Schizophrenia: Mary

Schizophrenia: Mary

"My mother started hearing voices long before I was born. I believe I inherited it from her," says 35-year-old Mary. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoid type. "I was about 11 or 12 when it really started to scare me that that could happen to me. I started to hear the occasional voice at 16, but it wasn't until I turned 18 that I had a full psychotic break. I started seeing demons and distorted figures of people's faces. I would see my own self decomposing when I would look in a mirror and that was quite terrifying.

 

"I tried to stop those hallucinations by drinking. I did my best to hide it. I tried to kill myself, but the psychiatrist who talked to me in the hospital, I wouldn't tell him that I was hearing these voices, I just said that I'd broken up with my boyfriend. Finally, when the alcohol didn't stop the voices anymore, I went to my family doctor and at that point he diagnosed me with psychotic depression.

 

"In my mid-20s, it was like I was in a nightmare

that I couldn't wake up from. The voices were shouting at me. I was constantly paranoid. If a group of people were laughing nearby me, I assumed they were laughing at me. I started believing that people could read my mind, that they knew what I was thinking. I really started to have a hard time differentiating between what was real and what was not real. And again, I'm getting these feelings of aliens monitoring my thoughts.

 

"I wasn't diagnosed with schizophrenia until I was around 30."

"

Despite the medication, I still get voices and hallucinations and delusions and paranoia. Right now, the voices are telling me I'm an idiot, I'm making a fool of myself and I should die," Mary says.

A producer from the Dr. Phil show asks, "What else are they saying to you?"

"They're just telling me that I'm fat and people are going to laugh at me," she says. "Most of the time it's male voices. They will talk to me. They will talk to each other about me. Sometimes it's one, two. Sometimes it's like a whole group just shouting at me. There have been times that I wanted to stab something into my ears just to make them stop."

To protect her husband, Ken, while they were still just dating, Mary didn't tell him what she was experiencing. He says, "It wasn't until after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia that she told me more detail about what was going on. When my wife first told me about seeing demons and hearing voices, my initial reaction was fear and concern for her."

When Mary is having a conversation, the voices can be overpowering, so she has to really concentrate. "I often will stare at someone's mouth while they're talking," she says, "so that I can get a better idea of what it is that they're saying. And sometimes it will even go so far as to where I see the words coming out of their mouth and falling on the ground."

 

Stress can trigger voices and visions. "I often will see demons,

sometimes angels. When I see people driving by in cars or walking or biking down the street, I will see their faces distort, and their eyes go black like demons are watching me. I've been afraid of Ken before. I've seen him look like he was dead and decomposing."

 

Mary tries to isolate herself from the world. She avoids people and works in an office with no windows and a closed door. "I recently thought that people were coming into my office a

nd moving things around and trying to poison me," she says. 

 

"Earlier this year, my husband had an errand and left me at home alone and I was seeing demons waiting outside the bedroom door. When my husband came up the stairs and into the room, I thought he was the demon disguised as Ken."


"Mary was huddled next to the bed with the knife," says Ken. "And I took the knife away from her and held her to me. I had thought she was actually going to hurt herself. I only found out later that she thought I was the demon."

The voices Mary hears are so real to her, she can actually pinpoint their location. "It seems like it's on this side of my head," she says, putting a hand to her right temple. "It's strange. Sometimes it comes from both sides, sometimes it's like it's right inside the middle of my head like a voice — like a radio is in my head.

 

"The voices often talk to me in my car on the way home from work, and I answer them because I know I'm alone. They laugh at me. They tell me I'm a fat cow. And I tell them, 'Shut up,' you know, 'I don't need that from you. Just knock it off. Get out of my head.'

"I've gained a lot of weight on the anti-psychotics that I take, and it became a choice: being a size four and psychotic or being heavy and being sane. I don't want to take these medications. I don't want to have the side effects that I have with them, but it's a trade-off. I may not be pretty anymore, but I'm there for my family, and that's why I keep fighting."

In advance of the show, Dr. Phil made certain arrangements to ensure that Mary would be comfortable, and to avoid causing undue stress that could trigger symptoms. He gave her a tour of his set and showed her the videotapes he would play during the show. He also invited her primary therapist, Joel Zeman, and positioned him where Mary could easily see him.

