I received my author copies, and I want to pass a couple of them on to you! Like this post and comment for a random chance at winning one of two copies. I will pay for shipping.
I received my author copies, and I want to pass a couple of them on to you! Like this post and comment for a random chance at winning one of two copies. I will pay for shipping.
I need to work on my expectations and taking things personally. I know from years of being on this planet, and hearing the words of some wise people, that making things personal is most often just punishment to yourself. Most things that happen are not personal.
I am in a writing class and on the first meeting when the teacher asked me a question, I told her I have schizophrenia. The whole class heard, and now every time someone doesn’t respond to my homework, or my comments, I think it is because they think I don’t matter because I am just the woman with schizophrenia. Thinking that people’s response, or lack of response, has anything to do with me is self-defeating and ridiculous.
People don’t respond to us because they are busy; they prefer texting, they are shy, don’t want to, don’t need to, are rude, are sick, etc. I could go on with that list for ten more pages, and every excuse for people not responding would be more likely the real reason than it having anything to do with me or my having schizophrenia.
I need to take the advice of some strong women and toughen up buttercup! It is hard to put yourself out there, though and not to receive positive feedback in return – no smiles, no kind words, no words of support – just silence, nothing, nada. It is particularly hard considering the stories/essays/pieces I wrote were deeply personal. I have to remember though, that it is my expectation that people will respond, it isn’t a requirement of them. I need to keep my expectations in check.
I know for some people, especially those of us who have trouble with isolating socially, it would be easier not to take any risks (this is true of everyone not just people with a mental illness). Not taking risks, means you have nothing to lose. But that brings the flip side of that scenario into focus – if you have nothing to lose, you have nothing to gain.
I think it is so important for people (everyone) to push past their comfort zones at least a little bit on a daily or weekly basis. Those of us who are on the road to recovery need to try to push our boundaries, or our boundaries will keep getting smaller and smaller and threatening to choke the life out of us. Most of us need to grow a little more comfortable trying new things and the more things we get comfortable with, the bigger our world gets and that helps with healing.
I know I can’t completely regain all the functioning I had five years ago (an office job, lots of travel, very social, etc.). But I can work to regain some things and maybe even add some that I didn’t have before. To do that, though I will need to keep taking risks, lower my expectations and not take things personally! It can be done; I know it can. The only thing holding me back is fear and myself. Everyone with schizophrenia has dealt with fear; we are experts at it – this should be one we can easily conquer.
I know I wrote about identity recently; introducing and thinking of myself first and foremost as someone who lives with schizophrenia. I’ve thought more about it, and I discovered that the more I concentrate on developing a routine that includes journaling, sketching, blog posts, mini-essays for social media, and a few projects I am working on with other writers, the less I identify as someone with schizophrenia.
I have to say that I honestly think giving people with a brain illness something meaningful to do is an important part of helping them to live a fulfilling life. The more things I add to my schedule (like writing a blog post, or writing a poem, or sketching a picture, or taking a walk) the happier I am. At night before bed, I fill out a journal called, “Every Day is Epic” and I have found that the more productive I was during the day the higher I score my overall day on the “Epic Meter.”
I know that I can’t go back to working a forty hour a week job, and I am not having any luck finding a part-time job that I think would be a good fit for me. So, I have come up with some book ideas (to co-author with other writers), and I think that the book ideas (projects) are a good way to use my time, talents, and produce some income. I haven’t been successful at working on the projects for a set amount of time every day, but I am trying to work up to that.
No one taught me how to live a fulfilling life while managing the symptoms of schizophrenia. I have had to forge a path of my own making, and I think I am getting increasingly better at it. I am sure that therapists and counselors, and psychiatrists know that it isn’t healthy to think of your illness as who or what you are.
I am sure professionals also know that having meaningful tasks to do make a person happier, but they don’t usually spend enough time with patients or clients to discover how to implement those things into real life. Also, they may not be aware that someone thinks of themselves first as someone with schizophrenia before they think of themselves as say, a writer, teacher, painter, baker, cook, artist, quilter, knitter, etc. Also, they may focus on if someone is hearing voices or not, and not how that person is spending their days (like are they sitting around in a room all day with no one to talk to and no meaningful tasks to accomplish).
My goals are to write for two to five hours a day. I don’t know if I can do that, but I feel like it is possible and I am going to shoot for it (maybe starting with a half hour, or an hour at a time). Spending five hours a day at something may not sound like a lot to many people. It would be a huge accomplishment for me, though, and every minute I am writing, I am identifying not as someone with schizophrenia, but as a writer, or an artist or a business partner (with the co-authors of the projects).
I am working my way toward recovery one day at a time, and I think I am discovering some life-changing treasures along the way. I hope we can share the riches together and all live more productive, fulfilling, and meaningful lives.
Many people with schizophrenia claim they are in recovery. I don’t know what recovery means because my illness can be gone for a few minutes, a few hours, but never a whole day.
