Q&A

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is not “split personality” or multiple personality disorder.  Instead it is a chronic disease that is characterized by three types of symptoms: positive, negative, and cognitive.  Positive symptoms include hallucinations (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory) and delusions (paranoid, grandiose, somatic, reference).  Negative symptoms include lack of emotion, low energy, lack of interest in life or low motivation, affective flattening (blank face or monotone voice), alogia (difficulty or inability to speak), inappropriate social skills, inability to maintain friendships, social isolation, and avolition (inability to initiate or persist in goal-directed behavior).  Cognitive symptoms include disorganized thought and/or speech, catatonic behavior, slow thinking, difficulty understanding, poor concentration and memory, and difficulty expressing thoughts.  Schizophrenia is a fairly rare disease.  Only 1% of the population in America is affected.  Most people begin experiencing symptoms during late adolescence and early adulthood, although there is child-onset schizophrenia.  Based on the set of symptoms an individual experiences, there are four subtypes of schizophrenia: paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, and undifferentiated.

What is a Service Animal and what are their access rights?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) a service animal is “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding people with impaired vision, alerting people with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.”  Most service animals are dogs, but they can be miniature horses as well.  Service animals usually wear a vest or harness with patches stating “Service Dog” and “Do Not Pet,” but they are not required by law to wear identification of any type.  Service animals can be trained in special schools, by private trainers, or by their disabled handler.  They do not require any type of certification to be given public access.

There are many types of service animals.  The most common service animal is the guide dog or seeing-eye dog; they guide people who are legally blind.  Other types include hearing dogs for the deaf, mobility dogs for people with balance or motor problems, assistance dogs for people in wheelchairs, psychiatric service dogs for people with mental or psychiatric disabilities, autism dogs, and alert dogs.  Alert dogs are trained to notice a change in their handler and notify the handler of this change.  Alert dogs can sense an oncoming seizure, a drop in blood sugar, a change in blood pressure, a panic attack, or any number of other changes.  Basically, if the dog can be trained to mitigate a substantial difficulty with a major life function (breathing, talking, seeing, hearing, working, thinking, walking, lifting, etc) caused by an individual’s disability, it can probably be considered a service animal.

Service animals actually do not have any rights at all.  Their handlers, however, have the right to use their service animals in all places that the general public is allowed.  This includes, but is not limited to, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, malls, airplanes, buses, taxis, schools, hospitals, zoos, amusement parks, and museums.  The exceptions occur when the handler is not in control of the service animal, the service animal poses a threat to other people, or if the presence of the service animal causes a fundamental change in the services or function of the business.  So, a service animal is not going to be allowed in an operating room because that room must be sterile…the presence of the service animal would cause the operation room to no longer be sterile, and therefore functional, which is considered a fundamental change.   Handlers of service animals are also allowed to live in apartments or houses that would otherwise not allow pets and cannot be required to pay a “pet deposit.”  Handlers are not required to pay a “clean up” fee to businesses that they take their animals into and cannot be forced to sit in an area secluded or isolated from other customers.

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Psychiatric service dogs serve people with mental disabilities such as depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar, panic disorder, and dissociative identity.  Just like any other service dog, they complete tasks that make daily living easier for people with mental disabilities.  A psychiatric service dog can do tasks such as turning on the lights for a frightened handler, remind handler to take medicine, provide hallucination discernment for handler, interrupt self-mutilating behaviors, buffer handler in crowded situations, carry handler’s personal identification, and help a handler during psychosis or anxiety.  Unlike guide dogs and some of the other types of service dogs, there are a very limited number of training schools for psychiatric service dogs.  People who would like a psychiatric service dog must first get a letter of recommendation from their doctor then find an service dog program, private trainer, or train a dog themselves.  A letter of recommendation is important because some states do not recognize psychiatric service dogs without one, and some airlines will not allow them to accompany their handler without the letter.

What Do You Feed Your Pets?

Sheriff is fed Wellness Complete Health Lamb, Barley, and Salmon Meal Recipe.  It is all natural, organic, and holistic.  It contains human quality meat and no by-products, artificial flavorings or preservatives, or corn products.  It is by far, the best dog food I have ever fed my dogs.  Since being put on it, he has maintained a healthy weight, experienced improved fur and skin quality, had a boost in energy, had better breath, and had better overall health.  Once every week or two, he gets a treat of wet food mixed into his dry food.  I always vary the brand of wet food (making sure it contains no corn since Sheriff is allergic) so that he has better digestive health.  He also gets some yogurt on occasion…again for digestive health.  For treats he receives natural dog treats, rawhide, and ham bones.  I have considered switching to a partially raw diet and am doing more research on the subject.  Regardless, it would only be a supplement to their current diet.

Rex is fed Zupreem pelleted food.  Rex also gets dried fruits and veggies nearly daily.  He refuses to eat fresh foods.  For treats he gets seed sticks and millet.

The fish receive defrosted blood worms and algae pellets.

What Type of Hallucinations and Delusions Do You Have?

So far, I have experienced auditory, tactile, visual, and olfactory hallucinations.  Auditory hallucinations are the most common for me and can present in a wide variety of ways ranging from hearing instrumental music to hearing several people whispering/mumbling in a manner I can’t quite make out to hearing voices that command me or comment on my thoughts/actions.  Visual hallucinations are also pretty wide ranging but not as common for me to experience.  Very rarely do I see actual people and when I do…I know things are starting to get out of control.  Usually visual hallucinations manifest as odd lights or colors moving across my range of vision or indistinguishable blurs of movement in my peripheral vision.  Sometimes I will see inanimate objects that are real turn into something that isn’t real; the cords from the television might turn into snakes, for example.  I’ve also seen water dripping from the ceiling when there is no source for a leak and other minor alterations in my surrounding that can’t be explained.  Olfactory hallucinations involve me smelling things that don’t exist.  For example, sometimes when I get close to a person I notice that they smell like pretzels even though they haven’t been around pretzels or I might be sitting in my apartment and suddenly burnt food when there is no source for the smell.  Tactile hallucinations are the ones I experience least often and are the most disturbing to me because they are newer and I haven’t gotten used to ignoring them.  These most frequently manifest as the feeling that something is crawling up my arm or leg (think like an insect or spider) even though I can look and see that nothing is actually there.

