We’ve all had bad days. Often it is just the little things that can make it or break it. You were fine with being late for work because of a flat tire. You were fine being chewed out by your boss even though they wouldn’t see it wasn’t your fault. You were even fine when the photocopier just happened to malfunction right before your very important meeting. It just seemed like the end of the world though when you accidentally spilled coffee all over your new clothes. That was it, you’d had it.

Let me tell you about the worst day in Neil’s life. It was December 28th, 2011. His medication had stopped working. He was confused. Very confused. His illness made him think that he was about to die. He knew it was the schizophrenia talking, but was too tired to think clearly. He felt alone, thrown down a pitch black pit of despair, and everything he loved felt like it had become ash.

When Neil talks about a bad day, he’s comparing it to this day. Because of what he’s been through, he’s never hyperbolic about such things.

Breakdowns aren’t fun. Neil really lacks the words to describe the horrible pain which comes with it. No matter how successfully he deals with it, no matter how far he succeeds, it will always be there inside him.

How he chooses to deal with the pain though does matter. Some people when faced with pain, choose to inflict it on others or to inflict it on themselves. Neil isn’t like that, and doesn’t ever want to be anything like that. One of the many reasons he is being public with his illness is to share that pain in a positive manner. It’s all about choosing hope, rather than embracing despair.

So the worst thing in the world has happened. (This has only happened to Neil once in ten years of successfully managing his illness).

What you need to know: Understanding why this has happened is unimportant now. It is important to note that Neil should appear very docile and disconnected. An extreme version of “I’m Tired.” He may seem disconnected with reality, like off in a dream world. Your words will sometimes fail to reach him. He may talk complete nonsense and even when he does make sense, it will seem disconnected and he may say things that are untrue or impossible. He may seem to be flinching from pain. It hurts for him just to focus enough to be in this world. This is bad. This is the worst thing for a schizophrenic. Now bear in mind, Neil is not violent. Unlike some schizophrenics, he will not hurt others or hurt himself. He has a huge amount of empathy that is still there even on the worst of his days. One key thing to remember is mental illness doesn’t change the person with it. Unlike the movies, a mental illness isn’t justification for why someone is “evil” it just is something a person has to deal with. Even with the worst thing in the world happening to him, Neil is still on some level Neil. Always remember that.

What you should do: This is bad. Very bad. Neil will need to see preferably his psychiatrist or his family doctor as soon as possible. Contact his family to let them know. They love him very much and want to help if they can. He has their numbers. If you have to interact with Neil while he’s going through this without help from either his family or close friends, remember one key rule. Empathize not rationalize. His brain won’t function correctly and he may not be capable of processing much if any reality. But he’s still a person and still has his heart underneath. If you reach for him through it, it will keep him calmer and more stable. If you want to help, keep him company until those with better experience (either family, close friends or professionals) can do more for him.

What you shouldn’t do: Attempt to reason with him. He may say things that don’t make any sense. Ignore them. Don’t try and convince him that they aren’t real, or that he’s “talking crazy talk.” Believe me, on some level he knows it isn’t making any sense and arguing with him will only make him more frustrated and agitated, which will make the whole thing, as indescribably unpleasant as it is, much worse.


5 Responses to Breakdown

  1. Pina says:

    Hi Neil:

    As sad as it makes me to know that you had to go through such a horrible episode, I’m grateful that you are sharing your experience to help us better understand what it’s like living wiuth schizophrenia. You know that I am always here to listen.

    All the best,

  2. Neil says:

    Thanks Pina,
    I am grateful for your ear as always.

  3. Pingback: A positive attitude | Perspectives on Living with a Mental Illness

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