I was born in Holland in 1952 and moved to Italy in 1972. There I married an Italian (Sicilian) man, but we always lived in Northern Italy. Starting in 1995 (about 6 months after the death of my mother) I suffered for more than three and a half years a ‘delirious paranoid schizophrenia’. Today I am completely cured and since half 2002 I don’t take psychopharmakon any more. I always took Haldol (haloperidol, an anti-psychotic medicine) and for some years also Akineton (an anti-Parkinson-medication).
I still see my psychiatrist now for very brief, monthly check-ups, because I was told, that within 10 years from stopping medication, there is the statistical risk of relapse.
As the disease broke out I lived with my husband and son in Turin: I started hearing voices, firstly only some/few, but slowly – within those three and a half years – they grew louder and louder and surrounded me everywhere. I began to believe in telepathic communication and ended to feel persecuted by almost everybody. I felt persecuted by my husband too and was so convinced to separate from him, leaving him fortunately the custody of our son (13 years old at that time). Of course – for me at least – I continued calling my son every day, meeting him every weekend and stayed with him for several holidays during the year.
Even though I come from a family with 10 children (6 sisters and 3 brothers) I convinced myself my father was my only relative and that my real mother was my grandmother. My grandmother died when I was just 6 years old, but I remember she always talked a bit to me, putting her hand on my head and always smiled at me: after all, such a small attention that I don’t remember I ever received from my mother in those early years. In my schizophrenic delusions I completely denied my mother as my real mother.
After about two years, sure my father died in the meanwhile, I didn’t call him anymore and stopped also seeing old friends or calling and writing sisters. Persecution was almost everywhere for me. My psychiatrist tried to contact me for 10 months before I became forced hospitalized for 2 months (since May 1998) in the psychiatric ward of a general hospital. He wanted to avoid forced hospitalization, you know, but that was not possible.
However I was always treated in a kind and human way, not only in the psychiatric ward but also later in the halfway-house and afterwards. Looking back now at that period, I realize I really needed forced treatment, for I was completely loosing myself. I already lost my job, I didn’t look for another one and so on. Also my son was disturbed by seeing me ‘becoming crazy’ and did not want to talk about this with his father.
In the psychiatric ward nothing was forced, except taking meds (I firstly refused them). We slept in great rooms with 8 beds each, with all kind of persons over there, also violent persons (in talking and in behavior). I was glad I was numbed so I could at least sleep quietly. Promiscuity is something I had never dealt with. But my numbing (the doses of meds) was not so strong to disable me from talking with other patients and I even made a short friendship with an anorexic girl while there.
About 3-4 days after I was first given psychofarmakon in the ward, I didn’t hear the ‘voices’ any more, but what STILL remained was the whole erroneous construction of ideas I made and that remained in me for at least 14 – 15 months after. I needed to be confronted with reality to convince myself my father was still alive by phoning him several times – with the help of my husband and son at home – about 7-8 months after forced hospitalization. I also convinced myself that my relatives were still alive by several trips to Holland since 2000. My psychotherapist asked me to bring photographs of my youth and so I finally had to admit that that ‘woman’ in the photographs was my real mother.
After 2 months in the psychiatric ward I signed for a recovery in a Turin halfway-house, where I remained only for 13 months. Already after 6 months I had the permission to go home every weekend, from Friday evening until Sunday evening and I appreciated this a lot.
In the ward I had the permission to walk freely outside the ward, but always between the hospital frontiers/walls two hours a day (in the morning and in the afternoon), so I didn’t feel so much like a prisoner. In the halfway-house also slowly this kind of permission was given and I ended, after breakfast, to walk inside the city, in parks, near the river for two-two and a half hours before lunch. I really appreciated this! We only had to grant our presence for meals and after supper you were not permitted to leave the house.
My husband was really great in visiting me every day for an hour over there, sometimes together with my son. Anyway I called my son every day.
What helped me also a lot was that NOBODY ever gave me the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I was not tormented with this information. And how would it have helped me after all? I only know I was really ‘feeling bad’ and didn’t know what to do about it. Before leaving the half-way house in September ’99 I made a three-weeks-holiday together with husband and son and before this I started psychotherapy with Dr. Carola Palazzi. During the first years it seemed to me like we were having just normal conversations, but slowly I noticed they were indeed therapeutic.
It was after three years, I believe, that I myself discovered the diagnosis of ‘delirious paranoid schizophrenia’ on the papers from my psychiatrist, but at that time I was ready to read about it everywhere I could, slowly more and more. With my psychotherapist I spoke almost about my entire life, as well as about the relationship with my son and husband. I cried, laughed and realized many things through this long contact with her. All the things I discovered through the talking therapy are really too much to write about here, but I believe I really discovered what brought about my illness. In my delusions I had four persecutors, the most important of which was my mother. All my life, up to her death in 1994, I was not sure about whether my mother loved me or not:she was always so incoherent in her messages and behavior, even after I left home at the age of 18.
The other 3, less important persecutore, were my husband, an elder sister and my sister-in-law. What all these persons have in common is that they invaded my personal privacy (i.e. the privacy with my husband, the privacy with my son and the freedom to be myself). As a matter of fact, they were really my mental persecutores.
My husband comes from Sicily, from a family setting where conflict is truly taboo and where the attitudes of living are really quite invasive of (my) privacy. Now I don’t visit Sicily so often anymore, but together with my husband I also decided not to return to work again. I have been receiving a disability income support, and it suits us well this way. Since I am over 50, the only work I could find was that as a freelance translator and that is really a too much of a stressful working situation which I don’t like to turn back to. I do a lot of other things: housework, reading, shopping, travelling, meeting friends and so on. Looking back on my whole experience, I wish many other patients a treatment and recovery like mine. Through it all, my husband and my son have been a great support, but also the warm and available presence of my psychiatrist and psychotherapist were very important factors in my recovery.
Maybe someone will comment or think I only had one great episode of schizophrenia, but this isn’t true: when I left home at 18, after two or three months I was hearing ‘voices’ for over a week, but at that time I was able to ‘control’ them and for 25 years they didn’t come back. But I had other diseases in the meantime, like some psychosomatic illnesses. In psychotherapy and through books, memories and so on, a lot of other details of especially my youth returned. I believe there are a few persons in the world who have been able to develop some control over these ‘voices’ and/or learned to live with them. I myself am convinced there is nothing to do: if you don’t go in some talking therapy (group therapy, individual therapy and/or with occupational therapy) you’ll have to deal with schizophrenia for all your life.
After the request for it, I also wrote my autobiographic story that will be published in Holland within the end of 2008, maybe also in Italy in a book with other recovery-stories.