Chris Williams is a 44-year-old African American male from Cincinnati, Ohio, and his life experiences are anything but mundane. He currently lives alone in an apartment void of furniture. Chris tries to keep himself involved with other people and participates in volunteer opportunities.
As the tenth child, Chris was born to a large family in Cincinnati. He received good grades in school until he reached seventh grade. Then, his straight-A status began to slip as he experienced “family issues” at home: his parents separated. It was after this time, when he was about 13 years old, that Chris had his first encounter with law enforcement. One evening, while with siblings and friends, there was an incident that included throwing bricks at a liquor store in order to enter the store and find food. The teens were at home by the time police officers arrived to ask what happened; the others blamed Chris. He was told he would be charged with breaking and entering, and was sent to see a probation officer.
Chris: And the glass broke to the store, and they started looking around in the store, walking around in the store. There was no alarm in the store, so we all walked in there and we took food, [laughs] you know, we took food. We ate it. We laughed and before I knew it, the next day the police were at our door, and they were asking us questions, asking children around the neighborhood, What happened that night? What happened that night? And they all pointed the finger at me because I was the one originally throwing the bricks at the wall by the store. So, that’s the first time I got in trouble, when I was about twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old. They told me that they were gonna charge me with a B&E.
Following this first encounter with law enforcement and a probation officer, Chris began a program through his school called Citizens Committee for Peace. The program allowed him to “work” volunteer positions while also attending school. A highlight of this program was the chance Chris had to work at the Cincinnati Zoo. In 1987, Chris graduated from Hughes High School in Cincinnati.
Upon graduating high school, Chris worked a few different jobs, from being a dishwasher to a downtown hotel employee. Then he moved to Northern Kentucky, where he lived with a friend and the friend’s parents. Chris remembers noticing that he was the only African American individual around; the family he lived with and the neighbors were Caucasian. During this time, Chris met his friend’s 15-year-old niece, and through conversation, learned that she was experiencing repeated sexual assault. Chris encouraged her to contact law enforcement, and she did. He then describes the confusion that followed, in which some thought he was the one responsible for the assaults. This resulted in his involvement with the court system. The Probate Court ordered that a psychological evaluation be done on Chris. His chargers were then dropped, and the young girl received support.
After this confusing time, Chris moved back to Cincinnati, where he bought a house and lived with roommates. He was also hired as a corrections officer. One night, some of the other officers who had been hired around the same time as Chris were staying at his house. Chris describes a traumatic experience of being drugged, beaten, and sexually assaulted by one of the other officers wielding a gun and a knife. Through the struggle, they eventually ended up on a second-story ledge, and Chris says that ultimately, the attacker was decapitated, and Chris landed on the street below with the head in his hands. Chris was told that he would be charged with attempted manslaughter.
Chris recalls an additional experience of being approached by a man in a workplace who tried to solicit sex; this culminated in Chris beating the man up to fend him off. Due to this experience in addition to the assault which took place at his home, Chris thought these things were happening to him because he had tried to defend the young girl discussed previously. He thought there were correlations between the events.
Drawing on these experiences, Chris determined that something strange was going on. He contacted the Social Security Administration, writing that he felt paranoid and concerned that the “correlations” that were occurring in his life were normal. The recommendation was to get in touch with a service provider, such as a doctor, that could help. An additional suggestion was to eliminate drugs and alcohol and attend some meetings to help with that. Following the advice, Chris attended some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Chris describes his contact with the Social Security Administration here:
Chris continued to experience “linking situations together as if they had a correlation of some sort,” and wondered about conspiracy theories against him. He went to a doctor, and was prescribed medication, including Xanax. The pills he was prescribed were very powerful, and Chris felt he could not function well. When he mentioned this to the doctor, he was told that they should be making him inactive so he could “recover.” After Chris began taking medication, he was arrested for breaking and entering because the medicine caused an “attack,” during which he broke into a home.
Chris: …I was arrested by the police for breaking into someone’s house in another B&E, which I threw a window—a brick through the window and climbed in and called the police because I had an attack on the street from the Xanax and Valium and couldn’t make it home. I couldn’t see. There was—I closed my eyes. It was hard for me to open my eyes for some reason. I squinted them and could not open them. It was cold outside. I got confused about where I was. I called the police on the phone inside of the house and they arrested me for aggravated burglary.
