A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Recovery Model

When I first accepted that I suffered from schizophrenia (for a while there I thought I had Multiple Personality Disorder) I went to the library and took out several books on it. I learned it was a "brain disease" with no cure and I felt crushed. Did this mean that my brain was disintegrating and that I'd go senile eventually, was there no hope? Would I remain a burden to my family? Could I not dream of recovery? I put the books aside. But I didn't stop praying and I didn't just give up.

I live in a very rural community with no support groups for mental illness nearby and so I relied on my psychiatrist, my therapist and Al-Anon (the closest I could come to a support group for mental illness), but, other than my therapist, I didn't talk about my schizophrenia with anyone else. I remained in isolation. I lived alone (and still do) and worked out the worst of this illness on my own. How did I survive without the companionship of other schizophrenics? Initially, I followed my good voices, the ones that encouraged me to see my therapist weekly, go to Al-Anon meetings weekly and help friends. It wasn't quite enough but it got me through the worst of the first three years. I wrote in a journal. I did craftwork. I listened to soothing music and watched upbeat films and television programs. I tried to practice gratitude even when I felt desperate.

Practicing gratitude was one of the most powerful tools I had to overcome the worst of schizophrenia. I learned it through studying and practicing Buddhism (I listened to audio books by Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron and the Dalai Lama) and through the 12 step program in Al-Anon. And I found, despite the devastation of schizophrenia, that I had a lot to be thankful for. I had food and shelter and heat and a loving family and some friends. I had sweet tea and sunshine and cats. I had my own creative abilities and a determination to keep on keeping on no matter what. I helped people in my community. And in helping others I saw that I was a worthwhile individual who could make a difference.

The only thing I didn't do for the first three years (the hardest years) was to take the anti-psychotic medicine regularly. Even so, I went back to art school. At the end of the first semester I had another psychotic break. The voices told me to start taking the zyprexa which I had been storing up from my psychiatrist but hadn't been taking. I was fragile and desperate for several months but the delusions and paranoia abated. I continued going to school. I dropped out of one class and had to withdraw from another but I didn't drop out. I persevered through depression that was sometimes suicidal and I kept taking the zyprexa at higher and higher doses hoping that it would relieve some of the depression. It was hard going for a while and for the next three and a half years while I finished my degree I suffered from depression. I still had voices but gradually they became less insistent and pervasive.

But I stopped going to Al-Anon and stopped visiting friends while I finished school. I felt at the time that school was all I could handle. In retrospect I see this was a mistake. I felt different from the others students. I was middle aged and they were primarily young. I was schizophrenic and they were healthy. I lived an isolated life, they lived a communal life. Not going to a support group meeting and not seeing friends just added to my feelings of isolation and hence depression. But I was determined nonetheless to do my work and get my degree and I succeeded with that.

Then in the last year of school, my therapist took a six month sabbatical and set me up with a new therapist, but I never made an appointment. I focused on finishing school and did so. After school ended I started making jewelry and crocheting afghans, shirts and hats. But no therapy, no support groups and just my brother for companionship. It's no wonder that I've been feeling depressed. I went from engaging in life back into isolation. What kept me afloat so far? Medicine, craft and art work, my brother and parents, prayer and gratitude and lately finding support online.

For people like me, the computer is heaven sent. It offers the first step out of isolation and ignorance. I joined several email groups for schizophrenics. I read a book by Pamela Spiro Wagner (and her twin sister) called Divided Minds about her experience with schizophrenia and through the NAMI online community for schizophrenics I encountered her and began reading her blog. And then we began emailing each other. Her intelligence, dedication to her art (writing), and sensitivity have been an inspiration to me. She made me see more clearly that an individual can rise above her disability and do something worthwhile.

Lately I've been reading the blogs by Christina Bruni, another schizophrenic in recovery. Like Pam, she is a dedicated writer and has found her way over the years towards a personal model for recovery. And, like Pam, she has found some success from writing about her illness and offering guidance and hope for schizophrenics and their families. Both these women are upstanding examples of the recovery model for schizophrenia. Christina is especially successful. She lives and works in New York City and seems well adjusted and happy. Is it because of the anti-psychotic meds? Yes, in part, but it is also because of her determination not to give up. She has a lot to teach and she is generous with her life and time and I applaud her for that.

Now, I , too, believe recovery from schizophrenia is possible. And even if I never totally recover, I know I have recovered enough to contribute to the world in small ways and that the liklihood that I will revert to the days of torment is very small. Online I have discovered other people who are well on their way to recovery. As the saying goes -- where there is a will, there is a way. A self-defeating attitude naturally defeats the self. But an attitude with hope gives and receives hope and makes many things possible once again.

Communication is a powerful tool and personal contact even more so. May we continue to reach out to each other, continue to hope and continue to contribute whenever we can to help others along the way.
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