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Schizophrenia and Christmas

I spent four Christmases homeless and alone. Today I celebrate it with family.

Source: Pixabay

My best childhood memories were of Christmas. There was the sweet-smelling Frasier Fir, the decorations, and the homemade dinners with friends. The annual candlelight service at my church was my favorite. As a teenager, I played violin for the services every year.

My first psychotic break was marked by a loss of interest in people who had once been closest to me, including both friends and family. I also completely stopped playing the violin.

Schizophrenia was like a thief, taking away everything in my past (or perhaps like a Grinch). I still remembered the joys of my childhood, but it was as though these details belonged to a different person. I no longer felt love for my family or friends or for any of my interests. The disease left my heart like ice.

In fall of 2002, my senior year of college, mental illness was overtaking my life, but I was unaware of it. Six months later, I dropped out of school and began sleeping in student lounges and libraries.

As Christmas arrived, I had been eating left-over food from garbage cans for seven months. During those seven months, I lost ten pounds.

On Christmas Day of 2003, I spent most of my time in a campus computer library which was open the entire year. I blended in with the students who were trying to work on Christmas Day. They appeared to be lonely, just like me. That day, I spent several hours writing about my general plan to broker a peace deal between Israel and all the Arabic-speaking countries surrounding Israel. I believed I would be instrumental in this deal after my time homeless had ended. I also believed that my homelessness was somehow a necessary step towards enabling me to establish international peace.

As the holiday season drew to an end, I had over a hundred typed pages. My hope was that both Jewish and Muslim people from all over the Middle East would have interest in printing the book and distributing it. I convinced an old friend who did not know I was homeless to read it. He was too kind to tell me I had written a hundred pages of gibberish.

I spent the next three Christmases alone, from 2004-2006. Even on Christmas Day, I remained homeless and lived off food I found in garbage cans. Unable to accept help in my illness, there was no place to go. I walked in parks near the university area and looked for that little bit of food someone had left in the trash. Christmas Day was especially lonely, but I believed living homeless was my only choice.

Today, thanks to medication, I have regained a healthy mind, as well as the joy of family and friends. I have learned how important it is to always take my medication, and have been medication compliant since 2007. I am thankful for my health, especially on holidays.

Today, we live in a world where even the most severely ill individuals with schizophrenia can be brought to a higher level of recovery. I have experienced falling to the lowest point possible, and getting up again. Today, I have moved on.

Each year, during Christmas, I look back to my time as a homeless person with severe untreated schizophrenia, and my heart is full of thankfulness.

I am grateful for the lovely people who are once again in my life, and for those I have met along my journey to recovery. I treasure each and every one of them.

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