Is This Schizophrenia?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Ok, I’m wondering if I’m schizophrenic. I have this problem with ‘spies’. Secretly I believe that the government is placing people in my path that are either watching me or testing my reactions to things. Although a part of me thinks that its impossible (and who would care to go to all that trouble and expense?) but I can’t shake the belief that strange coincidences in my life are being orchestrated by either the government, or the masons, maybe. It feels like my car and my apartment are bugged, and ‘they’ have gotten to the point where they can tell what i’m thinking by which way my eyes move. And they are trying to condition me with the colors people are wearing on the street, or things they say on the radio. It got so bad at one point that I ripped the rear-view mirror off the windshield of my new car, and shortly after that I totalled the car (accidentally). I thought they had put bugs in the car. I do random things to throw them off my trail, or get ahead of them, but it makes no difference. ‘They’ always find me.

Actually, I think i’ve reached a bit of a truce lately. The spies are starting to be a little kinder to me, and are ‘building me up’ a bit. I can barely tolerate hearing the word ‘dog’ because of an incident with my previous land lady, who kept saying ‘you dirty dog’ repeatedly when a light fixture wouldn’t work in my apartment (which was also shortly before I crashed my car).

I am ambidextrous, and for certain things (like math and spatial problems) I use my left hand, but for the most part I’m right handed (although I had to do a lot of work to keep my ‘right’ side from being my own worst enemy – it likes to break things). And i seem to have split my mind into several ‘compartments,’ either to the left or right, to keep the various parts of my life or to fulfill certain functions. I also have a very shaky concept of time, and have difficulty keeping track of the days of the week.

And, finally, the reason that I believe the spies are trying to control me is because I can control the weather (which makes me a threat to national security). Sometimes I think I may be a witch or something.

Still, I have been able to hold down a job and even went back to school and started a new career in environmental science. I’m very interested in statistics and probability. I have several good friends, but usually I prefer to be alone.

I don’t have hallucinations, but my ears often ring (I used to work in very loud factories). And I seem to get the feeling that if i suddenly hear a loud ringing in the left ear that someone is thinking very negatively about me, or I’m in trouble with the spies (who often find little ways to punish me if I ‘think’ the wrong way).

I’ve been trying to believe that there are no spies for years, but I just can’t seem to do it through any act of will. Medication doesn’t help (and I’ve been prescribed everything from lithium to risperdol), or it dopes me up so I can’t function. I was originally diagnosed with post traumatic stress after my mother’s psychotic episode.
Is this sort of thing something that goes with ptsd or is it something more?

A. It is always difficult to offer a diagnosis over the Internet. Having said that, you have provided many specific details about your symptoms. You may be exhibiting the positive symptoms of schizophrenia. There are two main types of symptoms of schizophrenia: positive and negative. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are considered excess relative to one’s normal way of thinking and functioning. Hallucinations are an example of positive symptoms. Negative symptoms are those characteristics that are absent from one’s normal level of functioning. Having a lack of emotion is an example of a negative symptom. Below is a list of positive symptoms that you seem to be exhibiting. They include believing that:

  • you are being followed by spies;

  • your life is being orchestrated by the government or by masons;
  • your apartment is bugged;
  • the government can tell what you’re thinking because of the way your eyes move;
  • the government is conditioning you by the color of clothing that random people on the streets are wearing or by what is being said on the radio;
  • your car is bugged;
  • ringing in your ear means that someone is thinking about you; and
  • you control the weather and that is why the government is after you.

Other concerning aspects of your situation include the idea of having a “split mind” and losing track of time. These symptoms are not necessarily consistent with schizophrenia per se but may be associated features of active psychosis.

Research shows that individuals with positive symptoms of schizophrenia have a better prognosis than those who primarily display negative symptoms. There are other positive elements about your situation including your intelligence, your ability to remain employed, your return to school, beginning a new career, and your ability to maintain social relationships (even if you’d rather be alone). You also constructed a well-written and logical question despite your symptoms. These aforementioned facts are typically not consistent with a schizophrenia diagnosis. Generally, schizophrenia significantly disrupts one’s occupational, emotional and social functioning.

It is also possible that you do not have schizophrenia. Individuals can experience a psychotic episode and not have schizophrenia. There are also some cases of individuals who experience one psychotic episode and never another.

Evaluation and treatment are the best course of action. It is important to identify and stabilize your condition. Once an evaluation has been conducted, mental health professionals can direct you to the appropriate treatment. Psychosis generally does not resolve itself. It requires treatment. Otherwise, it may intensify and lead to more.

You have tried medications. They did not work for you. They do work for many people. I would recommend medication but suggest that you try a low dose. You had a negative experience with medication. This may have been because you were on the wrong medication, wrong combination of medicine or you were overmedicated. Antipsychotic medication is the best protection against psychotic episodes. It is also the best treatment for an active psychotic episode.

It would also be helpful if you kept your stress levels low. Among individuals with a propensity towards psychosis, stress may increase the likelihood of future psychotic episodes. You should also try to surround yourself with supportive people.

You might also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). How well you do with CBT will depend on the severity of your symptoms. For instance, if you are actively psychotic, CBT may not be effective. The reason for this is because psychosis is a break from reality. Part of CBT involves challenging one’s assumptions about reality. If one has lost touch with reality CBT may be of limited value. It may be a more appropriate and effectual treatment once the psychotic symptoms have diminished. CBT could help to prevent future episodes by keeping you grounded in reality.

I hope you will consider treatment. Some research suggests that psychotic episodes may damage the brain. This is one reason why treatment is so important.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to write back. I will do my best to help you. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 May 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). Is This Schizophrenia?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/05/23/is-this-schizophrenia-2/