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.

What it’s Really Like Inside A Psychiatric Hospital

There’s a lot of fear surrounding mental hospitals for various reasons.

Whether it’s the stigma surrounding the unmedicated psychiatric patient, or the numerous media portraying either haunted and abandoned psychiatric hospitals or psychiatric hospitals as essentially prisons full of crazy people, a lot of people are freaked out by the very mention of them.

There seems to be a lot of misinformation about what exactly a psychiatric hospital is and what it’s for though.

The main purpose of psychiatric hospitals is to provide, essentially a resting and rehabilitation place for people struggling with mental illness, primarily those who have exhibited behavior that could be harmful to themselves or others.

While this sounds scary, the majority of the time those patients are just there for the potential of hurting themselves (e.g. suicide attempts, delusional thinking or manic episodes). They are there primarily to rest and get a better handle on themselves through group and focused activities.

The closest thing I can compare it to is like a preschool or summer camp, except everyone is a little nuts.

I wish I had fully realized that when I was a patient in one.

The problem for me was that I was terrified of being crazy and in my brain, at the time, I painted the hospital experience as some oppressive prison where I was being locked away for being a non-conformist mentally ill menace to society.

I viewed it as a betrayal by my parents for putting me there and for treating me like I was some messed up defect that needed to be locked up.

The truth is, I willingly signed the forms for a voluntary 72-hour hold for observation and I fully recognized that something wasn’t right with me.

Whether or not I was fully in the right mind to be cognizant of what I was doing could be a matter of contention.

Further, I believed it would only be 72 hours and I think the betrayal aspect only took hold when I was informed by the doctors that I would only be released when I seemed ready (which turned out to be another five days).

Disregarding the negative connotations and conceptions I had of the place though, it was a relatively soothing environment.

Clean, white walls, private rooms where you could sleep all day if you felt like it, a day room where you could watch tv, play games or relax on couches, and music and art classes, all tied together with rehabilitation focused group therapy and doctor’s visits.

In complete honesty, it really wasn’t that bad.

Certainly not a prison, as one might have you believe.

It’s hard to realize that when you’re in the midst of a breakdown though.

Things are very scary and the only thing you want in the world is to just go home and get into bed.

I won’t forget my time there and I’ve pledged never to go back but in hindsight, my perception of mental hospitals was askew thanks to the chemical imbalance in my brain.

Psychiatric hospitals though, are nothing like the scary pictures of it that I’m sure a lot of you imagine. They are calm, quiet places, where people mostly keep to themselves and where everybody just wants to be left alone. Sure there are outliers but everyone there is suffering in one or another and keeping that in mind helps to humanize the place.

If you happen to find yourself there, try to remember that it’s supposed to be a place to relax, away from the stress of society, it’s supposed to be a place to calm down and get a handle on yourself, not a decrepit prison full of unhinged psychopaths who would kill you at a moments notice.

Overall, it’s ok if you need to take a break somewhere like that, they’re there to help.

How to Find Your Stability

The process of finding a relative stability after a diagnosis of schizophrenia or any other major mental illness can take a long time, sometimes years.

You have to contend with the symptoms of your illness (which may never go away completely), the stigma and the emotional toll of having mental illness, the various side effects of your meds, and relearning how to be a functional member of society.

I consider myself mostly stable (after 17 years) but I still have blips a few times a year, as I imagine most people in our situation do.

I still suffer from bad paranoia and anxiety, and I still fall into delusional thinking from time to time.

I think all of this is par for the course when you have mental illness and while we may not have asked for this massive disruption in our lives, it’s important to know that we’re not alone in dealing with all of this.

I can guarantee you that every complication, every hard time and every weird situation you’ve gone through with this stuff, another person has experienced.

How do we find our stability though? Or how do we find at least a stable foundation on which to stand?

Just like with any other big life change it requires a steady process of making small improvements to your life, to the way you think, and to how you interact with the world.

Every new day is a chance to do something to support your recovery.

It could be working on your sleep hygiene, and getting better sleep. It could be committing to take a shower and brush your teeth. Or it could just be the simple act of getting up out of bed.

These things can be extremely hard somedays but the fact that you’re choosing to do them means you’re trying and trying is all we can do.

Think of it like this, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day and your stability won’t be either.

If you lay one brick a day, and that’s all you can do, you deserve applause.

Eventually, as the days pass and you keep laying that one brick, you’ll get to a point where all of the bricks you’ve laid have built a house and you’ll say to yourself, “How the hell did I do that?”

As you built that house you also learned building techniques, how to use all the various tools you need, and all the little tricks that make building easier.

What I’m saying is that this house is your stability and you’ve learned the things you need not only to build, but also maintain this house that you now live in.

Just like a house, your stability will protect you from bad weather (negative symptoms) and give you a place of comfort to call your own.

Your house is your sanctuary, and your stability will be a sanctuary too, it’ll give you footing for making it through the day and even taking on bigger challenges if you choose to do so.

It seems incredibly daunting to get there when you’re first diagnosed but if you keep waking up, and keep placing that brick everyday you’ll get there.

