Warning Signs

What are the early warning symptoms of schizophrenia? And why might parents write them off?

I’m not a scholar, but I noticed subtle changes in Mike and questioned him about them.  Each time he came back with a logical explanation that made sense to me, and put my mind at ease.  It wasn’t that I didn’t see them.  It was Mike who wrote them off!

Mike had always been a happy-go-lucky guy, with a dry, but kind sense of humor.  It seemed that “out of the blue” he was experiencing anxious moods. After a lot of conversations with Mike, I thought that he was “sick and tired” of college.  He also told me about the 100th time that he wanted to be an actor.  But in the summer of 2005, he was talking about taking off and going to LA!  Now this idea made me terribly nervous! I bargained with Mike that we would pay for modeling and acting lessons locally, provided he finished his degree.  I knew that he was totally unprepared to go to a big city like LA with absolutely no support system, and of course no healthcare benefits.  Any psychiatrist would have thought Mike’s idea of becoming an actor was grandiose.  But they couldn’t possibly have known that he had always been a performer, dancing around and perfectly imitating celebrities since childhood.  So for me, Mike’s anxious moods seemed appropriate.  I thought he was frustrated!

Over a period of about six months, Mike had lost almost twenty pounds.  I questioned him each time I saw him, and thought he was losing weight.  My first instinct as a former nurse was that he might be developing diabetes!  I asked him if he was drinking a lot of water and urinating frequently.  His answer was No. He was smoking and he thought it had changed his metabolism.  This made sense to me and I never would have put the symptom of weight loss together with the onset of schizophrenia.

Mike’s withdrawal was more apparent to his dad than me.  I was working long hours and his father was a teacher, home for the summer months, and there to see the change in Mike.  Still, it was subtle.

Both of us saw a decline in function. We simply couldn’t figure out why Mike wasn’t motivated to get a summer job.  He had never been lazy!  I thought that because Mike had never been a discipline problem or openly defiant, that his behavior was a symptom of depression, or maybe passive-aggressive behavior.  I also thought that maybe this was simply a “phase” that he would eventually get over. Young people certainly have them!

What probably stumped me the most was Mike’s lack of attention to personal hygiene. He had always been a “primper,” taking showers regularly, brushing his teeth and fussing with his hair.  Once again, I thought he might be depressed and simply could care less about his appearance as he fretted about his future.  All of it was quite confusing.  If we had known more, we could have put all the clues together.

I’ve attended many educational programs over the years.  While all of the afore mentioned “prodromal symptoms” are important to know about, the “biggie” is change in sleep patterns. Almost every presenter in these seminars sited that this is the ONE BIG CLUE that something could be going wrong in your child’s brain.  If I can only pass on but one piece of information that I learned; this would be the most important.  The problem for us personally, was that we were sleeping, while Mike was awake. I also learned that anyone who is sleep-deprived over a period of time can hallucinate.

Illogical thinking and lack of insight were probably the last to show up before Mike’s psychotic break. And still, Mike explained these symptoms away when I questioned him about why he had said something that didn’t make sense to me.  His answers were quite logical and believable!  But when a person’s brain isn’t functioning properly, he or she doesn’t know it!

Schizophrenia is nothing to be ashamed of, and a medical disease.  Early diagnosis and treatment have been proven to provide better outcomes.  Unfortunately, there’s little education out there, and most people still want to keep it in the closet for fear of prejudice and stigma.  If I could give only one piece of advice, it would be this:  Psychiatrists are highly trained medical doctors.  They’re also sophisticated scientists and chemists who have experience in finding the proper mix of medications that will help your child to recover. They chose the lowest paying of all specialties for a reason—they want to help people with brain diseases.  They understand that parents don’t cause the disease, and they’re not going to lie your kid down on a couch and try to psycho-analyze him or her!  Please, if you see unusual and unexplainable behaviors in your child, seek help promptly!  You wouldn’t hesitate to go to your doctor, if your child had a fever!

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