Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Voices of Schizophrenia

An article posted yesterday by The New York Times:

By Tara Parker-Pope

Few mental illnesses are as complex and confusing as schizophrenia, a mental disorder in which people may experience hallucinations or delusions, hear voices or have confused thinking and behavior.

Although the word “schizophrenia” means “split mind,” the disorder does not cause a split personality, as is commonly believed.

The latest Patient Voices segment by Karen Barrow, a Web producer, offers rare insights into schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, a related condition that combines thinking and mood problems, as seven men and women share their experiences.

“It disrupted my education, my relationships, it disrupted friendships,” explains Alita Van Hee, 32, of Santa Cruz, Calif. “I was so bombarded by voices. They would tell me things like ‘Don’t trust these people,’ ‘Don’t talk to your friends,’ ‘They’re not real friends,’ things like that. It’s kind of like having a TV or radio on blasting inside your head just all the time that you can’t turn off no matter what you do.”

You’ll also meet Michael Runningwolf, 40, of Tempe, Ariz., who wants to change people’s perceptions and fears about schizophrenia.

“I wish I could get a T-shirt that says, ‘We’re more afraid of you than you are of us,’ ” he says. “There are people with schizophrenia every day that are doing things to break down the stigma. They hold down jobs, and they’re out there every day giving it everything they’ve got. Even though schizophrenia is a disabling illness, it’s not the end. There is recovery.”

Susan Weinreich, 54, of Mount Kisco, N.Y., says that although her illness has made life difficult, it also has become part of her art. “I believe my art was a vehicle for me to be able to express some things that were very deep, deep down inside and that were trapped and difficult to get out and communicate,” she says.

Another artist, John Cadigan, 40, who is Ms. Van Hee’s partner, says the challenges of his illness have also played a role in his art. “The difficulty is I’m not always cognizant of what reality is,” he says. “I can’t trust my own brain…. When you have a brain disorder it unlocks parts of the brain I think normal people don’t have any knowledge of. I think I translate that into my woodcuts.”

To hear these and other stories of schizophrenia, click on the Patient Voices audio link. And then please join the discussion below.

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