True Story: My Dad Has Paranoid Schizophrenia

This is one of many True Stories interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Sarah and her father’s mental health.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Sarah. I’m 30 years old. I’m originally from a suburb of Philadelphia, but I’ve been living in Portland, Oregon for the past decade or so. I love to travel and go on little adventures as much as I can, but I am also really quite a homebody. I have a strong appreciation for the domestic arts – cooking, baking, crafts, gardening, canning, and so on and I write a blog called New Wave Domesticity.
I think a lot of people have misconceptions about paranoid schizophrenia, who it affects, and how it affects them. For those of us who don’t know, what is it? And how does it affect your dad in particular?
There is no one way that schizophrenia presents itself, but generally the most common symptom is auditory hallucinations – hearing voices that aren’t there. Every person’s hallucinations are unique to them, but the vast majority of them are based in paranoia and negative self-perception. Schizophrenia symptoms generally present themselves later in life and are sometimes triggered by a stressful or traumatic event. Anyone can have schizophrenia, but there seems to be a strong genetic component. Most people with the disease are actually incredibly intelligent and some have become famous musicians or mathematicians.
My dad suffers from auditory hallucinations and he basically believes that there is a radio transmitter in his brain feeding these voices from someone who is conspiring to ruin his life. His delusions onset in his twenties after he had a routine surgery on his knee. My dad keeps this hidden 99% of the time and has always held down a job in which he very much kept to himself. He’s a pretty normal guy the vast majority of the time and if you met him, you would never know.
When did you realize that your dad was struggling with a mental health issue? 
I guess I always knew there was something wrong, but we didn’t talk about it. It was really the proverbial elephant in the room for our family. I would sometimes hear my dad yelling and going on about these people that were after him and conspiring against him to ruin his life. Sometimes he would even tell me they would come after me next. I was pretty genuinely afraid of some group of people or monsters coming after me when I was little.
The first time I think I remember a real diagnosis was when I was about 10. He and my grandmother were fighting about it and I think that is when I heard the words for the first time.
How did you feel when you heard your dad’s diagnosis?
When I heard the words, I remember them hitting me really hard. There were words for this… and if there are words for this, then I wasn’t alone and there was information about it. Maybe there was even hope of it getting better. Even at 10, I think I knew it was a big deal to be able to have language for it. It helped me to not be afraid of invisible monsters, but instead opened a door of many years of learning what those words mean.
How has his diagnosis affected his life? How has it affected YOUR life?
Unfortunately, my father has never received treatment for his disease, so it is always part of his daily experience. My father’s paranoia and delusions told him the doctors were in on the plan to hurt him and so treatment for it wasn’t going to happen if he had anything to do with it. In his mind, I think he doesn’t believe he is sick, but rather he genuinely believes the delusions to be his reality. I know it is a really painful thing for him to deal with, but he keeps all of it a secret most of the time. My dad goes out, he goes to work, he is an amazing guitar player, and has a knack for fixing things. It’s a pretty silent struggle for him, but sometimes it does come out as he interacts verbally with the voices when he is angry or upset.
His illness has definitely impacted my entire family dynamic and my relationship with my father. I had a pretty traumatic childhood and I developed some really bad coping mechanisms as a result, but I’ve worked really hard to get past that. I think the whole idea of a family secret really hurt my ability to trust anyone.
Schizophrenia has a strong hereditary component. Does anyone else in your family have it? 
To my knowledge, no one else in the family has it, but we also don’t talk about it. It’s very possible that someone has in the past or present does, but unfortunately because of the intense stigma about mental health, it’s not really a dialog that my family has often. I don’t even think most of our family knows about my dad’s diagnosis.
I once read a statistic about schizophrenia onset being most likely before the age of 27 and on my 27th birthday, there was a moment of relief deep down for me. I don’t know how reliable that statistic was, but that made me realize that it was more a real fear of mine than I wanted to admit.
How has your father’s diagnosis affected your feelings about family and familial responsibility? 
I suppose the big thing is that my father’s diagnosis made it hard for he and I to connect. Schizophrenia is a very isolating disease and I think it had a real impact on how my father relates to and connects with others. There was also a time where I felt resentment to my mother for “making us go through that.” I realize now that wasn’t fair to put on her.
It definitely had a huge impact on how I perceive family overall. It created a lot of tension in our house and also created some sense of isolation because it was this big secret that we kept. I really wish my family and I were closer, but I think I don’t really know how to have a family in some ways. I recently married into a really lovely functional family and it was really bizarre to me because I just don’t really know how to be a part of it and I feel bad that I create that distance with them.
I think the hereditary nature of schizophrenia has definitely had a big weight on my choice to not have children. I made the decision in my teens (and still feel strongly about it) that I just can’t live with that possibility of passing it on and would not have biological children. I choose not to have children for other reasons as well, but that definitely plays a role in the choice.
Have there been any silver linings to this?
I think the silver lining for me is that I am proud of my dad in this really unique way. Schizophrenia is a life altering and life shattering disease. People with the disease are 50 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Imagine if you had to wear headphones in your ears every single day that played a message about how you were ugly, stupid, and a failure…and that even told you to commit suicide – that would be awful for most of us. I really don’t know if I could handle it, but my dad does.I think about that a lot. He gets up every day and he moves on. My dad is a survivor and despite all his faults, I see him as an incredibly strong and admirable human being. He worked hard my whole life, he did animal voices for me and read books to me at bedtime, and he walked me down the aisle at my wedding. He was the best dad he could be. I am proud of him for never giving up even though he wasn’t dealt the best cards. It’s a huge inspiration to me.

