People living with schizophrenia often experience a great deal of internal conflict relating to their perceptions and sensory experiences. As a result of these symptoms, the diagnosis is often determined in their late teens to early 20s. For those who have a recent diagnosis, or care for someone who has it, one might wonder, can someone with schizophrenia lead a normal life?
The good news is, those living with schizophrenia can experience a positive, healthy quality of life with careful planning, observation of symptoms and the support of caring friends and family.
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What Does Schizophrenia Feel Like?
People less familiar with the condition may wonder what schizophrenia feels like. Often, people with schizophrenia struggle with periods of time in which they are unsure what is real and what isn’t due to the impact of the condition on one’s sensory experiences and thought processes. Delusional thoughts, paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations can be part of the difficult symptoms for someone with schizophrenia, depending on the type of illness and the individual.
This constellation of potential symptoms creates a disturbing disconnection from one’s own understanding of what is real and what is not. As one can imagine, this is distressing and can cause many problems for the person struggling with this condition, particularly when early signs of schizophrenia emerge prior to diagnosis.
Often young people with emerging symptoms avoid telling others of their perceptual experiences due to fear. Imagine how distressing it would be to have your most basic assumptions of reality shaken. It is understandable that prior to diagnosis, it might feel frightening to experience these symptoms and also frightening to tell others about them.
How Does Schizophrenia Impact Everyday Life?
For those living with the illness, life with schizophrenia is about managing symptoms when they flare up, maintaining medication needs and adjustments and staying aware of one’s perceptions. People learning about this condition may wonder, how does schizophrenia affect social life? Those managing schizophrenia sometimes feel hesitant to engage socially and may restrict their connections to a few close, trusted friends and family. While this certainly isn’t universally true, often people with schizophrenia are overwhelmed by too many people and prefer to keep stimulation to a minimum to avoid triggering symptoms.
Others with schizophrenia learn to mitigate symptoms and participate in social events with relative ease. Often one’s ability to engage with family and friends depends on the severity of the disorder, the constellation of symptoms and one’s ability to use available resources to manage them.
Working with schizophrenia can be managed when one has learned to identify the trends within their illness. Sometimes there are periods of relative calm when the symptoms are minimal and one can proceed with work and social plans uninterrupted. During difficult periods when symptoms are flaring up, people with schizophrenia can communicate their needs to an understanding employer who will work with them on taking time off and returning to work when they are able to.
Because of this, people with schizophrenia may be best suited to part-time work with an employer who is aware of the condition and willing to work around the needs for time off. Supported employment opportunities are also a great option to help link people who have schizophrenia with an employer who understands and will help work around the condition.
Talking About Your Diagnosis
People with schizophrenia may feel reluctant to talk about it with people they don’t know well. Sharing one’s mental health condition may feel risky, particularly if the response of the other person is in question. Those who are managing this disorder may wonder how to tell someone you have schizophrenia. While there is no predetermined way to do this, it can be helpful to gauge their understanding of the condition. Often when people have knowledge about a condition, they are better able to respond to it appropriately and with compassion.
Teach people how to help you when you are experiencing a flare-up with your symptoms. Most people want to help and may simply need to be educated about how to do that. Whom you share your personal information with is entirely your decision. You can share or withhold your medical and mental health information with whomever you would like.
It can also be helpful to enlist the assistance of someone you trust to help you share information about your diagnosis with others. Schizophrenia support groups can be a great way to do this. Meeting up with others who manage a similar condition can help in identifying coping strategies and methods of communicating about it with others.
Tips for Managing Schizophrenia
Managing schizophrenia may feel impossible for those who are newly diagnosed. Fortunately, many people have learned how to live with schizophrenia and are able to have a positive quality of life in spite of the condition. The key to managing schizophrenia lies in the identification and tracking of symptoms and staying honest with yourself and others about your wellbeing.
Often people who have learned to successfully manage schizophrenia stay in regular contact with their medical and mental health team, consistently take prescribed medications, stay in contact with friends and family routinely and check in with people they trust regarding their symptoms as they come and go.
Keeping a relatively consistent schedule can be helpful in managing this condition. Try to get an adequate amount of sleep and balance activities involving the mind and body to ensure that you are maintaining a consistent input and output of energy. Schizophrenia is a manageable condition if one learns their patterns and is able to stay on top of symptoms as they emerge.
Unfortunately, anywhere from 10-70 percent of people with schizophrenia experience co-occurring substance use disorder. While it may be tempting to use substances in an effort to cope with some of the more challenging symptoms, it is dangerous and can cause significant complications.
People who are struggling with both schizophrenia and substance use disorder are at higher risk for legal involvement, incarceration and negative health outcomes. The use of substances can also increase the frequency and intensity of symptoms. It is important to manage symptoms without further complicating them with the use of mind-altering substances.
People who are managing schizophrenia and have a co-occurring substance use disorder can reach out for help and support. The Recovery Village has a variety of treatment options available to help you get back on track toward wellness.