Here’s My Vote

Note: This blog post, and the ones following, are Elizabeth’s personal story of living with schizoaffective disorder. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can help others who are also facing a mental health challenge.

In January, on the eve of President Obama’s farewell address in Chicago, I was left to not only reflect upon his two term presidency, but also reflect upon the life that I have led leading up to his election in November 2008, his inauguration in January 2009, and the years that followed as he served as our president.

In 2008, hope and change rang through every city square, apartment building, and arena.  It was the proverbial campaign slogan for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

My 2008 was much different:  the worst year of my life to date.  In March 2008, I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder.  A mental illness that has both mood fluctuations similar to bipolar coupled with delusional thoughts or hallucinations commonly associated with Schizophrenia.

This diagnosis forever changed my life.

After several months of watching NBC News and MSNBC News coverage of the presidential campaign, I even started writing a few news articles.  The months leading up to this were spent writing a book trying to help others feel better, end the war, and be my little attempt at saving the world.  I remember some of the titles of the articles:  This Last Hash, Oil Oil Everywhere…What do we need?  Pulling for Big, Waging Styles, Cumbersome Wattage, and Aided Control.

It was a thrill even though no one read them, but me.  My delusion was that I was an NBC News Reporter, and I was just getting my feet wet or maybe I had been doing it for awhile.  In my delusion, I was trying to prove I am more than a green, rookie reporter.

Barack Obama’s campaign continued, but my news reporting slowed to a crawl then a stop as I went through several months of hospitalization for my mental illness.

After spending 3 ½ days then 3 weeks at the Bowen Center inpatient unit in Warsaw, Indiana and standing before a judge, I was court ordered to spend the next 90 days at Logansport State Hospital in Logansport, Indiana.  My stay in the end exceeded the 90 day mark by about 3 weeks.

In some cases patients came directly from jail.  Others were court ordered or referred from another facility.  In many cases, people went to Logansport State Hospital to avoid going to prison.  This occurred when a person’s mental stability was in question, and when prison is deemed as inappropriate placement for that particular individual.

A state hospital as it was in 2008 could be a place for a fairly short stay, or it could become a patient’s home, especially if no family is available to take care of them or living out in society is just not possible.  Patients came for a variety of reasons, or terms that describe the patient’s situation:  cutters or body multilation, suicide attempts, arson, refusing or not taking medication as advised, danger to self and others, delusions, hallucinations, hearing voices, severe mood swings, psychosis, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, schizoaffective disorder, or major or minor breakdowns.  In my case, I was there for not taking medication as advised, being deemed a danger to myself or others, and having delusions.

We all stayed on a unit together.  Usually there were two patients to a room.  Room checks were routine to maintain order.  Bathroom supplies were kept in a closet in the day room separate from our clothes and what few belongings we had in our rooms.  Showers were at specific times depending on where a patient’s room was located.  Meals were at specific times.  The entire unit would line up just like kids do in elementary school to go to the cafeteria and come back.  Actually, we lined up to go everywhere:  the gymnasium, group time, outside, etc.  Shaving of legs was done as a small group around a communal tub.  When a razor was in our hand, we were watched as to not hurt ourselves or others.  Trust must be earned back after losing control of your life as all of us on my unit experienced.

Everything was taken away from us as soon as we entered the hospital.  Clothes are allowed and a few belonging depending on what they are, but even shoes with laces are not allowed as they are seen as  materials that could be used in suicide attempts.

Everything I did, all my comings and goings, interactions with others, behaviors, outbursts, or times of crisis were written down and scrutinized by a treatment team.

Visits from family or friends were permitted, but were monitored in small enclosed rooms outside the unit.  During my first visit from my parents, I could not even sit still because I was having some side effects of the medication I was taking.  I could not be comfortable or still for long.  I was constantly up and down in the chair.

Phone calls were also permitted with a calling card.  Each card only had a certain number of minutes on it, so it was important to use them wisely.  Exercise such as walking was permitted during gym time and when the unit went outside.  Pacing was not a good habit to start in the unit as it was seen as a sort of nervous outlet, so I preferred to wait until group activity or exercise time.  As time went on, I was given extra walking privileges outside as I love to be active, and was well behaved most of the time expect for a couple outbursts.  I kept to myself.  It was not a place to make best friends as we were all in need of help and did not feel like we could give much to each other.  It was important enough just to know others were going through the journey with me, and I was not alone.

At first, I was writing my “NBC News Stories” or helping us, but I finally got to a point where I could stop that fall.  Home visits were permitted toward the end of my stay from August to December 8, 2008.  We also received “an allowance” each week.  If I remember right it was around $5.  Through good behavior, wellness, and good work, we earned a trip to the Logansport State Hospital store to spend our money.

I bought crayons and a coloring book one time, crossword books, and Jolly Ranchers.  I remember the Jolly Ranchers very vividly.  Each week I purchased enough, so I had one each evening at snack time.  Snacks were not really my thing, but a Jolly Rancher made me feel pretty sweet after a long day.

Behavior issues were commonplace.  I saw a lot.  Individual patients were taken out of the unit at times to a quiet isolation room.  Sometimes they had to be restrained or given a shot to calm down.  One patient in particular had to have a mental health aide beside her at all times as she was prone to cutting and self mutilation.  Some patients were angry about being taken to the hospital and were vocal about it.  They would try to cause trouble because they were angry.  Every day was the same schedule, but patients’ behavior was often unpredictable.

