On Sunday night I spoke with Ysraal, a regular at the Connection, for the "100 Individuals with Schizophrenia" interview campaign. Ysraal is a U.S. Marine. He went in as a Private, and was meritoriously promoted. When Ysraal completed boot camp, he was sent to a school for mechanics. From speaking with him, I have no doubt he will succeed at whatever he sets out to do.
CB: How long were you in the Marines?
Y: One year, nine months and two days.
CB: Could you tell us what your diagnosis is and when you received it?
Y: My diagnosis is schizoaffective. Prior to going into service, it was paranoid schizophrenic reaction. During service I wasn't aware really what was happening in total, but I had a psychotic break. The same symptoms I had then I'm still being treated for today. That was in 1978. When that happened, the diagnosis was deferred.
CB: What were your symptoms?
Y: What I know now to be hallucinations and delusions. Yes, I did have that during service. It was nine days before my 23rd birthday, so it was like fixing the time frame with the onset.
CB: This was in peace time.
Y: It was after Vietnam.
CB: Do you feel your military service somehow caused your mental illness or affected your mental state?
Y: Yes, it caused and aggravated it - the reaction into what is now diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder.
CB: I'm wondering what you can tell other veterans and the general public about your experiences in the Marines and how it related.
Y: I believe that anybody, whether they're veterans or not, if they have any kind of psychiatric happening, they should seek [immediate] attention. I did not, and I relied on what I was being told at the time. I, therefore, suffered an extremely long duration of untreated psychosis. It has affected me. I still am deluded with aspects of military life, and it is an impairment. Like I said, with any out of the ordinary psychiatric goings-on, seek [immediate] attention.
CB: Talk about the programs and services that are important for a veteran returning from a war or military service.
Y: Our service, as long as we don't have a dishonorable discharge, entitles us to support through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. We are all changed by our service regardless of whether it was in a theater of combat or not. By being entitled, we earned that right and should utilize that right to have as much of a normal life as possible. For people like myself suffering from psychiatric disabilities, I do believe that recovery is possible. Just like they used to send us out to accomplish missions, it should be all of us seeking a mission of accomplishment to recover to the best of our ability individually. I hope that's a good answer.
CB: It's wonderful. Now I'll play devil's advocate, because a lot of people don't believe a person can recover. Why do you feel a person can recover?
Y: There are two great examples-John Forbes Nash, and Fred Frese. John Forbes Nash wrote a mathematical theorem while he was in the throes of psychosis that still exists and lasts to this day, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. That is also showed in the movie, A Beautiful Mind. Dr. Fred Frese, though I don't know has any movies out (www.fredfrese.com) will explain a lot, and he is also on the board of NAMI. I'm sure there are quite a few other successes and inspiring stories. So we can recover. Through hard work and faith, we can better ourselves. Especially with love and support, recovery is possible.
CB: Could you tell us what the integration into society was like after your military service?
Y: Mine was -for lack of a better way to put it - wild and mysterious because I didn't know I was suffering. I was trying to hide it - denying it - and I self-medicated. It landed me in prison. So that's why I tell anyone to speak out - regardless of the stigma. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have been chased by stigma and I would've gone straight for help.
CB: Do you feel the government needs to address veterans' needs in a better way? What kinds of improvements would you like to see?
Y: Yes, and the first thing is to stop being antagonistic towards veterans. Right now, I have a claim in for disability compensation that has been going on for over five years. All my documentation is there. I have an honorable discharge. I have the symptoms I had in service that I am being treated for by the VA today, but yet the VA, in administrative aspects, has denied my claim for disability compensation. It is still pending, and in the past five years I've constantly suffered. I go through doctor after doctor after doctor - they lie to me. I give some of them the benefit of the doubt because they are newly trained, but yet at the same time my life is on hold. As I say, "All gave some. Some gave all. Some are still giving." I hope you can understand that, too.
CB: Sure, I do.
Y: Also, I'm well aware of Dr. Fred Frese, who also suffers from schizophrenia and was diagnosed during the Marine Corps and testified in front of Congress and was recognized by Congress. So that even though we are ill, we are not to be thrown away. We should be supported and helped. The government should recognize that there's a great diversity among us as American citizens, and with proper support and encouragement we can help each other in the country - nationwide - and more likely, worldwide. That is one hope I would like to see because our main illness titled schizophrenia has consumers worldwide. We all know there are many who suffer but they are afraid to come forward to speak out. We need to find some ways to bring them out because there are undoubtedly some very beautiful minds out there - as John Forbes Nash showed.
CB: Tell us about your job now and some of your successes, hopes and dreams for the future.
Y: As of right now I work as a dishwasher at a restaurant. I like the job. One reason is because it pays good, and the other reason is it keeps me busy. It helps with my illness, believe it or not, because it gives me a little bit more exercise, and to keep up my exercise is the best way to cope with my illness. Also, I'm waiting for funding from the State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to enter a community college to go to school for psychology. I know it's not going to be easy, but I also know that I'm not going to quit.
CB: Do you feel you have a calling?
Y: I feel like since I'm afflicted with this illness, I can learn more about it so I can help both myself and others who have this disorder. I've learned that schizoaffective is not very common in men, and that there's so much we can't prevent. No one knows the causes, but it can be treated so that we can recover and hopefully move into a better place in society.
CB: Do you have any final words of encouragement for people who are maybe afraid to seek help or for people who feel they don't need help?
Y: First, I would say if you have that question, ask it. Try to find someone you can trust or at least feel comfortable with to ask. Ask for some help or see someone you're comfortable with who thinks you need help. That was what I tried to do. I tried to drink and drug it away, and that's no good. I know there are probably a lot of consumers or sufferers going through that right now. Seek some help, trust somebody, and have faith.
Published On: September 23, 2008