How Schizophrenia Affected and Enhanced Work
I have been employed in the technology consulting and software product industry since I graduated from college. Throughout my 25 years of work, I experienced two periods of time off due to my struggle with schizophrenia. The first break occurred when I was around 30 years old and lasted about a week. The second break happened at 36 years old and lasted for approximately four weeks. Although the exact timeline is a bit hazy to me, those are the estimated time frames.
Between the ages of 30 and 36, I often found myself perplexed by the voices I heard in private, but I never had to cease working during the day. However, during a schizophrenic episode, the condition had the ability to take over my life, initially hindering my social activities during evenings and weekends, and eventually affecting my work time as well. Despite this, work was always the last aspect of my life that I compromised on.
One day, I woke up and realized the importance of figuring out what was happening in my life. Without informing anyone, including my colleagues, I decided to skip work. My mind was occupied with the voices and confused thoughts that plagued me, and I aimlessly roamed the streets of Boston in search of answers from any signs I could find. Unfortunately, my quest was unsuccessful, and I returned to work the following day. Although my coworkers sensed that something was wrong, they were unsure of the exact nature of my struggles. After my initial breakdown, my manager suggested that I take some time off, an offer that I declined as I did not believe there was anything wrong with me. I suspect that news of my absence from work spread, but no one approached me about it, and no one treated me differently. I continued to carry out my responsibilities as usual.
A few years later, while working at a different company, I experienced my second major psychotic episode. A close friend and my manager visited me at home during this challenging time but were unable to alleviate my distress. As a result, I ended up in the hospital. Once again, I had a job to return to, and my psychiatrist provided my manager with a letter outlining a gradual plan for my reintegration into work. My manager wholeheartedly accepted this plan, and my colleagues warmly welcomed me back. One coworker confided in me, sharing that they were also dealing with personal struggles. Just like before, no one directly asked me about my absence, and it seemed that everyone respected my privacy.
The first time I openly discussed my experience with schizophrenia was when my company initiated a project focused on developing a technological solution for individuals like me. My manager approached me and asked if I would be willing to share my personal journey with our clients. Excitedly, I accepted the offer. In this project, I found myself in a unique position as both an innovator and a user, or patient, of the technology. I quickly realized that my firsthand experience with schizophrenia provided valuable knowledge that I could contribute. Moreover, working in the realm of digital health further accentuated my position.
Since then, whenever appropriate, I continue to share my story with coworkers, professional connections, and pharmaceutical companies. I feel fortunate to possess the ability to articulate what I have been through and I hope to serve as another voice for individuals with schizophrenia.