We talk to a lot of users with interesting stories. Most of them have at least one thing in common - they use Polar in their own unique way. However, when we chatted with Liz, we had to stop for a moment and let it sink in. His story is one of constant struggle, yet one that shows the full potential of us as humans. Liz was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when he was 26. While enduring this, he remained a college student in Richmond, VA, and is currently getting his MA in theology and wants to continue with a PhD after that. His story is one of an avid read, continuous learner, and ceaseless fighter.
Q: Tell us about how it all started.
A: Around 3 years ago, I was watching the show “Channel Zero” and that particular season was about a person getting schizophrenia at 26. I was already misdiagnosed with depression and then bipolar disease and this show made me stop and think. When seeing my doctor the next time, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Some of the most common symptoms are hearing voices; it’s very hard not to talk back. My brain goes to weirder places where I hear something that isn’t actually happening; I feel paranoid. For example, I will hear a machine gun fire outside but in reality, there is nothing there. My brain habitually interprets sound incorrectly which could lead to some issues, like sometimes, I will think someone is there to attack me. Also, I display obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) sometimes, and feel dissociated from my body or not like a human. And I constantly think of conspiracy theories.
Q: Wow, that seems like a lot to handle. So how do you manage learning with this disability?
A: It takes a lot of conscious rationality. I get distracted very easily and get random thoughts frequently so I have to refocus and bring myself back. And I am aware that my judgments have a high chance of making misguided judgements; so, I am very skeptical and rethink stuff multiple times. I constantly question myself “is this real” and always doubt my answers. Interestingly enough, I was going to the seminary when my symptoms started. At some point I read in a book that attending seminary is a common activity for patients with schizophrenia. This activity has also helped me cope with it better.
Q: How has this affected your reading abilities? What tools have you used to help with your learning?
A: As symptoms got worse, it became hard to read linearly. My eyes would jump everywhere and I would wear myself out really quickly. Now, I can only read 20-25 minutes and then I have to take a break. I use Polar because it gives me tools to organize my learning better. For example, I use all kinds of pagemarks to track my reading thoroughly. In addition, I sometimes use tools that only show very few words on a screen so I can stay focused longer. Audio books have also been helpful because I can’t read ahead. Text to speech is helpful. For absorbing formulas or arguments, I use Anki flashcard software. Lastly, spaced repetition has been extremely helpful in retaining information. So, I’ve basically changed how I read. I take medication to suppress the inner voice before I read. However, this has also made it more difficult to understand my inner thoughts while reading. Polar specifically has been the most useful for me. I have not found anything quite like it for my specific situation. I really like the feature where I can create flashcards immediately from highlights. I also highlight chapter headings with specific colors and when I finish that chapter to organize my thoughts and put keynotes on the chapter headings and convert them into flashcards. For books, I need to know the information in depth and Polar organizes all the comments I made in there which makes it more structured. Also, I developed a highlighting scheme to organize my readings.
Q: That’s interesting. Lastly, do you have any message for others with learning disabilities?
A: People tend to think that disabilities will always hold you back but I have learned that you can choose how the disability affects your life. You can either let it consume you or take control of it. I chose to take control of it and not let it be such a hindrance in my life. Technology is allowing us to supplement learning in really helpful ways and it’s really exciting to find creative solutions for me specifically. With Polar and other tools, I have been able to create ways to make learning easier. You can learn and study just as much as anyone else. I think disabilities are not as much an impediment as everyone thinks. So, my advice would be to not set your expectations of your abilities so low but instead always find ways that make your life easier.