Yesterday a man wandered into our office, and it was apparent after one minute of “conversation” with him that he has schizophrenia. He never finished a sentence with the same topic it began, and jumped from one thought to another — something called derailment. You could see why the phrases were connected, though, and he sounded intelligent. He had longish hair, a beard, and a backpack, and he and his clothes were relatively clean. The woman at the front desk was listening politely enough, however I could tell this would go on a long time if we didn’t stop him. Fortunately it was almost lunch, and we really did have to close, so I politely interrupted him, let him know we were closing, and opened the door for him. He never stopped talking even as he left, but his tone of voice became somewhat bitter as he turned and started toward the library.
That was when it hit me. He has a thought disorder he can’t control without medicine, but he is as aware of the world around him as you or I. He knows I am asking him to leave. And he probably gets that from everyone, politely or rudely. He appears homeless, he has no one to have a conversation with, and I’ve just asked him to move along (even if it was polite). No wonder his voice was bitter; I would be, too.
Schizophrenia affects 1.1% of the world population, and occurs in all races, ethnicities, and economic levels. The possibility of having it has a genetic basis, but the triggering factors are environmental (such as a stressing event or drug use). Schizophrenia occurs in men more often than women, usually between 18 and 25 years of age, while women tend to manifest it after age 30. This is a spectrum disorder, which means some people who have it are immobilized or completely out of control, while others get along in the world only appearing slightly “different.” Currently there is no cure, but it is treatable, and the drugs they are using to treat it are getting better every year. Many people who take medicine for schizophrenia complain about the way it makes them feel (sluggish and slow are two things mentioned), so they don’t want to take the medicine. One part of the disorder also means they think they can handle it without the medicine. They can’t. Many people with schizophrenia used to live in mental facilities (some with horrible conditions), but during the Ronald Reagan era they decided people with this disorder would be better treated (read, it would cost the government less) by families and private institutions. So they closed most of the mental hospitals, and our national homeless population doubled (or tripled).
The sad truth is that unless a person with schizophrenia has family or friends (or lots of money) to look after them, they stop taking their meds. Unless they are on the high-functioning end of the disorder (and perhaps even then), that means they are apt to eventually lose their jobs and become homeless. Living with someone with schizophrenia is not easy, though it helps if you understand what is wrong with them and how much of what they do is because of a biological condition. Things may get better (with meds), but they also may get worse. No matter how much you love them, the condition will never go away.
The sad part is they are people with hopes and dreams just like everyone else. They want human contact, and a decent conversation. They want to be accepted. Some are jerks, and some are wonderful human beings. But this biological condition has derailed all that. Now, without meds, people will see their condition first. I believe we choose some of the parameters of our life before we are born. [I know there are many who will disagree with me.] It takes a very strong Soul to choose the possibility of schizophrenia. Even as I had to ask him to leave, I found myself sending good energy to the man who visited our office yesterday.