Fear Ruled the Day
I have mild schizophrenia. It's easily treatable, and with medication I'm an average person. I'm not ashamed in the least to tell you this. It isn't something to be ashamed of because it isn't my fault. It wasn't caused by something I did or some supernatural force. But for a long time I was ashamed of it and I did think that it was my fault somehow.
This condition manifested itself most strongly when I was a teen. At 13 I first started having auditory hallucinations, hearing voices that weren't really there. At first they were little more than whispers, just enough to make me turn and look for a source. But as the weeks and months progressed they became more pronounced. As this happened I became increasingly paranoid. I thought someone was watching me and playing tricks on me.
When the visual hallucinations began and I started catching shapes out of the corners of my eyes, I became afraid. I wasn't afraid that someone was messing with me, rather I was convinced that Satan had besieged me and had infected me with demons. This may seem an absolutely foolish notion to those of you not raised in an evangelical Christian home, but for those who were, you likely understand my fear all too well. I was raised to believe, just as many still are to this day, that demons are very real and that Satan has the power to corrupt the hearts and minds of men and allow demons to take up residency in the body and mind of of people. I was also raised to believe that someone who was full of the holy spirit and was righteous in the eyes of the lord was immune to Satan's tricks and such possession.
Hush little baby. Don't say a word. Daddy's gonna buy you a mockingbird.
When I was 16 it had gotten so bad that I'd began drug and alcohol abuse. I would use methamphetamine daily to get my mind going a mile a minute and this would overwhelm the voices and visions to some degree. It wouldn't get rid of them altogether, but it clouded things well enough for me to "function"... or so I thought.
When I was 19 something which should have been a terrible thing for me happened. I was hanging out with my best friend Brian, a friend I should mention that I'm not even sure existed, outside of a laundromat in a rundown trailer park and a cop pulled up doing rounds. He stopped by us (me?) and asked what I was doing. I stammered and fumbled for a good excuse and found nothing came to mind. What was I doing out there at 5am? He asked to search me and in my stupor I said sure. In my pockets he found a half gram of meth and some marijuana, my cocktail of choice.
I look back on that day and I can't honestly say I remember the cop acknowledging Brian's presence at all. I think I remember watching Brian just walk off, but logically that makes no sense. The more I look back at that time I can't remember anyone acknowledging Brian and as such I'm forced to admit that he was almost certainly a figment of my troubled mind.
A breakdown and a revelation
So, I went to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. After a rather short back and forth with the district attorney I accepted a plea bargain of ten years, with three years served in prison and seven more on probation. This was in January of 2001 and I didn't ship to prison from the county jail until October 4th. So I got to watch as the World Trade Centers fell from inside a jailhouse dormitory.
I shipped to a diagnostics center for classification and after another 3 months was finally placed at my permanent prison. It was there that I finally snapped. I had a complete breakdown and was having what psychiatrists call a psychotic break with reality.
Sometimes good things can come from a bad situation and my incarceration was one of those times. I was fortunate that I was placed in a prison that was classified as a medical prison due to an unrelated heart condition. Because this prison was designated as a medical prison it was equipped with not only a good staff of general health personnel, but also with mental health staff.
After being isolated and given a mental health evaluation where for the first time I actually told someone what was going on, I was started on medication and counselling. For the first time since it had begun the voices and visions went away. I was able to sleep and rest. My paranoia and anxiety diminished. I didn't feel like I needed to escape some demon that was chasing me.
Ten years later
I served all three years of that sentence and I can't say I enjoyed even a moment of it, but I can say that it helped. I can't say I'm "cured" because the disorders I have are only really ever manageable and aren't curable. But I can say that they're under control and more importantly that I understand them.
You see, that understanding is something my former religion robbed me of as a youth. It gave me an unrealistic perception of reality and caused me to blame myself for something that wasn't my fault. It made me feel scared and alone because I was confused and even more scared to seek out an answer.
When people get upset about atheists such as myself stating without hesitation that religion causes harm, I think of the harm it caused me. I think of the fear that I felt. I think of how I considered suicide at just 14 because I just didn't know what to do or where to turn. Most of all I think of how I wasn't alone in feeling that way then and that there are many who feel that way now.
If you are suffering from mental problems, be it depression, anxiety, or something worse, do not resort to prayer or religion in hopes to fix something that they quite honestly are not mentally equipped to deal with. Seek professional help. Talk to someone and please remember that you aren't alone and this isn't your fault.
Disturbed - Voices (Music Video) (Video)
Photo Credit: 04Mukti