THURSDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Loren Booda experienced
his first psychotic break when he was 19 years old.
Then a sophomore studying physics at an Ivy League university,
Booda had struggled with feelings of anxiety and depression for
years. He said he'd self-medicated by drinking and smoking
marijuana. But then he tried LSD, and all of the demons that had
been gnawing at his soul for years burst forth and took over his
"The LSD basically brought out all of the symptoms of mental illness that I'd grown accustomed to," said Booda, now 52 and living in Arlington, Va.
He eventually was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, an
illness that combines psychotic symptoms with mood
During that first psychotic break, Booda said, he heard voices
that weren't there and became increasingly paranoid. He also
experienced his first brush with the stigma associated with mental
illness when the school asked him to leave after doctors first
diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic, a diagnosis that others
refined later in his life.
"Once I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, people like that supposedly do not study at an Ivy League school or live on campus or participate in the university," Booda said.
He ended up living a life apart. His parents had enough money
that he didn't have to work, Booda said, so he spent most of his
time working volunteer jobs. He got a bachelor's degree in physics
from George Washington University, but he's never worked in that
"A lot of times I think a volunteer job can be ideal, in that people are able to overlook disabilities," he said.
He volunteered for an energy company, for the Boy Scouts and for
Goodwill Industries. "Finally, for 17 years, I worked at a park and
worked my way up to the point where I could operate the park and
nature area," Booda said.
Booda said he tried to get paying jobs, but his diagnosis often
got in the way. He remembers one boss, who ended up becoming a good
friend, treating him as though he wasn't suitable for the job.
"I worked for him two to six weeks," Booda said. "I was paid at the end of that period, and he said to me, 'Loren, you work better when you're not paid.' What kind of comment is that? It was hurtful."
Booda now works as a call-taker at the National Alliance on
Mental Illness (NAMI), where he started as a volunteer in 1995 and
began being paid for his work in 2003. He receives treatment for
his illness, which includes taking four different medications, he
has a girlfriend and steady work and tends to look on the bright
side when it comes to his condition.
"My illness has given me an opportunity to work in places I might not otherwise have," he said. "I've been with my girlfriend for about nine years. I have two new cats, and they're knocking everything over hither and yon."
"And my work with NAMI -- I relish it," Booda said. "It's like a sustenance. I am making a difference."
A companion article has more on
overcoming the stigma of mental illness.
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