I am also grateful that these experiences encouraged me to have a more opened heart and learn as much as I could about mental health. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in my late teens and I’ve been much more open to treatment and talking about my own mental health than I might have been had I not grown up in the situation I did. I have met some amazing people through sharing my experiences.
If we know someone who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, how can we help? What are some things we shouldn’t do or say?
I think compassion and an open mind are the most important things when dealing with this kind of diagnosis or any other mental health issue. Schizophrenia is a disease that is not kind to people and that’s important to remember. There is a lot of fear around the disease and I absolutely understand why – it can be scary to see someone you love, or even a stranger on the street, express delusions. Sometimes people with schizophrenia are dangerous, but more often they aren’t – they are just like everyone else. Everyone’s situation is different, every person with schizophrenia deals with it differently.
It’s necessary to recognize that the delusions and/or hallucinations are very real to the person experiencing them. You should not be dismissive or argumentative about what they are experiencing. Try to stay as calm and nonjudgmental as possible as the person is really likely to respond to your emotions and if they are heightened, it could escalate their experience.
Early detection and treatment are important, so if you feel that someone in your life may be developing signs of schizophrenia – talk to them as soon as you can. That conversation will not be an easy one, but it is very important, so it might be a good idea for you to first have a conversation with a professional about the particular situation at hand and how to approach it. I strongly advocate finding support for yourself as a caretaker or ally to someone with schizophrenia. You will be much better for that person if you take the time to support and care for yourself.
On a side note, no matter what your situation is, I want to make a plea that you try to keep an open mind next time you are talking to anyone about mental health. Try to re-frame the way you mentally respond to that “crazy” guy on the street who is talking to himself because he might be someone’s dad and you really don’t know what he has been through to get to that place. If a friend tells you they are having mental health issues or know someone who is, take a moment to find compassion and try to talk openly with them. Make an effort to see people as whole and dynamic human beings instead of diagnoses. If more people are aware of breaking down the stigma of mental illness, I genuinely feel we could make the world a better place and create a better life for people living with mental illness and their loved ones.
If you have questions or want to share thoughts, I encourage you to comment or email me. I’m not a professional and I might not be able to give you advice, but let’s break a little stigma and talk about it and support each other.Thanks so much for sharing your story, Sarah. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of experienced something similar? 

photo by billy lam // cc

25 Comments

Jen

This hits very close to home for me. My father was a paranoid schizophrenic…except he couldn't hold it together. He had auditory and visual hallucinations and for him, it was all wrapped up in God and Jesus. Unfortunately, my brother has inherited the same disorder.

I watched my father and then my brother destroy the lives of my grandparents (on both sides of the family), and I made a decision a long time ago (almost 20 years ago now) that for my own sanity and to protect myself, I couldn't have anything to do with them. Too much violence, too much manipulation, too much destruction. When my father passed, I hadn't spoken to or seen him in five years. I haven't spoken to my brother now in probably close to a decade.

