I have schizoaffective disorder. Because that’s interpreted with slight to moderate variations across the Internet, here is what it means in my case: bipolar symptoms (light) in combination with schizophrenic symptoms (much heavier). Those who have a straightforward version of either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are prone to experience the classic symptoms of them more intensely than I do, while the blending of the two comes with its own set of challenges and quirks—a touchiness of mood within the scope of delusions, a psychotic amplifier lodged in general mood volatility. It began in childhood, led to more noticeable manifestations in my late teens to early twenties, and is hitting full gallop in my early to midthirties.
Because, tornado-like, it has scooped up my life and slammed it to the rocky ground on more than one occasion, it’s with no casual interest that I read about possible routes to abatement—or (worse) cures. I’ve found, as do many people with really any condition when probing the encyclopedic knowledge of humankind, that a shocking number of people with no medical degrees are yet somehow doctors.
If you eat this. If you eliminate this from your diet. Schizophrenia is really, essentially, when you think about it, an allergy. Take your fish oil. Look into Chinese herbal medicine. Try cannabis. Vitamin E. High-dose niacin. Sleep more but don’t go crazy; don’t give yourself a sleep hangover, and don’t nap during the day, it’ll only confuse you.
And listen—I’m not writing this to make fun, or to claim that none of that helps. In fact, here’s what my day looks like:
- free-range omega-3-enhanced eggs scrambled with salmon
- moringa or turmeric tea (those alternate)
- smoothie of organic hemp protein powder; ORAC a floppityzillion red-superfoods blend; collagen powder; all-earthly-allergens-free flax milk
- mega dose of ginkgo
- mega dose of niacin
- 8 to 12 glasses of water
- outside the occasional splurge meal, little sugar, few carbs
- sleep precious sleep
So here’s the obvious question after that: Has it helped?
And the answer is a resounding yes. Obviously. Of course it helps to be as healthy as you can possibly be, to give yourself the nutrition and hydration you need, to rest adequately, not to overburden yourself with junk to process. It helps in the same exact way it would help anyone: it leads to increased energy, fewer of those overconsumption comas that leave you bloated and gross-feeling and testy, and even a nice glowy complexion. All of which can contribute to an improved resting disposition.
I’d never knock efforts to get or stay healthy. The mind-body connection is well established; pursuing what amounts to optimal health given your particular needs is a viable route to being the most capable and best-feeling version of yourself possible.
I would also like to be honest about my experience. If any of this has impacted my schizophrenic symptoms whatsoever, it has been in the ways I’ve already said—by affording me better energy to deal with it. Otherwise, eh . . . Some of my more intense and prolific psychotic manifestations have occurred with this health routine already entrenched. When I’d already, for some time, been making a habit of making habits so I could make good ones.
If I were a little more paranoid, I might question whether my many efforts toward scopic wellness were having an adverse effect. However, here in reality, I understand that it’s a great idea to be healthy, for a number of universal reasons, and I also understand that I have a very serious progressive disease that has unpredictable tides and is gaining in severity during an age range at which it tends to expand for many people. It would be foolish to think its inexorable march forward means I should pull back my focus on nutrition, but it would also be a very bad idea to hang much hope for the significant alleviation—or extinction—of these symptoms on a course of accelerated health.
Here’s what bothers me about how freely and widely Drs. Internet publish their speculations: those with any sort of disease tend to pay attention to any discussion of allying its effects or blocking its progress. Those with a disorder that already makes them extremely susceptible to false pattern making, to reading “vibes” from the world, to drawing unjustified conclusions from a series of random events that kinda sorta feel fleetingly cohesive—they do not need more fuel added to that fire.
We already do it. Put aside those who have a four-houses-down neighbor who have it, who run a blog rife with off-the-cuff bogus prescriptions for a glittery gut, who read a DailyMail article or even a book by soandso and are now self-certified experts. The forums for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and all things psychosis are also given to sections on how to tame it. And here are some of the things I’ve seen mentioned in those places.
God. God cures it. As soon as you discover your soul’s rightful mission, he’ll cure you too. You have to recognize that “schizophrenia” is actually a gift that’s dismissed in our modern society but is real and is properly called telepathy. It’s all about them chakras. Stop fighting it, tap into it right, and understand that you are able to see the future (and oooo that’s fun; I’ve seen the future). Tune in to the gossamer mechanisms of time and space travel that embrace the multiverse. It’s the devil. It’s aliens. Accept the fact that this is all a dream, and treat it as the beautiful if frangible reverie it is.
There are also much more circumspect posts than that, but you see the issue.
Many of the affected cannot hear suggestions objectively or with any sort of caution. I’m quite lucky in the fact that therapy has been very helpful to me (more on this in a moment) and helps me wade through. And even for someone who can wade through quite effectively, I’ve implemented—and become pretty rigid about—all that seems to fall more squarely on the “do this” than “don’t do this” side.
