“I want to live a life that’s not defined by my schizophrenia”
For World Schizophrenia Day, learn about how one inspiring young man with the condition is thriving despite the challenges—and how Johnson & Johnson is helping him and others like him to find new ways to manage their mental illness.
Around the world, 20 million adults are living with schizophrenia, a chronic brain disorder that can lead to symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, trouble with thinking and lack of motivation.
But over the past decade, they’ve been given a better chance at successfully managing their symptoms, thanks to the development of new treatment options—including the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson portfolio of long-acting injectables (LAIs) indicated for the treatment of adults with schizophrenia.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) added one of Janssen’s three long-acting injectable antipsychotic treatments to its Model List of Essential Medicines, which is used by more than 150 countries worldwide to help guide and prioritize the selection of medications considered to be the most efficacious, safe and cost-effective for their own national needs.
For World Schizophrenia Day, we sat down with Patrick, who is living with schizophrenia, to hear his journey to finding a treatment that worked for him.
Patrick: “I was a straight-A student. I studied a lot, had a great group of friends and even had a girlfriend I loved. Life was good.
Then, everything changed. It was as if a light switch had been flipped overnight.
I broke up with my girlfriend, which was a dark moment for me. Yet instead of emerging from that sadness like most high schoolers do, I felt like a different person. I was paranoid, thinking that my classmates could hear my innermost thoughts. And I was told that my sentences had become ‘word salad.’
I also became superstitious about everything. You know how kids will say things like, If you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back? I had thoughts like that a lot, and I’d see hallucinatory messages in numbers and letters, believing that they had some type of hidden meaning.
Not surprisingly, all of this made me really anxious. I couldn’t think clearly and retreated to my bedroom, refusing to come out. At first, my parents and friends didn’t know what to think. I’m sure they hoped I was going through a weird phase. But when weeks passed and something was clearly still going on with me, my mom took me to see a psychiatrist.
“The diagnosis was terrifying—but it had a silver lining”
Those were some of the scariest moments of my life. Imagine that one day you can think clearly and the next, you’re delusional, although I didn’t even realize it at the time. Eventually, I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
In one way, that news was terrifying. Hearing you have a mental illness that you’ll have to deal with forever is really hard to wrap your head around. But if I’m honest, my diagnosis also filled me with relief. At least I had some answers to why everything I had ever known had suddenly become distorted. At least there was hope that I might find some sense of normalcy again.
When I think back on the last 20 years, I almost can’t believe how far I’ve come from those first scary weeks when everything changed for me, thanks in part to being treated by a great doctor, my medication and support from my family and friends.
My psychiatrist talked to me about an LAI medicine that provides a month’s worth of treatment with just one dose. Not having to take a medication every day meant I wouldn’t accidentally skip or double up on a dose, and it just felt simpler not having to take medication every day. So after my doctor talked through both the upsides and possible side effects, I started taking the injectable.
I then switched to an LAI that was taken less frequently, and I did really well on that medication as well. And when my doctor asked if I wanted to participate in a clinical trial for a new LAI that was taken even less often than the one I was on before, I was eager to try it. I want to live my life in a way that’s not defined by my schizophrenia medication, and this felt to me like an incredible step in that direction.
When you have schizophrenia, finding a medication that works for you is a game-changer. For me, it felt like my life’s greatest blessing. It’s hard to put into words how relieved you feel when you can finally think straight. And I’m actually able to string together sentences that make sense. I can talk to people again!
“I don’t think about my illness most days. I live a typical life”
That’s not to say that I went back to life as I’d known it before my diagnosis. I had to get back up and face the shame of having gone through what looked like a total personality change. I definitely lost some friends. But luckily, I gained others.
I worked at a fast-food restaurant for a while, and then a new friend encouraged me to enroll in community college. He was really into math, so I took some classes with him. I grew to love it too and got better and better at it with time.
In the spring of 2015, I graduated with a degree in mathematics from California State University, Long Beach. Soon after, I was hired as a systems analyst intern. These days, I work for a food-delivery service as a process controller, mostly doing computer database work. And I’m hoping to get my master’s degree in computer science one day soon.
In addition to seeing my psychiatrist, I also work with a psychologist on strategies that help me get out of my head. Sometimes I feel a little awkward or out of place because of my schizophrenia, but learning techniques to help me reframe these thoughts has been really helpful.
When I think back on the last 20 years, I almost can’t believe how far I’ve come from those first scary weeks when everything changed for me. I don’t really think about my illness most days. I live what most people would consider a typical life, thanks in part to being treated by a great doctor, my medication and support from my family and friends.
I never wanted schizophrenia to deter me from what I want to do. And now I can say it hasn’t.”