My oldest brother was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia in the last year and has been decompensating very quickly. I also have a maternal grandmother who had the disorder as well.
I am a counseling graduate student and have knowledge on the risk factors of developing the illness myself. I know that I have about a 10% risk, genetically speaking but I know there are environmental factors, too.
I recently read literature on a toxin called Toxoplasmosis that you can get from cat feces and that it can increased your risk x2-3. This is worrying me as I have lived with cats all of my life. I know that others things such as substance use and stress can impact your developing of the illness. I have had a great deal of stress in my life and have used substances socially throughout college.
Needless to say I am very worried about developing schizophrenia. I know that the onset for women isn’t until late 20’s early 30s and I am only 23 right now, so I’ve got a ways to go. This gives me great anxiety as there is so much uncertainty as to if I will develop schizophrenia or not.
I have been obsessing over this fear and cannot seem to get it out of my mind. I see a counselor weekly who has reassured me that I would be showing early signs by now and that I’ve got nothing to worry about. But of course, the anxious mind continues to worry.
I am in desperate need of some guidance as to where to go from here as I am starting to drive myself insane with this fear.
A. Fear feeds on illogical thinking. Anxiety disorders thrive because illogical thoughts are entertained as real possibilities. That means they are given more weight than they deserve. That seems to be happening with you.
Your stated anxiety level would suggest that you believe that there is a high probability of developing schizophrenia but that is not true. You presented nothing beyond general facts and assumptions as your evidence to suggest that you will develop the disease. Thus, you have presented no convincing evidence to suggest that your level of anxiety is warranted.
Generally speaking, you have a slightly higher risk of developing schizophrenia because of genetics but that in no way means that you will get it. Most people who have a family member with schizophrenia don’t develop the disease. You’re making assumptions that have no basis in fact. Fear seems to be guiding your thinking.
The fact that you are in graduate school and seemingly have no symptoms of the disorder are both very good signs. If you were to study the lives of the people who have schizophrenia, there are often early warning signs. Case studies have shown this to be true.
In general, your anxiety level should match the likelihood of your developing the disease. Your likelihood of developing schizophrenia is only slightly higher than what it is for the average person and in that case, your anxiety level should be very low.
It is important to believe what is true and not what you fear to be true. The key to overcoming anxiety is to believe in reality and in facts. Focusing on what is real will help you to stay grounded and to not become overwhelmed with anxiety. Hopefully, those are the types of discussions you are having in therapy. Thank you for your question.
Dr. Kristina Randle