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Bipolar Disorder

Overcoming My Delusions

Personal Perspective: Delusions left me disabled before treatment.

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay
PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

Delusions are defined as “fixed false beliefs.” They are a common symptom of schizophrenia and some types of depression and bipolar disorder.

Some scientists believe that, as your mind is decompensating, the brain creates an imaginary world of delusions to cope. Delusions vary widely from person to person, such as beliefs about secretly working for the CIA or that the government is out to get them.

One person may think a microchip has been implanted inside their body with a tracking device, as dramatically portrayed in the movie "A Beautiful Mind." Another may experience religious delusions of grandiosity, believing they are the Messiah or a prophet. One of my friends living with schizophrenia believed that she could cure cancer, as well as many other diseases—all from the hospital room where she was staying as a patient.

The biggest surprise I have found about delusions over the years is their overwhelming power to take over your life, stealing you away from the real world. My delusions would eventually become so distracting that I was left unable to work and disabled. Finding a small pill to take every day that caused these delusions to disappear was also an unexpected and welcome surprise.

My Journey Into Delusions

As a teenager, I spent much time daydreaming about where I would go to college and what I would study. Calculus was my favorite class in high school, and I was drawn to biomedical engineering. When I was awarded a scholarship to my dream school, the University of Southern California (USC), I was excited about my future there.

At first, things seemed to be going quite well. In my first semester, I took organic chemistry and other difficult classes. I also landed a job with a laboratory focusing on DNA replication in bacteria, and I was appointed concertmaster of their community orchestra on violin.

But something was very wrong.

As for the professor who ran the laboratory where I worked, humility was not his strong suit. He spoke often about how if only a certain set of experiments would work, leading to other results he genuinely expected to see, a Nobel Prize would be within his reach.

In reality, though, the lab was excellent, and the professor had been awarded millions to study DNA replication. However, a Nobel Prize was highly unlikely, but when he talked about it being within his reach, it was genuine to me, and it became my goal, too.

I found myself spending my time in the lab in the early hours of the morning and stopped studying much for exams. Often, I arrived to classes late, exhausted from many hours working in the lab at night. My grades dropped, but I didn’t care, wanting to be a part of a team winning a Nobel Prize.

Leaving the Lab

Throughout the summer after my first year of college at USC, I continued working in the lab. Looking back, I should have started a new project but was exhausted and emotionally unable to give the lab any more of my time. Because my mind was failing me, I probably would not have scored high grades anyway.

During the following year, my sophomore year of college, somehow, I got it together, taking challenging classes, including engineering physics and advanced biochemistry, and scored high grades. But my dream was still that Nobel Prize, and as I realized it was not happening in the lab, I needed to find another way.

The fateful day of 9/11 occurred during the fall semester of my junior year. Watching the news, I continued looking for any opportunity to bring me money, fame, and influence. At that time, my church was sending a team of students to China to survey one of the poorest areas in the country. I eagerly applied for my first passport and planned for the trip. I was spending all my time online researching China, and my grades, again, suffered.

In China, after encountering people living in poverty, I began to rethink my life. Could I assist a million people living in China? Or perhaps millions? Was this my new mission?

When I was in high school, I was sure that, barring a car accident or terrible illness, I would almost certainly graduate from high school. In 2001, while traveling around China, I had the same degree of certainty that I could impact millions. And with a new dream for my life, I abandoned my love of science.

After returning to the United States from China, I took the easiest classes I had ever taken at the university and again received low grades. And instead of focusing on school, I spent all my energy planning my trip to rural Africa.

Still hoping to change the world, in the summer of 2002, I went to Nairobi for two months, spending most of my time living in poverty and without even enough food to stay healthy. I never provided my parents a phone number or address where they could find me, though I had promised them contact information.

While living in Nairobi for two months, I came to believe with even more certainty that I would make a worldwide impact. When I returned to college following my trip to Africa, I believed I was the next Mother Teresa and dropped out.


Today, I have been living in full recovery from schizophrenia for over fifteen years. My drive to achieve the Nobel Prize has disappeared completely, as well as my dream to impact millions and become famous, as I understand these were delusional thoughts, thanks to faithful medication compliance.

Instead, I seek to make a realistic impact as a mental health advocate by running a nonprofit foundation, which I established seven years ago with a psychiatrist.

I currently live in my one-bedroom apartment near the University of Cincinnati. My life is filled with great relationships with my parents, many friends, and a loving church, where I play violin most weeks for services. I am content with a full and purposeful life.

Today, I am amazed at how this illness of schizophrenia can consume a young person’s life, leading to so many false expectations and impossible goals, which can feel so real.

Delusions are treatable. Today, I hope that I can attain perhaps an even higher goal than I had imagined before, which is helping others to find recovery from schizophrenia.

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