Allie Burke is a 30-year-old Caucasian female living in Long Beach, California. She is a California native, and she enjoys being close to the city, mountains, beach, and any kind of cuisine she might like. She enjoys reading and writing. Allie has written for magazines, published books, and keeps a personal blog.
Allie was born in Pasadena, California, where she lived with her parents until she was three years old. At that time, her parents divorced, and Allie went to live with her mother. This is when she began to hear things. After her mother tucked her into bed and turned the lights off, Allie heard “dark and whispery and scary” voices. She would try to hide under the blankets, but was still scared to go to sleep. Allie tried to express to her mother what she was experiencing, but it was hard to know what was really going on at such a young age.
Allie: I got to a point where I never wanted to go to sleep. But when you’re trying to explain something like that, that you’re scared, to your parents—or in my case just my mother—it’s kind of a situation where they’re thinking, She’s just being a kid. She’s just scared of the dark, no big deal. Just be consistent. Keep putting her to bed and it will all work out.
Though they moved multiple times, she lived with her mother for the next ten years. Every year, Allie found herself in a new school, and her mother worked multiple jobs to provide for Allie and her little brother. Allie’s uncles often came through her home, and she thinks that they and her mother were involved in criminal activity. Allie was exposed to this activity as well as drugs, and describes her childhood as “very rough.” Eventually, Allie came to the realization that she had to stop trying to save her mother. Right before she began eighth grade, Allie moved in with her father.
Her symptoms continued, but when she was young, Allie thought it was all normal; she thought that everyone heard voices. It almost seemed as if she had an imaginary friend. When she became a teenager, though, Allie’s symptoms caused her fear. The things she was experiencing were scary, and she tried to “turn it off” with activities like drinking alcohol and trying drugs. On top of what she was already experiencing, Allie experienced the trauma of sexual assault at the age of 16.
Allie describes her teenage years here:
When Allie began college, the voices got worse, and she recalls trying to take a test but only hearing the voices. Though Allie stopped attending college because of the high level of stress she encountered, she did receive certifications in product management, visual basic programming, and computer security. When she was in her early twenties, Allie was constantly paranoid, and often thought that people were trying to poison her. During this time, Allie got married. However, it was a struggle because of her paranoia. She told her husband about what she was experiencing, and he expressed fear and the desire to not discuss the topic. Through this time, Allie dealt with her symptoms as best she could. If she got to the point of suicidality, she checked herself into the hospital.
Allie: I did end up getting married in my early twenties. Just after I got married is when my marriage was kind of falling apart. I was really struggling and turned the fact that my marriage wasn’t going well on myself and thought there must be something wrong with me. I had told my husband that I heard voices sometimes and he said that it was really scary and that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
Allie decided to see a psychotherapist, who referred her to a specialist. She was told that she had a sleeping disorder, and was prescribed sleeping pills. Nothing changed, though, and six months later, Allie went to a different psychiatrist. At the age of 25, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The first medication she was given, Risperdal, made daily functioning difficult. Some of the side effects included blurry vision and excessive tiredness, and Allie began sleeping at least 12 hours a night. Allie got tired of bouncing between psychiatrists and medications, so she admitted herself to a mental facility. Allie thought she could be “fixed” very quickly and would be able to leave the facility by Monday, in time for work. However, she only remained there less than six hours, because she was scared of the people there and the length of time that they had been there. She remembers the other patients looked robotic, like they had no soul or emotion. She checked herself out of the facility, and shortly after, got divorced.
