It was September 18, 2002, a sweltering heat wave was upon us as we stood in black clothes absorbing the sun’s rays on the peaceful green hillside. It was a bit of a climb getting to the exact grave site. And I stood there with my family sobbing and I felt nothing – nothing but anger and confusion. How could someone just want to die? How could someone in my family just decide it was time to go? They just did and that day I learned that sometimes depression, anxiety, and paranoia were symptoms of something much larger and scarier than they seemed. That they could take someone away from me, out of my life, after a long and slow torturous downward spiral.
A symptom is only an indicator of something larger – a single fraction of the bigger picture which we can’t see sometimes until it’s too late.
I miss my uncle, and I wish I had known what it was like to suffer with his symptoms sooner – maybe I could have done something to change his mind, to convince him to take his meds, to convince him to stop drinking, but I doubt it would have helped. You see, he didn’t accept the fact that he was suffering from these symptoms and he refused to get help. For that, I am very sorry that I didn’t take any of the opportunities I had to influence him positively in his hour of need. This is one of my biggest regrets, but sometimes reason goes out the window when illness consumes someone. His illness was called schizoaffective disorder.
I am determined to tell as many people about this disorder as I can – it is often misdiagnosed because there isn’t as much research on it as there might be for other conditions. It is hard to pinpoint and diagnose.
Schizoaffective disorder consists of the hallucinations and paranoia that are characteristic of schizophrenia coupled with mood disorders like anxiety and depression or mania. Many people with this disorder are misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder because they share similar symptoms.
Some causes of schizoaffective disorder are genetics, brain chemistry and structure, drug use, and stress.
It’s a rare psychological condition believed to affect less than 1% of the population, (more than 200,000 cases per year in the U.S.) but it needs to be talked about and treated immediately. There needs to be an awareness about this condition and all other mental health disorders that exist because people’s lives are at stake if we don’t talk about and recognize these conditions. We will lose them to a disorder, and having experienced that loss, it’s not what we want at all for anyone.