Andrew K is a 29 year old Caucasian male, currently living in Harrison, Ohio. He holds a degree in history from Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He enjoys playing his guitar and listening to other music. Andrew is a thoughtful man who loves learning and engaging in critical thinking.
As Andrew describes it, mental illness has always played a major role in his life. When he was younger, six or seven years old, he was tested for ADHD or ADD. Though he did well in school, he lacked focus. He was seen by a psychiatrist, and he answered her questions with the answers he thought she would want. He says that he had difficulty with low self-esteem. Eventually, he was prescribed medication to treat ADHD, and later, antidepressants.
Years later, when he began college, the severity of depression increased. Andrew thinks that this was due to new stressors that occurred with beginning college. It was during this stressful time that Andrew attempted suicide. The period following his attempt was “terrible.” Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and spent time in the hospital. Later, he learned that his diagnosis meant that depression and mania could happen at the same time, or there could be a rapid switch between the two.
Andrew: Mental illness played a part basically when I went to college; there was a time when much of my life took a downturn. I guess I was dealing with a lot of new stresses that I normally never would have dealt with, and I got severely depressed and I—I attempted suicide. It was surreal. After that you just don’t really feel like you’re alive…It was just terrible.
Andrew begin to take antipsychotic and mood stabilizing medication, though he did not think the bipolar diagnosis “fit” him. He first took lithium for a short time, then began the medication Depakote, which causes weight gain. Unfortunately, the medication did not seem to help, and Andrew continued to experience depression on a regular basis. After a while, when he was 25, he stopped taking his medication.
About a year later, when he was 26, Andrew started to experience delusions. They began as rather grandiose, he says, when he thought that he had a photographic memory and an IQ of at least 160. At the time, when Andrew would tell people such things, they took him at his word. His delusions did not stop there, however. Rather, they became more violent. Once, his father gave him food, and Andrew immediately felt his body lose all of its energy, almost as if it were sinking. After this incident, he felt as if his parents were attempting to poison him, so he began to no longer trust them.
Listen to Andrew describe the beginning of his delusions here:
At one point, cable television was being installed in the home where Andrew lived with his parents. The process involved a lot of banging, and Andrew’s mind began to believe that the Swedes were trying to attack him. It was a very scary situation for him. Another time, he became convinced that his boss was plotting against him by changing his work to make it appear incorrect. He also began to experience “conversations in his head.” His employer advised that Andrew go to a doctor’s office to be tested. While there, he thought that he was being tested to receive a promotion to become a company’s CEO. The testing was extensive, and included ink blot, pattern, reaction, and other tests. Following this, his employer placed him on forced leave.
Andrew: Eventually—I mean, eventually my work forced me on med—on leave.
Interviewer: How come?
Andrew: I was basically saying that the person that was my boss that was—I was saying was plotting against me and that she was changing my work to make it look like I was not doing it correctly, but really I’m pretty sure it’s just that having voices and trying to do work is counterintuitive because it takes your attention to nothing, like you cannot focus at all.
Interviewer: So you were hearing voices at that time?
Andrew: Yeah, but you don’t really think of them as voices. Like you just think of them almost as conversations. For me it was like having a conversation in my head and it was, you know, hopefully positive but usually it was negative.
After being placed on leave, Andrew began to drive. While he did this in part because he thought that his parents were coming after him, the driving also provided relaxation. It was not until he ran out of gas that he returned home. Once there, his parents told Andrew that they were scared of him. So Andrew locked himself in his room, only leaving to get food once his parents left for work. This continued for about two months. Eventually, Andrew drove himself to a psychiatrist appointment. He thought he was being followed by his uncle, though, so he continued to drive. He made it all the way to a Walmart in Kentucky before running out of gas. Not knowing what else to do, Andrew called the police. When they arrived, he was experiencing delusions and told the officers that he was only 17 and that his parents had poisoned him. Andrew says that in response, the police officers gave him the option to either be driven back to his parents’ home or to a mental hospital. He chose to be taken to a hospital, thinking it was the better option for him at the time.
Hear Andrew describe his interactions with the police in these two segments:
When Andrew and the officers arrived at the hospital, he was turned away, being told that he would only be admitted if he were homicidal or suicidal, which he was not at the time. As an alternative, the officers took Andrew to a homeless shelter, where he stayed for a week. At the end of his stay at the shelter, officers arrived, placed Andrew in handcuffs, and took him to a state mental hospital. It was then that Andrew became aware of the fact that he was a ward of the state of Kentucky; his parents had completed the process to make it official. His stay at the mental hospital began with a day spent in an old facility with tiny sheets on the beds and puddles in the bathrooms. While there, Andrew refused to take medication. The very next day, though, he was transferred to a new hospital, which was nice in appearance. Even so, Andrew observed fights almost daily. One person died at the hospital, and Andrew was questioned to determine if he had witnessed anything related to the death.
