It started on 4/20. If any of you are unfamiliar with that day, it’s the weed-smoking holiday. Students at my college gathered on Memorial Glade, a large lawn on Berkeley’s campus, and lit up their joint when the clock hit 4:20.
I got high, this was not the first time I’ve been high, but it was the first time I could hear people talking about me even though they had nothing to do with me. We were all Cal students, but my mind started to break into an interconnected world that scared the living shit out of me.
Fast forward to when I went back to my dorm, these people kept talking about me. Not just people on the Glade, but strangers seemingly know more about me than I do about them. I kept overhearing conversations outside my dorm. I felt the power I could control these conversations as my mind had become unquiet.
Then nightfall came and the people whom I thought were referring to me in their conversations went to sleep, that’s when the voices crept in. A slow burn began to destroy my psyche. I left my dorm walking around campus still hearing uncontrollable voices leaving me unable to concentrate.
After a couple of nights of not sleeping, a gift from the heavens descended upon me. A routine check-in call from my parents. I wasn’t able to complete my sentences. Finally, I was brave enough to ask/admit to them, “I’m hearing voices.”
The next day, my older brother came to my dorm, and out of concern, he invited me to spend the night in his room in our fraternity house. I was yelling and screaming like a madman and again was unable to sleep and eventually ended up returning home to my dorm, only to be tortured by the voices and unable to fall asleep.
The next day, my brother came and said, “We’re going to see the psychiatrist.” I reluctantly agreed. Even as I walked into the reception area, I could feel the receptionist gossip about me and when I saw the psychologist, I heard the word “Finally,” like I was meant to be there, or worse yet this mind-shattering debacle was just the start of my new normal. Turns out, both were true.
The psychologist contacted my parents and my dad picked me up from school. I continued to hear voices on the car ride back home to San Jose. Since I didn’t have school insurance because I canceled it at the start of the semester because I felt invincible because all the recreational drugs I was taking during my college days. Suffice to say, it had finally caught up with me.
So my parents put me in an emergency consultation with a Kaiser psychiatrist who saw my bizarre behavior and diagnosed me with drug-induced psychosis. I left with no meds, just a fraught mind, and a bleak outlook on life.
A couple of days later my brother graduated from college and I did attend the graduation but was unable to enjoy myself because my mind was enmeshed with the speakers and student names, and I started a small animosity towards my brother. About a week after that, our family took a road trip to Yosemite to celebrate my brother's graduation, and by that time I was full-blown psychotic.
After the trip, we went to see the psychiatrist again and he diagnosed me with schizophrenia. I was like “Nah.” I’m a psychology major, schizophrenia is for the homeless on the streets, and I’m a UC Berkeley student, I can’t be schizophrenic.
But one of the major teachings psych profs emphasized at Cal was breaking the stigma. I was all about it when I was mentally healthy, but once you get hit with a schizophrenia diagnosis, that’s the true test of a person. So I swallowed my ego and chose then and there to become an advocate and practice what I preach.
I was given a regimen of medication that helped me sleep and quiet the voices.
I took a trip to visit my friend in Seattle and it was great for my mental health because no one knew me there, so they weren’t talking about me. And I came back to San Jose and felt rejuvenated because I was given a break from the voices.
My parents decided that I should live at home and enroll in my alma mater, De Anza Community College for the time being. I did, and on the weekends I would go to football games with my girlfriend who was supportive of me and my mental illness.
After half a year, I went back to Cal and stayed away from my previous psychedelic drug experimentation, and was able to graduate, barely. Because the meds brought me back to my baseline, I felt that I didn’t need them anymore so I decided to stop taking the meds and return to my old ways.
Then came work, I was hired at Oracle to work in sales. I’ve been off meds for about a month at this point and it’s been no problem. Besides breaking up with my girlfriend which I felt was the right thing to do in my heart, I felt like I could tackle this Oracle job, with no problem. When I first walked into the office, a not-so-great feeling of deja vu came over me. My coworkers immediately started talking about me in their conversation or so I thought.
I started to freak out. My journey at UC Berkeley began to mimic Oracle. People talking about me or latching onto keywords in other people's conversations. This was getting ugly. During work times, I began to take long walks around Oracle’s campus to get away from the stress of being talked about. My boss would ask me questions and I would give inappropriate responses. I had horrible performance reviews. I only lasted 4 days before I sent in my resignation letter.
I realized that my career was meant to be in the mental health field, so I turned my back on working in the high-tech field.
Throughout my mental health journey, this quote from Batman Begins kept me going through the darkest of times. "The night is darkest before the dawn." In my schizophrenic episode, I remember losing my sense of humor and I watched a Chris Rock video on YouTube. At first, I was stoic and did not enjoy it. Then I started to smile, then I burst out laughing, and after the video, I was overcome by the feeling that everything is going to be all right. Art heals the soul like no other and as long as I have my sense of humor, I believe I can accomplish anything. One of my mottos is laugh and share laughter. Let's laugh together and connect!