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GG Renee

Hi Jen, I have a similar story. My mom has schizophrenia and I have not seen or spoken to her in over two years. I don't know where she is or how she is doing. I walk around with guilt all the time because I don't stop my life to go hunt her down, but the truth is I have a family of my own and dealing with my mom's persecution complexes and ups and downs brings something out of me that scares me. I'm afraid that by chasing her, I will lose myself, if that makes sense. Also, her delusions were very centered around religion. Through my teen years, we went through several religions – Christianity in various forms, Judiasm, and more and she was obsessive about it. I'm always fascinated to read about other kids with schizophrenic parents because growing up, I always thought i was the only one in the world dealing with this.

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Judy Burke

Hi My husband had paranoid schizophrenia for 20 years of our marriage. I had to leave as things were not good for my children. That was the hardest thing i had to do in my life.
I do feel sad for you that you have had no contact with your family. I stood by my husband for that time and still supported him afterwards. Its one of the most saddest things to watch someone go through. My sister in law also has it and i do try to support her as much as i can.I was told by social workers that so many people do just put their relatives in hospital and leave them there.

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Judy Burke

I meant to say the first letter i read said her dad never had medication. It would have been mild i would think as most times they end up in hospital like my husband did many times.
The worst thing is they don’t want to take meds because they think they are okay. They can not go for a long time without meds as they get very sick.

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Anonymous

This is all strangely comforting – I have a brother that has schizophrenia. He definitely has paranoia, and has no concept of respect for others and was violent growing up. My mother suffered abuse as a child and my father was the only parent with a truly steady stream of income. This created sort of a disaster dynamic where often my parents would need to be both working and my sister, my brother and I would be left alone as kids. It all sounds so scripted and silly, but it really was always scary. My parents had no choice. We were poor. Neither of their parents supported their relationship together and thus offered little to no support at any point.

Anyways, I was always afraid he would really hurt my sister and I, or my mother, and as I got older I grew sort of afraid that he would sexually harass or abuse me (I don't think he fully conceptualizes that sisters are off limits, sadly). My parents eventually moved him out and he has lived in a series of group homes (although he often gets kicked out due to his tendency to steal). My sister definitely has developed bad social habits and coping mechanisms from the experience, and while I try my best to see the big picture; I don't like my brother nor have any urge to feel closer to him.

It surprises people when I say that; like they must think its cold or heartless or too tough on him. That makes me feel guilty, but knowing there are others out there who've had similar experiences and who also feel this way is really comforting, strangely. It's so hard to explain to people who've never had to deal with living with someone like this. We all had exterior door locks and unique keys to each of our rooms to keep him out, and I was always embarrassed to have friends over and have them ask about it.

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GG Renee

Sarah, thank you so much for sharing your story. As I mentioned above in my comment to Jen, I grew up thinking that I was the only one in the world whose mom had such problems. She wasnt diagnosed until I was about 17/18 years old. My family never talked about it. I'm not close with my mom's side of the family at all and of course I've been through a lot of turmoil due to the way I repressed everything I experienced growing up. I just want to thank you for sharing your story and let you know that I truly, truly, truly understand. If you are interested, I wrote a piece for xoJane a few years back about my story with my mom: http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/ihtm-my-mothers-schizophrenia-almost-cost-me-my-sanity

If you are like me, it is comforting to read other's story with this experience. Wishing you peace and love.

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Akirah

Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah. My hope for you is that you receive the support you need as you cope, grow, and move forward in life. XO!

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Unknown

My dad has schizophrenia, and I’m twelve years old right now. I have no idea where my dad is, and I feel guilt. He used to act verbally violent towards my mother, and they got divorced. I’m stressed out and guilty, and I don’t know where he is.. I miss him so much, he was a awesome dad (When he took his medication.) But when he stopped, I was scared of him hurting me. Now, I live with my mother, and she is remarried to my wonderful Step-dad.

