Schizophrenia can be marked by various frightening and, at times, debilitating symptoms. These include delusions, hearing voices or sounds that aren’t there and others. For me the most debilitating symptom — and the one that never really seems to go away entirely even with my myriad medications — is paranoia.
Paranoia is basically the feeling and the anxiety that people’s main goals are primarily to hurt you in some way. For me it manifests in more social iterations as opposed to bodily harm. I’m constantly worried that people are laughing at me or making fun of me. The exact reason they’re making fun of me varies from the way I look that day to the way I act to smaller things like the way I talk or the way I hold my cigarette.
I’ve been told that everyone has a level of anxiety around these things and that what I call paranoia is no more than social anxiety. I think the determining factor is the belief that people are going out of their way to harm me emotionally. If that’s not paranoia I don’t know what is.
That said, I think everyone can relate when I say this is a constant worry for me, or at least those with anxiety or schizophrenia can relate. If you struggle with paranoia of any kind, I understand. I know what it’s like to worry constantly about things that everyone says aren’t happening but you know they are.
Thankfully, in my eight years of dealing with schizophrenia I’ve learned several ways to cope and deal with this constant parade of worry.
First and foremost, it’s important to accept the fact that you can’t make everyone happy. This will lessen the burden of trying to please everyone by acting the right way or saying the right things.
In my case, I was mostly concerned about the small interactions with people I didn’t know: shop owners, people on the street, baristas, anybody who I saw who didn’t already know how I acted most naturally. If you think about it, though, these people deal with hundreds of other people every single day of their lives. I can guarantee you that they’ve met someone who was anxious or quiet or weird (anything you’re concerned about) and they didn’t think anything of it other than the first impression. Chances are, they forgot about you almost immediately as well. I can guarantee they didn’t go back to their friends and laugh and make fun of you. They’re simply too busy to do that.
Another big thing to keep in mind when dealing with paranoia is the fact that no matter how much you think the other person is making fun of you, they’re 20 times more concerned about themselves and the way they appear to the world. Even if someone is making fun of you, it’s an effort on their part to make themselves look better. If that doesn’t prove what I’m saying, nothing will.
People are insecure. The only reason they could have to be mean to somebody would be to prop themselves up and make them feel better about their own situation.
The truth is, nobody is more concerned about anybody than they are about themselves.
The realization of this lessens the blow of the hurt you can feel when you imagine in your paranoia that you’ve been harassed.
Just keep in mind that the majority of the delusions you feel that people are out to get you are not based in reality.
We’ve all decided in our humanness that we don’t want to get hurt and so we limit ourselves from getting too close and getting too vulnerable from the majority of people we encounter. We need to be vulnerable with some people, though, and we want to feel like we belong, so we’ve come to a balance with ourselves of being nice.
We’ve all agreed upon the golden rule of treating others as we would want to be treated. The people who overstep that boundary are either deeply insecure or evil. You will encounter these people from time to time, but the majority of the time you really have nothing to worry about.
Keeping these things in mind and accepting the fact that it’s unlikely to happen provides a bit of comfort when your thoughts are telling you something different. But if it’s too much of a problem, you could go build a cabin in the middle of the woods and live off the land. That would be hard, though, and I can guarantee you’d get lonely.