Antoinette is a 67 year old single, Caucasian woman who was interviewed over the phone from her home in Florence, South Carolina – where she grew up. She enjoys painting, photography, and making jewelry.
The beginning of Antoinette’s life was full of promise. She was raised in a middle-class family and had one sister. Antoinette described herself as a shy and introverted young woman with an interest in art. She had her first psychotic episode while she was in college.
Antoinette: I went to Erskine College for a couple years and then went to the University of Georgia to major in art and I quit one quarter before I was supposed to graduate. And I went to—I felt like I needed a break which, that was sort of the precursor of my getting—if that’s the word. I don’t know if that’s the right word. But anyway, I quit college. I went to Atlanta and I got mixed up with a bunch of hippies. And that’s when I first got sick. It was in 1968.
Interviewer: And how old were you at that time?
Antoinette: How old was I? About 20 or 21.
In 1970, Antoinette was hospitalized for four months. Once she was stable, her mother insisted she go back to school. Antoinette went to the University of South Carolina where she was assaulted by a professor. She then transferred to another school closer to home but described herself as “horribly messed up by then.”
Listen to more about Antoinette’s struggles here:
Once Antoinette began taking medication, she started working while finishing her degree. After graduation, she got a job working for the city she lived in doing public relations, planning, artwork, and grant writing. Four years later, she resigned and moved to Washington DC to become an artist or musician. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a good experience and moved to Atlanta after a few months.
I got sick again—see, I got sick—I call it sick. Well, I had two—two times that I was kind of homeless and wandering around and stuff like that.
Antoinette described her frustrations with taking medication. She knows the medication keeps her from hearing voices and clears her mind, but she doesn’t like what it does to her body. However, Antoinette understands that she needs to be on her medication.
Listen to Antoinette discuss taking medication here:
One of Antoinette’s passions is writing about her schizophrenia. In the 1970’s, she kept a diary that she presented to E. Fuller Torrey, a well-known psychiatrist and researcher of schizophrenia, at a meeting.
In Columbia, South Carolina, there was a NAMI meeting or some kind of mental health meeting. I had a really good friend and her daughter—well, we were friends. Her daughter is schizophrenic. She’s a NAMI person. She’s very active. Anyway, we were at this conference and I had my diary with me, I guess, and I gave it to him and he told me he’d read it on the plane back home, which he did and he wrote me back. And he said it was well written and unfortunately he didn’t know too many places where I could get it published except that Schizophrenia Bulletin might help. So, that was a big thing for me. And the way they arranged it, they published the article and they put my name and address if anybody wanted a copy and I’ve got these letters and cards from all over the world, and it was just wonderful. Some of them were patients and some of them were doctors. Just all these impressive people and everything. It was just a blessing to me.
Click here to read Antoinette’s article in Schizophrenia Bulletin.
Antoinette has also published letters in her local newspaper.
I’m just amazed at some of the things I’ve been able to do, considering how sick I’ve been over the years. I used to—I wrote several letters to the editor and they all got published, about six or seven of them, I think.
Antoinette is also very active on Facebook and writes a lot about her experiences with schizophrenia, as well as her struggles with what type of religion she associated with and whether she believes there is a God.
Antoinette: This is when I first got sick. I wrote about it in the thing I sent to you. I heard a woman’s voice and she said that—about love, she said love and how important it is for everybody to love everybody. That’s kind of what I—that’s my religion, right there. Just that sentence. That’s basically something I keep. And also that experience that I had, being transported somewhere else.