Dr. Phil explains that his goal in inviting Mary to the show is not to sensationalize her disease but to demystify it. He understands that Mary has joined him because she shares that goal. Next, he asks if what she has seen so far is an accurate depiction of her symptoms.

"It's very accurate," she says.

"Are you hearing voices today?" asks Dr. Phil.

"I heard some earlier," she tells him. "They said I'm going to make a fool of myself on the show. I also heard some on the plane coming in. They told me the plane was going to crash and that nobody would miss a fat cow like me."

Mary tells the story of a time earlier this year when she left her loving husband and moved away because she thought that he was going to kill her in her sleep. She didn't tell him that she thought he was going to kill her, just that she couldn't stay with him anymore. She even went so far as to file for divorce.

Her behavior concerned Ken. "I thought it had to have had something to do with her psychological problem. I just wanted to take a step back and let her work through them but still be there for her," he says.

"After I was on my own, I started believing that my son was going to kill me in my sleep and he's only 12," says Mary. "I brought it up to my psychiatrist and she increased my medication and that feeling went away. Luckily, my husband was willing to take me back once I finally came to the realization that it was a delusion, that he would never do anything to hurt me. And I know this."

Dr. Phil says that today Mary is doing extremely well but points out that she's on medication. And despite the medication, she still hears the voices and has hallucinations and some paranoia. "But when she is off the medication and in a psychotic state, it's extremely intensified and difficult for her to tell what is reality and what is a psychotic episode, so I want everybody to get an idea of what it's like for Mary in a full-blown psychotic episode," he says.

"If I stop taking my meds, I get severe delusions, paranoia to the point where I can't function," Mary reveals. "The voices will shout at me to kill myself. Or that my son is going to kill me. It's a constant bombardment. I've seen myself disintegrate and decompose. I'll see demons. Sometimes I'll see them by themselves, like, free-standing. I'll see them inside other people and it'll jump from person to person, like they're stalking me. I will get a strong sense of smell of burning or decay that tells me that the demons are coming."

 

When Mary is off her medication, the voices only get worse. "I start to believe strange things: that I'm supposed to be a prophet of God and I'm failing and I'm going to go to hell. I hallucinate very badly. I'll see angels. When I see an angel I see a person who looks somehow cleaner and brighter than the average person. I also will start to see trails. Like, if I move my hand in front of my face I'll see the trails smeared behind it. The wood grain on doors will look like water flowing. Sometimes my screen on my computer at work will seem to melt. When I close my eyes I will see a kaleidoscope of colors churning in different patterns. Sometimes I'll see flying things. They'll fly at my face and I'll jump and I'll wave them away. When I'm driving and that happens I have to really focus on the road in front of me. It can be quite terrifying."

Dr. Phil asks Mary, "Do you ever stop and put a voice in your head that says you're doing a really good job here? Do you realize what a nice job you're doing?"

"Not usually, no," she says.


"I do want you to think about that because even though you have this problem, you're working, you're contributing to society, raising your son, being a wife. All of these

things are still happening in spite of that, and that is a very high level of functioning. And, would you agree, Joel?" he asks, turning to Mary's therapist. "You work with this all the time."

"Oh yes, absolutely phenomenal," he replies. "I'm so proud of her. She's amazing."

"You've also been able to get on an airplane and come here and do this. How's the noise in your head right now?" Dr. Phil asks Mary.

"They're just calling me an idiot right now," she says. "I'm ignoring them."

"So you're hearing this from like one side of your brain?" Dr. Phil probes.

"Actually, right now it's like it's in the center of my brain but it's not my voice, it's not a thought, it's an actual voice," she replies.


Dr. Phil asks Mary to mimic the voice for him.

"It's a male voice," she says, "and it's just, 'You're an idiot. You're going to make a fool of yourself on this TV show.'"

"So you're hearing that, the same as you're hearing me. That's just like another person talking to you, while I'm talking to you," he says. Mary says that's exactly right. "OK. How do you feel about the audience being here? And they're tough, you're not going to hurt their feelings," he says.

"I'm trying to forget they're there, frankly," she replies. "In groups there's always certain people that can read my mind and that put thoughts in my head if I look at them and make contact. So, I try to avoid that."

"My wife's one of those people," jokes Dr. Phil. "She can read my mind for sure. I mean, I'm just sitting here, thinking, and she says, 'You're not going to do that.' I think that's for real, though."