After being detained for burglary, Chris continued hearing voices and experiencing paranoia and hallucinations. He was given the option of being imprisoned or sent to a local hospital. In 1994, he was sent to Chillicothe Correctional Institution, where he remained until 1996. While there, he tried various medications, but they made him “spacey,” scared, and paranoid. Chris says he was given the option of going to the hospital for outpatient treatment, but chose to stay in the correctional facility until his sentence was over. He describes himself as “deteriorating” at this point.
Chris returned to Cincinnati in 1996, at which time he was referred to as a “psychiatric patient.” When he was 22, he received a diagnosis of psychosis, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia. Later, he also had symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders. Through the symptoms associated with such diagnoses, Chris experienced suicidality, delusions, calmness, and alterations from medication.
Due to his diagnoses and symptoms, Chris has received various types of treatments for about 20 years. Through these years, aside from one instance, he has not had a male doctor or service provider. Chris says this is due to his lack of trust in men, citing his past assault as a reason for mistrust. In addition to general mistrust, Chris states that issues of sexuality might have posed barriers to working with male service providers; he says that it would have been hard to connect with someone, such as a psychiatrist, who did not share Chris’ understanding about his sexuality. He expresses concern that a lack of understanding could have occurred. Chris believes that he likely would have had preconceived ideas about a male trying to treat him, and this would have made treatment incredibly difficult.
Listen to Chris share why he has not had male service providers:
In past years, Chris was “actively homosexual,” but now describes himself as bisexual, which has been “liberating” for him. Currently, he has been in a relationship with a male partner for four years. He desires a family and says that eventually he will choose to be loyal and faithful to either a man or a woman.
Now, Chris describes his world as “quite large,” as he spends time with friends and tries to stay involved in the community. A typical day includes time spent with his partner, who has also been diagnosed with a mental illness. They spend time working through their symptoms together, providing each other with accountability regarding medication, and discussing treatment. He sometimes volunteers at shelters or with children.
His daily life is not without struggle, however. Chris says that sometimes he becomes preoccupied on bad days, during which he will talk to himself or, because of his involvement in his thoughts, completely blank out when individuals are speaking to him. To combat this, Chris says that he has to remain very focused on his routine, and not get too involved in life apart from his treatment. Chris says that the most helpful support for him has been his relationship with his female psychiatrist.
Though he does have support and is involved in his community, Chris sometimes feels as if life is passing him by, and it seems as if he is being “looked over.” At times, it seems like he is insulted by individuals who have never experienced mental illness or do not address their own addictions. Chris believes that some individuals need to be in treatment themselves rather than look at him as a “weirdo” for seeking treatment. He expresses some resentment about this topic.
Chris: I feel like life is passing me by. I’m being passed over, I’m being looked over, I’m being made fun of, I’m being insulted by people who don’t have mental illnesses, by people who don’t address their addictions and the causes of deterioration of the mind and body, and they solely look at me while I’m in treatment as some sort of weirdo when they need to be in treatment, when they need to seek some treatment because their problem is bad when you don’t see them out in public and they’re alone by their self and deal with their demons. While they’re not in treatment, I’m getting better and they’re getting worse, and I will end up recovering and their hope is that they will have someone to talk to, but it won’t be me.
In thinking about the future, Chris says he has finally reached the point where he does not desire to work anymore; he hopes to be able to relax and be happy. Chris has changed careers and spent time helping others, and he no longer feels the draw to do such things. Additionally, Chris pictures himself leaving Cincinnati, with Africa being a possible destination. He desires acceptance, and hopes to find a location where “everyone knows [his] name.”
Chris credits his psychiatrist with encouraging him to participate in The Schizophrenia Oral History Project, and says that he has many stories he could share. What he most wants to share with The Project, though, is his belief that individuals can recover based on what they know about themselves. He says that some may not find his story liberating, and it might make them uncomfortable. However, he feels that his experiences have given him a higher respect for mankind as a whole.
Chris shares why he spoke to The Project here: