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.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Friendship, Solitude and Internal Stigma

Elizabeth's gentle challenge that I should cultivate off line friendships has got me thinking for the past couple of days. I've tried several times to post but wound up deleting what I'd written. The truth is that I haven't had a close adult friendship. I've had boyfriends and I've had friendships that never developed into something closer. Since I became ill over eight years ago, I've spent huge chunks of time alone. Unlike many people who suffer from schizophrenia, I neither lived with my family or at a halfway house or in a hospital. Much of what I've gone through has been in solitude with few witnesses.

In the beginning of my illness surprisingly it was my tormenting voices that made me reach out to other people and also help other people. The reaching out and helping weren't the problem; the problem was the way in which the voices badgered me to stop my natural tendency to withdraw when wounded. Luckily the people I encountered, those who helped me and who I helped, were all good and kind people. So I made the transition from being out of my mind and alone to being still sick but balanced by being around other people.

I went first to Al-Anon meetings and then to meetings for victims of domestic violence because I had experience with both. I found people to help and be friends with there. Except for one young friend, I didn't admit that I suffered from schizophrenia to anyone. I just put on a brave and willing face and did what I could under the circumstances to support my new found friends and their families. The voices had called me evil but through being with others, I knew that I was not and that was an important lesson. Still, in most often putting to focus on other people I was neglecting myself. There was still unfinished business between me and my psychosis.

I decided to go back to art school and finish my degree. And so I did go back but suffered from another psychotic break. That's when I began to start taking the anti-psychotic medication regularly. I struggled through school and major depression for a while. I believe it was the depression that caused me to stop seeing people outside of school. That plus I started to put on a lot of weight and I felt unattractive and self-conscious. And so I did my work but I withdrew into my self. I'm sure if there had been a support group for mental illness on campus that I would have gone to it but there were none. Even so, the depression began to lift some and I did finish school.

That was a year and eight months ago. Though I was proud of myself for getting that degree, I was also relieved when I no longer had to go to school. But then my contact with people dropped dramatically. No school, no therapist, no support group meetings, no friendship. And that was all my own decision. I was not forced into solitude. I chose it. And despite the lack of a support system I was starting to feel better. I was enjoying being alone. I was free of any major responsibilities and for a time that has been good.

But time doesn't stand still and change is inevitable. It is not surprising to me that the depression has returned. I can be without people for a time with no ill consequence but only for a time. So now I'm back to seeing my therapist and I've decided to return to Al-Anon. I've found support groups a wonderful place to meet people. Many people meet other people in bars but I just don't have the stomach for alcohol anymore. I only wish there were more support groups available where I live. A goal of mine in to start a group either for mental illness in general or for schizophrenics in particular by the end of the Spring.

When I was in school I told several of my teachers that I suffered from schizophrenia and depression. It was awkward telling them but I wanted to dispel any stigma that is attached to the illness. I wanted to show that, in some way, I could contribute too despite having a handicap. But I also wanted that handicap to be acknowledged. If I didn't measure up to the rest of the class, I wanted the teachers to understand that it wasn't mere laziness on my part. Still, I carried within me an internal stigma and part of why that stayed in tact was because I didn't know anyone in my community who suffered from schizophrenia. I didn't know others who were like me. The isolation left a mark on me.

Now I have a desire to get beyond that internal stigma and a way to do that is to be open with everyone about my illness, to disperse the residue of the shame that I've internalized. Another way is to meet other people who suffer from schizophrenia and befriend them. The truth is that I'm curious to meet other people with schizophrenia. I really want to hear their stories and learn from them. And I want to realize that I'm really not living in a bubble.
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