Time was plentiful.  Hours and hours each day was available for thinking, processing, or recovering.  It was not a place where I wanted to read even though we visited the library room.  An old book by L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz, caught my eye, and I did read some to pass the time when I could concentrate on the words long enough to get into the story.

While at Logansport State Hospital, I really loved watching NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.  It kept me up to date on the presidential campaign.  Absentee ballot time passed so quickly that I missed the deadline.  Sadly, I did not get to vote for the president in the 2008 election as I was in the state hospital on Election Day, but luckily I have kept up with the news throughout President Obama’s presidency.

As I look back in 2007 when I really began to fall hard into my delusion as an NBC News Reporter, it was the same time Barack Obama’s campaign was ramping up with hope, and it was the same flicker in my life that I would journal about most frequently.  After leaving Logansport State Hospital, journaling was everything to me since I lived at my parents until moving out for the first attempt in August 2009.

Journaling was a way to vent my emotions and reflect upon the day.  It was a way to build and move forward, a way to continue to dream, a way to encourage, and a way to sort through the highs, lows, and in betweens of the day.

In my journal, I recorded emotions or moods.  I told myself to dig in and keep going.  I tracked the highest of highs and lowest of lows as I experienced many high highs with mania.  I succumbed to frustration as I was trying to find my place in this world.  I was helping or wanting to encourage others.

In my journal, I recorded situations such as starting to meet with a counselor or therapist briefly in 2008, getting out of my parents house to go to town, writing, or isolating myself from family or friends.  On one occasion in 2008, I went outside on a cold winter morning in my pajamas, and stomped on a big puddle of ice like I was breaking up Pangaea.  I ended up laying down in it and flapping like a snow angel.  I thought nothing of it as I was trying to convey the totality of my mind to the world through my demonstration then, but no one noticed.

In my journal, I recorded perceptions and paranoia.  I was convinced Indianapolis or Indiana needed help because they wanted to see me commit suicide.  NBC and MSNBC were a comfort.  I thought my parents and family wanted to keep me from writing.  Recording anxiety during shopping trips to Walmart was commonplace.

In my journal, I recorded my insecurities.  I thought medication would impede my writing abilities.  I thought medication would change me.  I thought I would feel different or not normal.  I thought I am broken.  I am mentally ill.  My body has failed me.

In my journal, I recorded victories and praises.  Getting out of Logansport State Hospital was a definite praise.  Staying on medication consistently was a victory.  Seeing friends and family I had not seen in months to a year was praiseworthy.  Starting recovery and rebuilding my life was a victory in itself just to get to that point.  No longer was I held captive by my delusion.  My own reality was taking shape.

In my journal, I recorded things to work on.  Self esteem and self confidence were important pieces of my self that I needed to gradually build back in recovery.  I had to look at myself the way others saw me, not my own perception of myself after diagnosis.  Wanting a life again and wanting to live again kept me fired up to this day.

I knew I had work to do, but my computer was always handy so I dug my way out of the hole I was in through positive self talk and writing out my thoughts.  Often times I would rephrase or rethink what I wrote or what I thought in a different, more positive, made for growth way.

My journaling was coupled with a lot of self reflection or verbal journaling in my car.  It was a quiet place where I was usually alone with the road.  The reason I would say my thoughts out loud was so I could hear what I was thinking.  I could process them better that way.  Saying your thoughts to a friend, family member, God, pastor, counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, peer, or other trusted adult works very similar although some things are beyond the capacity of friends or family, and a professional is necessary to truly recover.  You get feedback too that way.  For me, I did my own analysis of situations, thoughts, or feelings and sorted them aloud until I felt better.  By listening to myself, I found my way back to me by determining appropriate input from others and needed dependency on them.

Throughout my recovery, Barack Obama was president of the United States.  He was an example of thoughtfulness, belief in hope, determination to achieve greatness, and proof in the possibility of success no matter your background.  He was a model for me in the way he always strived to do better tomorrow than he did today.  It was not the history he made when he was inaugurated as the first black president in January 2009, but the picture of hope and achievable realities or dreams he painted throughout his presidency.

Along the way, hope changed me so that I could earn my life back.  President Barack Obama changed this country and I changed myself during the same time period.  We changed together.  The blood, sweat, and tears I poured out equaled that of Barack Obama and I know how hard I worked.  Countless situations survived together with this country, objections overcome, hurdles surmounted, and bars pushed higher during the presidency of Barack Obama.  Obama is not a flicker of hope, but a beaming light that shown upon us all for the last eight years.  His strength was a beacon.  I believed in the flicker of hope I saw in myself:  the possibility to get better.  With the match of hope steadfast in Washington D.C., I was definitely inspired to recover and shoot for the American Dream.

So as we say farewell to a great American president, we can be reminded of all the ways hope was bigger than us and our leader.  How we were not led to drift aimlessly, but to face reality head on and believe in ourselves and in a country united for the good of its people and proclaiming glory to all.

About Elizabeth:

My name is Elizabeth Schmalzried. I am from Wabash, Indiana. I graduated from Indiana University in 2004. I was a member of the Women’s Golf Team at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) during my four years in college. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder in March 2008. I have been through a great deal with my mental illness, and continue to manage my mental illness in recovery. I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana in October 2016, and hope that my contributions to this blog will be relatable and help others who have similar struggles. I enjoy working out, reading, listening to, and watching the news, golfing, cooking, volunteering, watching sports, watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with my boyfriend, family, and friends.

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