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Anonymous

I’m 28 now and for the last 8 years I’ve been experiencing paranoia really bad. My dad has been diagnosed wit paranoia schizophrenia. I’m ascared to go to the doctors

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Sabby

This is all very comforting. Everything you wrote is exactly the same with me. Very comforting to know someone else who has gone through it knowing your not alone.

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Rose

My dad is 89, He has had several breakdowns in the past. He has never been diagnosed. He is now 89 and in a mental facility where they still do not know what is wrong. I know he has had this since he was 17. The first time that I know of was when he got out of the army. It is almost as if he fakes his mental illness which in fact to me is a mental illness. He tries to manipulate me into feeding him and taking care of him. I am lost but am so glad that I have read these stories. It is though I am the sick one. I am the one that is mean. I am lost. Once again, they are going to release him from the hospital. His delusions of being broke and dead and me going to jail to me stealing his money is all too much. I am the one on medication. People just say poor old man, be nice to him. Two weeks ago he hid all his medication and faked a suicide attempt. Oh that is normal, he is just hoarding his pills. Oh, he probably is suffering from some sort of dementia. This had been going on forever……

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Cecilia

My father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia along with a few other things such as bipolar disorder & depression. He was a great dad growing up he bought me gifts every valentines day & every christmas wed bake cookies for santa & the tree would be empty underneath when i went to bed but full of presents when i woke up. Hed give me $1 for my lost teeth instead of only 25 cents & although he was constantly checking the doors to make sure they were locked & constantly looking over his shoulder as we would walk down the street i never thought much of it. I remember one time we were walking on a trail to go to an overlook & he sat my down on a rock & told me that one day he might not be here & i was scared cause at the time the only thing that made sense to me was suicide. Looking back i now realize he meant mentally he wouldnt be here. Medication doesnt heal schizophrenia however it eases the effects & although it may work for a while eventually they will have a relapse. & when i turned 13 my dad started relapsing. I didnt know he was schizophrenic so i didnt understand why he was doing & saying & acting the way he was. I was angry at him for things that were not in his control. I said hurtful things & instead of dad for years i switched to calling him father cause it felt more distant & cold. I hardly spoke to him & started getting annoyed & frustrated with him constantly. By the time anyone told me anything it was too late . since ive found out about the disease i have researched & looked up a lot about the disease maybe out of guilt. For wasting what could possibly be the short amount of time i had left with him . he was my biggest fan my number one supporter & now i feel like hes dead im mourning my dad who is still physically here but is someone i dont know someone totally different.i know he loves me im his only child he fantasizes about getting a job & getting a place for us to live together he often talks about a life of just him & me. Hes always telling people he needs to check on me or make sure im okay. He paces back & forth &for as long as i can remember hes always worn black white or gray & now only wears all black. Hes constantly staring off into space walking up to me & squeezing my arms to make sure im really there & not a hallucination. He feels like people are touching him he fights with people who arent there &iknow one of their names is Chris although im not sure exactly how many there really are. he walks around wearing a heavy black winter coat & a black beanie even in the summer. He scarfs down his food cause hes scared something inthe airwill poison it. He wont eat anything thats been opened & will very rarely eat a meal thats just been prepared. He has a spitting problem & smokes like a chimney. He comes up with stories about me having 4 sisters all with the same exact name. He told me he sells drugs for the govt. If i go anywhere he follows me & watches me . if im trying to sleep he will knock onthe door every hour trying to make sure im okay. He randomly snaps his fingers. He cooks weird concoctions & puts weird things in his food like dish soap in his tea. He goes off on rage spells & has destroyed multiple guitars tvs a pool table the neighbors satellite dish & his 4 runner. Hes disappeared for days without a word to anyone. Hes 40 now which is the most common age period for people with schizophrenia to commit suicide & im so worried & scared for him.the voices that speak to him are viscious & cruel. It breaks my heart for him to be going through this cause he has the warmest most generous heart hed give you the shirt off his back even if it was the last thing he owned. Hes in the hospital now & i feel so bad for him its like a jail. Im also paranoid i will get it since people with a schizophrenic parent have a 10% higher risk of getting it & i have two babies & in scared for them & i just want my dad back & i want people to realize theres more to schizophrenics than there seems to be. My dads brother & sister dont want anything to do with him & dont want him around their kids they treat him like a wild animal with rabies. He lives in a small town & when people see him theyre scared of him & always try to call the police on him. All the police already know him & his disease when i took my son to the pool over the summer he followed us & stood by the fence in his black shoes black dickies pants black long sleeved shirt black winter coat & black beanie just watching us & making sure we were okay a lady called the cops on him. Another lady asked if i knew him & when i told her he was my dad & explained the situation she said she would pray for me. People with mental illness are still people & they still feel & the people who love them have feelings about the way their mentally ill loved one is being treated as well. I also wish the hospitals were more considerate & actually cared about getting our loved ones better. I hate the way theyre being treated like criminals.

