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Virginia Man Won't Let His Mental Illness Define Him
Date:12/29/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

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 life.

"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 disturbances.

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 field.

"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 job
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