Yesterday I was trying to write a blog entry about success, how to measure success when you have a serious mental illness. I kept getting stuck and then negative. What is success for many of us? A loving partner, wonderful kids, a rewarding career? How many attain all three at once? I think some do, though the stories I've heard online and offline are that people struggle with their life situations. People who live with chronic mental illness struggle even more. I don't have or expect to have any of the three success elements, partner, kids or a career. I've gotten past wanting a partner or a child and I don't want a career so much as regular, meaningful, creative work, but then I am almost 50 years old and not at the beginning of my life. If I were in my 20s and into a recovery program, I might very well want to be with someone and have a successful career, maybe even a child. I'd want to strive towards being normal and be able to see my progress, my successes.
I'm not normal, not even as a schizophrenia sufferer. I am in the minority, but being abnormal is not being less of a human being. I consider surviving a serious mental illness as a bittersweet success. I am moderately proud to call myself a survivor, just as I am proud to associate online with others who have survived acute mental illness. Too many of us don't. And that is a measure of how hard the acute part of this illness is, hard enough to rob you of the will to continue living. That schizophrenia strikes many in their youth and young adulthood allows for the resilience of youth to withstand psychological blows, but it is a time of great vulnerability. It is a time when young individuals need guidance and direction, even if they don't have mental illness, but exponentially more when they do.
People measure success based on different things. If you're young perhaps you want it all and if you're older perhaps you compromise. Either way we need to work within our limitations. If you're really suffering, take small steps. Success for the day may be taking a bath or getting enough sleep or sticking to your schedule of taking your medications. Generous thoughts and small actions do count for something. Work with what you can handle because increasing levels of stress does act as a psychosis/anxiety/depression trigger. Be kind to yourself and go gradually. I'm saying this as much to myself as to you because I rush, looking for instant gratification.
In my mind I go back to the lingering after effects of psychological trauma. I haven't heard this often, but I think people who have endured through acute psychosis naturally suffer from variations on PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) long after experiencing the trauma. Trauma leaves deep scars, often buried in a kind of amnesia. I remember thinking that what I was going through was like a daily psychic crucifixion and at the time I meant it, but now, years later, into a modest recovery, I can't feel it. And yet I do feel myself shut way down whenever I hear people argue. Even the hint of aggression and I'm back with my abusive boyfriend anticipating violence. The other day my brother was giving an impassioned speech about the need for gun control, but I became threatened. I stopped talking and I felt anxious. But that's my normal response -- to shut down, blank out and get uptight. It's just this time the thought about identifying it as PTSD came into my mind.
I guess one of my points is that schizophrenia is not just a youthful detour. Anyone who's been through it knows that it is traumatic, but people handle the trauma in different ways. Some get on the road to recovery right away and have access to several support systems, this support gives the needed guidance and direction, but it doesn't remove the trauma. Not dealing with the truth of what has happened to you can be put off for a long time, but in some way it will block you from the success you want in life. It's not always just about moving on and coping, not about doing things the "right" way and fitting in. Sometimes you have to sit with yourself just as you are.
My bittersweet success is mainly the realization that acute insanity does not have to last forever, but what comes afterwards is still up to me to make or break.
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.