John is a 28 year old, single man who lives in an apartment by himself and works part-time for his father. He has moved around a lot, from Ohio to Louisiana to Florida and then back to Ohio again. His love is extreme sports, and he is in the process of building a social networking website for others who are also interested in extreme sports.
John started to hear voices, a hallmark symptom of schizophrenia, in high school. The experience of hearing voices can vary from hearing a single voice to hearing many voices. For some people, the voices are jumbled, while others can make out specific messages. But, when someone can understand what the voices are saying, the messages are typically negative. Here, John describes an example of such painful experiences:
…and I’m in class and I’m hearing voices so bad that I had to put my head down and I started crying because…I was just…it was just an onslaught of these voices telling me all these things like “You’re a loser, you’ll never amount in anything, you’re gay, you’re…just like a total bum…nothing you, you dream of will ever come true.”
People with severe mental illness are at increased risk for losing touch with their personal, human identities. Growing up, John played hockey, football, baseball and even participated in martial arts. As an adult, he continued to be very physically active until schizophrenia set in, when his life changed significantly. John’s identity is that of someone who engages in regular physical and recreational activity (working out with weights, jogging) and extreme sports (snowboarding, mountain biking, mixed martial arts), but his struggles with schizophrenia have been preventing him from being this person. He has gained 50 pounds in the past several years. (Weight gain is a common side effect of medication for schizophrenia.) He is also currently struggling to get his body on a regular sleep schedule; his days and nights are flipped. These difficulties are causing problems being even moderately active, much less allowing him to engage in intensive physical activity. As a result, he’s felt estranged from that primary identity. His hopes are to return to being that person and to create a life full of meaning and contribution. In John’s words, “I wanna, I wanna figure out a way to do what I want ‘cause I want it so bad and I’ve wanted it for so long.”
Although John is one of our younger narrators, he is very thoughtful about what determines if someone is crazy or not. Several years ago, he described working with a man in New Orleans who, according to this man’s report, was a fugitive for murder. John himself did observe the man whipping his dog with a bundled up extension cord when the dog misbehaved. It is this violent behavior – not the presence of mental illness – that, to John, is the essence of “crazy.”
The guy that owned the car shop, that works with the landlord, um, his wife was pullin’ out of the driveway and um…uh, the dude was standing there with his dog – that pit bull I was telling you about. And…she was tryin’ to back up, but he’s not movin’ and he’s kinda like in the drive, and he’s tryin’ to back up and then he says to her “If you hit my dog, I’ma shoot you.” And she’s like “What?” You know, like, and so she keeps tryin’ to back up, and then he, he lifts up his shirt, and he has a gun tucked in under there. So, they called the police and that was the last we ever heard of that guy. …he just, you know, we didn’t know what was going on. It was just, like… That was kinda like…my first experience of how… crazy the world is… I just found out, you know, that the world is like, really crazy. You know, there’s some crazy stuff out there. And…but I’m not, I’m not the worst off, you know… even though I had problems. …it you know, depends on the, you know, if you’re a good person or not and some people just aren’t.
Listen to the above excerpt here: