Brad, age 58
“‘We'll get through this. Look for the rainbow,' my dad would say.” This is what Brad would have told himself back in 1992 after his traumatic brain injury triggered schizophrenia and dissociative disorder. Brad doesn't feel he's experienced the same stigma associated with mental illness that others have because his treatment was seen as part of the accident, making the diagnosis more acceptable.
Brad was one of the first interviews I conducted for this project, and his candor about schizophrenia and dissociative disorder was incredibly helpful to my understanding of his journey.
Life for Brad used to be a big struggle. He described what his schizophrenia could be like. On bad days, the voices were telling him awful things: to cut himself, expressing hatred, and telling him to die. I asked if the voices sounded like they were in or outside his head, and he said they sounded like they were outside, audible to everyone. Sometimes it felt like he couldn't get the words out because every thought was overwhelmingly bad, like his brain was a clogged drain. He also cut himself. “When I cut, it shuts up the negative voices. They want me to hurt myself, hate myself, cut myself—'Shame! Die! Fear!'—I don't feel the emotional pain when I cut.” The act of cutting was the only control he had when everything else felt so out of control.
Brad described how his mental illness has felt. “A dark tunnel with light at the end of the tunnel. My life might have dark moments, but there were and are always bright moments.” And life is a lot better now for Brad. “I got my cognitive back, can think because of the right combination of meds and support.” On his good days, he loves to write and play music, and just enjoy life. (I was so honored when Brad played guitar and sang for me after I met him — he's very good!) To keep himself at his best, Brad takes his medication and sticks with new ones long enough to give them a chance to work. He also has the love of his sweetheart of over ten years, support from his kids and other family, and the support of his social worker.
To others living with mental illness, Brad encourages you to “find something you're passionate about. To get involved with life again. If you can handle it, do something fun that excites you.” To your friends and family, he says, “It's ok to just sit with them, hug, or cry. Be understanding, loving, and patient.”
The hardest part of his schizophrenia is to help people understand that, “I'm not strange. I'm just like you. It's not curable, but it's manageable, like any other illness, with medication and support. The schizophrenia doesn't define me.”