Hear Allie discuss checking herself into a mental facility:
Allie’s recent life, though, has been “pretty successful.” She takes a medication, Seroquel, which has worked well, and for the past nine years, has worked at the same job. Currently, she is the vice president of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization, and is the executive chair of the board. Allie speaks to the unique difficulties that individuals with schizophrenia may experience in the workplace. She says that the majority find it difficult to sit in an office for eight hours each day. In addition, there are multiple side effects of medication, such as blurry vision or trouble focusing that present barriers at work. Lunch and other breaks do not provide enough respite to maintain the necessary level of focus. Allie would like to see employers become more open-minded to people with mental illness by providing flexibility when needed. Allie knows there is always risk when disclosing a mental illness, and individuals can lose their jobs if the “wrong person” finds out about a diagnosis. There are laws that are supposed to prevent such actions, but Allie says they do not really protect those with mental disabilities. Sometimes, individuals facing similar challenges still lose their jobs. Allie also stresses the importance of having freedom to be able to tell others when there is suffering or help is needed; an open environment of trust in the workplace is critical.
Allie: So I’d really like employers to start trying to be a little bit more open-minded, not just about people with schizophrenia, but people with mental illnesses in general, because a lot of people with other mental illnesses take the same medications we do. What I’d like to see is, like I said, for them to be a little bit more open-minded. You know, allow people to work from home some days, allow split shifts, maybe allow people to come in later. Try not to be so strict because when you’re strict, you’re putting people in a box and not everybody fits in that box, especially people with schizophrenia.
Allie receives a lot of support from her own personal work community. Her boyfriend also serves as a source of support, even when it is hard for her to ask for help with paranoia. She still has hard days, though, because schizophrenia is unpredictable. When she has such days, Allie just “deals with it.” She reasons with herself that things cannot always be negative, so she has to make the best of it; she gives herself pep talks to get through the hard moments. A hard but victorious moment she encountered came about a year ago when she overcame fear and got on a plane to visit her boyfriend in Hawaii. Schizophrenia is “ruled by fear,” so surpassing her fear was the best feeling for her.
Allie comments on the unpredictability of schizophrenia:
When she first publicly disclosed her mental illness, it came out as an apology to her readers; she was an author, but her online presence had slipped for several years because of all she was going through. When she wrote the blog post sharing about her diagnosis, people “came out of the woodwork” to support her, which was surprising for Allie.
Before she published her first book, Allie had never written anything. Though she read a lot, she was struggling to find books that she could actually connect with. So she decided to write her own. It was a paranormal romance, and her friends encouraged her to publish it. Since then, she has written more books and has had articles in magazines, including Women’s Health.
Now, a typical day for Allie begins with waking at around six in the morning, which often requires at least five alarms to be set. She then goes to the office, where she works 10-12 hours; if she does not spend that much time at the office, she takes her computer home to continue working. When she is not working, Allie spends time with her boyfriend and their two cats and one dog. She also tries to make time for writing.
Allie’s dreams for the future revolve largely around her desire to continue helping people. She wants to be able to talk to people about their struggles and encourage them to keep going. She also dreams of working to transform the language that the media use, so that there is no more blaming mental health for violence; she knows that mental illness does not mean individuals are killers or other violent perpetrators. Allie says that it is very demeaning and hurtful when people, such as the media, make assumptions. Allie dreams of continuing to speak out against assumptions and be an advocate for others with mental illness.
Allie: My dreams are to help people. I know that everyone says that, but I want to speak to people who are struggling and tell them that they can do it. My case is very rare, I understand. Not a lot of people with schizophrenia can work fulltime in an office and be functional. So, I’d like to help people to do that.
Schizophrenia has given Allie a life that she would have never had otherwise. She is a writer and speaker. She has been on the front page of the Washington Post. She says that with schizophrenia, her life has character. Allie has learned to be honest with herself, and she encourages others to be self-aware and understand that it is fine to ask for help. Allie also advises individuals to try to avoid stressful situations when possible, and to work to “back off” the triggers that may cause stress. She also emphasizes the importance of discipline in living with schizophrenia, from the type of food a person eats to the thoughts they have.
Listen to Allie talk about some her opportunities because of schizophrenia here:
Allie decided to participate in The Schizophrenia Oral History Project because it is important. She wants to encourage people to know that it is okay to tell the truth, and to share that they have schizophrenia. She thinks that TSOHP provides a safe place for people to talk about their experiences, and to encourage others to join the community. Allie says that with more people speaking up, the likelihood of stigmatization will decrease.