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Kasey

My father is going through it right now. I’ve got him in the psychologist and on meds, but he isn’t eating and don’t want to take them on an empty stomach. I need to find the courage to call 911. This story really helped me, I would love to join a support group to help me mentally with this. It’s the worst thing anyone can deal with. He don’t have voices but he reads into colors and things placed around. He feels that someone is out to get him and the house is bugged. He won’t leave the house being very confused and feels like he can’t do anything right. I hug him he backs up, and thinks I have something to do with it. Like I’m against him or times he hugs me and cries. He don’t want me to leave, he is afraid to be alone. My dad is the best grandparent/ parent anyone could ask for. He taught me everything. He is very smart. But now seeing him like this I feel it’s my turn to give back. Forcing in the hospital he may not like but I feel he needs to go very badly. It has got the best of me, but I can’t let him just give up.

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Katy

Kasey, I am currently going through the same thing with my father. He is perfect normal hears no voices but thinks that there is a conspiracy or people all connected trying to kill him. I am wondering if his situation has gotten better? We are trying to get a psychologist and getting on different mediation. Please feel free to contact me

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Lizzi

Hi, I just discovered this article and I have a very similar story of my own. My father is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Paranoid Schizophrenia, who did not take his medication ending in awful results. I first found out when I was 10 years old that my father has this disease and I never knew how to handle it. I hid it for the longest time and never shared my story with anyone because I was too afraid they would judge me from the beginning. Now 16, I share this story with my closer friends and have even gone as far as bringing this topic up in my psychology class (this happened today actually).
Even though I have not spoken or heard from my father in over six years, I still think of the events that led up to him leaving my life. I have a very normal teenage lifestyle but as I become older I become more scared of this disease. Knowing that there are more people like me has given me so much more comfort and the feeling as though I am not completely alone on this. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

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Charlotte Kitchin

Hearing this story really touched me as have been in a very similar situation. I found my dad had schizophrenia when I was 12 after he had been suffering from depression, alcoholism and a personality disorder. He also experienced hallucinations and thought people were conspiring against him. He believed MI5 were following and taking into his phone and laptop. One day I can home and found them both smashed on the floor. He even lead himself to believe he had committed a murder so far so that he confessed to the police. He couldn’t keep it together. It is so amazing to hear some one had been through the same thing alot of the time I feel so alone. I am 15 and now and though my dad has begun to recover there are still bad days as you have been though a similar situation you know how bad this can get. It feels strange writing this down as I have never told anyone this but I feel like you might understand in a way no one else could. Thankyou for telling your story for telling yours has made me tell just a small part of mine. You have made me feel alot less alone so thankyou.

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Farah

Hi i am a med student and i think my father has paranoid schizophrenia, he has blunt emotions that i don’t recall the last time he did anything out of even empathy, he believes we are conspiracing against him, he believes stuff has happened when none of it did, he thinks we are all either stupid/liars/or have no grasp of reality, he no longer gies into any form of communication other than violent arguments with belief that only he is correct or rational. This has been noticed by all my family members and his siblings. We live in a country where this sort of mental illness isn’t very well accepted. He doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with him. Instead he keeps on saying all of us are mentally ill and that he is the only sane person. He refuses all kinds of help and won’t even consider the fact that he is not okay.
This is breaking my family apart and i don’t know what to do.
Can you please redirect me to any site or a support group that can help me!