Schizophrenia is like a body part. For example a finger, you aren’t always aware of its existence until it aches and then you are hyper-aware that it is a part of you and that something is wrong with it.
I could spend all day trying to come up with sentences, similes or metaphors for what it is like to live with schizophrenia, but in the end, you would simply get a flash of it, a small sense of it, a bit of understanding. That is why I have over four hundred essays on this blog, and I am still able to write about things relating to schizophrenia and mental illness. Although it isn’t all of me, schizophrenia is a large part of my experience and how I approach, interact, and exist in the world.
I frequently say, all the things that define me are many, wife, sister, daughter, friend, etc. but the whole truth is that schizophrenia belongs in there, too. Because as much as I am all of those things, schizophrenia clouds, and impacts each one of them. I am a sister a certain way because of my illness. I am a friend who cancels many dates because of my illness. My husband lives with symptoms I have every day. He talks to me when I am paranoid. He tries to calm me when I am overwhelmed by anxiety. He helps me monitor my medications, and he attends my doctor’s appointments with me.
I had my first psychotic episode at approximately twenty-eight. I remember what I was like, what life was like before schizophrenia. I find that truth to be surreal – something that is so much a part of my everyday existence, so much of how I see the world is not always how it was for me. I was a different woman before I became ill. I understand parent’s grief when their successful, athletic, happy, academically gifted (or whatever else) child all of a sudden turns into a different person. I understand their grief and their panic. In the first few months after their child is first diagnosed it may seem like that child will never take a shower again, or meet friends for coffee, or read a book.
The good news is there are many excellent medications out there, and if someone can keep from having episodes, they may be able to function at the level they did before the illness. I know during most of my thirties I worked a full-time job, volunteered on boards, had a wide network of friends, took classes, traveled, and was married. I lived a full life. Unfortunately, my doctor took me off medication, and the results were disastrous. I was psychotic for over six months, and I never regained that high level of functioning. It is unclear if that long period of psychosis is what “damaged” my brain or if it is just the progression of the illness. The symptoms of schizophrenia change as people get older, so it is possible my illness is different in my fifties than it was in my thirties. I’ll never know the answers; I can only speculate.
Even though I never live a day without being aware that I have schizophrenia, and one symptom or another is almost always my constant companion, it isn’t as if my life is less valuable or less meaningful. I often think mothers and fathers have built-in meaning in their lives, but for those of us who are not parents, we must sometimes search for meaning. For me, my life’s meaning has changed with each decade.
I am currently working on increasing my writing and advocacy about life with schizophrenia, or a severe mental illness. The more voices like mine that get out there that people can relate to, the more humanized the severely mentally ill will become. If only five people read this blog (and other work I have coming) and those five people change the way they feel about schizophrenia or feel like they have a different understanding of people with the illness, then that is five more people who can tell five more people, and on and on and on.
I think that is how the world gets changed, and although I’m not suffering from feelings of grandeur, I do think I am doing my small part to change the perception of a feared, stereotyped, and misunderstood illness. I would say that everything happens for a reason, but truthfully, I don’t believe that at all. I believe we do the best with what life gives us, and life gave me schizophrenia, so I do the best I can living every day with that.
I have a new essay, Bright Lights and Dark Corners: Images and Words. It is an interview with the artist, Richard McLean. Richard is a writer and visual artist. He also happens to suffer from schizophrenia. I think you will enjoy his work.
It is common for people to have their first episode of depression, mania, psychosis, etc. in late adolescence up to the time when they are in their early thirties. I think I suffered from depression many times through my teenage years and my twenties, but I didn’t experience psychosis until I was twenty-eight.
What does it mean for people who are going along with life and then suddenly (it probably isn’t sudden, but it feels like it) discover they have a mental illness?
Not only do you have to adapt to the illness, the medications, and the symptoms, but for many of us, we have to mourn our former selves.
I have shared the story of writing poetry in my early twenties and starting to get published and then going on medication that made it impossible to write. I mourned the loss of my budding writing career for over twenty years. There are times when I still mourn for the young woman who was incredibly fashion forward (I can’t be bothered with fashion now). I mourn the loss of the young woman that would hop on a plane, and go cross country to see a friend, or visit a city (I am far too cautious and fearful to do that now). I mourn the loss of the young woman that could do almost any job she tried and did it well. I mourn the loss of the young woman that talked to strangers and never feared the outcome. I mourn the loss of the young woman with an active social life.
As heartbreaking as the interruption in my writing career was, I think the hardest part to handle is the loss of the trust I once had in my mind. Because mental illness rarely occurs in very young children, most of us with a severe mental illness can remember what it was like not to think about the possibility of depression, or mania, or psychosis.
Before I became ill, I charged through life in every direction leaving quite a few regrets in my wake, but the point is, I didn’t fear losing touch with reality. Now, I know that is a possibility, and I don’t charge forward at all – I proceed as if a caution sign was above my head in regards to even the smallest of challenges, opportunities, or desires.