When you consider people who haven’t responded well to medication or therapy and have more pronounced symptoms, they’re NOT going to hear “try cutting out bread” or “try this herbal combination” or anything else and think, “Hmm, that sounds worth trying, so I’ll test it out for a while and record my results so I can tell if it’s making a difference for me individually.” No, you’re typically looking at something more rigorous, uneven, and stressful than that.
My doctor (PsychD, special focus on psychosis) never reacted the way I thought she would when I talked about altering my diet, even when it would be in a direction that was clearly and obviously healthy. It’s not that I expected her to endorse any of these shifts, but she wouldn’t even say, “Can’t hurt to try!” It was more along the lines of, “You can certainly try that if you want, but I would be surprised if you see a change.” But but but. Why not encourage ameliorating every saggy, baggy area of life and aspiring to rabid health, etc., on the off chance that it will help?
Because, for one thing, if any of your new “can’t hurt” efforts coincide with a natural remission cycle, it’s easy to ascribe a medicinal or even magical power to everyday efforts. Which splits into further semi-dangerous possibilities: if/when it then spikes because what goes down must come up, it’s easy to either (a) feel it’s unfair—you do everything you’re supposed to, and STILL, or (b) grow obsessive about your habits—if schizophrenia can result in the slightest from sloppy vitamin intake or scattered time management, then fixing it can be a matter of rigidizing your routine.
Because if you heap hope onto these efforts and fall right back into the depths of psychosis . . . you can become exhausted. You can become tired of hoping, period.
And here’s an important one: if the bulk of your attention and energy is tied up in what may, according to websites x, y, and z, help, you may devalue the measures in your life that have been better established as helpful.
Finally, a word on those things that are “better established as helpful.” That’s a discussion between everyone affected and their own doctor. It’s not the domain of every jackass on the Internet—so don’t listen to them. Don’t listen to me. I investigate the minefield of nonmedicinal help because my first antipsychotic made me overheat and feel like a stranger in my own head, and it convinced me blood was pooling up in my feet so I couldn’t or shouldn’t walk and that that was somehow going to relate to my toenails being ripped off. . . . Or that was just how my eccentric psychosis was focused at the time, and the drug either couldn’t extinguish it fully or just tangled with it in an unexpected way. That’s me. From what I understand (not from the Internet; from my psychiatrist), medicating schizoaffective disorder can be a fine line simply because you’re aiming at two sets of symptoms, and targeting only one (or targeting either to the wrong degree) can potentially have unpredictable and undesired effects in the other.
One day I may try again—for now I’m not willing to. For now I’m ambivalent about forcefully drying up the habits of mind that give me a sense of home within myself, I’m still shell-shocked from my bad antipsychotic, and I’m focused on doing what seems to work best for me. With that in mind, and with a huge grain of salt I welcome you to swallow beforehand, here is what has actually helped just-me:
- Remaining organized enough that things don’t pile up and therefore cause stress, which may not make my symptoms more frequent but can make them uglier or darker when they’re already there.
- Using the language I have learned in therapy to label what’s happening to me, and therefore, to a degree and at least a majority of the time, successfully force some objectivity. (I am obsessing because there’s an obsessive component to my disorder, not because this issue matters. The world didn’t just change, I didn’t just see into someone’s soul; this is a prodromal hallucination.)
- Distancing myself from or tuning out those who react to mental illness with criticism rather than empathy, and those who would use your diagnosis to either discredit your opinion or use you as a scapegoat when there’s blame to be disbursed.
- Making a habit of recognizing difficult days; on those days, congratulating myself on handling simple daily tasks that can appear mountainous.
- Writing and reading. (Note that I’m not suggesting these would equally help everyone else; this boils down to “doing what I love doing.”)
- Aiming for some social interaction, even when I don’t feel like it.
- Laughing at myself. Frequently. Loudly.
The Internet is terrible in that interpretation frequently applied to god—powerful, frightening, and wonderful. I would love to see less tendency for those with two self-help books’ worth of scholarship or purely anecdotal experience to recapitulate their findings and opinions as universal advice. I’d like to see pop science sites take care in reporting on studies—not to exaggerate them, to convey the disclaimers inherent in the sample size and other qualities of the group studied, to avoid a conclusive tone where conclusive results don’t exist. For the blogosphere to practice saying the words “for what it’s worth” and “in my personal experience.” For the false synonymy between professionals, whose extensive credentials and hands-on experience can be verified, and amateurs (right here) to be properly recognized.
And for what it’s worth, I hope anybody reading who’s affected by this, or any other, mental health issue finds whatever works for you.