All it takes is just one little piece of progress a day.

You can do it, and if you need help there are plenty of options for you.

We’re not alone in this, and we’re all rooting for you.

Coming to Terms with Reality

Diagnosis in and of itself does not mean that you are out of the woods. It’s just a label that you have now to put a name to the things you’ve been experiencing.

This can be freeing though, because it also means that other people have gone through the same thing and you’re not alone and never will be.

Those first few weeks/months after diagnosis though, may well be some of the hardest that you have to go through in this new, different, life.

In this period you’re forced to accept that you’re crazy. You’re forced to come to terms with what this means about you and the world and even reality.

For the first few months after my diagnosis I still experienced an overwhelming amount of delusions, paranoia and connections that made it incredibly difficult to know what was real and what was not. I knew that a portion of my conception of the world was skewed and incorrect but where was the line?

Discovering the nuances and the edges of my delusions and paranoia wouldn’t come for years, and even now 16 years down the line, I’m still not entirely sure of everything.

Figuring out what was reality and what was a function of my illness essentially required a kind of reboot. I had to step back, and force myself to look at things objectively. It required me to forget, or push back associations I had made in the years leading up to my diagnosis about how things are, how people are and what my place in the grand scheme was.

I learned though, and was relieved to discover that reality, and my position, as one small human amongst seven billion, who has chores and responsibilities, was far less exciting than I had been imagining it as.

When you think you’re a prophet you feel a kind of power, and perhaps I needed that power to survive and push on in the midst of my illness. Then you’re diagnosed though, and all of the sudden you’re nothing but some dude who has a broken brain, and nothing else. That transition was earth shattering for me.

In addition to this revelation, you are now on a heavy course of medication, and while deemed safe, the new side effects can really mess you up. For a good two months, my body wouldn’t let me relax, it had to be moving at all times or I felt like I was going to die. That’s called akathisia and they don’t tell you about that one very often. It’s either something like that, or you gain 50 lbs. in six months for no reason.

Suffice it to say that this transition period into living comfortably with your illness is one of the hardest times someone with mental illness will go through and support is a necessity.

What’s my point? Well, if you or someone you love is in the midst of this transition be kind to them or be kind to yourself. Take it easy, take it slow, everything’s gonna be ok, I promise you that.

You will get through this.

Recovery is a process and coming to terms with your illness is going to take a while, so patience and work is necessary.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though, and you will get there if you hold on.

Is Recovery Possible?

I was diagnosed schizophrenic in 2006, it’s been almost seventeen years now that I’ve lived with this devil on my shoulder, and the verdict is, unfortunately, still out on whether or not I’ve fully recovered.

I still have days, weeks, months where I feel the brunt of my mental illness, but for all intents and purposes, I suppose I present normally to the outside world.

That is, if you met me today, would you be able to tell that I have schizophrenia? My loved ones say no but I still feel every odd slight, every weird little idiosyncrasy that hints at something majorly wrong behind the curtain.

That may be just anxiety rearing it’s ugly head but there are moments where the reality of my diagnosis is made keenly apparent to me.

I still struggle tremendously with paranoia, the notion that someone is watching me, dissecting every move and action I take to find something to hurt me or to use against me. I’ve said before that if there were Oscars for real life I’d win for best actor every year. Acting though, is not something that I like to do, especially for the benefit of any suspected character who has decided to act in bad faith. I want things to flow, I wanna be natural and easy but unless I trust you inherently, I’m not letting down my guard.

As you can imagine this has been a pretty big lynchpin when it comes to things like job interviews, dates, or even merely just making new friends. Sadly, If I don’t know you, chances are, that I’m terrified of you.

With all this said, it seems pretty clear that I’m not entirely recovered from my illness doesn’t it? That’s the standard I set for myself. I will be recovered when I can feel at ease around people I don’t know. It’s hard to say if that will ever truly happen.

I’ve often looked at my illness as a second life, removed from the life I had before I was diagnosed. Interestingly, I’ve equated the last sixteen years to being a second childhood, if that makes sense.

I was thrust out into the world after being told everything I thought I knew was fake and I feel as though I’ve had to rebuild my sense of being and my personhood from scratch, zip, zero. This being the sixteenth year I’ve had schizophrenia, I am now essentially a sixteen year old in the way I feel I’m interacting with the world.

I don’t really know how else to explain it other than a hard reset and a total and complete system reboot and rebuild.

Will I ever fully recover? That remains to be seen, but for now, I’ve got the things I need, and I’m comfortable with my life and the way it’s gone.

It seems strange, but I remain thankful that I was given this mental illness. It’s taught me some very, very valuable lessons. It’s given me a razor sharp self awareness and understanding of who I am as a person, and it’s forced me to give regular and rigorous introspection a major place in my life.

It has also taught me empathy, perhaps more so than I want. I understand that on a deep level, everyone is constantly evaluating and judging themselves and that everyone, regardless of circumstance, deserves respect and care.

So is recovery even fully possible? I don’t know, but I’m steadfast in improving myself in anyway I can as the years go by and honestly, normality is probably an illusion anyway.