GENEVAShe introduces herself with a pretty smile, a little nervous behind a light touch of makeup. Her bob hairstyle glows even blonder in the sun, as we head off for a walk along the lake. Patricia, 38 years old, is schizophrenic.

With her eyes on the horizon, she talks about her life and what she calls her "insanity," the voices she hears don't give orders, just advice. But not all are kind. It’s hard to tell if the few tears that make her mascara run are the result of the brightness of the spring sunshine, or the difficult memories she talks about. Her voice is remarkably steady, though it sometimes is interrupted by long moments of silence.

In her own words, this is Patricia's story:

The schizophrenia was diagnosed about 10 years ago. I was committed four times in two years. By force. The crises, they put you in an altered state, you’re not really aware of what’s happening to you. Since then, I’ve never been committed, but the crises, I still have them, let’s say, every year. But they’re not as … intense. And I’m learning to handle them. I’m learning to stay at home, stay calm.

I’ve always refused medication, because I think we’re endowed with a form of intelligence and we should be able to use it to control the schizophrenia. I started out with natural therapies. Ayurveda, Bach flower remedies, meditation, lots of meditation. And a change of life, I quit drinking and smoking, I changed my circle of friends.

Pain is deep

I’ve also returned to faith, which I had lost for ten years. I enjoy attending morning service, it’s a nice way to start the day. Faith brings me satisfaction, a satisfaction with myself. It helps me not to give up and look on the brighter side of life. Schizophrenia, for a large part, is being very negative about yourself and what you do. There’s a lot of depression, deep pain that you can’t heal.

I fell out with God when I was 18 because I found people mean, I couldn’t find anything good to see in them. Much later, I came across a book that talked about emotional balance, a conditioning method, like autosuggestion. Then the crises arrived. I guess that by repeating to myself 100 times a day that I loved myself, it must have triggered something, brought things up — things I experienced in my childhood.

The first crisis, I was 28. I started talking to myself. I mixed up lots of languages, German, Italian, English, French, it was incoherent. I know this from the reports I’ve read, I have very few memories of this period. My parents brought me to the mental hospital the first time. I stayed a week, and a week after I was released, the same thing happened again.

FMRI of schizophrenia patients — Photo: Kim J, Matthews NL, Park S.

What triggered the crises? Two factors, I guess: the need to express a pain and all these memories my mind had buried very deep. And also the fact that, at the time, I had a very unhealthy lifestyle. What are the memories? Trauma … what I lived through between the end of my childhood and my teenage years. Family stories, nothing very special. Let’s say, generally, lots of sexual and eating disorders are observed with schizophrenics. I guess I’m your typical schizophrenic! [She bursts out laughing]

When I left the hospital, I worked as a waitress. With my schedule, I worked from 4.30 a.m. to 2 p.m. I wanted to avoid working with people who drank. After my shift, I painted, did taekwondo, went swimming, running, doing sports every day helped me a lot. I quit smoking. It was a good period of my life. And, one day, I had another crisis and had to go back to the hospital.

Then for about two years, I didn’t see a single doctor. One day, I felt I couldn’t go on alone. I called a mental institution to get a regular follow-up, one appointment every six weeks. It helped me regain trust in myself, bring to light the elements of my personality I had to work on. Now, my contacts with the doctor at the institution are mostly done by email, with an appointment every three months or so.

Saying No

Refusing medication hasn’t been easy. Whenever you are in the health care system, you face five or six people who insist, and you have to stand up to them … I imagine medication must sometimes make things easier. But you have to be coherent. I believe in natural therapies. I think the illness is the body trying to make you understand something. So for me, schizophrenia is a bit more serious than a cold, but it’s the same principle. [She laughs again]

I’m undergoing treatment. For now, I’m working on social dysfunction. For the past year or so, I’ve withdrawn myself quite a bit. I started making significant changes in my relations. Until I ended up alone. And with the illness, there are also those who turn their back on you. But I understand that schizophrenia, the psychiatric hospital, all that can be scary.

For my parents, it was also a shock recalling all those memories that were quite hard on the family. They had to reposition themselves, see people under another angle. And having their daughter in a mental institution is unsettling. There’s a lot of love in the family. I think we mean well toward each other.

I also have an older brother. We didn’t see each other for a few years, after the first hospitalizations. Then our relationship got much better, we went out to eat together once a week. I know we love each other. But he has his family, he works a lot. I think, globally, our family has recovered well from the trauma. But for the past year, I’ve been putting distance between them and me. It helps me move forward.

A typical day? There are those where I go to morning service, at 7.30 a.m., and the days where I don’t go, in which case I go directly to the library at 8 a.m. to study. I study every morning for two or three hours. At the moment, it’s Japanese, German and schizophrenia. Last fall, it was Plato. Then I go back home, eat, draw, exercise, meditate, do yoga. I go to bed at about 10 or 11 p.m. That’s what a normal day looks like.

Cloth embroidered by a schizophrenic patient — Photo: cometstarmoon

On schizophrenia, I studied Minkowski, and recently, I started researching more contemporary works. It helps me move forward. But sometimes, it’s hard recognizing yourself in an illness. It is insanity we’re talking about.

Schizophrenia, for me, is mostly about doubt, a lack of confidence and self-esteem. And with the crises, you’re stuck in an energy you can’t control. Right, there’s the voices you hear, the different perceptions … When I did massages, or with yoga, I saw energy bodies appearing, spheres, rays of light that left from the location of the chakras. Some people are capable of seeing that when they want. I’ve never tried. When I see one, I’m happy. But the first times, I was really scared.

Different voices

As for the voices … There are useful voices and less useful voices. I constantly hear them, including now, as we’re talking. They tell me certain things, or to keep quiet. They encourage me, or insult me, it depends. These voices follow me, whether I’m alone or with someone. So it inevitably complicates exchanges with other people. There are recurring voices, and sometimes, new ones arrive. I don’t know where they come from, it troubles me a lot. They don’t give me orders. It’s always advice. They’re generally kind. I do work with God and the angels, they’re not negative energies.

One year before the first hospitalization, I made this whole discovery of the cosmos and the extra-universe. I was fascinated. Hearing voices, I thought it was incredible. I associated them to aliens, to magic. To telepathy, also. But now, the voices I hear have changed.

Learning Japanese and getting back to German are things I have to do to keep moving forward. It’s not linked to a particular goal, but to recovery. Languages, if someone tells you something in German, French or English, it won’t be received the same way by the brain. It’s like writing with your left hand or your right hand. For instance, when I draw with my right hand — I’m left-handed — it’ll calm me down, because I have to concentrate on it. For some time, I drew with my right hand a lot, to keep my brain quiet. With languages, it’s the same thing. If I say something in another language, it makes me think differently.

For the past year, I haven't had paid employment. I receive a disability insurance and an occupational pension. I’m not rich, but my experience showed me God provides for you. The Tao says the same thing: If you’re on the right path, the Road provides. But being assisted in society is also a learning process, learning simplicity.