In this blog I have concentrated on depression, anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Those are the illnesses that I deal with daily. There are many other different types of mental illnesses. These illnesses are serious, but recovery still is possible. In this week’s interview, Marc Stewart gives us insight into a different type of mental illness. His story is inspiring.
What type of mental illness do you have and what are the symptoms?
My main diagnosis for over the last 30 years has been paranoid schizophrenia, later diagnosed as delusional disorder. It mostly manifests by my overestimating the hostility of other people–even so far as to once believe the FBI and university faculty were conspiring to drive me crazy. This notion was ludicrous, of course, because I am such a good guy. To this day, however, I tend to misanthropy based on my experiences with paranoia.
During a routine blood test, doctors discovered a blood anomaly that they thought might be due to my antipsychotic medication. The blood anomaly turned out to be leukemia. Ironically, my delusions then largely disappeared when the doctors discontinued the medication, but I developed mania associated with bipolar disorder. I became exuberant. My wife would say I was “Marc, only more so.”
What type of help or therapy did you get for your illness?
Fortunately, for most of the course of my illnesses, medication was able to relieve the utmost severity of the symptoms. While delusional, I was still largely able to function in the world. The medication for mania has practically cured my mania. Luckily, I never had the urge to harm anyone other than myself—suicidal ideation being a constant reminder that things aren’t peachy keen. I never seriously tried suicide, but don’t know why not.
Over the years, I have had several therapists who have been helpful for the most part—although I can barely remember what we talked about. My last therapist would listen to me talk for 45 minutes, then would take 15 minutes to tell me that I am fine. Indeed, I was.
When did you realize you had a illness and what did you do when you discovered it?
I first realized that I had paranoid schizophrenia about three weeks after I had been admitted to a big university hospital. I thought I had died and gone to a Sartrean No-Exit hell. I even tried to call the police to report my kidnapping. Accordingly, I quit trying to escape from the psychiatric unit and began to seriously comply with treatment—therapy groups and medication.
What advice do you give to others struggling with mental illness?
My advice to others struggling with mental illness is to understand as best they can exactly what their mental illness is. This involves consulting psychiatrists, therapists, other patients with similar and not so similar diagnoses, and relevant books. I have found philosophy and poetry particularly helpful.
If in recovery, what steps do you take to stay in recovery?
I stay in recovery by religiously taking my medication and applying myself to the business of understanding life. Mental illness can be seen, for example, as a rational response to an irrational world, rather than an irrational response to a sensical world.
How has your family reacted to your illness?
Because I did not have flagrant symptoms, my family largely downplayed my mental illness. I was just “depressed”—depression being less stigma-oriented than psychosis.
My wife of twelve years is a nurse and has been very supportive of me and a big help in my dealing with mania. We have no children. My parents are dead, but my brother and sister have largely written me off as “crazy” Uncle Marc. Nevertheless, we treat each other civilly.
How does your illness affect your ability to work?
I am retired now but managed to work part-time throughout my mental health problems. I did not live well, but adequately. I spent over twenty years doing peer support in mental health.
What is it like to function in society while struggling with your illness?
I find myself largely able to function in society. Continually, though, I must remind myself of the likelihood of my overestimating the hostility of others and that I am still not normal, whatever normal is.
What encouraging words do you have for those struggling with mental illness?
Encouraging words for others with mental illness: Mental illness is a long-term disease that is in no way your fault. You will need to accept a certain amount of suffering on account of your illness, but there are a few things you can change. Some of your attempts at adjustment will work, but many will fail. Recovery is a lifelong experiment, but in the end you will probably prevail.
Marc Stewart’s Bio:
Marc Stewart was born and raised in western Pennsylvania. He attended Penn State University and the University of Minnesota where he was active in the Scum of the Earth Club, an artsy organization. He and his wife, both retired, live now in western Pennsylvania.
Give Marc your support by commenting and sharing this post. Please let me know if you would like to be interviewed for my blog post. Your story is important and can help and educate others.