Many kinds of mental illness are poorly understood, and schizophrenia is certainly no exception, at least in popular media.
Here are some people who have experience with the condition sharing the moment they realized something was up.
Many thanks to the Reddit user who posed this question and to those who responded. You can check out more answers from the source at the end of this article!
1/10. I would have full blown conversations with imaginary people, and only after moving one of my limbs (I had been frozen in a position) did the "spell" of the hallucination break. Those people I was talking to were very, very real to me, I did not only hallucinate their voices and a vague sense of their physical form, but their history, their personality. It got so that whenever I conversed with someone, I constantly needed to check my body position to make sure that I was grounded in reality. It got so that I would speak aloud to respond to a person (in a bank, say) and find the hallucination dispelled and people staring at me. That is when I knew I was not like others.
The hardest part of the hallucination is when it breaks, and I cannot understand how my own mind weaved the context of this encounter with such realism... that I had been speaking to a person I had known my entire life, and yet I had hallucinated him for the first time for only the span of a minute.
What IS reality, why are you more real than this person I speak to in my mind? For the moment I speak to these figments, they are just as real as you or I. Part of my battle with schizophrenia has been coming to term with the fact that these ARE figments, it is so very hard and dispiriting to have to tell yourself that you cannot be trusted. I do not want any of this, I wish I were not this way.
2/10. For me it started by hearing my dad calling me from the living room when he wasn't home.
It wasn't that bad at first, I would hear other people talking in another room, or as I said, hearing my dad or someone call me from the living room when I was alone. I thought it was weird, but didn't really think much of it at the time. Eventually I was almost always hearing people around me talking, and I thought they were talking about me, saying nasty things about me.
At its worst I heard almost demonic voices telling me things like everyone hates me, I might as well die and give them what they want. Or encouraging me to hurt other people before they hurt me.
I was already diagnosed with another mental condition so my parents had contact with a therapist when I started lashing out. I was telling people to shut up when there was total silence or threatening people with violence for things they never said, so they got me in to see her.
I was diagnosed after a while, got medication and therapy, and got on the road to recovery. Now I am medication free, still hear voices, but not as frequently and no longer scary demonic stuff. And now that I know what it is it's easier to tune it out.
Also useful when other people are actually talking about me. I just say, "Schizo must be acting up randomly." and shrug it off.
3/10. It started to show up when I was 12-13.
It didn't show up as hallucinations at first - mostly long and awful bouts of paranoia and anxiety. The first auditory symptom was that I would hear music that wasn't playing. I didn't think much of it, until I yelled at my sister to turn it off and she exchanged a look with my mother. I heard people call my name, or shout other commands like "come here" or "stop that" most often near the beginning.
4/10. My mother went undiagnosed until she was in her 30's -- everyone just said she was "crazy" sometimes, but no one was around her enough to really grasp the depth of it. Other than me. She had a couple friends, but the rest of the family lived in another state and never visited much. Her relationships never lasted long, until she met my belated step-dad (who I called my dad). Unfortunately, he too was frequently away on business trips -- though, eventually, she had an "episode" so bad while he was home that he was the one to get her to the doctors enough to demand a diagnosis.
Despite all this, like I said, I was around her all the time, and was always around for the symptoms.
She had me when she was 24, while in the army, and was discharged at age 29 after being admitted into a mental facility for doing something insane involving a higher-ranking guy (she never told me what that was exactly; I wondered sometimes if she could remember what it was). While she was in the army, I lived with my grandparents.
Some of my earliest memories involve her sending me letters ... I learned to read when I was 3, so I'd read them aloud to my grandma. Most of them would make sense, but a few times, they were worded in a way that didn't make sense, and my grandmother would snatch the letter away and try to tell me what my mother MEANT to say.
For my 4th birthday, she sent me a doll with a note telling me to hide it where no one could find it. I only remember that because I kept the note for years afterward.
When she got back, she took custody and got a job.
Most of the time when I was a kid, she'd be totally normal (despite a drinking problem -- but the things she said and did would make sequential/logical sense). But once in a while, she'd scream at me for making too much noise, or freak out at me for misplacing things "on purpose" (even just moments after I would watch her move the "misplaced" items) -- usually silverware, shoes, toiletries ... Mundane things. But she became increasingly paranoid about things not being in their "proper places", due to imagining me moving them about the house for no reason.
I knew this wasn't normal b/c my grandparents and teachers didn't do these things ... It's just that I was a little kid, and no one listened to me when I mentioned the problems. My grandparents, aunt & uncle would just try to change the subject, to sweep it under the rug.
That was mostly it for the paranoid schizophrenia when I was a kid -- there were solitary occurrences where strange stuff would happen, like when I once found her laying on the floor, kicking a wall, because she was "trying to get away" (no explanation). But those may have been drug-related. She didn't do hard drugs until I was 10+, not that I knew of, but it's possible she did them on the sly.
Then when I was around ... 11-12, I think, she went into liver failure from Hepatitis C. The liver failure caused hepatic encephalopathy (basically ... "poison" in the brain).
She recovered from the liver failure, but the paranoid schizophrenic outbursts were MUCH MUCH worse after that. Like, full meltdown insanity, far more often.
For some reason, she always believed I was the aggressor, the one doing things that would frighten/annoy/anger her.
At first, she kept up with simply more-frequent screaming-attacks & groundings, when "I" would "say" awful things (in reality, I was always extremely polite & quiet, for fear of setting her off), or "move things", etc.