After a week spent in the state hospital, it was determined that Andrew was not a harm to himself or to others, and documents were signed stating that he could leave. Though he was free to go, no one picked him up. Even if someone had been there, Andrew would not have gone with anyone, because he believed that the people he knew were involved in schemes against him. Thus, he stayed at the hospital for a total of three weeks, at which point he called his parents. When they arrived to pick him up, they were led into a private room, where they were told Andrew’s diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia.
Andrew: But I believe after one week they signed me where I could leave, saying that I was no harm to myself. But no one would either take me from the place or no—like I would not go to anyone that I knew because I thought they were all part of it. So, I was there for two more weeks, so three weeks total. Eventually, I called my parents. I don’t know why I did because I was so scared to death of them.
Interviewer: Still scared.
Andrew: Yeah. So I called them because I gave up.
Interviewer: Had you received the diagnosis of schizophrenia at this point yet?
Andrew: Yeah. Right before I left the hospital, the day I left, we were sat down in a private room and they said, “We think he’s paranoid schizophrenic.” I honestly I had no clue what that meant which is really weird because I learned it a long time ago. So to me, I remember like being in my room just crying because I would think it meant something different.
Even though he had been released from the hospital, paranoia and delusions persisted for Andrew. A few days after returning home, he believed that his parents would kick him out of the house unless he made chocolate pretzels. Looking back, Andrew does not understand why he was released from the hospital and feels as if he was not in the correct state of mind upon his release. Though he read a 400-page book about schizophrenia following his hospital release, Andrew does not feel as if he was given much information about schizophrenia, and he began to use his own experiences to construct a definition of the diagnosis and to reason why his mind had behaved the way it had.
After his diagnosis, Andrew felt pressure to find a new job. He began working at a hospital call center, which was stressful. There were many people, which meant trying to handle many different perspectives. There, his paranoia continued, so he left that job in a state of severe depression. Six months later, he began working at a convenience store. When he was assigned to work the cash register for the first time, he encountered deep fear and anxiety; he was shaking and heard audible voices in his head. Though the employer tried to get him to stay, Andrew left that job as well.
Andrew describes his employment experiences here:
After his attempts at maintaining steady employment, Andrew began to have an increase of symptoms, including hearing voices, paranoia, and stress. His body has physically shaken during times of anxiety and severe paranoia. He continued to be convinced that other people were trying to harm him. One specific instance occurred when Andrew went to a rock concert with his little brother. While there, he became paranoid, seeing the ushers as plotting against him or wanting to tell him to leave. He “stuck it out” as best he could because he did not want to ruin the experience for his brother, but felt worn out for several days afterward. In addition to paranoia, Andrew can become very stressed in different situations, especially those which are new or overwhelming. Even when he takes medication, situations involving high levels of stress can occur, and thus trigger symptoms.
Interviewer: So you noticed that even if you’re taking medication, high stress is going to trigger some symptoms for you?
Andrew: Yeah. It’s—I don’t know. It always starts out the same way. So I start hearing voices and it’s almost like—it’s almost like let’s say I’m driving my car and I hear voices. I actually start talking back to ’em and talking in the car as if they are there.
Interviewer: So you’re talking out loud to the voices?
Andrew: Yeah. It’s really like where I’ll turn my head to it, actually there’s someone there.
Interviewer: Do you catch yourself doing that sometimes?
Andrew: Yeah, and then that’s when I know that I’m really paranoid.
It is clear that Andrew has continued to experience symptoms, even while taking medication. Furthermore, sticking to a regular regime of medication requires a plan; each time he takes the medicine, it has to be done with at least 350 calories in his system. So aside from medication, which requires planning and is still sometimes not the most effective form of treatment, Andrew has discovered new ways to cope with his symptoms. The main way that he combats the stress and associated symptoms is by focusing on each moment and trying not to lose hope; he holds to the idea that something within each moment can by enjoyed.
Such strategies also help Andrew when thinking about his past and future. He does not want to worry about how debilitating his past was or how successful his future may be. Instead, he tries to accept his “now” rather than view himself as a “wildly successful” individual. While he does not discount great success, he feels it is easier to live with his mind in the present.
Hear Andrew discuss living in the moment here:
One thing that Andrew does “in the now” is speak to the popular cultural perceptions and barriers of the diagnosis of schizophrenia. He recognizes that schizophrenia, even the term itself, can be intimidating to individuals; he recognizes that it can be a “deal breaker” for many people. He wants to tell others about his diagnosis sooner rather than later so that if rejection happens, it occurs before he is too involved with someone. Andrew has faced such rejection, often in the form of others making assumptions about him. Once when he was at a bar, he struck up a conversation with another guy, but by the end, Andrew ended up feeling mocked and looked down upon. After disclosing that he had a mental disorder, he was asked if he should have someone watching over him at all times; it was assumed that Andrew would perhaps be harmful to others.
