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.

The Tenuous Balance of Stability

Not only does it take work to find stability, but also to maintain it once you’ve found your footing.

Sometimes what’s required is a strict regimen of being faithful to your meds as well as your personal work or therapy.

You’ll find that it’s incredibly easy to slip up on one or another of these things and the result is an inevitable falling back into psychosis.

You may think, somewhere along the way that you feel better and you may even forget that you have a mental illness.

As a result you may become more lax on taking care of yourself and taking your meds but then, in a matter of time, things will start to get strange again.

I’ve been in that position a number of times and in my experience it’s not something I like doing.

In addition every six months, or every year or so you may find that your meds don’t seem to be working as well as they were, it could be a result of increased stress in your life or something else but there may be a very real possibility that you need an adjustment.

That’s ok, and it happens with me and pretty much anyone else who has to deal with this stuff.

Sadly, it’s a lifelong illness and though right now there’s no cure I still have hope for the future.

The point of all this is to say that maintaining your stability can be a challenge.

I can remember a few years back when everything seemed to be going well. I thought I was doing everything right but for one reason or another I got my wires crossed with the pills I was supposed to be taking,

I started taking less of just one of the 6 pills I take, thinking it wouldn’t make a difference. It was ok for a week or two but then I started to experience more paranoia.

I thought everyone was looking at me and judging me and I sort of fell into the delusion that I was being followed.

Things were bright too though, my thoughts were sparkling and I was able to form connections between things that I had all but missed when I was fully medicated.

It was exciting but it also scared the hell out of me.

I want to be in control of myself and I want to keep myself grounded so I called my doctor. Thankfully we got it sorted out and I was back on my way to relative stability.

Suffice it to say that I know what it’s like to lose your footing and while it may not bother some people to the degree that it bothers me, I think stability is important to maintain, no matter how difficult it is to do so.

If you’re experiencing abnormal symptoms or a relapse into delusional thinking, paranoia, and psychosis, I think it’s important to check in with your doctor and be honest about what’s happening.

They can help.

Also, no matter what happens with you in dealing with this illness, please remember that you’re not alone.

Schizophrenia and Love

Everyone’s deserving of love right?

There’s no one on this earth that deserves to be alone but for people with schizophrenia and other major mental illnesses, love and relationships can be incredibly hard to, not only build, but also sustain for a variety of reasons.

First, and I hate to say it but there still exists a pretty unshakeable stigma around the ‘schizophrenia’ label.

A lot of people associate that word with danger, instability, or even violence, and while the fact remains that more people with schizophrenia, in fact, happen to become victims of violent crime than perpetrators, the stigma remains.

In my own experience, I can remember being out on a first date with a woman who, with a straight face, asked me if I had ever killed anybody.

This stigma can be one hell of a red flag for a good number of people who have no experience or knowledge of the reality of mental illness.

Being someone with schizophrenia, I’ve seen this first hand and for a long time I just completely stopped mentioning it at all.

I would change the subject when I was asked what I write about, and I would steer the conversation away from any mention of anxiety or even depression.

Mental illness being one of my core personality quirks left very little to actually talk about as a result.

Another major hurdle to finding love as a person with schizophrenia is that, with my paranoid delusions, I find it incredibly hard to trust people enough to open up and become vulnerable.

Trusting someone fully can take me months if not years, and when you’re dating someone new there comes a point at which you have to open yourself up and get to know the person.

I was never able to get to that point because I could never grasp the possibility that someone besides my family had my best interests at heart.

I was terrified that they would hurt me or leave with no explanation and because of that I’d always break it off before anything got even remotely deep.

I am a wounded soul and I need to trust someone completely before I even think about opening up.

I can imagine this is the case for a lot of people with mental illness and it’s important to understand that if you love someone who’s sick, it can take time to form that trust.

Finally, in my experience of having to relearn how to function in society after a major mental break, social interaction still remains to be one of the biggest challenges of my life.

I’m always hyper aware of things like eye contact, how I’m moving, what I look like to people and the way that I’m forming my words.

Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to portray natural human interaction that I either come off as fake or just get too distracted in how I’m acting to even keep up with the conversation.

I know the answer is to just relax and be myself but for a long time I was confused about who myself even was.

It’s for this reason that I’m pretty deeply introverted and choose to keep to myself most of the time.

I get most of my interaction online where it’s safe behind a screen to be the person that I wish I was in real life.

The point of all this is to illustrate how hard it can be to find love as a person with schizophrenia or other major mental illnesses.

If it’s not stigma, it’s trusting someone or even just interacting in general.

To my fellow sufferers, I know you and I see you and I want you to know that you’re not alone.

And to those who love people with mental illness, be kind, be soft and take the time to be there for your person.

I can guarantee that if you do, it will be one of the most fulfilling relationships of your life.

