Full Recovery from Schizophrenia
At PCH, we know recovery is possible because we’ve witnessed it personally. Even for a diagnosis as challenging as schizophrenia, there’s always hope. Here’s a firsthand account written by Tracey Higgins, reflecting on her full recovery from schizophrenia. Sharing our experiences and finding common ground are critical steps on the road to recovery, so we’re sharing Tracey’s story hoping it will help someone else out there.
My full recovery from schizophrenia happened more than 20 years ago. I remember it like it was only yesterday. I was in my early 20s and had been experiencing flashbacks from my childhood while bathing my son. At first, I was startled by them and had no idea what they meant. I could only see glimpses into the incident that caused me to enter the world of schizophrenia.
During that time, the voices in my head were getting louder and yelling at me to kill myself. Instead of exploring the incident, I gave in to the voices and ignored the flashback. But the flashback kept on resurfacing, so I made an appointment to see a therapist. I chose to see a therapist rather than a psychiatrist because past experiences with psychiatry had taught me not to trust psychiatrists. Most psychiatrists don’t provide talk therapy. And I needed to talk.
As soon as I got in to see a therapist and brought up my schizophrenia, I watched her squirm in her chair. I was devastated by her reaction. It took so much courage to get there and now she was afraid of me. I attended eight sessions with the therapist, however; she didn’t know how to do therapy with me, so it was counterproductive. The best she could do for me was to suggest some books to read on abuse. One of those books was, “The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse” by Laura Davis. Later that book would become essential to my recovery from schizophrenia. Until then, I stuffed it into my dresser drawer, where it remained untouched for some time.
The strangest thing about buying that book was that I had no conscious awareness that I had even been sexually abused in the first place.
Schizophrenia had been protecting me from that truth.
I began to ignore the flashback and the continuing ones that kept popping up out of nowhere in my mind. They were presenting some very disturbing scenes that I was too scared to confront or unable to cope with. So, I focused on the threatening voices in my head and the persistent symptoms of schizophrenia. I wasn’t about to let go of schizophrenia just yet. I carried on as best I could. I continued to speak in riddles and share my ideas with others that had no basis in reality. I was the laughingstock of my family. I was living in this brilliant yet terrifying world called schizophrenia, where nobody could find me.
One weekend I had a male friend and his daughter over for a sleepover. While checking in on my friend’s daughter, I found her lying naked on a bed with her father. He was touching her inappropriately. As a result of witnessing that, an explicit, more severe flashback raced across my mind like an army of soldiers. I didn’t know how to respond, so I went to bed and lay there wide awake while feeling terrified.
The next morning, I asked my friend to leave my house. Afterward, I called my friend’s sister-in-law and told her about the incident. She said, “We suspected something like that.”
Next, I called someone to come get my son and take him for a couple of weeks. For that entire time my son was gone, I called him every day to tell him how much I loved him. I had to protect him from seeing me come undone. He was 4 years old.
Then, I went and got the book, “The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse”, out of the dresser drawer. Page after page, I scoured through its contents to find tips and tools to help me. The book suggested that I write things down and use a bat to siphon off my anger, so I went and bought a typewriter and a jumbo plastic bat from a Toys “R” Us store.
The following morning, I sat at my typewriter and pounded away at the keys. To the reader, my writings looked like some kind of secret code or some newly discovered language. But within that text, fragments of forgotten memories from my childhood were beginning to emerge. The one incident of the sexual assault in my mother’s bedroom was now present.
The shock of realizing what had happened to me brought me to my knees. I sobbed uncontrollably while lying on the floor curled up in a ball. I took that plastic bat and pounded it on my mattress until I fell into exhaustion. I lay there so quietly for what seemed like hours. Then I’d go another round of crying and release the pent up emotions that had me stuck inside the world of schizophrenia for many years. Back and forth I’d go from crying to expressing my anger. My body was taking a beating. At one time, I thought I was going to have a heart attack, so I made an appointment with my family physician. When I got in to see her, I was a mess. I actually collapsed on the floor. I told her what was happening and she wrote out a prescription for me. I believe what she gave me was Ativan.
When I got back home, I threw out the pills and decided to go through recovery drug-free. I only had a short time to deal with my schizophrenia, so I figured the pills would prolong my recovery. I made that decision based on my gut feeling. And I believe at the time it was a good choice; however, if I had the opportunity to redo my recovery, I would have used medications to take the edge off the powerful feelings that were emerging.
The more I released the emotions surrounding the trauma, the more the symptoms of schizophrenia were losing their power over me. What looked like a mental breakdown was actually a breakthrough from schizophrenia.
After a while, I was able to line up and match the incident of abuse with the symptoms. Things were starting to make sense to me. The more I understood my schizophrenia, the more confident I became in my recovery. The pain of it was all-consuming but I was making progress. Things were becoming a little easier, yet the pain was all too real and raw.
After some time of going back and forth from dealing with the trauma, I went out on my front step to get some fresh air. I was just sitting there quietly, reflecting on my childhood, and all of sudden I heard some birds chirping. I looked up and admired them. Then, I discovered the voices were gone. The worst was over. I was going to be OK. From that point on, I never looked back.
Recovery from schizophrenia wasn’t easy. After my initial recovery, I had to learn to live and find my place in the world. Today, I have found my place. And by telling my story, I hope to influence many people to understand that no one is beyond hope. That there is hope for this condition we call schizophrenia.