© Copyright 2012 Kurt Snyder

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Kurt Snyder's Personal Experience with Schizophrenia

My name is Kurt Snyder, and I have paranoid schizophrenia. I live in Arnold, Maryland, just outside Annapolis, in the United States. I developed schizophrenia gradually over a period of nine years, with the most severe symptoms appearing when I was twenty–eight years old. For most of those years, my family, friends, and colleagues were unaware that I was experiencing any mental problems.

My illness, as is true with all mental illnesses, started in the privacy of my own mind. My thoughts slowly wandered away from the normal range–I began to think less and less about daily life and more about a fantasy created in my mind. I cannot think of anything physical or psychological that could have triggered a change in my mental state. I had wonderful, supportive parents, relatives, and friends, and I had a wonderful childhood.

Somewhere between the ages of nineteen and twenty–one, I was exposed to the mathematical idea of fractals. I began to think obsessively about fractals and infinity. I thought I was going to discover some incredible and fabulous mathematical principle that would transform the way we view the universe. This delusion occupied my thoughts all day long, every day. I couldn't concentrate on my regular university studies, and my academic career eventually ended in failure. Still, I thought I was going to become famous. I was a genius just waiting to be discovered by the world. Soon everyone would know who I was because I was going to solve the riddle of the universe. I was having grandiose ideation.

I thought about fractals and infinity for many years. I always told myself I was on the verge of discovery, but I simply had to think a little bit harder about it. I just wasn't thinking hard enough. The reality is that the problems I was trying to solve were far beyond my mental abilities, but I didn't recognize this fact. Even though I had no evidence to substantiate my self–image, I knew in my heart that I was just like Einstein, and that someday I would get a flash of inspiration. I didn't recognize the truth–that I am not a genius. I kept most of my mathematical ideas to myself and spoke to very few people about them. I was paranoid that someone else would solve the riddle first if I provided the right clues.

At about the age of twenty–two, I had my first significant paranoid episodes. The first episode happened when I was on vacation with my girlfriend, my brother, and his wife in the mountains. We had rented a cabin together. For some reason, I started to think about images from horror movies where an insane man breaks into the house and kills everyone. I actually started to believe this was going to happen to us. I created a fantasy in my mind that we were very vulnerable and helpless, and that someone was going to kill us. It did not occur to me that this scenario was unlikely. The more I thought about it, the more I believed it was going to happen. I remember that I tried to reinforce the doors of the cabin with chairs. Everyone else seemed bewildered by my behavior. Eventually, however, I calmed down and went to bed.

Later that year, I had two more minor paranoid episodes. The first one happened when I hurt my leg and had to go to the university clinic. I was again feeling very vulnerable. I began to imagine that the nurse might try to hurt me in some way. I thought she might try to infect me with the AIDS virus by injecting me with a tainted needle. Of course, this idea was completely irrational, but I thought somehow that it could be true. A few weeks later, I became paranoid again–I thought the police were following me. But this idea only lasted a few hours. It would be several more years before any other symptoms of paranoia returned.

At about the age of twenty–four, I started to become preoccupied with the idea that people were watching me. I wondered about this several times a day. This idea began occurring to me more and more frequently, and the feeling that I was being watched became more intense. By the age of twenty–six, the thought that I might be under observation was occurring to me more than a hundred times a day. I became severely self–conscious in public places. I also became very sensitive to security cameras. They made me think I was being watched all the time. Oftentimes I thought the security cameras were watching me exclusively. At the age of twenty–seven, I took a job at a high–security facility where there were cameras in every room, every hallway, and all over the exterior of the building. I did not anticipate how this environment would affect me. During my first day on the job there, I could not escape the feeling that I was being constantly watched. The idea took on a life of its own. THEY were watching me. THEY could see everything I was doing. Long after I left the building to go home, I wondered if THEY were still watching me — somehow.

Soon, THEY, whoever THEY were, were now watching me — all the time.

As one becomes more insane, rational thought fades away, but it happens gradually. In the midst of irrational thought, there still exists some rational thinking. I knew that no single individual could be watching me all the time, so I thought, “It must be a group of them. THEY are watching me, collectively”.

