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My husband and I have been doing a lot of visiting this holiday season (and will continue to do so until after the New Year). I thought staying in other people’s homes, and completely disrupting my routine would cause me to experience more symptoms than usual, but actually I haven’t. In fact, the reverse is true.

I think the reason I have been doing so well is that all the people we have been visiting with have known me since I was young, and before the onset of schizophrenia. I think this says a lot about support networks, familiarity and expectations.

I think most studies show that the treatment outcomes are the best for those people who are a part of a community. This would certainly prove true over the past week for me. Being around people that have known me almost my whole life, reminiscing with those people about shared memories, listening to them tell stories about things they have done since the last time I saw them, and having them expect me to help with grocery shopping, meal preparation, dishes, etc. has helped me to put my illness on the back burner somewhere and only think about it when it is time for medication, or in private conversations about the book I wrote (which has to do with living with schizophrenia).

I think being outside of my own head and having to concentrate on other people (what they are saying, what they are doing, and what they need, want, etc.) is good for me. I wouldn’t say that just being busy and being with people would always do me good though. I think the ingredient of trust and familiarity that I have with these people makes this such a winning combination.

At home, I give in to my desire to isolate socially, and to the symptoms round a lack of motivation. During this holiday season, I can’t isolate socially because people are always around, and not only do I want to visit with them, I am expected to visit with them. And not only do I want to contribute and make people’s lives easier, I am expected to contribute.

Because I have some insight into my condition and into social situations (not all people with schizophrenia do, and I lack that insight when psychotic) I am able to understand the expectations that others have of me, and to respond to those expectations in order to avoid negative social consequences like people thinking I am lazy, rude, inconsiderate, etc.

Experiencing those social expectations in an environment where I am safe has turned out to be positive – it keeps me engaged and it keeps me contributing to the community.

It is impossible for me to be around the people I have visited all year long, because our lives have taken all of us to different cities and in different directions, but if I was going to give advice to someone recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, I would say, surround yourself with people you can trust and people who knew you before your illness set in – those people will have ways of bringing you outside of your mind (great for those of us with a mental illness), they will have stories that can make you remember who and how you were, they will expect things of you that may help you to function at a higher level.

It is possible that these benefits will only last a short period of time and if I were around the same people all year, I would isolate myself, spend most of the time in my own mind, and lose my motivation for helping to do daily chores. I don’t know. I do know I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

I have been a part of something larger than me. I have been a part of the lives of so many. It may be short lived, but I feel an increased level of hope for my today and my tomorrows. Hope is the gift I have received this holiday season and it wasn’t on my list. If it isn’t on your list, I hope you are surprised by its arrival like I was. I hope hope visits you as well.