account to fall back on, should anything happen.  A decent place to live – with or without roommates.  I might have pictured someone with a degree under her belt.  I probably would have pictured someone who, despite all things pointing in the right direction, might not have been happy.  At the end of the day though, that would be the most important factor.  I’d want to be happy.

So at this point, I’m definitely winning.

Let me just sum up the past 5 years of my life for you:

At 18 years old, I had been out of highschool for nearly a year, working my ass off to save for something (I didn’t know what I was saving for).
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life – so obviously I didn’t know what I wanted to study.  I felt this way straight out of highschool, which is why I took the first year off to work.  After that first year, I was still clueless.

So I decided to travel.

I started to look into cheaper ways of traveling – possibly not even traveling, but rather living in a new place.  This sounded pretty ideal – set up a homebase somewhere central in europe, and use it as a port to travel to other places nearby.  It sounded perfect.  I’d get a job as an aupair – a kind of nanny – and I’d use my vacation time, my days off and my ideal location as a way to travel cheaply and efficiently.  I had planned to also use the time to reflect, and ultimately decide what I wanted to study.

That didn’t exactly work out.

I had only been in Germany for about 5 months when I started looking into staying longer.  It just felt like the place I needed to be at that time.  So, I got a job at a kindergarten, to begin two months after my au pair contract ended.  Unforseen circumstances brought me to live in Jakarta, Indonesia for four months, with my host family.  I ultimately went back and stayed in Germany.

That second year turned into a third, then a fourth, then a fifth – I never left Germany. I never felt like I wanted to.  I was so content in my life – things were just easy.  I learned quickly how to live my adult life in another country.  In fact, it’s the only place I’ve ever done it – back in Canada, I lived with my parents.  Sure, I had my own car and I was independent, but I still lived at home.  I never had to completely take care of myself until I moved thousands of kilometres away.  But I did it, and I did it well.

I learned the language.  I paid my taxes.  I had my friends.  About a year into working at the kindergarten, I started dating Nick.  Soon after we met, we had moved in together.  Everything happened really quickly but it worked.  My best friend and roommate, Sarah, also had a boyfriend, Rob.  Our best friend, Charlynn, lived nearby and spent loads of time at our place.  We’d all hang out together like a big happy family. It was a lovely time in our lives.

Eventually, Nick and I got our own place, Sarah decided to move home to California. Charlynn stuck around.

I still don’t know if it’s related to everything or not, but soon after all the changes, I fell into a really bad depression.

I was in a terrible state.  I was paranoid, I was sad, I was exhausted all the time.  I still pushed myself hard enough to go to work – it was hard, but I did it.  I could fake it for the 7 hours a day I was there, and then I’d go home, cry, and sleep for 15 hours straight.  I didn’t have a life and I didn’t want one either.

If it weren’t for Nick, I probably wouldn’t be here.  He was my fucking life line.

I started seeing a psychiatrist, spent a week in the hospital to get a diagnosis. I was overwhelmed with support.  Charlynn and Nick came to visit me in the hospital whenever they could.  Charlynn would always let me know she was there and she loved me.  Anthea, someone I had known for years but never been close with, reached out to me with her own story.
I was finally diagnosed as schizo-affective about one year into ‘treatment’. I started taking the correct medicines, and eventually things got better.  Of course when I was doing really well, I’d think I was cured, and I’d stop taking my medicine. I’d fall back into a state: sometimes I’d be depressed, sometimes I’d be irrationally angry for days, and sometimes I’d be overly happy and reckless – those were the manic days.

One of my worst symptoms was paranoia.  This one went across all boards – it didn’t matter if I was depressed or happy, I’d still be constantly worried about what people thought of me.  I was convinced everyone talked about me – about how much they hated me.  As I’m sure you can imagine, that was exhausting for Nick to deal with day in and day out.  He is a saint because he never blamed me.

One day I literally woke up and thought, “fuck this. If they want to talk about me and hate me, whatever.”
I just didn’t care anymore.  I somehow had a moment of clarity that stuck.  I wasn’t being like this on purpose.  Nick would tell me all the time that this wasn’t me – Becca isn’t like this.  This is just Becca when she’s in a state.

Finally I understood what he meant.

After that realisation, my entire life changed.  I started to go out.  I met an incredible group of people who quickly became amazing, close friends.  I had a family again in the place I’d adopted as home.
The problem with schizo-affective disorder is that it’s selfish.  It doesn’t care if you’re having a great time – it can decide how you’re going to feel regardless of your environment.

This is true.  To a point.  I learned that I could distract myself.   I realised that when things were constantly new and changing, I could keep myself busy enough to get past the numbness.

Picture it like running.  You know when you’re running, and you reach a point where you feel so drained and like you can’t go on any longer.  But, if you push yourself just a little further, you get past it and you gain your second wind.

That’s kind of how it was for me with mental health.

I know this is controversial.  I’m not saying you can cure yourself with attitude alone.  I’m doing this while also being diligent about taking my medicine.  I have other weapons, but I’m using my will power as well.  I’m helping myself, but I’m not doing it alone.  I still don’t think I’m strong enough to do it alone.

So, when I felt myself dropping again, I knew I had to dive in again.  I had to throw myself into the deep end to prove to myself that I could swim.

So what did I do?  I booked a flight to Thailand.

I had been wanting to go for a long time.  I wanted to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary.  That was my plan in the making that I had never actually planned.  It was an idea.

One night, after hanging out with Jen, another wonderful person who stuck by me, I went home, opened Chrome up, and booked a flight to Bangkok.

Just like that.

Then, I went and quit my job, spent as little as possible in the coming weeks, and got on a plane. I was on my own for nearly 3 months.

I just got home four days ago.  I have no job.  I have negative money (I borrowed some to fund my trip).

But I am so excited for what’s coming next.

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