The Case for Taking Your Meds

It’s a strange thing that when you’re stable, you kind of forget that you’re sick.

Things could be going well, you could feel happy and you think, “Am I cured?”

Hopefully you’re aware that things don’t happen like that and schizophrenia or any other major mental illness is a lifelong condition.

Still, some people start to believe that their meds are either, not doing anything, or that they don’t need them anymore.

I, as a mental health peer and advocate, have to unequivocally refute that and tell you, yes, you still need your meds.

Aside from the stigma of mental illness in general on the public’s behalf, there exists a stigma among people with mental illnesses that meds are bad, that the chaos in your brain is good and that pharmaceutical companies and the government are just trying to keep you quiet and keep you in the dark by making you numb.

I used to think that too until I realized how much better it felt being numbed and quieted than battling these crazy thoughts day and day out. I

don’t want to be crazy and that’s why I adhere to meds.

There’s also the argument that back before modern society, people with schizophrenia were seen as healers, oracles or witchdoctors having a direct connection to the gods, and that if you take your meds, you lose that connection and mysticism of being at one with the universe.

I don’t know if that’s true but I can tell you that in modern society, those beliefs don’t serve us like they would back then.

Also, I take my meds and I still hear God, so that argument can’t be that sound. (that was a joke).

I can even remember that the only reason I started taking the meds in the hospital was to get out sooner, but I realized they were working against the voices and the delusions so I never stopped.

The point is, these meds were researched and engineered in order to give us a better life in today’s modern society.

They are there to help us, not harm us.

My brother always uses the expression “better living through chemistry” and he’s right, I do feel better and I’m able to do more things when I do take my meds.

I don’t want to battle day in and day out for scraps of sanity and I don’t wanna feel like I don’t have control over my own faculties.

I’m a proponent for taking your meds and I think it’s an important thing to do, not just for you and your thoughts, but also for the people around you who love you and don’t know how to interact with you when you’re out of control.

Recalling the feeling of thinking you cured, this happens to me all the time, I’ll forget that I’m actually sick and then for some reason, I’ll accidentally miss a dose and woohaa, here come the delusions.

I would like to not be subject to the inconsistencies of my broken brain.

I hope you feel that way too.

So I’m here to say, take your meds, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. It can be hard dealing with this stuff.

You’re not alone and you got this.

The Light Switch of Stress

I think something that isn’t that widely recognized is the effect of stress on symptoms of schizophrenia and mental illness.

It can be an almost immediate exacerbation, hence, why I refer to it as a light switch.

Stress has the amazing potential to worsen symptoms rapidly for people like me and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it in the moment besides meditate and/or practice breathing techniques.

Alternatively, there are always meds for anxiety and I count myself grateful for that option frequently.

How does stress exacerbate symptoms though?

One way is that it can activate anxiety which is followed pretty closely by eventual paranoia and delusional thinking.

It’ll be like something stressful will happen in our lives, maybe a friend or loved one will say something we perceive to be negative and that seed will lodge itself into our brain.

We’ll cultivate it by thinking endlessly on what they meant causing anxiety until we jump to a conclusion that serves neither us nor them (paranoia/delusions).

It’s almost frightening how something seemingly so small can have such a big impact.

We may lose sleep over it, we may ruminate on it and we may start to let that little word take control of how we see ourselves as a person.

These are all triggers to paranoia, delusions and a host of other mental illness symptoms.

Stress, essentially, seems to be just as bad for mental illness as it for heart health or diabetes.

There are things that help with stress in the moment that you can utilize though.

First, you can talk it out with someone objective to the situation. They’ll usually be able to reassure you that what you think is happening really doesn’t matter all that much. They can lessen the impact of what was said and free you up to move on to other things (that are probably more rooted in reality).

Another thing you can do if it’s still bothering you is put on some music, lay down and take a break by closing your eyes.

If you feel like it, you can meditate and focus on your breath, or you can think it through objectively by asking yourself what someone who isn’t involved would think.

Many times too, the music just acts a sort of salve for the pain of the thought. It can loosen it up so you’re able to dislodge it and let it go.

Finally, you can step back from yourself and notice that your thoughts are just thoughts. That is, they are just images or words that float across your mind like clouds.

You’ll notice that you’re grasping this particular one so hard and intently.

You can let it go though, you can say, “this is just a thought” and you’ll realize that it’s really no different from any of the other thoughts in your head, including the ones you don’t really pay any attention to.

Then you can just release it and it’ll float away too.

Suffice it to say that stress is not something that you would do well to pursue if you have a major mental illness.

Perhaps I’ve helped though, I don’t know.

These are things that work for me and there’s a good shot they’ll probably work for you too.

I want you to remember though, that you’re not the only one dealing with this stuff.

You definitely not alone.

You will get through it and you will feel better.

I know this.