After about a year or so, this escalated to slaps, then to throwing things at me, then to full beatings (with fists or heavy objects), then to burning me with cigarettes or scraping me with glass, then to trying to put pills in my drinks (usually vicodin, but sometimes paxil, or, until he caught on and started hiding it, my dad's heart medicine ... I quickly learned not to trust any of the drinks in the house). Finally, when I was 15-16, she began simply strangling me, and slamming my head into things.
All of these abusive outbursts were rooted in her belief that I was trying to say mean things, or make her "go crazy", or hurt her somehow, because she'd imagine it all.
One example: It was summer vacation and I was sleeping late. My dad had dropped off donuts that morning before heading out, but I hadn't been awake for it. He always got powdered lemon-filled for my mother and strawberry-iced or jelly-filled for me.
I was woken up, with my mother's hands around my throat, shaking my head, squeezing as hard as she could, while she screamed that I had eaten HER donuts, the ones dad bought for HER. That I had somehow maliciously snuck into the kitchen to pilfer the donuts SHE liked, that I didn't know were there, while I was asleep ... and this grievance was somehow bad enough to warrant death by vice-grip.
The kicker? She had a bit of powdered sugar on the side of her lip. I'm 30 and I still can't forget that image.
She was diagnosed when I was about 13 or 14, but we hit hard times shortly after, and couldn't afford insurance. So no medication. No counseling. No relief.
Paranoid schizophrenia ruined my childhood, and I'm scared that I somehow inherited it. Every unexpected sound makes me so frightened that I could become my mother. It's horrible.
5/10. A good friend and ex, whom I've known for 12 years, started showing signs in the 3rd year of our relationship.
He started obsessing over certain topics, getting distracted really easily and talking about "visions in dreams" that he had. By the time I finally got him to see a doctor he was fairly sick. He thought he saw a comet that hung in the sky for 10 minutes (I was standing right beside him and there wasn't one) and he thought I had wings for a whole week. He doesn't hear voices and is classified as schizo-affective/bipolar sub type.
He is medicated now and does fairly well, works, lives on his own, but I can see in his eyes that it's not him anymore. It's heart breaking.
6/10. It runs in my family. My maternal grandfather is schizophrenic, my mother, and my younger sister.
I don't know about the onset of my grandfather because he left my grandmother when their kids were very young.
My mother started showing symptoms in the lower to mid 20's. She already had my older sister and was pregnant with me. She would retreat into her own world because it was safer there. The people in the radio couldn't get to her.
She wouldn't get out of bed except to use the bathroom and get water for a few days at a time. The worst of that portion was after I was born. My two year old sister had to feed me and take care of me because my dad worked on oil rig supply ships in the gulf of Mexico and was gone for two to three months at a time. He didn't know how bad it was until the neighbors told him that they were helping to take care of us, and they would see my sister bathing us in the overflowing gutters during rain storms.
My dad got a job in another state so he could be home every night, to take care of all of us. She was in and out of the mental hospital (as a young child, I was only excited about the frozen orange juice when visiting), claiming the orderlies were trying to kill the patients at night. When my little sister was two, my mom left for California (we lived in Virginia). No warning, just decided she didn't want a family; my dad fulfilled his role by bringing her to America (she is from the Philippines, where my dad met her) and introducing the idea of a government that will take care of those who won't take care of themselves.
She still has episodes when she doesn't take her medicine. Last time I saw her, she was spraying bleach on everything in the house to kill the large black beetles that weren't there, cut my face out of the few photos she took with her and claimed that I wasn't her daughter; I was an imposter that shared the same name. She held conversations with herself (usually full fledged arguments), but I could only hear one side of it because she was looking and talking to the air.
My sister started showing signs at 18. She was getting too caught up in conspiracy theories and the end of the world. The look in her eyes was the most haunting part. She doesn't grasp the concept of consequences like she used to, and doesn't care. She called us from jail one time and said she's bored with it, can someone come pick her up. She is in LA last we heard. We can't take her in because she is too destructive. She will have a conversation with herself about how pretty flames are, or get mad at an inanimate object and start swinging an axe at the walls.
I hate schizophrenia.
7/10. I think it started well before I realized it was there, but the first time I realized there was a problem was when I felt like I was listening to someone else's thoughts. It was like the voice inside my head was not mine - like I wasn't in control of my own thoughts. Hard to describe.
8/10. It started for me when I was 23ish. I was really stressed and started getting really paranoid and couldn't sleep and was ultra-anxious and it was just what you've read in this thread already, the self-depreciating voices.
I think at its "scariest" I had actually thought I was possessed by someone else because the voice was as clear as day and I could have conversations with it in my head. It knew stuff I didn't know and it was giving me a message. He said his name was Elon or something close to that.
Recently they've been mellow. I just went through an episode of slight visual and auditory hallucinations. The visual ones aren't that bad but the audio ones are pretty trippy because they can be pretty clear and convincing until you pinpoint the source and realize there's nothing there.
For me, external noises would always provoke it. So if the dryer was on it sounded like my sister was playing music loudly in the next room. If the vent in my bathroom was on, it would sound like my parents were playing a vintage radio stream from their room.
9/10. I started seeing cracks in things out of the corner of my eyes. or hear people talking in a distant room.
10/10. My first signs were where I would hear people calling my name in the distance, even though no one is around. Then came the bugs, I would see giant black flies and beetles.
Soon I found myself becoming intrigued with a number for no particular reason.
It's true what they say about not knowing something's up until a psychiatrist tells you so. As of right now I'm on medication and seeing a therapist in order to deal with the stress that comes with it.