My delusions are also pretty varied but not as much as the hallucinations.  I have what I consider three “primary” delusions and lots of “secondary” delusions.  I think that is my personal form of labeling them however and not any type of medical terminology.  My biggest primary delusion is the paranoid type which for me means that I constantly think someone is trying to kill me, or cause some other form of bodily harm/trauma.  For example, if I go outside at night, I will assume that someone is outside waiting to ambush me.  If I walk into a dark room, I will assume that someone is hiding in the room until I or someone else can prove otherwise.  When I am in a room with other people, I am convinced that every person in that room is planning on killing me.  The second “primary” delusion is that I often believe that I am in a coma in a hospital bed somewhere and that everything I am experiencing is just in my head.  That one can get tricky because sometimes I get the idea that testing the delusion should be done in a manner that would prove dangerous to me if I really am not in a coma somewhere…for example, I’ve considered sitting in a road until a car hits me assuming that will wake me from a coma.  So far, I’ve been able to prevent myself from acting on these ideas but they are still very distressing.  The third “primary” delusion is similar to the second.  I’ll believe that things I have experienced recently didn’t actually happen…instead they were just dreams.  This gets confusing when I can’t figure out if recent events were dreams or real and can’t convince myself that they were not dreams.  “Secondary” delusions are not near as problematic because they are very short lived, generally not reoccurring, and easy for me to rationalize myself out of.  These include things like believing that people can read my thoughts, believing that people or objects are sending me messages, believing that things I read are written about me or for me, believing that a song is about me, and other similar delusions.  These I can usually convince myself are irrational and then not be troubled by them.  That convincing process can take a few minutes or a few days but these delusions never linger constantly like the primary ones.

Have You Ever Acted Violently Due to Your Hallucinations or Delusions?

No.  The average person normally has no idea that my thoughts may be delusional or that I might be hallucinating…it normally doesn’t manifest in a manner visible to others.  When my hallucinations or delusions start taking control of my thoughts and actions (what would generally be considered a psychotic episode) I tend to be the opposite of violent…I am terrified.  I want to escape or hide and I trust virtually no one.  However, instead of harming others in order to try and protect myself from what scares me, I try to avoid people to the point of not leaving my house or keeping a lot of distance between myself and others.  Because I so often believe that everyone around me is going to kill me…my actions hinge on doing everything I can to give other people no reason to kill me.  So if a person confronts me when I am this severely delusional, my reaction tends to be to move away from them, avoid them, not talk to them, not look at them, and pretend they don’t exist.  Sometimes it is kind of like a “deer in the headlights” sort of thing…I freeze and don’t interact for fear that if I do interact I will do the wrong thing and give the other person a reason to harm me.  If I do interact, everything continues to hinge on trying to pose as little threat to others as possible.  I will tell you everything I can think of to convince you that I am not a threat to anyone.  I don’t want people to get mad at me or even simply frustrated with me because then I think that they are going to have more reason to harm me.  The only time I come close to violent behavior is if someone grabs me when I am functioning on paranoid delusions.  I don’t try to harm anyone however, I just try to escape.  It isn’t even self-defense tactics…it is simply sheer panic causing me to tug, pull, and twist in every manner I can think of in order to get the grabbing to be released.  So I am not violent, I am scared out of my wits and basing all my actions on the idea that I must do everything I can to prevent myself from giving the people around me a reason to harm me.

What Are Some Coping Skills You Use?

I have a variety of coping skills that I’m very familiar with, and I’m always up to learning new ones.  I use a lot of distractions to work through hallucinations.  For example, if I am hearing voices I am likely to put on some headphones and listen to music.  I’ve found that it is difficult for my brain to both listen to music and create voices at the same time.  For paranoia I might read, work on a hobby, or anything else that gets my mind off of what I fear.  I also do a lot of reality testing.  I recently learned a skill called “possible vs. probable.”  This is done by recognizing that what I am paranoid might be possible, but probably isn’t probable.  I use cues from my environment (does anyone have a weapon?) and internal cues (have a done anything that might cause someone to harm me?) to process what I am experiencing.  Many times, this allows me to work through my paranoia and realize that what I fear is likely not realistic.  I also use guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and more to cope with my symptoms.

When Do You Hallucinate?

My hallucinations are capable of manifesting at any time of the day or night.  But they do generally follow a bit of a pattern.  Usually, during the day is when I have tactile hallucinations (feeling bugs on my skin).  In the evening is when I have the most auditory hallucinations.  At night, around bedtime or even when I wake up in the middle of the night, is when I am most prone to visual hallucinations.

Does Anything Make Your Symptoms Worse?

Aside from the obvious answer of when I don’t take my medications, the answer is yes.  Stress is a huge trigger for my symptoms to get worse.  It can be any kind of stress also; family problems, a physical illness, and Christmas are just a few examples.  Another thing I’ve found that makes my symptoms worse, particularly hallucinations, is undergoing surgery.  I’ve had two surgeries since getting schizophrenia and each one has made me hallucinate for a few days afterwords.