Possibly Living With Prodromal Schizophrenia

The healing process is such an interesting topic to explore. Every story is unique but often the same as well. We’re all working towards something in regards to a better future and improved health, among other things. It isn’t an easy journey to navigate nor is it ever one that seems particularly black and white. In this series, we will hear from different individuals within the mental health community about their healing process, how it began, what the journey has been like and where they are today.

Tell us about a little bit about yourself.
My name is Sophie and I am 17 years old. When I was 12, I struggled with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, I found a great therapist that I could work with and didn’t need medication. I became able to cope very well and I didn’t have depression anymore. However, last year, I had some strange symptoms pop up. These are the symptoms that I am currently recovering from.

When did your healing journey begin and what lead you to take the route that you did?
My perception of the world suddenly changed. The world became a very scary-looking place. Things would move and wave when they weren’t supposed to. One time, I was going hiking and the trail started to wave like the ocean and I panicked. I also started seeing illusions. Also while I was hiking one time, I swore I saw a woman standing in the woods, but my friend said that no one was ever there. This can be very frightening because they seem so real for the few seconds before they disappear!

After a few months of this, I started to experience paranoia. I would think that people were reading my mind and that people were watching me. I could feel presences and ‘shadow people’ all the time. I also had voices in my head (I couldn’t hear them, but they weren’t my voice). They would tell me strange things and sometimes violent things.
I didn’t want to go to a psychiatrist until I did a school project on schizophrenia. Doing that project made me realize that I have some alarming symptoms, so thankfully I got help.

What were some of the highs and lows you have encountered along the way?
My first psychiatric evaluation didn’t go very well. I didn’t tell my doctor the most important symptoms and only told him about my anxiety symptoms, so he diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and prescribed me Zoloft. I was shocked yet relieved that I just had some unusual anxiety (that’s what I thought at the time). On Zoloft, I did feel better emotionally, and things stopped waving, but other symptoms got worse and I started to hear birds and crickets. My paranoia eventually got so bad that I thought that a teacher was out to get me and that he was a bad person. This caught the attention of my school’s psychologist. I told her about some of my symptoms and she was so concerned that she sent me to get a second evaluation. This new psychiatrist said that all my symptoms were caused by the Zoloft! What? How could this be?- I thought to myself. It turns out that she thought that my symptoms coincided with the Zoloft trial, which they did not. This was definitely a low point in my healing, but also a high point. The second psychiatrist prescribed me Abilify, an anti-psychotic, as she said that I was experiencing mild psychosis. Once I got to a higher dose, my symptoms nearly disappeared!!

Another low point of my recovery was when my original psychiatrist said that I “want to be sick.” When I tried to tell him my really concerning symptoms, that was his reply. This got me questioning myself and then I tried to just ignore my symptoms and see if they would go away. And clearly they didn’t just go away like that because I wasn’t causing them!

What was the process like to find what works best for you?
Finding the right coping mechanisms/medications is a long and complicated process.
As I said before, I tried Zoloft and that didn’t work so I stopped that. I tried Abilify and it worked almost perfectly! Even Abilify took a little trial and error though. I didn’t mind the slight sadness that came with taking Abilify, but I couldn’t stand the cognitive dulling! My original psychiatrist told me that I probably didn’t even need that much Abilify for anxiety so I should cut the pills in half. Well, that didn’t go well. I ended up getting a lot worse and along with my scary symptoms coming back, I couldn’t feel any emotions. I would stay in my dark room for hours and hours just laying in one position. If I wasn’t lying down, I was pacing, anxious about the people watching me. The next visit with my psychiatrist went pretty well! He finally seemed to believe my symptoms and prescribed the original dose of Abilify. On 5mg of Abilify is how I function best right now, along with seeing my psychotherapist from when I was twelve.

What is one thing you didn’t expect to learn from this journey?
One thing I didn’t expect to learn from this journey is that I may not go into REM sleep! I had a sleep study done and the results came back normal except for having 0 minutes of REM sleep! Interesting.

Where are you at today with your journey?
Today, I am taking 5mg of Abilify and going to psychotherapy twice a week. Since I just started back on 5mg, I’m still waiting for all my symptoms to hopefully go away as they once did. I’m learning to look for unusual thought patterns and do lots of reality testing. These psychotic thoughts can be very disturbing sometimes, but I just use grounding techniques to relieve my anxiety about them. As for my current diagnosis, I am actually not diagnosed. My psychiatrist says that I may be in the prodromal phase of schizophrenia (prodromal phase is the phase before the actual illness develops), and that he can’t predict the future so he doesn’t want to diagnose me yet. My journey certainly isn’t over (in fact it might be just beginning), but I’ve grown so much throughout the past year that I feel ready to work towards full recovery/prevention.I am feeling very positive, and I’m thankful for the insight that mental illness gave me. In fact, I’m now enrolled in a pre-medical program because I’ve realized my dreams of becoming a psychiatrist!

Where can people find you on social media?
Instagram

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