by Savana Robinson
What is schizophrenia? According to the American Psychiatric Association, schizophrenia affects less than 1% of the population. It is a chronic brain disorder with symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations and disorganized speech.
I got lucky. I got my diagnosis at the young age of 22, and the mental health system worked in my favor. This is not the case for most, and I want to raise awareness of that. Oftentimes, people suffer from symptoms for years without a diagnosis. Often they are gaslit or belittled. Being called crazy isn’t fun. That’s what I heard the lady next to me in the psych ward at Mad River Hospital say. She was right. It’s not fun, but getting help when you’re not in the right headspace is important. The stigma around mental health, schizophrenia specifically, needs to change. We should be treating those in distress with compassion because mental health can be a difficult topic to approach, especially if it’s regarding a loved one.
The first time I was put on a 5150 hold was because Sergeant Martin of the university police noticed that I wasn’t acting like myself. I misplaced my phone at the Student Activity Center, convinced someone had stolen it. I was telling him things like the person who took my phone put recording devices in my room, and that someone was out to get me. He transported me to Mad River Hospital, where I was put on a 5150 hold; involuntarily held there for my own safety. They ran some tests to make sure I wasn’t on drugs; my paranoia was high and I thought that the oxygen tank in my hospital room was going to explode. I could hear a ticking coming from a camera on the wall that was in sync with my heartbeat. They released me to my dad after one night.
The peak of my psychosis was the night after I was released from Mad River. I took a sleeping pill – never again. I walked and ran three miles from my house barefoot, thinking that someone had planted bombs all over Redwood Valley and that everything I loved would be blown to smithereens. Thank goodness a kind samaritan saw me hopping the fence to the freeway and called the authorities. My dad is a first responder and he told me that was the most fucked-up call he’d ever been on. I tore up my feet and traumatized my father that night.
The next day my parents took me to Ukiah Adventist and they put me on my second 5150 hold. I believe I should have gone straight to a psychiatric facility, but my feet were hurt pretty bad. I guess it made sense to keep me in the hospital for a couple of days, but the hallucinations I experienced there were unsettling. It felt like I lived through a horror movie. I could hear the happenings of what I believed to be a torture chamber in the room next to me. When I was finally transported – without my consent – I believed my whole family had been cut up and sewn into a big wad of flesh, and that I was being “saved” and sent away to start a new life. It took me about five days, and a lot of sedation, to realize that I had been in psychosis for over a week, having been in a manic episode for months. After months of therapy, I fully realized that what I experienced in the hospital was one big hallucination. When the psychiatrist told me I was schizophrenic and bipolar, everything finally made sense.
In total, I was put on a 5150 hold twice and 5250 once. A 5150 hold lets the facility keep you for 72 hours and 5250 lets them keep you for 14 days. I will say this until I die: 5150 patients should not be kept in hospitals unless they have severe injuries. In my experience, hospitals can be very triggering. It’s an unfamiliar environment; the sounds of the machines and people talking can make someone suffering from psychosis spiral into a worse condition.
Now that I have my diagnosis, have been on medication for six months, been in therapy, I look back on all of my delusions and hallucinations, and I don’t recognize that girl. She needed help, lots of help, but she got it. I’m very thankful for everyone who helped me when I wasn’t myself. I’m also appreciative of myself for being vulnerable enough to admit that I need help and accepting the help that was offered to me.
If you take away anything from my experience, please let it be this: listen to the people around you when they’re trying to help you. Say something if you notice a loved one is behaving strangely. No one has all the answers, especially not a manic college student, but that’s okay. The world is a scary place and sometimes our brains make it scarier, but we have each other and that is what’s most important.