These are all things to consider when dealing with someone who is newly diagnosed. They have to adjust to so much more than you can imagine. It isn’t simple. It isn’t easy to change your life in one day. It can take a long time to recover from a first episode because it isn’t just accepting that you have a mental illness. There is also the grief, loss of trust in one’s mind, relying on medications, side effects, etc. and all of these things can play a part in disrupting the road to recovery.
I feel like I was a shadow of my former self for all those years that I was silent about my illness and the battles my husband and I had to go through. I feel like not talking about my experiences hindered my progress and growth (and I don’t mean telling the whole world, I mean telling a therapist or friends and family).
It has taken me over twenty years to integrate my personal and public life, and I think that has been a blockage in my self-confidence, the recovery of my writing, my self-esteem, and parts of my recovery.
I can’t change the fact that I have symptoms daily. I can work on feeling good about myself, though. I am trying to retrain myself by attending school and writing almost every day. Working toward a career that I think I can manage with or without symptoms- something I can be successful at that increases my self-worth instead of beats against it every day.
Just so you know, there is more to being successful at living with a mental illness than just managing symptoms – that is a huge part, but not the whole story.
anxiety, bipolar, Blogging, blogs, companions, crisis, depression, dogs, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, posts, Psych Central, recovery, schizophrenia, self esteem, service animals, writing
Here is a blog post I wrote for Psych Central this morning. It is about the issue of companion dogs – how they aren’t for everyone. If you are considering a dog, or even if you have one, pop over and see what you think. It is here.
Here is an article I wrote last week about 5 ways to recover your self esteem after a mental health crisis. I think it is helpful. What do you think? You can find it here.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
community, creative nonfiction, family, guatemala, hope, inspiration, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, network, one dollar a day, poor, poverty, psychiatry, psychology, recovery, schizophrenia, writing
Yesterday afternoon my husband and I watched the documentary: Living on one Dollar. I was so moved by the film, I cried almost the whole way through it. The film is about a group of four college students who go to a very poor village in Guatemala and try to live on one dollar a day. They set up guidelines on how they will do this to best duplicate how the local people do it. For example, every day they pull a number between zero and nine out of a container and that is how much money they have for that day – this was supposed to replicate the villager’s day labor jobs that were not guaranteed and for which they never knew how much they would be paid.
What captured my heart about the film was there was often not enough for children to eat, and the villager’s explained that when children don’t eat enough they don’t grow. There was rarely enough money for emergencies in fact one family had to borrow the money from another family in order to save the mother of the family’s life – there simply wasn’t enough money to get her to a doctor or to pay for the medicine she needed.
One woman, Rosa, said she dreamed of becoming a nurse but had to drop out of school after sixth grade because her family couldn’t afford both food and education. This is a common scenario.
The people were so fun loving, and generous though. They shared in their community and they shared with the film makers. They were amazing in their ability to have so little but give so much.
The fact is, there are over one billion people living on our planet that live on somewhere close to a dollar a day. That kind of life constantly holds with it the reality of survival. (I understand that we have poor people in the United States, I understand that people struggle to make ends meet, and often can’t afford medical treatment or something else that they need, but the level of poverty shown in the film is not something often witnessed in the United States, because we have some safety nets for people like welfare, food stamps, Medicare, social security, disability, food banks, soup kitchens and charities – I understand these are not enough, but they help).
While watching the film, I started to think about mental health, and how it was treated in these villages. Do they have anxiety disorders in the poor villages of Guatemala? Do they have ADHD? Do people suffer from depression at the same rate as we do here? This made me think about an article I read recently that people in developing countries recover at higher rates from Schizophrenia than people in the West.
The study suggests this is from the large amount of stigma here and the better family support in other countries.
Have we, with our fierce love of independence, our desire to move away from our families, and no longer live in the same house and community as our extended family (our built in support network) made our lives better or worse?
For people with a severe mental illness, the studies seem to suggest their lives are more difficult and recovery less likely without this support.
Now, with our noses buried in our phones and our constant desire to communicate via social media we may be slipping further and further apart, making the healing support and connections that all ill people need, less and less likely.
I felt deeply for the people of Guatemala for their hard lives and their severe poverty, but they had something I envied that was just as distant to me as their hardship, and that is community, and family, and belonging.
I have never thought the richest people knew the best way to live. I have always wondered about the quality of their mental health and relationships.
I can buy a shirt that has some of Rosa’s weaving on it, and it will help her with her fund to go to nursing school. I can help her with that, that is easy for me, but do you think she can help me in return to live a simpler, less complicated, less technological life, one that puts people and their needs and their wants, and their stories, and their healing first? A life that rebuilds community, networks, and connections.
Rosa, I’m not sure if we need you, or you need us more. I’m guessing we need you. Teach us.