Micaela, 23, Philadelphia, USA

“In March of this year I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar type. Schizoaffective disorder isn’t really well known. Well, I was unaware of it, until I was finally diagnosed with it. To put it in layman’s terms, it’s a combination of Schizophrenia and a mood disorder, mine being Bipolar. I experience psychosis, which, put simply, is a loss of touch from reality, as well as paranoia, violent intrusive thoughts, and extreme manic and depressive episodes.

Even as a teen, I knew I had something more than anxiety and depression. I was a hyper kid. ADHD was definitely in the picture but not written down on paper. I started having panic attacks, and I would find myself checking off symptoms I Googled when I looked up anxiety disorders. But something felt different. It felt more intense, like there was something else infiltrating my mind, and at times felt like my mind was slipping away. I thought everyone hated me, that they thought I was ugly, and stupid, and weird because they could hear my thoughts. I had my first dissociative episode when I was thirteen, and was prescribed some sort of gateway, starter antidepressant around fifteen. For a while, everything was fine. I felt normal.
Until college. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of my terrible college experience but it put it gently, it felt like every waking moment was a hellish nightmare and I couldn’t wake up. I wasn’t doing well in my classes, kept changing majors, got bullied, and switched schools twice. I finally got to go to the school of my dreams, and I loved it, but something had been brewing in the back of my mind that I so desperately kept trying to push away. I wasn’t going to classes, I didn’t have the energy. I wasn’t talking to people, despite going through sorority recruitment. I hated my school life and didn’t want to admit it in fear that my parents would be disappointed. I late dropped at least 2 years worth of classes. I had been in sophomore standing for four years at that point. It was exhausting, and stressful, and to be completely honest, I felt hopeless. I was never going to get a degree, I was never going to live up to the high expectations I had to adhere to my entire life. I felt like a huge disappointment.
This all led up to January of 2021. I was living on my own with a housemate who was barely there, but she was pretty cool. I was by myself most days, alone, isolated by COVID and my own desire to push through the pain of being at school three hours away from home.
That’s when the psychosis began. I thought my neighbors wanted to kill me. I thought my roommate had hidden cameras around the house and would spy on me and laugh at me when she wasn’t there, even though she definitely wouldn’t do that. Driving was terrible. I kept getting flashes of images that someone would crash into me, or I would crash into someone. I would forget where I was, where I was going. I would see brief images of me dying in an accident. Or, the opposite. I would have an overwhelming urge to hit the person in front of me. I would lock my bedroom door at night because I believed someone would come into the house with a gun and kill me. I kept living like this, thinking it was just my anxiety. I had finally been diagnosed with ADHD that month so I brushed off my periods of mania and depression and ADHD bouts, or whatever that means. But there was a defining moment that made me realize that none of this was okay, that something was actually wrong with me and that I needed help.
One of my intrusive thoughts was telling me that I needed to grab a kitchen knife and stab my desk. The thought wouldn’t go away, however. Usually these were brief ideas that would pass but this one didn’t leave. It kept haunting me over and over until I finally did it and the itch went away. I took a step back and realized that what I had done was weird, and I quickly went to my nearest community crisis center.
After two months of switching meds from my General Practitioner like crazy, I finally got ahold of a real psychiatrist appointment and that’s when I got my diagnosis. Schizoaffective disorder. As soon as I heard that, it felt like my world was collapsing. Nobody wants to be told they have something like that.
I packed up a bunch of my things, and drove immediately home. In that moment of coming to terms with a new diagnosis and what that would mean for me, I left school. I left it all behind. I just wanted to go home. All the fixations and thoughts kept haunting me on my drive back, and it felt like I was in a simulation.
I’ve been home ever since. I checked in to a partial hospitalization program for a few weeks and here I am today. I’m on 3 different medications and a few supplements but my life is okay. I still get thoughts from time to time but I know I’m surrounded by my loving family and friends. I try to distract myself with art or talking to a family member. I’m really lucky I have a family who cares and loves me.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but it feels like life passes me by. Each day, I feel like I could’ve done more, talked to more people, gone out. I spend my days laying in bed dreaming about all the cool things I could be doing right now. But I’m scared. I’m scared that the world isn’t so accepting. I’m scared my thoughts will hold me back from having a good time, even though they’re already holding me back from getting my foot in the door. I get episodes in public, I’m afraid of reaching for goals that seem unattainable to me but just a part of daily life for others. Every day is a challenge, but I don’t give up. I keep pushing and I keep trying to feel. My life will never be the same as it was before my diagnosis, but now that I’ve hit rock bottom, my only direction is to climb back up. The thoughts and urges to hurt others or that others will hurt me are still there, but I don’t deserve to live that way. Nobody does. It’s a struggle but I know I can overcome it.
These days I’m slowly getting back into modeling, making art, and getting my ass kicked in Muay Thai classes. I’m focusing on myself, and that’s all I can do. There’s no magical cure for this. I can’t push myself too much or I’ll end up back in that dark place I was a few months ago. As the sun comes out more, I can see clearer. My days are brighter now, and I find myself able to do small things I never thought I could do.
To anyone who resonates with my story, don’t give up. It’s tacky, you’ve heard it before, but please don’t give up. There will be good days and there will be bad days. You’ll feel like shit sometimes, and you won’t want to fight anymore, but you have to keep going. Life is purposeful, but you have to learn to live to find out what that purpose is.”


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