The Process of Recovery

I’ll be the first to tell you that recovery from schizophrenia or any other major mental illness is a very long process, it can take years to get stable, if actual stability is even real.

It’s important to work at it though and be cognizant of the steps you are taking to improve your mental health.

I’d even go so far as to say it’s not so much a process but a journey with the ultimate goal of feeling comfortable in your own skin and in society.

I think I’m at a pretty good point right now, my meds are doing their job for the most part, I haven’t had an episode in about 3 months and I’m slowly getting a better handle on my anxiety.

Granted I don’t go out in public that often and when I do, I usually have to contend with paranoia but in all respects, I feel ok right now and that’s the most I can ask for.

It has taken me 17 years so far to get to this point of relative comfort but along the way, I have learned who I am as a person, what my triggers are, what I do and don’t feel comfortable with and what to do in triggering situations.

I have also amassed a pretty expansive bag of “tools” for dealing with paranoia, anxiety, depression, mania, really anything that comes up so I have a method to cope.

That said, it’s very easy to lose yourself in moments and I still do pretty often.

My point of all this is to illustrate that I still struggle daily with my illness, but 17 years out, I’m used to most of what can happen and it doesn’t affect me nearly as much as it did when I was first diagnosed.

It’s true that I am not what you would consider “healed” but I think the reality of it is that I never will be and the most I can do for myself is to try to build a quiet comfortable life where my symptoms are minimal and I feel at peace.

Recovery from mental illness is not what most neurotypical people would think of as recovery, in that, barring some incredible medical discovery, major mental illness can’t be cured.

The most we can hope for is to find a measure of comfort and stability where are symptoms aren’t affecting us too badly.

That, to me, is success when you’re living with schizophrenia.

It ultimately comes down to learning about, and eventually finding out who you are to the best of your ability.

This includes your preferences, the things that set you off, your fears, the things you’re proud of, your accomplishments and just what exactly makes you tick as a person.

If you know yourself well, you can anticipate and prepare for those moments and situations that might knock you off your game.

You can have the confidence of knowing that whatever happens, you are still you, you are still the person that you have found yourself to be.

In this, if you do get knocked around and lose yourself mentally for a little while, you can always come back to your baseline of who you know you are.

It’s a strange situation living like this and although I don’t want to sound like a life coach, if you know yourself, You know what you can handle.

I think that is essentially stability, or recovery in the most understandable terms.

If you’re not there yet, give yourself time and patience, rely on your support structure and know that whatever happens, you are not alone.

Telling Others About Your Illness

For a long time, I actively rebelled against disclosing any information about my schizophrenia, even avoiding the subject matter altogether so that I wouldn’t have to tell people I had it.

I remember bringing one of my books to a friend at a bar one night, and an older woman struck up a conversation with me about it. Disclosing was pretty unavoidable due to the book being specifically about my psychotic break. When she asked me if I had schizophrenia and I said yes, she actively recoiled and shook her head as if to get a rotten taste out of her mouth.

In another instance, I was on a first date with a woman and she asked what I did, as is customary, but against my better judgment, I told her that I write about living with schizophrenia, she proceeded to ask if I have ever killed anybody.

The point of all this is to say that schizophrenia is a frightening word and, though it has lessened in recent years, there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding major mental illnesses.

Those instances are only two examples of myriad circumstances I’ve been part of where disclosing my illness has dramatically altered and in some cases ended entire interactions.

Throughout my writing career it’s been a challenge not to disclose, given the subject of my work, and I’m sure that contributed to a long period of burnout I experienced for almost 5 years.

During that time though, I didn’t have to tell anybody and that was a breath of fresh air.

Also during that time, society shifted its view of mental illness thanks to the millions of young people being open about their anxiety and depression on social media and across the internet.

Many famous people have also disclosed their struggles with mental illness.

Because of that, the word “schizophrenia” doesn’t have the weight it used to, and people, myself included, are more willing to speak about their struggles with the illness.

That said, if you’re afraid to tell people about your diagnosis, that is perfectly valid and rational given the media’s portrayal of major mental illness and the resulting stigma.

You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to and it’s perfectly acceptable to keep it to yourself.

Hopefully you have a strong circle of support where you can feel safe discussing your struggles but if you don’t there are groups and resources available.

Disclosing your illness is entirely up to you.

Even I’m still guarded about it but if you feel compelled to express yourself and find community, this blog is a safe space.

I wish you guys the best and please remember, you’re never alone.

The Weight of Depression

It’s no mystery why a good amount of people living with schizophrenia or other major mental illnesses also suffer from depression, sometimes severe.

Be it a function of the illness itself or just the weight of dealing with the extreme circumstances of mental illness, depression is a very real concern.

Mood disorders and mental illness are essentially dance partners in that they move together and affect one another in different ways.

Symptoms of one disorder could trigger symptoms of the other and finding a balance where you can be stable is a long process.

It takes a tremendous amount of self awareness to realize when something is affecting you and manifesting depression.

A drop in mood can set off paranoia and even delusions.

Truly, depression is a serious concern for people living with major mental illness as well as those who don’t exhibit any other symptoms.

Depression can come on as a result of any number of things from the weather, to stress, to relationship issues, and even issues arising at work. It can also come out of nowhere.

In my case, most of the depression I experience is a result of seasonal affective disorder where people report depression symptoms as a result of the changing seasons.

Weirdly though, it’s reversed for me.

Summer is the worst time for me and I’m not entirely sure why.

Every year in the dog days of summer around mid July to August I get the overwhelming urge to just hole up in my apartment, disengage, and isolate.

I just feel miserable.

I’ve contemplated extreme measures like suicide hundreds of times in my life and it never seems to be as strong as it in the deep hot days of summer.

Depression also comes along for me when I’m worried about something for a long time. Most of the time it’s money or relationships but it’s also been times when I just didn’t feel settled, either in work or in life.

Thankfully there were meds to help and along with therapy, I found pathways to feeling better.

It’s an insidious disease though, it can affect every facet of your life to the point where you can’t even fathom getting out of bed in the morning.

It can even make you want to end things.

The desire to kill yourself is a dark and sharp knife that slices at you in the worst moments, it physically hurts to be that depressed.

I wouldn’t choose that feeling for anything.

This is all to say though, that if you’re suffering, I see you, I feel what you’re going through, I’ve been there more times than I can count.

I want you to know that you will eventually feel better.

Meds and therapy can help but time is also the great healer and although it may not seem like it, you’ll come out of it.

It takes an immense amount of strength to carry on when you’re walking through that dark valley but it’s important that you do.

It’s important that you take care of yourself and do what you can to make yourself feel better. Whether that’s calling your mom, or taking a shower or eating a good meal you need to treat yourself well.

Being kind to yourself in moments of darkness can save your life.

If you’re suffering, you can get through this and you can come out the other side. There is help for you if you want it.

I hope you’re ok.

If you or a friend are considering suicide The National Suicide Hotline can provide help for your suffering, Anywhere in the US, at any time just dial 988 and someone can talk.