Coping Skill #9 - Never, Never, Ever Give up Hope - Period
This is a blog about hope and perseverance.
It's been said that if you are devoid of all hope, you'll never be disappointed. This may be true, but the philosophy implicit in this statement is a terribly destructive way to live. Other clichés abound. I can't tell you how many well intentioned people tried to help me by quoting the infamous old adage that while one half of the glass may be empty, the other half is full. In the context of my struggle with schizophrenia this was less than useful. If I'd given up all hope of recovery, a more accurate cliché might have been captured in the adage that while one half of the glass may be empty, the other half is empty too. Besides, I was not interested in a half a glass. I wanted my glass to be at least three quarters full.
In the beginning of our illness, many of us do not realize we are ill. Most providers recognize that medications are essential to our recovery. Once we are on medications that make recovery possible, these same providers rightly proceed with the understanding that the next step toward recovery is our acceptance of the fact that we are ill. In an effort to persuade us that we actually do have a mental illness, these same providers are often quick to point out the limitations, or disabilities, that our illness forces upon us. What better proof of our mental illness is there?
Unfortunately, even when successful, this tactic have devastating side effects. Even as it may force us to accept our illness, it can rob us of all hope of ever again leading a productive life. It is unmistakable evidence of stigma at its worst. With this approach a provider is not only stigmatizing us, but is encouraging the development of self stigma within us.
Schizophrenia has run rampart in my father's family for many generations before the development of appropriate medications and thereafter. My grandfather, uncle and aunt all had schizophrenia. My uncle and aunt had prefrontal lobotomies, which destroyed their hopes of ever recovering. My grandfather and uncle committed suicide, and my aunt tried to drown her three children. Even as a young child, I understood all too well the potential consequences of the illness and the associated stigma.
My first psychiatrist, Dr. Sol Levy, never tried to convince me that I was ill (although we both knew I was). Nor did he tell me about the potentially devastating consequences of the illness until I asked him about it. Equally important, he never told me there was anything I couldn't do. He readily admitted, and I found it to be true, that some things were harder for me and certain other things much harder.
Long after I had admitted to myself that I had a mental illness, I denied it when dealing with others. Although it was obvious to all from my bizarre behaviors, I would not publically admit that I had a problem until I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, until I became convinced that recovery was possible.
Dr. Levy's unconditional acceptance of me was what enabled me to work closely with him from the very beginning. We tried every new medication as it was introduced. It took us ten years to find the combination of medications that worked for me.
It was Dr. Levy's unwavering conviction that I would recover that gave me hope and lent me the perseverance to keep trying one new medication after another, each one with its very own set of uncomfortable side effects, until we found the ones that worked for me.
While we searched together for the right medication, Dr. Levy taught me effective coping skills, some of which I have so far shared with you in this series of blogs. When we finally did find the right combination of medication for me, these coping skills rapidly morphed into guidelines by which to live, and I hit the ground running and for many years never looked back.
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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.
PS. Don Fraser: I will soon get back to you on your comments on Coping Skill #7. It turns out we have more things in common than either of us realized. I always look forward to your thoughts.