Schizoaffective disorder: my story, by Guest Blogger Victoria Ward

Schizoaffective disorder: my story

By Victoria Ward

Victoria Ward is a yoga instructor with a profound interest in psychology, holistic health, and fitness. Her hobbies include tennis, cooking, reading and writing. When she’s not working she can be found playing with her corgi, Milo.

In the United States alone, over 5.7 million adults have bipolar disorder, with another 3.2 million suffering from schizophrenia. That’s a staggering 8.9 million adults with these disorders.

10-13% of individuals with schizophrenia and 15% of individuals with bipolar disorder end their lives prematurely.

On December 28, 2016 I was diagnosed with the bipolar I variant of schizoaffective disorder. This disorder is characterized by both schizophrenic and depressive episodes. I went untreated for nearly three years after the first symptoms presented, and not once did anyone offer me help or even notice I was different.

Why did nobody help me?

Plenty of people cared about me, so what happened? Psychotic and mood disorders can lead anyone feeling low-energy, apathetic, and needing alone time. However, when left unchecked they may never be able to come out of that funk. This was definitely true for me, and it’s why knowing the signs are important for identifying these disorders in loved ones.

Many people with psychotic or mood disorders will isolate themselves and ignore texts and phone calls. After a while, even the most persistent of my friends just stopped calling and texting, and my phone went silent. Without any support, symptoms quickly worsen, and our minds start moving away from the real world. 

How can you help?

When a friend starts shutting out loved ones, there are two great ways of staying connected. First, periodically checking on them in-person will make them much more likely to communicate with you. Second, including your friend in group plans so they get out of the house will also help lift their spirits.

It will take a lot of work, but that stress should never fall on one person. So, keeping several people in the loop and delegating visits is a fantastic way of helping your friend. These strategies aren’t always enough and contacting their family is a next step.

What’s it like living with schizoaffective disorder?

Sometimes it’s hard for people to empathize with people living with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder because they’ve never experienced anything like it. So, I think a brief recounting of my experiences with these disorders can shed light on the uninitiated reader.

The symptoms progressed slowly, starting with depression, apathy, and trouble sleeping. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already experiencing mild psychosis, and I believed my apartment was haunted by ghosts. It sounds silly, but I could hear voices, see shadows, and had disappearing personal items. Not knowing I had any disorders; ghosts seemed the only explanation.

After about a year of this, and having lost all my friends, I experienced my first manic episode. In all honesty, it was one of the greatest times of my life. I was confident, overflowing with energy and ideas, ambitious, and happy. However, after a few days those feelings faded and were replaced with a nightmare.

The depressive episode that followed was more powerful than any depression I’ve ever had. There are no words that could convey the emotions I felt during that time. I felt like I was drowning in a mixture of extreme fear, panic, and sadness. Several days went by with no sleep, no food, and constant crying and shaking. But that was only the beginning.

As the year progressed, I began having more hallucinations and delusions, though I didn’t know it at the time. My apartment was always dark, I would often feel spiders crawling on my skin, hear whispers, and everything felt hostile. As the days passed, I developed insomnia and would find myself seeing and hearing many more unusual things.

Finally, in the last year before seeking treatment, I had rapid cycling depressive episodes. Those same unspeakable nightmares I occasionally had before were now occurring nearly every month, sometimes twice a month. I decided to see a psychiatrist and told myself that if treatment didn’t work then I’d end my life. I was quickly prescribed medicine, took it, and it kicked-in immediately.

What’s the prognosis?

For many people, there will never be a complete return to premorbid functioning. However, in spite of having these disorders, I still managed to graduate college, find a job, and now live on my own. I’m thankful to my doctors, friends, and family for their support and after three years battling schizoaffective disorder, I’m glad I persevered and found the courage to get help.

If you, or someone you, know are presenting any of the symptoms I mentioned, please check in on yourself or that person. Sometimes it just takes a few good friends being there for support to find the motivation to press on, seek treatment, and feel better.

If you are in a crisis, dial 2-1-1, in Connecticut. If you are outside of Connecticut and need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or, text “HOME” to 741741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.