Hello. My name is Marc Stolzer. I live with mental illness. I have had mental illness since the 1970s. Specifically, I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is not a split personality, it is simply a biochemical imbalance in the brain. My illness started because of a significant event in my life. In 1976, I was hit by a Cadillac while riding my bicycle with no helmet on. I suffered a depressed skull fracture. I needed two surgeries on my head as a result of this accident. The surgeon had to smooth a hole in my skull, and then later he put a plate in my skull to protect the area. I then went home to be with my parents to recuperate for a while. I then went on to complete my senior year of high school, and then went to college at Penn State University.
It was while I was at college that I started to experience symptoms that I had never experienced before. I had a hard time studying, because I found it very difficult to concentrate. I was also very withdrawn and shy and felt very awkward around people, especially women. I also would get disoriented. There were also a lot of social pressures that I had to deal with while at college. So, in my junior year, I felt I could no longer go on, and decided to drop out of college and go to live for a while with my parents. It was while I was at home, that I was having more problems with concentrating. It became difficult to just engage in a regular conversation with people, because I couldn’t concentrate on what they were saying. I am very certain that I was having all of these problems as a result of the head trauma I had suffered.
These problems went on for weeks and then months, and was made worse because I noticed that it was just me that was having these problems and not other people. My father, in an effort to help me said to “think positive”, but this did very little to really help much. I soon found myself getting very depressed and despairing about all this, and began to think of taking my own life. I had a plan for how to do this. I had read some, being a plant science major, about poisonous plants. I had a while back planted some woodland plants in my parents’ back yard, and had read that the roots of these plants were poisonous, and that you could get seizures and die from eating the root of this plant. So one day, I went into the back yard where the plants were growing, and pulled one up out of the ground and held it to my lips. At the last minute, or second, I could not go through with it. I was afraid of any pain from the seizures that I might experience, and also, I thought of my family. I knew that they would miss me, and I didn’t want my parents to maybe feel guilty all their lives, because they might have felt responsible for having something to do with my suicide. It was at this time, that my father could see that there was something very wrong with me, and he asked me to talk to a psychiatrist in New York City. After speaking with the psychiatrist in his office for about a half hour, he came out and said to my father….”Mr. Stolzer, do you know how desperate your son is right now?”
I was living with such hopelessness and despair, and barely hanging on to life, thinking about ending my life all the time. So then, I was hospitalized for the first time in New York City, and put on psychiatric medications. All in all, I have been hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals about a dozen times. Mental illness can also cause some strange and unusual behaviors.
Many, many years ago, I found myself feeling very, very fearful all the time, and I didn’t quite know why. Also, I felt that I was an evil person, and that God was angry at me, and that he was going to cause to let me die somehow. I didn’t want to die, and after thinking about the situation for a bit, I thought that I would take a trip to Israel, and in Israel there wou ld be a holy place where I could be healed. So one day, I got $1400 out of a drawer where my mother had put this money from my disability payments. She asked me where I was going, and said I was “going out”. And so I drove to Kennedy Airport. I arrived at the terminal and began walking around and worrying “it is so far across the Atlantic Ocean, and where I am I going to stay, and I won’t know anybody there?!”. And so then this man came up to me wandering around and said to me “Sir, can I help you”? I said “yes, I would like to go to Israel”. He said “Well, you need a passport, you need to write away to Trenton, and it takes about two weeks to get it”. I thought “two weeks, I don’t have two weeks, I am going to die, I have to do something now”. So, I got back in my car and started driving home. As I was crossing the Verrazano Narrows bridge, I started to pray to God, and said to Him “God, just to show you that I would do anything to keep my life, and this money that I have means nothing to me…..”. And so, I got out of my car above the bridge and threw the $1400 that I had with me over the side of the bridge as a sort of sacrifice to God. I got back in my car and thought I heard a little voice say to me “Don’t you think God would have been merciful to you anyhow?”. When I got home I had to tell my parents what I had done, and my father was very upset and angry, and so I was taken to the hospital again. Later my father said to me “You know Marc, at first I was angry about the money, but then I realized that the main thing was that you were just OK”. Such is the life someone with schizophrenia.
The next part of my story is called “acceptance”. At this point in my life, I have pretty much accepted the fact that I have a mental illness, and all that it entails…..taking medications and seeing a psychiatrist. I take all my medications, four different kinds without any problems, it is just a regular part of my life now. I find no shame in having a mental illness. I have met many kind people in my travels, and who have accepted me as I am, and have been very supportive of me, and this has helped me a great deal. Some people may not be so accepting when they hear about my condition, but I feel that these people don’t really matter, it would be a waste of energy to be upset about people who might not accept you. I find that people who don’t accept me, has to do with their ignorance about what mental illness really is.
I have not always been so accepting of my condition. In the past, I would look at people on television or my neighbors, and compare myself. They seemed like they didn’t have a care in the world, and I would feel that it was unfair that I had to take meds and go to see a psychiatrist or go to a day program, and these “normal” people did not have to. But with some gentle prodding and advice and encouragement from friends and family, it made it easier for me to start to accept all of this. Sometimes I feel that it is God’s will for my life, and besides, a lot of people have to take psychiatric meds or other kinds of medications, even sometimes the seemingly “normal” ones. I now realize that my life is so much better than it was before…….I have many blessings every day, and maybe the medications have something to do with that.
It helps me to be around other people in the same situation as me, living with mental illness, so that I know that I am not alone.
The next parts of my story are called “treatment” and coping skills” I had been seeing the same psychiatrist for over 20 years. When she relocated, I found a new one, who is also very caring.
I am also in a non-profit, community based organization called “Triple C Housing”, whose mission statement is to improve the lives of mental health consumers. They currently serve about 150 mental health consumers throughout the state, and help them with housing and counseling and living skills.
On the subject of “coping skills” I would say that one is my family. I have a, very supportive family. My friends and co-workers are also a very, very important part of my life, offering support through life challenges. In the past, I can recall a time when I felt that I didn’t have a single friend in all the world, and now I have many, many friends. I think that as life goes on, I appreciate my family more and more.
Other coping skill are my hobbies. I am a big time collector. I collect, seashells, minerals, crystals, fossils, and also antique bottles, and antique scales. I also have at home pre-Columbian pottery, and ancient Chinese pottery, as well as other ancient relics. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was growing up. I also have two 29 gallon aquariums at home with goldfish in them, that I get a lot of pleasure keeping and maintaining. Another important coping skill of mine, and one in which I have always had is my faith in God. I am Judeo-Christian. My faith in God has always been important to me, because through prayer, I felt that I always had someone to talk to even through the darkest times.
Finally, the last part of my story is “successes, hopes and dreams”. I would say that some of my successes are that I have been working at my job full time now for about 24 years. After being on disability benefits for over ten years, I am no longer on the benefits. Also, in 2010, my co-workers nominated me for an excellence award for doing my job well, so I was presented an excellence award in 2010 by the CEO of University Behavioral Healthcare, Christopher Kosseff. Another success I would say, is that I was asked to be on the board of trustees of Triple C Housing for 6 years. Another success would be my public speaking in the NAMI NJ In Our Own Voice program. Throughout the years, I have done about 100 presentations. I never thought I would be a public speaker, I was always shy.
That is all for now. Through the course of my life, I have experienced a lot of pain and times of sorrow, but also a lot of good times, and it is on these that I would choose to think about.
Overall, I would say that it has been worth it. I have done the best that I could.