Bethany Yeiser, BS
CURESZ Foundation President

Schizophrenia and Anniversaries

Anniversaries are important. They present an opportunity to look back on life, see how far we have come, and apply the things we learned from our past experiences to our present life. Certainly, many people observe anniversaries of one sort or another, whether they be weddings, time spent working at jobs, or other major life events.

This spring of 2023, on March 3rd, I celebrated an unusual but life-changing 20-year anniversary. Namely, on March 3, 2003, unknowingly ravaged by the onset of schizophrenia, I officially dropped out of the university I had worked most diligently to attend and became homeless in the Los Angeles area. My delusional and homeless state would last exactly four years.

Every year when I was homeless, I recognized March 3rd as a marker of time passing, and reflected on my life. In my delusional state, I was convinced that my time spent in homelessness would someday make me a celebrity. I was unaware of how common it is for formerly successful people who develop schizophrenia to become chronically homeless, unable to work, and many of them, like me, spend months or years living outside.

While developing schizophrenia, I became obsessed with travel. In winter of 2001, I traveled to China. In 2002, I went to Africa for the summer. On my return from Africa, in the fall of 2002, even though I was failing my college classes, I spent time planning a trip to Thailand at Christmas.

In Thailand, I was entirely overtaken by psychosis, though I was unaware. I was speaking too fast, slightly agitated, and rude to my host family. I preferred to stay back at their house instead of attending parties and events with their friends.

Following my Thailand trip, and unable to face the fact that school was no longer working out, I planned an escape to Saudi Arabia. In hindsight, I see that my expectations of having a productive, safe trip in Saudi Arabia where I would be welcome and could integrate into the community (as an American, single woman) were ridiculous, and in fact delusions (fixed false beliefs).

On March 3rd of 2003, I did not have enough money to fly to the Middle East, but I went to a travel agency anyway, where I obtained a tentative reservation to Cairo, Egypt through Boston. Then, I flew to Boston, alone, expecting to meet a person at the airport who knew I was coming through his dream. I believed this person would fund my trip to Saudi Arabia through Cairo, so I could become an internationally recognized philanthropist. No one came.

On my return to Los Angeles, the university library soon became my last resort, and I would be in the library often during the nights during my first three years homeless. I spent the last year living outside.

Looking back on my life, I am amazed at the power of delusions. The symptoms I experienced caused me to separate from college, friends, family, and all my resources, including my hopes and dreams. My inability to study or work was rooted in a neuropsychiatric illness. Incapable of focusing enough to work the easiest job, I preferred to sit in parks alone and stare into the distance. Though I had an able body, I had a broken mind. Twenty years ago, I became homeless as a result of untreated schizophrenia.

I also remember March 3, 2007 (remarkably the same month and day of becoming homeless four years before) when I was apprehended by police for erratic behavior. Due to screaming back at voices in my mind, I was taken to a psychiatric hospital, where I would begin treatment for my schizophrenia. In the hospital, I would reunite with my parents and would start a new life on medication, never to be homeless again.

Today, I live in Cincinnati, as I mark the anniversary of March 3, 2023. For nearly fifteen years, I have been fully recovered from schizophrenia. I often volunteer with the chronically homeless community in the downtown, and see that many of them seem to be in the same mental state that I was while homeless– confused, unable to work, possibly suffering from hallucinations and delusions. I am passionate about their plight. Though I never used drugs, the vast majority of the chronically homeless do, which can complicate the treatment and recovery process on a different level.

There is a great need for medication, therapy and the supportive housing with services that these desperate homeless people need to rebuild their lives. And the irony is that many of them do not want help. This is how I felt when I was at my sickest. However, once they take medication and engage in supported housing, and experience a level of recovery that gains insight and health, many may eventually ask the question, why was I not helped sooner? Why didn’t anyone care? I sometimes ask these same questions about my own homelessness.

Today, as an advocate, I regularly interact with individuals with schizophrenia and families. In many cases, the loved one with schizophrenia is unaware of the depth of their illness, and the relatives worry they will soon run away and may become homeless as I did.

Today, in recovery, I celebrate my March 3rd anniversary every day by encouraging others with schizophrenia to press onward toward their highest possible level of recovery. I have had the privilege of regularly presenting my story for university classes, conferences, hospitals, and meetings since the publication of my memoir Mind Estranged in 2014.

Today, I am not a celebrity. But the third day in March will always be important to me. The events of my life on that date have come together to fashion me into the person I am today. The gift I give myself on this 20-year anniversary is a time to pause and reflect on my journey out of schizophrenia and homelessness, and the professional standing I have as a mental health advocate specializing in schizophrenia. This gift of thoughtful reflection always brings me to the point of profound thankfulness for my antipsychotic medication and my physicians.

I wonder what I will reflect upon in upcoming anniversaries, such as at the twenty-five or thirty-year mark.

Today, I am honored to serve as the President of the CURESZ Foundation. I am proud of the services we provide including our caregivers’ mentoring program, CURESZ on Campus clubs, Ask the Doctor events, and monthly Advisory Council meetings.

I am grateful for the life altering treatment I have accessed since my diagnosis in 2007. Today, I remember the root problem of my homelessness was not a choice, but a biological brain illness, which has been healed through treatment.