How Schizophrenia Manifests Itself in Work

Michael Hedrick
January 20, 2016  | Last Updated: January 19, 2016
Scuffed monkey wrench holding a brown egg --- Image by © Serge Kozak/Corbis

For a long time I was incapable of handling stress.

I’ve heard it said that stress is like the light switch for symptoms of schizophrenia and I think for the most part, that’s true.

For years, anytime I even left the house I would get so overwhelmed that I could barely breathe. My mind would be reeling, I’d be having paranoia that people were making fun of me and I’d be making connections that the things I saw had some deeper meaning and that I was essentially in a Truman Show scenario.

It’s not hard to understand that holding down a career was essentially a pipe dream.

Even in days I did freelance stuff for my dad it was hard to even think about getting to the office.

I can remember in the months that followed my breakdown I got a job at a small town newspaper and between hourly cigarette breaks, an intense fear of interviewing people, nightly marijuana consumption and an inability to sit and write more than three hundred words at a time, the job lasted for about three months before I was let go.

I drifted then, unable to even comprehend a pizza delivery job in order to pay my bills. Thankfully my parents had my back and within a year or so I was accepted for Social Security disability.

It’s strange that even the idea of work caused my paranoia and delusions to spark, so it occurred to me that if I was going to be able to find any meaningful work, it had to be low key and something that I could handle. It had to be easy for me to do but it also had to give me a sense of purpose.

I was lost essentially for a few years doing odd jobs for my parents and living off the money the government gave me when in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting I came across an article in the Huffington Post written by a mother who had a son with mental illness. She was saying that she was scared her son could’ve easily been a shooter. To be frank I was livid at the ignorance of this woman who said she could be a caregiver. I wrote a response about the unfair treatment of people with mental illness based on stigma and it got picked up by a small alternative magazine called Death and Taxes. The response was overwhelming and that fueled my hunger for being published.

It occurred to me that this was something I could do, I had an innate and unique perspective on living with mental illness and I could write fairly well, so it only seemed natural. It was low stress in that I could do it on my own time and at my own pace and I could write about what I knew.

Soon I became a regular unpaid contributor for Thought Catalog and wrote every week on the topic.

I’d be lying if I said espousing the numerous mixed up thoughts in my head wasn’t a sort of catharsis.

Several months later I sent a pitch to the editors of and they were interested and the rest is sort of history.

The thing about mental illness though is that it can light a fire in your brain if things get to be too much and to be able to find an easy job that functions as both catharsis and healing is essential for rebuilding any hope of being self-sufficient.

I’m still not entirely there and I still count on the government to help but I’m making the right steps towards being on my own.

Stress is a killer for anyone but even more so for people with mental illness, it can manifest in a variety of symptoms like paranoia or psychosis and someone with mental illness has to be careful and know themselves innately and what them sets them off in considering work.

It can be good to have a sense of purpose though and the key is finding an employer who understands your needs.

For me, freelance writing is the perfect fit, as I’ve built up my credentials it’s become normal and I’m used to doing my work every week.

Most importantly, it’s something I can handle and without that I’d be nowhere. 

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