Coping Skills - #12 - Recreate Yourself
When I first developed schizophrenia, I lost track of who I was. Confused, I no longer knew how to present myself to others, let alone what to expect from them. Because of all this, I experienced a devastating loss of self esteem which was greatly complicated by the fact that just about everyone I knew began to treat me differently. Some ridiculed me. Others made special allowances because of my condition, or left me out of things because they didn't think I could perform, or, worst of all, because I was an embarrassment to them. Many of my interpersonal relationships were strained, damaged, or destroyed. The old me was lost. I was devastated and mourned his passing.
It didn't take Dr. Levy, my first psychiatrist, very long to point out that while all this might seem to be a disaster, it could also be considered an extraordinary opportunity to recreate myself, to make myself into whatever I really wanted to be, as opposed to what everyone had come to expect or demand from me. Although the idea was most attractive to me, at first it seemed to be an insurmountable challenge, something way out of reach for me. But then he pointed out that this was not to be done by some instant, magical transformation, but by making a very small change each and every day. I didn't seriously consider his proposal until he explained that these small changes would eventually accumulate into something more meaningful and powerful. It was a manageable way for me to deliberately recreate myself.
As Dr Levy and I continued to find new and better medications for me, my capacity for making changes in myself steadily increased. All the while, Dr. Levy was teaching me proactive coping skills that made it possible for me to take advantage of this new capacity. We tried each new medicine and each of his coping skill in turn.
At first, I found it difficult to make even the small daily changes required. In time, however, I began to see that, as Dr, Levy had promised, these small changes were accumulating into significant changes in me. I was creating a new identity a little bit at a time and I liked what was happening.
To get me started, Dr. Levy asked me to try to make a single change over a week or two that surprised me. He didn't ask me to get off the couch and get out and about and do something I enjoyed. Nor did he ask me to do something of which I could be proud. What he suggested was that each day I find someone in need and help them, even if it was in some minor way. I did this and soon discovered that not only did it make the day a little better for those I found in need, but It also brightened my day. I found at the end of each day I not only enjoyed what I had done, but I was proud of it as well. I soon found myself fighting my own illness, even on days when I was not doing well, just to get out and help others. Doing this was brightening my dark days too.
I know a young man with schizophrenia that is treatment resistant, i.e., there is no medicine yet in existence that moderates the effects of his illness. Yet everyday he walks down to a nearby nursing home and takes hot coffee around to all the patients. They love and respect him for doing this and look forward each day to his arrival. It brightens the day for each and every one of them. Although he is himself terribly ill, he is doing something for others and that has made him feel better. He is rightly proud of what he does. I don't know about you, but given this young man's circumstances, I think he is an unqualified success in life.
I put to all of you the challenge, regardless of your situation, to better your life each day by helping someone in need in some way. I promise you will come to enjoy and be rightly proud of what you do.
* * *
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.