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Katy

Farah,

From my experience my mother became very unhappy and depressed. My dad did not want to lose
my mom and agreed to see a psychologist. He still believes that people are out there trying to posion or kill him but we are hoping a change of medication will help this as he was already on antipsychotic medication for hyperventilation for 20+ years. For an extreme case to make him take medicine we had to issue a medical warrant and they take them to a facility for 48hours where a psychologist talks to them and prescrbribes medicine. It’s tough, but for there own well being it has to be done.

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LAKSHMI HARIKRISHNAN

HI! I want to take my father for the treatment. But he is unwilling to agree for it. Can anyone suggest an alternative method for proper cure of the disease? His intuitions are leading my family to break. I really don’t want that to happen. Please suggest me a solution.

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Anonymous

I am in awe at all the stories I am currently
reading . Mental illness is sad and detremental at the same time . I am 33 years old and after much research, facts and observation I can clearly acknowledge my father suffers from paranoid
schizophrenia. I now know it’s been present there from as long as I can recall as a child but it only became worse in the last few years. He is obviously in denial about it all and claims everyone thinks he’s. crazy , which is expected . He became very physically and verbally abusive to my mom which has torn our family completely apart. It is good to know I’m not alone in this but at the same time it saddens me that we have to watch our loved ones suffer through something which they cannot comprehend

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Katy

It is amazing to me how recent and all the responses that this post has gotten. It saddens me to realize how many people are looking for an answer to help their love ones. My father is a paranoid schizophrenic. I’m a daddy’s girl and I love him so so much. Just like most of these stories we kind of ignored it and tried to hide that he thought people were trying to kill him. He had a relapse when he stopped taking his antipsychotics. This happened a couple months ago. He particularly thinks people are posing his food and always talks about acid in his throat and a “second agent” that affect him in the food but not us. He’s called the police and news. He’s gone to the hospital several times which he no longer trust. He has installed cameras around the house and watches them. Thousands of dollar have been spent testing food and have come back negative. The list goes on and on. He is back on haloperidol after he was sent to a mental hospital but it doesn’t seem to work like it should. Possibly because he has been on it for 20+ years. My mother and I have done just about everything to get him help. We are now seeking a psychiatrist in the Houston area who can specialize with this sickness. I have the most wonderful family but this is tearing us apart. If your having this problem and need to consult or just to talk please contact me my email is hiimkaty@hotmail.com I know how serious this mental sickness is and I know everyone is looking for a miracle. I will try to update this site if there is progression so I can help others going through the same thing.

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Eric

My father’s mom (my grandma) passed away a couple months ago and he is having delusions/suicidal thoughts/paranoia. It seems to have been triggered by this passing. My mom is so stressed and worried. It breaks my heart to see her and my family like this.

I am pretty sure my dad has been living with some undiagnosed mental illness. Reading all these stories and knowing that there are others out there who are going through what I am brings me comfort. Thank you.

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catherine

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder. I’ve been suffering for about 8 years. I feel that if I had positive advice from Psychologists and Psychiatrists and family and friends I would have had a better time with recovery. I hear voices and have delusions. I come into contact with is using telekinesis to communicate their thoughts and feelings, including sexual sensations without touching. Just hearing the name the advice is take a pill. There are no hugs no you will be alright it is a death sentence. I have use different prescription drug all to no avail I’m supposed to be dead by now. While surfing the internet one fateful day, I learned about Doctor on the internet called Taylor. I contacted him with some info and I ordered for the Herbal medication and used the medication for 5 months, though hesitantly, considering the fact that I have done a lot of procedure. After which I went for medical test It worked! I’ve been schizophrenia free, Over a year now, I have not show any symptoms of schizophrenia and I believe I am cure

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Suzana

My mother is a paranoid schizophrenic and has been since I was 3 years old, I am now 25 today actually. It’s been 5 years since her last relapse and she is now going through another relapse. I’m 6 months pregnant with my first child. The stress is through the roof for me at the moment. I feel super sad that if she needs to be hospitalised she’ll miss out on the birth of her first grandchild. My mum’s illness has haunted me all of my life. Today I lost my cool at her after she said some nasty things about the family. I know that when she’s like this it’s not really her, you would think that after so long I would learn to keep my cool but I can’t help my anger. This will never be fair and it will always be hard to accept. I wish things were different for her, I wish her life was better than it has been. I love her so much it breaks my heart.

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