Spreading The Word (My Story/Recovery)

-(Barb Joy of SZ Magazine)

Many people with paranoid schizophrenia are unlikely to talk to others about their illness. Joseph A. Peragine isn’t one of them. In fact, he writes poems about it, sings about it, strums heavily on his guitar about it.

Through his music, the 30-year-old Brick, New Jersey, bachelor portrays what it’s like to spiral into a world full of demons, of conversing with invisible people, of believing he is Jesus, and of wanting to take revenge on those he thought were out to torture or kill him.

Peragine was 14 when he first experienced the symptoms of schizophrenia, an illness that neither he nor his parents knew anything about. Over the following five years he tried fighting off the voices in his head with drugs and self-mutilation- burning, cutting, and hitting himself-but he could best express his true feelings with music and poetry.

“The Acoustic Diaries” is an autobiographical album that calls up visions of unreality through Peragine’s frantic, skillful guitar-strumming and soft singing. A most impressive track in this album is one called “Communication Barrier”, with its female-voiced line “You can’t get through to him.”

“Self-Medication…Poems Of Alienation” is a rhyming soliloquy of hatred for a world that has seemingly set him aside and his desire for revenge and fame by killing himself. The first track is a rather scary rendition of the voices Peragine heard in his head.

However dark these portrayals of schizophrenia might seem to a listener, to Joseph they became a catharsis and a way of coping.

After five years of battling schizophrenia on his own, Joseph’s life took another turn. One night, naked and in the throes of delusions and hallucinations, he was driving the wrong way at full-speed along a busy highway. He hit a car that spun him into trees. Luckily, he escaped with only a broken nose that required stitches and with little injury to the other driver.

Then came a straitjacket and a rubber room in a psychiatric hospital where doctors, assessing him as (having) bipolar, prescribed medication that added 80 pounds to his slim frame. Alarmed at the weight gain, he went off his medication.

“My dad would give me my pills and I’d pretend to swallow them then spit them out when he wasn’t looking,” he says, “At that time, my parents had moved to Cincinnati and I had no choice but to move out to Ohio.”

The voices followed him. Unable to sleep and feeling “very weird,” he finally concluded something was very wrong and sought help. After a diagnostician confirmed he had paranoid schizophrenia, he was referred to a psychologist for weekly visits and monthly ones with a psychiatrist.

As time went by, he learned to trust his psychologist and to realize the past was imaginary and not his fault. Gradually he developed a closeness and fondness for the doctors who had helped him through his crises and was even able to hold down a full-time job as a spray dryer operator.

Today, Joseph knows where his support lies. He has learned to be aware of stress factors that spark delusions and hallucinations. When they hit, he talks to his psychologist and his supportive family to remedy the problems.

“It’s something that I have to be constantly on top of,” he said. “I don’t want to ever be where I was 10 years ago.”

“Keep an open mind”. To Joseph, any hints for improvement from others are something people with paranoid schizophrenia often reject as irrelevant, regarding them as based on ignorance of their own state of mind.

Yet they are at least worth consideration.

“I’m always open and ready to take suggestions, “ he says, “If you have paranoid schizophrenia, your mind is where the problem is. If you’re stuck inside your mind and don’t take any outside suggestions, then you’ll fall inside that delusional spin again.”