Claiming the label, for different reasons


I was labeled paranoid schizophrenic at age 15 in 1967, but was not told my label or anything else (symptoms, etc.).

At the time I was in the midst of a long period of very intense verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in my family & was very isolated geographically so I had no friends. My high school had insisted on a mental health evaluation because I was getting sick in class (the stress was really getting to me). The school counselor, after asking other students if I was pregnant - which of course set off rumors that I was - called me into her office & demanded to know what was wrong with me, and I could not respond & burst into tears.

The mental health evaluation consisted of the MMPI & a bunch of other tests (assembling blocks, etc.).

One test consisted of dots in patterns, with the clinician asking me what they represented. The only one that seemed to be anything to me was three equidistant dots in a row: I immediately told the clinician that was Orion's Belt. He immediately seemed very interested for the first time, and asked me who Orion was. All I could tell him was that Orion is a constellation -- "You know, stars, up in the sky..." This response seemed to increase his interest/suspicion. He then pointed out a nearby window at a building 5-6 blocks away and asked me what the things on the corners of the top of its tower were. I think the correct term for the objects he was pointing to is finials, but I didn't know the word then, so I said they appeared to be balls or globes. He continued to push me for more descriptions, saying, "Are you SURE? Couldn't they be SOMETHING ELSE?" I tried "spheres" and "round, decorative objects" but he kept pushing. I had no idea then, but in retrospect, the guy didn't know about the constellation Orion, assumed that Orion was something my supposedly psychotic mind dredged up, and thought that I would imagine the finials to be spaceships or radio transmitters put up by the CIA!

Anyhow, the next week I was taken to see the psychiatrist, whom I had not met yet. He stared at me with obvious disgust, and I sat there not knowing what to say. After about 5 minutes, he told me to go get my mother. And when she was there he said, "Your daughter is very seriously & incurably mentally ill. She should be sent to the state hospital immediately, and she will likely be there for the rest of her life."

I was horrified! I knew there was something wrong with me because I was so afraid all the time. But I had convinced myself that the psychiatrist would find out what it was & help me get well. To hear that I was really "going insane" and that nothing could be done & that I was just going to be put in an insane asylum for the rest of my life was terrifying! I ran out of the shrink's office & into the restroom across the hall where I vomited & then dry heaved in terror until my mother came out.

My school asked my family to get a second opinion before they sent me to the state hospital. The second opinion shrink told my mother, in front of me, that I wasn't schizophrenic (the first time I heard the word in reference to myself), and that he could treat me.

Instead of treating me, he prescribed heavy doses of neuroleptics, which made me extremely passive, and began to molest & use me, eventually taking to injecting me with a powerful intravenous drug at each appointment that left me very helpless in order to do whatever he wished with my body. He used all the classic tricks of people that molest kids, including telling me that he would kill himself if I stopped going to see him. It was very stressful.

Eventually he must have begun worrying that I might talk & someone might believe me (fat chance -- for one thing, I felt very protective of him because he was all that stood between me & the dreaded state hospital). So his solution was to tell me that I needed to spend a night or two in a local hospital "on a regular medical ward for medical tests to see if some illness might be the cause." He then arranged for me to be put in a psych ward instead of a medical ward. As soon as I checked in there I was given involuntary electroshock, which was a horrible experience. When the involuntary electroshock experience significantly worsened my intense anxiety & depression (which was what I felt, never my doctors -- the shrinks never asked me how I felt or much of anything else), he declared that he had nothing to do with any of it. (UNTRUE: when I got the shock doc's notes many years later, it turned out that he didn't think shock would help me & stated repeatedly that he was only doing it at request of the outpatient shrink.)

By that point, I was way too anxious to keep food down & terribly depressed. Due to the starvation caused by the intense anxiety, I had not grown since I was 12 or 13, and I was very thin & getting ever thinner. So eventually, at age 17, I wound up in the state hospital.

The admitting shrink there asked me if I thought I was different than other people. I responded that I thought I might be a little smarter (based on results of an IQ test taken before the shock, drugs, etc. that I'd seen). When I finally read my state hospital records about 20 years later, I found he called that answer a "delusion of grandeur."