The idea that THEY were watching me was irrational but persistent. The idea of who exactly THEY were, and why THEY were watching me, was an idea that evolved. My concept of THEM grew and began to color every experience I had. After a few months, everything that happened to me was somehow related to THEM, or was caused by THEM. When I started experiencing problems with my home computer, I blamed THEM. When I got a parking ticket, it was THEIR influence with the police that got me in trouble. Every thought I had was somehow associated with THEM. I can understand now why some schizophrenics believe other people are controlling their thoughts. THEY were a concept in my mind that expanded beyond my own control. The concept of THEM was taking over all my thought processes, in every way possible. I could not think about anything or anyone without making some type of association with THEM. THEY were everywhere, involved with everything. THEY became the national intelligence agencies. THEY were random people I saw on the street. THEY were friends and relatives. THEY were people sitting next to me in the movie theater. THEY were observing me, 24 hours a day.

Even as my mental illness worsened, some part of my rational mind was still active. I tried to reconcile my new perception of reality with the reality I had known in earlier years. This new concept of THEM even infiltrated my memories. Experiences I had had years ago were now colored by this new perceptual filter. I wondered if THEY had caused certain things to happen to me in the past. I wondered if THEY had been following me for many years. I relived past experiences in new ways because of my delusion. I invented various scenarios to explain how THEY had been affecting or influencing my whole life.

At the age of twenty–eight, I suddenly started to become psychotic. I am using the word psychotic to mean that my understanding and perception of the real world diverged sharply from reality. I could no longer work. At one point, I wondered whether my whole existence and everything I experienced was manufactured by a virtual reality machine and whether my whole life was spent in a laboratory run by some type of alien creatures. This initial psychotic episode lasted for a few days. Then the most bizarre thoughts seemed to dissipate. However, the delusions involving THEM were persistent and continued for the next year, through two more psychotic episodes.

In my second psychotic episode, I experienced for the first time what I can confidently say were auditory and visual hallucinations. Only three months after that, I had another psychotic episode where I experienced another visual hallucination. At the time, these hallucinations seemed real to me, absolutely real. I could not distinguish them from reality. They came from some part of my brain that had never been activated before.

During each psychotic episode, my family tried to get me medical help. Medications were prescribed, but I refused to take them. I didn't believe anything was wrong with me. I thought I was just having an unusual experience. I didn't want to take anything that altered my brain–those pills were for crazy people!

After several months I finally decided to take the medication (Geodon), but my decision was based in part on a delusion. Thankfully, I took the medication regularly.

Approximately two months after I started taking Geodon, I developed a severe case of depression. This depression lasted for at least one month, perhaps two. I wanted to die rather than continue to experience this feeling. I remained in bed for most of every day. My doctor prescribed an antidepressant, and my situation improved.

It took a long time for me to admit to myself that I had been mentally ill, and that I needed to take some type of psychiatric medication for the rest of my life. At first I wanted to hide this fact from other people, but eventually I accepted the fact that I couldn't have done anything differently, and I couldn't blame myself for being sick.

I continued to take Geodon for two years. My progress was very gradual, but I noticed a steady reduction in positive symptoms for that entire period. Eventually I was able to go back to work. At the end of my second year of taking Geodon, I began to experience severe akisthesia. This unusual type of anxiety is the worst emotional feeling I have ever experienced in my entire life, even more disturbing than the severe depression I had felt. I wanted to escape from existence. My doctor switched my medication to Zyprexa, and the akisthesia gradually diminished. I have now been taking Zyprexa for three years, and it seems to be working beautifully, except for the extra twenty pounds of fat I'm carrying around. However, I wouldn't change it for anything. I have continued to notice steady improvement in my condition over the last three years, both for positive and negative symptoms. I now believe that I have fully recovered from schizophrenia, and I realize that my recovery is owed entirely to medication. I now experience no delusions, no paranoia, and I do not have bizarre thoughts. To get better, I did not perform any mental gymnastics (such as meditation or positive thinking), nor did I pursue any type of psychoanalysis. I simply took the medication, and I improved. Most people I know would never suspect that I ever had a mental illness, and many people are surprised when I tell them I have schizophrenia.

I have actually had quite a lot of success in recent years. I joined my local volunteer fire department, and I was elected vice president this past year.

My illness has been abated, I am productive again, and I plan on having a normal existence for the rest of my life.

If you are interested in a longer, more detailed description of my personal experience, visit my webpage at www.kurtsnyder.net/Contents.html.

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© Copyright 2012 Kurt Snyder