Antoinette: The combination of the two, they happened at the same time. I heard the voice and then I went running down the street to—I thought about this guy and I went running down the street and I went—asked him to hold me because I just felt like everything thing guy was doing, he was doing out of love unconditionally. And I guess that’s kind of what it’s like in the ‘60s, you know, when people used to go to—George Harrison and all those people would go to these gurus and everything, they think, well, this guy had the answers for me. And that’s the way I felt back then. Also, let’s see, pleasing God, I wrote one on that, about how—it says: “A woman worships God through her children. All the love that she gives to her babies, all the milk, all the diaper changing, all the playing is the most direct and the closest love a woman can have for God. For the man, it is the love he shows for his wife. This makes women and men equal in the eyes of God.” And then I wrote this one, “Want an answer? Why not ask God? All this bad stuff, if God were a wimp, we couldn’t care about him. If we didn’t care about him, why would he care about us? If nobody cared about him and he didn’t care about us, we would just sit here. If we just thought about each other, we would get depressed. Why would we get depressed? Nobody we know is God, what difference does that make? Ask God.” Ask God, that’s the end of it. I wrote that in a letter to the editor. I guess that wasn’t that bad.
Listen to a portion of the above segment here:
One thing Antoinette enjoys doing in her free time is art and photography. Click here to see her work.
Antoinette: I try to keep up with this art gallery here in town. I put paintings—I took art at the University of Georgia exactly, and I like to paint abstracts and peace symbol art, which is peace symbols out of ribbons and bows and stickers and paint and all kind of stuff. They’re real pretty
Interviewer: Do you do photography as well?
Antoinette: I did Timarron Park. There’s some sky pictures and I did some cemetery pictures with beautiful old oak trees and with gravestones, old graves and stuff, and I take pictures of my art for sort of like a record. And I can’t do things unless they’re easy to do. Like it’s easier to take a picture of something than to write down a lot of paperwork or something. You need to take a picture anyway, wouldn’t you?
Unfortunately, due to the medication she is on, Antoinette struggles to do physical activities. However, she is still able to cook for herself and others.
Interviewer: What are some of the difficulties you’re having with your body?
Antoinette: Walking, getting up, standing, and doing something. One thing is, I do cook. I still cook for myself and I get a pot. I put some oil in the pot. I sauté onions and sometimes I use lamb, sometimes chicken and sometimes beef. I sauté that together with salt and then I put garlic with it. I mince garlic and—I put vegetables. I love okra and squash and different vegetables to make different things. But I make it all—I make a meal enough to last for a day or a day and a half or so. I’ll mix them all together. I put rice, I put coriander, and salt. Sometimes I put eggplant and I’ve got—my girlfriend gave me some fresh tomatoes that were delicious. This girl at the door said she’d give me some tomatoes. I can’t wait to get into them. But I like to cook. I cook one—one, I have to be careful because my burner caught fire a couple of times and it scared me real bad. So, I’m just doing this one burner, and it’s easier. I get tired real easy, and this is something I can do, and I can cook and it will last for a couple days. Oh, and I put rice in the soup, too. Just put, you know, enough water to cook the rice, and also put tomato sauce sometimes, and sometimes I put couscous. I’ve got lots of spices and lots of things to choose from. I drink one or two Dr Peppers. Lately I’ve been drinking Dr Peppers again, which I don’t think is good for me health-wise. I’m trying to cut out my sugar, too, and I’m—you know, you’re getting tired of that.
Interviewer: No, I’m not at all. It sounds like you’re a good cook. Do you ever cook for other people?
Antoinette: Yeah. Sometimes I take things to people. I put some in a little Tupperware thing. Yeah. And sometimes—I have a cousin, Margaret. She’s my best friend. She’s 86-years old, and she is more active than I am. She cooks all the time. I go over there at least once a week and eat with her, and she gives me food and I take her food.
One thing that keeps Antoinette going is her cats. She has three: Princess, Tigger, and Posey.
I have a spiritual relationship with my cat sort of like an American Indian would have with an animal. She’s a very powerful cat and she—she guides me about half the time instead of me guiding her. She’s a wonderful animal. And the other two, they’re younger, but they’re wonderful, too. The little orange one likes to get in my lap all the time and the grey one, she just runs back and forth. She’s beautiful. If they had beauty contests for cats, she would win one. She’s beautiful.
Antoinette decided to participate in the Schizophrenia Oral History Project because she wanted to help others. Although she was anxious about participating, she was still willing to share her story.
I hope this is going to be beneficial for people like myself and for people that care about people like myself.