‘The government thought I was a superhuman. My parents met in a cult called ‘New Testament Church’ in the 1980s. You can see things ranging from demons, to Big Bird, to Ryan Reynolds.’

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“I’ve convinced myself the government thought I was a superhuman from the television series Heroes. I had a very vivid hallucination of my neighbor standing in flames the day he burned himself alive. I’ve dreamt of a man before I met him, and all hell broke loose in my mind.

Little girl sits at table in home eating birthday cake
Joy Tsakanikas

My mental instability has put me on the verge of homelessness several times. Once, after ending a long relationship with my partner, I traveled back and forth between Arizona and Florida, obsessed with a man in my dreams. The insanity it caused me led me to attempt suicide and quit my job. I resorted to hitchhiking, screaming at the voices in my head along the way, until I was arrested and temporarily placed in a psychiatric ward. This is what it’s like to have a schizophrenic mind.

Little girl sits smiling with baby sibling in her lap
Joy Tsakanikas
Little girl lays on back on floor with her baby sibling laying beside her
Joy Tsakanikas

You wake up with someone talking to you. You can’t see them, but you can feel their presence like an aura. Only they are not really there, and you are not telepathic with them. You can see things ranging from demons, to Big Bird, to Ryan Reynolds. I often hear and see men I once loved, the hallucinations feeling like they are right there before you. It comes with a sensation of hollowness and a feeling the person in your vision has been cast from your body, from the back of your head. When medicated, everything is reduced. The delusions and voices grow fainter.

My delusions are the presence of someone observing me and calling out things going on in my life. They are unseen and can only be sensed. Medication never completely stops them. It just makes them more manageable.

You can’t concentrate at all, so forget about that. You can only learn from videos and audiobooks. Reading is a trigger for voices and can literally drive you nuts. I’ve heard of a schizophrenic man who made people read aloud to him while he did calculus in order to depict what it’s like to have schizophrenia. He broke down and had to stop the experiment. It is impossible to concentrate with all the noise. Fighting it is nothing but a losing battle.

The delusions themselves are realities, only they are terrifying, paranoiac, and subjective ones. They can be about the people around you or the current state of the world. Some are bigger and grander than others. I have once been in my own version of the Truman Show. During the delusion, there was someone within me holding a camera and filming what I saw for a television broadcast. Within the show, people tried to mess with me. Their words, the catchphrase of the show, were always ‘I’m not helping you.’

My parents, both schizophrenic, met in a cult called ‘New Testament Church’ in the 1980s. My uncle had joined, and my mother followed soon after. It was there he introduced her to her future husband.

My dad believes schizophrenia is demons you can’t get rid of, not even with a pill. He struggled with it his is whole life on and off. He’d be fine one month and the next he’d be crying, screaming, holding his head as he rolled out of his chair and onto the floor. My mother developed it at age thirty-three, and had a horrible time adjusting to the medication. She was always tired, unresponsive, and sometimes absent. I had to talk her out of her struggles so we could get things we needed.

Woman who is schizophrenic and in cult sits at restaurant table resting face on her hand
Joy Tsakanikas

I had a forty-percent chance of getting it, but always knew I would. Although I tried to avoid it, it was ultimately inevitable.

My parents warned me how isolating this illness can be. They taught me if you are going to struggle with schizophrenia, you need to do so with medication, therapy, and a strong system of belief. The child of two cult members, I was raised to believe strictly in the Bible. I was devout, but always had a questioning mind. I’m still finding my own ways of worship to keep me grounded.

Growing up was a hard time for me, especially with schizophrenic parents who never really taught me what was socially acceptable. I was an awkward kid and often misdiagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when my schizophrenia was left untreated.

I had a hard life. As it turns out, most people who live with schizophrenia have a hard life.

Young woman smiles as she takes close up selfie
Joy Tsakanikas

I was always treated like I was really screwed up. I was beaten a handful of times in junior high school for being ‘crazy’, for being myself. I was shot in the leg with an arrow once during gym class. Teachers often pulled me to the side to berate me with questions about my life at home. People often considered me dangerous, not knowing that it is the people living with schizophrenia that are fourteen times more likely to experience violence than to be violent. I have experienced everything from  sexual assaults, mutilation, and mental abuse, all of which further triggered my hallucinations.

Once in college, I challenged a guy who was picking on me, accusing him of liking me. From there, we started an on-again-off-again relationship that I disassociated from. I began to experience intense hallucinations and problems with reality. Not long after, I started becoming ridiculed by my peers again for being ‘crazy.’ By the end of college, my social life dwindled down, and I became extremely isolated. When I finished college, I fought hard not to live with my parents, but I feared I would soon be homeless after so many had turned their back on me. As I sat in an apartment, contemplating my options, I heard a voice begin to criticize me.

A homeless man named Volkan once told me my condition was not all just cruel fate. He believed I was chosen as an intended victim, that the government always selects groups to me harmed. After years of constant victimization, I began to believe in this delusion. It made me realize how much I needed help. After all, mind is the builder and a mind that is ill cannot build paradise.

I’ve learned the best thing to do is to cope or distract. A lot of us can’t work, so we are on disability. Some of us have elected to take up work that avoids social interaction. We are sometimes the janitors or the people behind the scenes. I once took a job as a cashier at Walmart for two months, but stress was a trigger for me. Checking people out at the register, I would begin to hear loud, intrusive voices. My trances scared off some of my customers, so I quit before I could be fired.

I am currently on disability trying to grow and figure out my own triggers. Pain, stress, caffeine, embarrassment, and densely populated areas to name a few. I am also starting to create art, music, and stories to help manage my schizophrenia. Whatever creative outlet I can get my hands on. I am also creating art inspired by it.

Woman with schizophrenia stands painting on canvas
Joy Tsakanikas
Painted canvas on isle that woman with schizophrenia made
Joy Tsakanikas
Round painting woman with schizophrenia made
Joy Tsakanikas
Painting on isle woman with schizophrenia made to deal with her stress
Joy Tsakanikas

I have found aromatherapy really helps too. Geranium is my drug of choice (it smells so good). I have amazing support from all over. Friends and relatives keep in touch regularly. My therapist says I am witty and high-functioning. I have busied myself with getting better. If it weren’t for my mother’s support, I would be homeless by now. She always encourages me to confront my mind and all the odd things that go through it. She has shown me you can be schizophrenic and take back your life. Every day, I am fortunate for my support system. I am fortunate to not let the paranoia consume me.

Woman and mother with schizophrenia smile in selfie
Joy Tsakanikas

I want the world to understand I am not dangerous. Luckily, I am blessed to have an extremely tolerant family and circle of friends who are always trying to help me push past my own mind. Even if they don’t always understand it.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Joy Tsakanikas of Titusville, Florida. Follow her journey here. Submit your story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.

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