The "100 Individuals with Schizophrenia" interview campaign continues with a candid talk with Ephriam Levy, who is 39 now and was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18 years old.
CB: Tell us a little about your first break.
EL: I was at Vassar, and final tests and papers were coming upon us. I acted out in the school library, and was brought to the emergency room where I was diagnosed.
CB: What kinds of symptoms did you have?
EL: Delusions, hallucinations and voices, mostly delusions that there was a conspiracy against me.
CB: How did you know you had to go to the hospital?
EL: I didn't; the police came and took me there.
CB: Were you put on medication? How did that work?
EL: It was in 1986, when Haldol was the standard drug. The side effects were just as bad as the illness, so it was rough to begin with.
CB: It was rough. What happened after that?
EL: I wasn't hospitalized again, but a year-and-a-half later I dropped out of school. I was hospitalized three times, and on the third, I found the drug that worked. The medication was Clozaril. It was still slightly experimental at the time when I was put on it 15 years ago. The delusions and hallucinations went away shortly after I received that drug.
CB: Do you have any residual symptoms?
EL: No, for the last 15 years I've been okay.
CB: And you've been out of the hospital that long. Congratulations.
CB: I'm interested in college, because you went back to school after you got sick. About how long after did you return, and could you tell us how you coped with symptoms while at Wagner [University]?
EL: Okay. I started Wagner right after I began taking the Clozaril, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1997. I just took one class at a time, and it snowballed, and I graduated with honors.
CB: What kinds of jobs did you have when you graduated? What were your goals?
EL: I wanted to become an optometrist, and that didn't work out, so I went into sales for a while. First optical sales, and then photocopier sales. Lastly, pharmaceutical sales. That was for a good 5 to 10 years after Wagner.
CB: So you've been working for 10 years.
EL: Yes, since college I've been employed full-time.
CB: What do you suggest to people with schizophrenia who want to work or return to school?
EL: Start things slowly; don't jump into things haphazardly. If you'd like to go back to college, take one or two courses, and see how you handle the stress and the workload of that. In terms of work, try to pick a profession where the stress level isn't as high as in other fields.
CB: You've been out of the hospital 15 years. What enabled you to stay out and to recover?
EL: We have a NAMI peer support group meeting every two weeks that has met for the last 5 years. Also being on the right medication and being compliant with that drug. Some people with schizophrenia get better and think they don't need their meds any more. Everything breaks down and they have to start all over. So, I'd say medication and a good support system are the keys.
CB: What would you tell someone in your situation in your early life when the drug isn't working to get through a time when things aren't as good as they are now for you?
EL: Well, the illness can be considered a lock, with the medications possible keys. I'd recommend not settling for stability, but finding the right medication with the proverbial key to unlock your disease state and recover. With the new atypicals that's more possible now than ever.
CB: Could you give us some coping skills that worked for you?
EL: Coping with the schizophrenia is a lot easier now that the symptoms have gone away. What I see with my current job [as a peer specialist] in a mental health agency is that you can't keep it inside: discuss your problems and sometimes that makes it better. In addition, compliance with your treatment. So many people are not, and they get worse.
CB: Tell us about this job.
EL: I work as a mental health counselor on Staten Island. I've been doing this for a year now. It's less stressful than sales and I find it more personally rewarding. To deal with people similar to me and help them on their road to recovery. In addition, I'm attending a prestigious school in their Masters of social work program.
CB: What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of this field?
EL: For a long time I was an avid tennis player. Now I like to do things with friends and family, to keep up strong relationships.
CB: How does your faith influence your recovery, if it does?
EL: I am Jewish, and my faith is Judaism. It strives for a oneness of people and joining together for a common cause. Giving is just as important as receiving, and I believe in that strongly.
CB: After you get the MSW, what are some of your plans and goals for the future?
EL: I'd like to work in a state mental hospital, aiding in the recovery of people and their mental health.
CB: Give us some words of encouragement for peers going down that road, who are maybe new to recovery and need support.
EL: Full recovery is possible and don't settle for second best.
Note: I'm always looking for new people to interview, with or without a photo, and you can use an invented name if you don't want to disclose. I seek to expand the "100 Individuals with Schizophrenia" to cover people whose experiences run along the full spectrum of living with the illness. You can send an e-mail expressing your interest to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published On: February 05, 2008