It’s incredible how within months I went from looking at a class schedule to looking through a psychiatric hospital window.
I was determined to go to college. I always thought that was my ticket to the good life. Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), a difficult fine arts school with a rigorous program, was my only hope. I thought that if I was successful there, I could make it in the fashion world.
Ambitious, I graduated high school at 17 and was a member of the National Honors Society. Given I had only taken a few art classes before, making the Dean’s List in my first semester at CCAD was a big accomplishment.
There was no poster on the wall saying my life would be changed forever. The track to my dreams would soon be shattered. Over holiday break, my world was derailed and destroyed.
Shadows on the walls danced from room to room. They were subtle at first. They became more alive and visible at night. They took the form of a seven-foot lanky black being. These creatures poked their heads around corners and through windows. Everywhere I looked, they taunted and teased me.
Every sense in my body felt shaken with fear. The shadows laughed hysterically and waved to me from afar. Scurrying from place to place, they seemed to be in a rush.
A voice in my head became louder each day. It was a demon’s voice. Low, deep and vicious, his screams reverberated through my head.
“What are you doing?”
“No one wants you!”
“We will come and take you.”
“Drown yourself in the sink!”
His repetitive voice demeaned and teased every move I made.
Every minute that passed, I dreaded what he was going to say next. I felt trapped in my own mind, and my once sunny world turned dark. I was petrified. I knew I needed help.
One night, a window was slightly open in the living room where I was sleeping. My mom made a joke about a ghost opening the window. My heart stopped. I walked away. She followed me.
“What’s wrong? You’ve been acting quiet for days.”
“I’ve been hearing voices in my head...and seeing demons. They are after me and I don’t know what to do,” I cried.
As I confessed, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and, of course, painfully frightened. Tears rolled down my shaking body. I tried to wipe my tears with tensed-up hands.
Within the next 48 hours, I found myself looking at the ceiling of a psychiatric hospital. The intake for a bed in the unit lasted a day, and I was put in the psychiatric emergency room. There, I heard people wailing, screaming or not saying anything. After waiting in the ER, I was placed in the in-patient unit at the same hospital.
Over the next seven long days, I met a variety of different people. Everyone was there for different, but somehow the same, troubles. I met patients conflicted with depression, anxiety, psychosis, mania, OCD and a lot of other illnesses. Many stayed for only a few days, but others stayed much longer.
On my final day, I looked out the window and couldn’t help but feel trapped. I was anxious to get out. I wanted to feel the winter breeze so badly. I hadn’t been outside of the unit for a week. You never know when you might get out of the hospital and back to your own world.
I had no idea this type of ongoing trauma would haunt me for many years. I tried medications and therapies. I have been to four psychiatric hospitals in four years. At the age of 25, I have learned this:
Every day is a day I choose to be powerful in my own mind. Sometimes I may collapse and give in to him, but I will never surrender to the hideous beast that is schizophrenia. I am a champion of my own demons. I don’t for a moment give up on myself. I have learned I am my biggest advocate.
I have schizophrenia. Schizophrenia does not have me.
Bethany Rose Zepp is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio. She is currently studying art therapy. She aspires to help people with similar mental health disorders. She wants to bring hope to others through her creative gifts.