CHOICES: #7 - Acceptance & Functionality
In previous blogs in the Choices Series, I have suggested that there are three milestones in the Journey of Recovery from schizophrenia: Functionality, Wellness, and Fulfillment. I've also suggested that the starting point for this journey is Acceptance of the fact that we have a serious brain disorder.
So, how do we get to the starting point for our Journey of Recovery (Acceptance) and what precisely is our first objective (Functionality)?
When it comes to acceptance, cheap knock-offs may impress other people, and they might even work for us for a while, but in the end it's what we know that really counts. And we know the phonies for what they are.
For example, telling our psychiatrist that we accept the fact that we have schizophrenia, when we're still wondering how we ended up in the hospital, is phony. It might help us get out of the hospital a little earlier, but it won't keep us out.
Telling our therapist we understand that we have schizophrenia and all that this implies, when we will use any excuse to get out of therapy sessions, will do nothing to prevent relapses or to help us get the most out of life.
Knowing we need help, and seeking it out, is true acceptance. This will get us to the point of departure for our Journey of Recovery.
Unfortunately, from the very beginning of our illness, a significant number of us don't realize anything is wrong in our lives. When this occurs, it's considered one of the many symptoms of our illness. It can, in fact, close the door on Acceptance and lock out recovery.
At the start I was one of these. I knew I had a problem, but really didn't believe it was the result of a mental illness. When I finally realized it was the problem, I immediately went into denial. I knew what schizophrenia had done to my grandfather, uncle and aunt, and I wanted no part of it. I had been on medications for some time, but was willing to admit I had a mental illness only after my psychiatrist convinced me that recovery was possible. That was when my Journey of Recovery began.
As Don Fraser rightly pointed out in his response to my last blog, functionality can be very different for different consumers. And it can mean any number of things to different institutions within our society, including employers. It's all in the mind and the eyes of the beholder. In this blog we will look at how I think functionality should be viewed in our own mind's eye. Next week we'll worry about everyone else.
I have a friend who has achieved remarkable success. His schizophrenia is treatment-resistant and he remains quite ill. Yet despite his suffering, every morning he goes to a nearby nursing home and delivers coffee to its bedridden residents. This is an enormous achievement for him and everyone in the nursing home (including the staff) loves him. No one asks if he is functional.
This should illustrate Don's point. The level of functionality achieved by a person has to be evaluated in terms of his or her capacity for functionality. My friend has tested the limits of his capacity and in so doing he has realized a high degree of functionality.
One of the most important coping mechanisms I learned from my first psychiatrist was to compete with myself and not others, to try to make every day just a little bit better than the day before. When I went to work in New York in the corporate world, I learned very quickly that no matter how good I was at my job, all I had to do to find ten people who were better was to walk around three sides of a city block. By competing against myself, I gained some ground every day. The success of others didn't concern me. In the end, as I approached the limits of my own capacity for functionality, I was regarded as a success by others.
In my fifty plus years of experience with schizophrenia, I've learned that medications have determined my capacity for functionality and therapy has enabled me to take advantage of opportunities that were compatible with that level of functionality. In the last analysis, though, if my medications and therapy were to improve my quality of life, I have had to take action. And with my disability, taking action has always involved taking risks.
The old adage, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," may be a cliché, but there is a kernel of truth in it. I see consumers every day who are taking risks in an effort to improve their lives. They start with small risks and work their way up. As has happened with me, sometimes they succeed and sometimes not, but they never stop trying. These consumers have more pluck than most of the "successful" business executives I've worked with over the years. The only real failure for a consumer is the failure to try.
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Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.