Listen to Andrew talk about the possibility of rejection when disclosing mental illness:
Other times, individuals that Andrew has encountered have not even known what schizophrenia is, or think that it just happens when individuals cannot think correctly, or are “just crazy.” Andrew thinks that some of the lack of knowledge may be due to how popular culture portrays it, as he term “schizophrenia” is sometimes used incorrectly and in ways that are not truly descriptive of the illness. Because words matter, Andrew wonders if schizophrenia could be termed in a different way. He thinks that people should study extensively in order to gain knowledge about such topics rather than holding on to opinions that may be based on misinformation or incorrect definitions or terminology.
Andrew also speaks to the financial barriers that individuals with mental illness face. In America today, those with schizophrenia tend to be at the bottom level of the income distribution. He says that this, in turn, means that individuals buy less effective medication because that is all that they can afford. He says that because of limited funds, it is unlikely that new medications for schizophrenia will be developed because there will be no financial incentive to do so. Furthermore, Andrew identifies that the field of mental health as a whole is underfunded. He uses the example of his psychiatrist’s office: though he identifies his psychiatrist as a great provider, the space could use some necessary upgrades. Andrew has also personally experienced financial challenges as it relates to medication. Though at first his parents had to pay for his medication out of pocket, the expansion of Medicaid has recently allowed Andrew to get better medication with fewer side effects.
Andrew: Right before the Medicaid expansion, you know, I was—my parents were buying medication that was full price without insurance, you know? And I was lucky that only a few years ago, the medication I was taking became a generic, because when it was name brand, I would probably just not take medication if I wanted name brand and I was without insurance.
Interviewer: Makes all the difference.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s like 500 bucks for a prescription a month, and I would basically be homeless probably. Just because if I don’t have medication, I’d just never escape psychosis and eventually my parents wouldn’t be able to come find me, you know? So, I’m glad that when I came in, that’s when the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, so I was very happy about that.
Recently, Andrew has made some changes in his activities. Though he played guitar for about 10 years, he has begun lessons in order to receive specific direction. He plays as much as possible, appreciative of the stress-free activity and relaxation that music and the repetitive strumming of a guitar bring. Another change in activity is his more recent “cutting back” on video game play. When he would play competitively, he would become greatly stressed and paranoid and hear voices, so he is trying to stay away from that.
Andrew also reads a lot; right now, he is reading three books. He hopes that continuing to read will assist him with the next activity he hopes to begin: writing. When he was 25, he did write some. However, he describes the product as a “schizophrenic break,” starting as a story but becoming about schizophrenia. He never completed the project. Though he can be critical of himself and the things he produces, Andrew hopes that things will be different when he attempts to write this time around. He is inspired by Hemmingway’s “smooth and beautiful” writing.
A typical day for Andrew includes a lot of time spent playing the guitar or listening to music. He also spends time watching Hulu. Evaluation and critical thinking are interwoven throughout many of his activities, including his regular sessions with his psychiatrist.
While he does live existentially, as he describes it, Andrew also has hopes and dreams for the future. For instance, he is hopeful that he will be able to find a greatly effective medication. He, like many other individuals with schizophrenia, desires a job, but recognizes that there are many potential issues or complications that could arise. He hopes that in the future, medication will help him achieve the goal of having steady employment in a low-stress workplace. Andrew mentions that a bookstore might be a good place to work.
Andrew would “be happy” with his life if he made a positive impact on others. He especially wants to help his nieces and nephews explore, be curious, and value intelligence. If he can influence at least one person, his life would be well spent.
Andrew: So, I don’t know, I think I would be happy with my life if I –if I made a positive impact on people’s lives. If I push my nieces and nephews to explore, I don’t know, history and all the things that are out there to explore, like to be curious and to be—to think that intelligence is something to be loved and try and be intellectual, you know? That’s why I think if I was able to influence at least one person, my life would be worth spent.
Andrew decided to participate in The Schizophrenia Oral History Project because he has been told that as someone with schizophrenia, he is different than what people assume someone with his diagnosis would be like. He is highly cognitive and intellectual, and he loves learning. But similar to most others with schizophrenia, he also wants people to value him.
Andrew: I don’t have a lot of impairments for my thoughts, you know. I think that the world’s view of schizophrenics is that they’re just people that can’t think right, you know, that—that they’re just crazy from the day that they get diagnosis, and I think knowing that not everyone’s like that—I don’t think most are like that, but, you know, it is a positive impact, I think.