I have been hospitalized for schizophrenia, twice.

Given the bleak prospects for people with untreated severe mental illness — homelessness, fatal encounters with law enforcement, incarceration and suicide — that is actually the good news.

My illness manifested in extreme paranoia when I was an aspiring twenty-something professional. The FBI was after me. My food was poisoned. Or so I thought.

Such delusions contributed to poor customer service and subpar paperwork. I quit my job rather than face termination. I had to move in with my parents.

Back home, I left notes in our neighbors’ mailboxes, telling them to leave me alone. That prompted my first hospitalization.

At Mt. Sinai in Cleveland, a now-defunct facility, I received therapy and Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug. My condition stabilized.

After 18 months, I stopped taking my medication.

People were suspicious of me anew, keeping me at arm’s length. Or so I perceived.

Any relationships I had dwindled into voids.

A psychiatrist suggested that I remain unemployed and collect Social Security Disability Insurance. No thanks — a rising star like me needed a job.

I spoke with Dr. Fred Frese, a pioneering voice for consumers of mental health services. Fred actually became the chief psychologist for the very mental hospital system in which he had been previously committed. He, too, cautioned against me going out on my own. I ignored him and found work as a journalist.

Without anti-psychotic medications, my paranoia flourished.

In the newsroom, my colleagues tracked down story leads, talking to sources and scribbling notes. I was convinced they were investigating me!

I wrote articles that were nonsensical. I was fired.

Unknown to me then, I suffered from a condition known as anosognosia, or lack of insight. As the Treatment Advocacy Center explains, this symptom of untreated severe mental illness is caused by anatomical damage to the brain. Some 40 percent to 50 percent of people with severe bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have it. Like them, I was inhibited from appreciating the need for treatment and medication — diagnosis be damned.

For five years, I bounced around, trying to appear normal.

Then, three young men moved into the adjacent one-bedroom unit at my apartment complex. They were loud and partied each weekend.

They did not appreciate it when I reported the noise to the landlord. One night, they drunkenly beat me until my eye swelled shut.

Even when I was not the problem, I was vulnerable to abuse.

My parents called a crisis intervention center. A case manager encouraged me to accept inpatient psychiatric care. That was when I was hospitalized for a second time.

Again, I stabilized.

Upon discharge, I was told that I could rejoin the workforce. Easier said than done.

At an interview with a telemarketing company, I was asked why someone with a college degree had been performing manual labor for hourly wages. I balked. I was not hired.

I threw a tantrum, busting a wooden chair in my parents’ basement, and scaring my family. They sent me to a halfway house for the homeless and the mentally ill.

Being surrounded by other people enduring similar struggles helped put my predicament in perspective. I successfully charted a new path with realistic goals. I took my Abilify, another antipsychotic.

Alongside my parents, I volunteered with the local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter, offering peer support to others. In 2012, the organization named me volunteer of the year.

With treatment, the persistent feeling of being different dissipated and my symptoms became manageable.

I now live on my own and have been steadily employed for more than a decade. I even started dating.

I have come far, but I know many see schizophrenia as a character flaw, not a biological medical condition. The broken mental health treatment system exacerbates that stigma, neglecting the need for care.

Case in point: There are barely 1,000 public psychiatric beds for the nearly 300,000 Ohioans with illnesses like mine. The supply of beds is insufficient to meet demand. And when timely and effective treatment is unattainable, shame is the least of the problems.

However, if there is one takeaway from my personal experience, let it be this: With appropriate psychiatric care and the support of loved ones, a brighter tomorrow is possible for people with schizophrenia. I am living proof.

 

Pryce resides in northern Ohio.