Then he asked me what "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind" referred to. I had no idea because when the first named lunar landing occurred a few months earlier, I'd been spending the whole summer except for visits to shrink (where I was immediately injected with the strong drug) staying with my mother at our remote summer cabin that had no TV, no radio, no news of any kind -- and I was way too drugged & miserable to have any interest in news anyhow. According to his notes, my lack of awareness of the lunar landing was "loss of contact with reality."

His notes reveal that I was so anxious that I startled at small sounds (no doubt! -- I had severe PTSD & had just been put in a terrifying state hospital). He called that "paranoia" in his notes -- and with that he established that I was paranoid schizophrenic.

From my state hospital records, 20 years later, I also learned that the first & second outpatient shrinks both had labeled me paranoid schizophrenic. No one ever told me what my label was or even what my symptoms were. And I've never heard voices, never had paranoid delusions -- apparently they just assumed that I did but was lying to them about it.

(Actually I think the 2nd shrink knew I wasn't schizophrenic -- just as he told my mother I was not -- but knew that labeling me that way would discredit me permanently, protecting him, as it did & always will.)

So I spent 7 months in the state hospital at 17. And I met lots of schizophrenics there who were very kind & thoughtful people that I feel very grateful to have known. It was helpful to live amongst them, and although the staff was pretty much uniformly horrid, because of the schizophrenics it was overall a much needed break from the brutality of my life on the outside.

I got out because, having been a very abused kid who used hyperobedience to try to survive, I was good at behavior mod - I learned how to suck up to the shrink, how to look like a normal teenage girl, etc. Ultimately, though, my mother helped spring me when the shrinks started labeling her a schizophrogenic mother! (I learned that from the records too.)

After getting out, I continued taking the neuroleptics (melaril & artane) as ordered for some months. Then a helpful pharmacist clued me in that they weren't really good drugs to be on, so I just flushed what I had left down the toilet & never took that nasty stuff again. I felt much better from the very first day off drugs, and my very low mood quickly lifted significantly. What a relief!

On the drugs, I couldn't do simple algebra. Off the drugs, I studied advanced algebra, trignometry, analytical geometry, and calculus -- and enjoyed it all so much I seriously considered majoring in math.

In the years following, I worked my way through 6 years of college, and then worked full-time throughout my adult life, without so-called treatment.

My 'schizophrenia' has never been the slightest bother or handicap. I've never even been aware of it in any way. As mentioned, I've never heard voices, never had paranoid delusions. I was regarded as "withdrawn" -- but I'm actually just a very introverted person who enjoys spending a lot of time alone. (I had friends at the state hospital, but the shrinks never noticed.)

Having had friends who really do have the types of problems associated with schizophrenia, it seems to me that I don't even have the kind of personality or reactions or thinking patterns that other schizophrenics have.

I nonetheless do claim the label. I like it because I have met so many really wonderful, kind, perceptive people with that label. I know I'm not the same or even similar, but I'm kind of proud to have been labeled that way.

When a pain specialist suggested a routine (for pain patients) psych eval about a decade ago, I got my schizophrenia label renewed! I asked the psychologist to make sure that I met the criteria for any label she applied, citing my adolescent experience in which people were obviously really careless about that sort of thing. And she proclaimed, "I don't need to check criteria! I am very experienced & so my gut reaction is never wrong!" Whoa! I started giggling! And then she got really upset about my "disrespect" and threw me out after just 15-20 minutes. And then, to my amazement & delight, she produced a report that proclaimed that the three shrinks in my adolescent years couldn't have all been wrong because they all agreed, so I must be paranoid schizophrenic! She said I denied ever hearing voices, etc. but I must have been lying, most likely because I was "ashamed" (!) to admit that I'm psychotic! I loved it.

I still do have some problems with low mood & anxiety. After the stuff that happened to me in my family & the mental hell system as a teen, that's only natural. I certainly wouldn't expect any help from mental "health" professionals -- I have no doubt they would really make things worse.