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Creative Schizophrenia

About 12 ½ years ago, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation in the inpatient psychiatric ward of my local hospital. Suicidal ideation is when you are thinking about suicide a lot but don’t have a plan to actually harm yourself. Still, I felt I was in danger, so I asked my fiancée to drive me to the hospital.
Although I am now less afraid to drive, in the past, my schizoaffective anxiety has made me afraid to do it. But it’s getting better, largely due to the fact that I got a Subaru. My mom was due for a new Subaru, so she gave me her old one. It’s a sports utility vehicle (SUV) with four-wheel drive and all sorts of safety features, and I’ve been driving more since it’s been my car.
My schizoaffective disorder used to make me afraid to wash my hair, so weeks would go by when I didn’t do it. I thought of it as occasionally washing my hair. Now I take a bath every day, and I take a shower and wash my hair once a week. I brush my hair in-between times and I now have a system that enables me to keep on a regular hair-washing cycle.
My schizoaffective anxiety spikes with the summer heat. But it’s spiking dramatically this summer, the summer of COVID-19. I dearly hope--with everyone else--that there will be a vaccine by next summer. For now, here’s how I’m coping, or, in some ways, not coping.
Would I have developed schizoaffective disorder if I had gone to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) right out of high school instead of starting at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)? Even though I transferred to SAIC from RISD in the middle of my sophomore year, I seem to love to torment myself with this question. I know, deep down, that I probably would have developed the illness anyway.
I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia by September 11, 2001, though that was not yet my correct diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. But regardless of whether you had schizoaffective disorder, the events of what would later be called 9/11 were traumatic for the whole nation.
I like to look for the good in bad situations. You know, in the darkness, I look for the stars--that kind of thing. But I’ve been missing, for decades, one really positive thing that came out of my schizoaffective psychotic episode at the start of my illness in 1998 when I was only 19 years old.
Taking a vacation when you have schizoaffective disorder and there’s a pandemic going on can be very tricky. But I went for a weekend getaway to Door County in northern Wisconsin with my mom a couple of weeks ago--our annual mother-daughter trip--and we had a very good time.
Music soothes my schizoaffective disorder and I’ve been a fan of Tori Amos since I was in high school in the 1990s, before my first schizoaffective psychotic episode. Amos’ heyday was in the ‘90s, but she’s continued making music about controversial themes such as sexuality, suicide, and rape since then. Her fearlessness in what she sings about as she straddles her piano bench has comforted me since I first started listening to her and especially comforts my schizoaffective anxiety now that her music has gotten more mellow--although her lyrics still pack a punch.
In some families, it is normal to worry about developing schizoaffective disorder. When my uncle first got sick with schizophrenia and with bipolar disorder (which was then called manic depression) in the late 1950s, his little sister, my mother, was afraid she would get sick, too. She was 12 years younger than him. Similarly, when I got sick with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, my brother, Billy, only two-and-a-half years younger than me, was afraid he’d get sick. Here is my story of living with schizoaffective disorder and knowing it is an illness that other people are afraid to have.