Welcome to My SchizophreniaConnection Blog

Robin Cunningham Health Guide
  • When TheHealthCentralNetwork.com asked me to write blogs for the SchizophreniaConnection.com website I had to ask myself - Why me? After some soul searching I have come to believe there may be several reasons. First, although each person’s struggle with mental illness is unique, over time there are many experiences we all share. I have lived with schizophrenia for over fifty years and that represents a lot of experience. Second, despite the devastating effects of schizophrenia, for most of these fifty years I have been able to maintain a relatively high level of functionality. This has enabled me to sustain both a successful family life and business career. Third, this has all been possible for me because over the entire period of my illness I have received what is commonly known today as “best practice treatment.” Receiving this kind of treatment over such an extended period is rare. Fourth, I am not only a consumer but a family member. My grandfather, uncle and aunt all had schizophrenia, and my daughter has bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety. Suffering from a severe mental illness has taught me many of the dos and don’ts, as well as a host of other lessons on how to be an effective family member and advocate.
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    The goal of this initial blog is to give the reader some indication of the severity of my illness. Subsequent blogs will focus on my experiences with schizophrenia in greater detail, on the treatment I received and on the level of functionality that I have been able to maintain.

    How does one summarize a life drastically altered over decades by schizophrenia, especially when the story includes so many contrasts and contradictions?

    During the fifty years of my illness I have been a member of the Teamsters Union and a medical research scientist; worked in a lumber mill and on Wall Street; traveled on Greyhound buses and flown in private corporate jets; lived in a $40/month rooming house and in a high-rise on the upper east side of Manhattan; borrowed money to buy food and negotiated highly sophisticated financing transactions in the hundreds of millions of dollars. I have been confined to a room against my will and transacted business throughout the United States and abroad, including the creation, purchase and sale of both of both large and small companies.

    My life has been filled with poor prospects and enormous potential; crippling limitations and unexpected opportunity; personal tragedy and wonderful personal fulfillment. But more than anything else, my journey is a story of promise for my fellow travelers, for all those afflicted with serious mental illness.

    I suddenly became ill on a Sunday in April of 1956. My condition deteriorated rapidly beginning with the first recitation of “My father is God,” words I believed were being planted in my mind by Satan. Other symptoms followed in rapid succession, including auditory hallucinations, distorted thinking, changing perceptions, severe anxiety, mind control, ritualistic behaviors and on occasion severe depression. At one point, I even had my own language.

  • Within two days of the outset of my illness, I was no longer able to function at school. After a week I was completely consumed by paranoia and delusions of grandeur, and had developed elaborate defenses against Satan’s verbal assaults, as well as what I perceived to be his attempts to possess me. It wasn’t long before I had completely lost track of who I was and what I believed.
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    Delusions are usually constructed of materials at hand. Having been reared in a fundamentalist church and having attended its parochial grade school, I had plenty of building materials. My symptoms were cluttered around a central delusional belief system involving religion. I had been taught and believed Satan was to be greatly feared, that he was engaged in an epic struggle with God over the souls of humankind.

    Given the Devil’s agenda and the grandeur of his ambitions, I was absolutely stunned when he first assaulted me, an adolescent of no consequence. This led me to conclude that I had been chosen by God for a sacred mission of the highest order, that He had charged me with the task maintaining the balance of good and evil in the universe. I also believed God had given me special powers and that I would face many unique trials. Mine was truly a destiny of cosmic proportions.

    In that one instant, at the age of thirteen, I was rudely divorced from my past and thrust into a future of crippling uncertainty. The focus of my life and my priorities had obviously been dramatically altered, all my energies diverted. I had to forget my past, to let it go. Whoever I had once been was no more. I had to concentrate. The distractions created by those around me had to be ignored. All my energies were needed in my struggle against Satan, and before long, three demons that he had assigned to harass me.

    The resources required to fight my demons and to focus on my mission at times left me no choice but to shut down my intercourse with the “real world” around me. I was frequently crossing back and forth over the line separating the real world and a fearsome nether world.

    The evil machinations of Satan and his demons would have been more than enough, but I also had to deal with the well intended, but misguided reactions of those around me. I gained an even greater respect for the power of my antagonist. He could not only commandeer my mind and emotions, he was also capable of turning anyone that might provide me with assistance to his advantage. I had never been more terrified nor felt more alone.

    Fortunately for me, commingling with the devastation of my mental illness were the ministrations of a remarkable psychiatrist many years ahead of his peers in his understanding of the nature of schizophrenia and how best to treat it.

Published On: October 10, 2006