A Schizophrenic’s Story
by Katherine Fok
In 1970 I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, barely a year after I had gone to work as a research technician at the University of California. It was also only a few months after I had gotten my Master’s degree in Microbiology. I was so relieved when my major professor signed my thesis, signifying that I had fulfilled all the requirements for my degree. I sang all the way driving back from my school to my place of work.
The Onset of Madness
However, during the years I was in school, I began to suspect that people were criticizing me for things I did. My father and family members tried to comfort and encourage me by telling me to just concentrate on my studies and work.
Then, on Labor Day weekend, 1970, at a family gathering at my cousin’s house, I started to cry and could not stop. I heard everyone criticizing me for being unconcerned about my father’s sufferings. They also wanted me to hand over the secrets of my research to a family who was working for the Chinese Communist Party. Because I could not stop crying, the family gathering broke up, and I was left at my cousin’s house. A doctor came and gave me an injection, and in my mind I believed the injection caused me to communicate with the FBI. I couldn’t sleep for two nights and I continuously heard my family members pressuring me for the secrets of my research, even though they were not in my presence.
Because I was afraid my family was going to harm me, I sneaked away early one morning. Later I was found at a post office, meddling with some typewriters. Some medics came and took me in an ambulance to the state hospital. Finally, I was in a mental hospital where I would get some help.
Out of Touch
My mental state involved feelings of espionage. People were trying to get a family secret from me which was important for world peace. Three groups were contesting for the secret—the U.S., the Communists, and the United Nations. To indicate my preference for each group, I had to dress in blue for the U.S., red for the Communists, and green for the United Nations. The side of the corridor I walked on also showed preference.
The meals I ate each day had meanings too. Breakfast meant to “break fast.” I needed to eat something to indicate what group I wanted to “break fast” from. Lunch meant “to launch.” I had to eat something to say what I wanted to go for. Dinner meant “crazy for”’(in Cantonese “din” meant crazy). I then had to eat something to show which group I wanted to give the secret to. My thoughts and activities were so occupied with all the dress code and meals that I found it miserable to get up in the morning. Deep in me, I knew I had no “family secret” to tell anyone. I was very frightened.
The hospital tried many different medications on me, all of which I had some reaction to. I suspected they were trying to poison me. When my father came to visit me from Hong Kong about a month after I was hospitalized, I thought he had come to pressure me not to tell the secret. I met my father in the social worker’s office. I walked toward where he sat and bent and hugged him tight. He only stiffened and would not touch me in return. My heart froze and the thought “He doesn’t love me but just came to stop me from telling the secret” was like a knife thrust deep into my heart. From then on, I lost hope for my father’s love.
Released in Mind and Body
Over time while I was at the hospital I grew tired of struggling with dress and meal codes, thinking that the worst thing that could happen was they might put me to death. The voices projected from the TV in my mind about my espionage news gradually faded. Since my father was here, and the hospital had found a reasonably right medication for me, I was released. Father found an apartment for us close to my cousin’s house and stayed to take care of me. I found a job as clinical microbiologist and worked for six months before I got my U.S. residency. Father then took me back to Hong Kong as I requested.
My time in Hong Kong was pleasant. I taught in a non-credited college for three years. My grandmother, who loved me above all her other grandchildren, passed away in 1975, and I decided to return to the U.S. as I found it difficult to live with my step-mother. The college where I was teaching had also closed the Science Faculty, and I did not want to teach in the high school annexed to the college.
A New Twist to Mental Health
Being in my early thirties, I thought of marriage and raising a family. With the medication prescribed by a psychiatrist in Hong Kong, I was emotionally stable. However, my family and I would not accept the diagnosis of schizophrenia and that I must take medication the rest of my life. Without consulting a psychiatrist, I stopped taking my medication, and within a month, I had relapsed and had to be hospitalized again.
A close friend told my father that it would be to my advantage to have a religion. Being a fervent Buddhist, my father sent me books on Buddhism which I read and discussed with him. He always said that I did not get the essence. I was growing tired of this material when I came across some Christian booklets from which I got the idea that Jesus Christ could help and heal me. Maybe because when I was a child I had gone to Christian schools, I readily accepted this thought and started to pray to Jesus for help. As I prayed, I began to find peace. I took Jesus as my Friend, and told Him all my thoughts.
About this time I began to read a lot of Christian inspirational books, especially some by a Christian psychiatrist, Paul Tournier. In my readings, I discovered that my upbringing in an old-fashioned, conservative, and superstitious extended Chinese family had a lot to do with my illness. I had a lot of hatred and guilt because my mother passed away on my eighth birthday. Many family members considered me a “jinx” and often openly told me so. Also, without a mother in an extended family, I was unprotected from much of the criticism and gossip. As I began to realize the place my upbringing played in my emotional health, I was bitter and felt intense pain. I told Jesus the way I felt, and through my prayers and reading He exhorted me to ask for forgiveness and to forgive. I readily sent letters to people asking for forgiveness, but only one person replied.
It was very difficult for me to forgive. For a long time the past came back to me like the evening tides. The pain was intense and I could not rest. I kept crying to Jesus for help. He kept reminding me of His death on the cross for sins He had not committed. My sins and the sins of those who hurt me were included. Finally, I yielded and told Him that I was willing to try but He had to help me. When memories of the past recurred, I hung to Jesus’ promise. Gradually I was able to face the past with peace.
Blessings and Brain Vitamins
A wonderful blessing happened after I found peace in forgiveness. In the past I would wake up in the morning, feeling like a heavy piece of lead was sitting on my heart, and I could not lift myself out of bed. I would curl into a fetal position and pray for help to get up. When I finally got up, I would feel I had to go somewhere, but not knowing where I wanted to go. I easily lost my concentration and memory. The worst was that I had tremendous fear within me. Each day I would look forward to the night when I could go to sleep and escape from the consciousness of all the side effects. With peace, the side effects I had experienced for so long subsided.
As I began to experience better health, I wanted to be independent and self-supporting. Because I had been away from my field of work for a few years, it was difficult to find a job. Some relatives and friends, when they knew that I was looking for job in my field, said to me, “Katherine, be realistic, since you have had two relapses (I had a relapse because of an unsuccessful change of medication.), you should know that you cannot use your brain for the kind of job you want. Find a job in the grocery store where it is not so demanding for your brain, or find a house working job and save up for your old age!” I could not agree with this advice; I believed I could regain my brain power.
At first I found an entry level job in a biotech company making media and reagents. I then got laid-off because of lack of funds. With prayers from fellow church members and myself, within three months, I found another job with higher pay and a better position. Later, the same thing happened again, until ultimately I found a job where I worked as a research associate for more than nine years before I retired to write my story.
When I asked my last supervisor for an endorsement for the book I was writing, he was surprised. For all the nine years I had worked for him, he said he never suspected that I had a mental problem. In fact, many people have told me that they never could tell that I had psychiatric problems. Even my psychiatrist said that he could not claim any credit for my well-being. It is a miracle to him. I can only thank Jesus Christ for everything.
Today I accept the diagnosis that I am schizophrenic and will have to be on medication all my life. Jesus has chosen to heal me using medication. Like what my psychiatrist in Hong Kong said, my medication is my brain vitamins. I have to take it daily. I’m also following what a pastor advised, “Trust Jesus, and leave the consequences to Him.” I am trusting in Jesus’ healing power, and I’m grateful for the independent life I am able to live.