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 23, 2007

Therapist J. and the Value of Therapy

I will see J. my therapist on Thursday afternoon. I'm proud of myself for acknowledging that I have a problem and seeking help. I know this is how to prevent a relapse. I haven't seen J. for about two years; it will be good to see her again. She was my therapist for around six years, almost from the the onset of the psychosis. She's a small,slim woman maybe in her early 50's though I think she looks younger. Aside from being a psychotherapist, she's also a psychology professor at the local university. She's smart, very capable and kind hearted. Her small size can be misleading. She is not weak but strong and surprisingly stubborn. She is the one who kept encouraging me to take the anti-psychotic meds while I wavered during the first three years. Though I've always liked her a lot, I don't feel like I know her too deeply. She is kindly but professional. She decorates her consulting room sparsely but with class. There are none of the throw pillows or mellow homey atmosphere that I've briefly experienced earlier with another therapist. There is no hypnotism or creative visualization, just J. in a simple setting sitting very attentively and listening very closely. Her comments are invariably made of common sense and practicality and sensitivity. Early on in therapy I thought sadly that if she weren't my therapist that she would be the kind of person I'd like to have as a friend but because she was (and will be) my therapist there are certain rules. Her job is to be there for her clients and not to develop a deep friendship but to be as objective as possible. And she was for me. When I told her my delusions she didn't say they were false. Instead she worked with me as I worked through my delusions. She allowed me to be myself and to think and feel what I would. The only thing she was very firm about, especially when I was suffering, was that I should give the anti-psychotic meds a try. And she was right, the meds did, eventually, help a great deal. It was wading through the depression and the voices that took some time. For most people, there is no quick cure to schizophrenia, you have to work with the options you're given: therapy, meds, support groups, etc... You have to be willing to ask for help while at the same time putting in the effort to take care of yourself in any way that you can. I believe therapy is vitally important to any schizophrenic. It was part of why I was able to live independently even when I wasn't taking the anti-psychotic medicine. I've only been locked up in a hospital ward once overnight before I knew enough to get therapy. I believe J. is part of why I've never been back to a psych ward or psychiatric hospital.

Recently I've been a bit of an unmotivated, depressed mess and I asked for the I Ching (pronounced Yijing) to guide me. The response I got was Gathering Together, hexagram 45 with no moving lines. Now quite simply the I Ching's advice was to go somewhere to gather with other people to share one's heart and mind in joy or through difficulties. Recently I returned to the NAMI (National Alliance for the Mental Ill) online discussion boards, just to touch base with other schizophrenics. I am a recluse and knew that the only place I could gather together with others was in an online community. So, for the past few days I've been reading people's posts and offering my own comments and advice. I feel as if I can do some good for other people there and am pleased by how bright and supportive everyone is despite the pain they're going through. NAMI's discussion boards cover a wide range from boards for the mentally ill (Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, Major Depression, etc...) to boards for those who take care of the mentally ill (mostly the families, friends and lovers). There is no strict dividing line between the groups and often the "caretakers" go to the boards meant for the mentally ill and visa versa. So I've encountered husbands, mothers and girlfriends of schizophrenics and learned a bit about their stories. I've found myself in the past few days saying repeatedly that everyone needs some kind of therapy whether they are mentally ill or affected by the mentally ill. Other than being financially unable to afford therapy I don't see why people often resist going to therapy. It's an opportunity to be really heard and to treat yourself lovingly while gaining perspective. It's just common sense. The message boards are great and deeply valuable but it shouldn't take the place of talking with an appropriate therapist (and you need to choose wisely). Listening to the caretakers talk about how hard it is to live with a loved one who has schizophrenia seem to not realize that they, too, are in need of help. That they turn to the message boards is very healthy. I'm just hoping that they take it a step further and find a face to face therapist or an offline support group.

I know not all people have great experiences with their therapist but that is a problem that can be remedied by seeking out another therapist. I say, fight to find the right therapist and stick with it. I stopped seeing J. when she and her husband took some time off for six months. She set me up to see someone else but I never went. I've been doing okay for the past two years, it's only lately that I've been aware of the depression setting in. I'm grateful that she has the time to see me again and that she knows me and my history, so I won't have to go all over it again. But if I had to, I would because I really have faith in the process. It's not a cure but it is a sensible treatment and I hope with my prodding, that more people give it a chance.
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