Coping Skill - #14 - Every Recovery is Precious

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    This is a blog about another proactive coping skill that has helped me immeasurably over the years.  It deals with refusing to let yourself become self-stigmatized.


    How many people with schizophrenia have heard their psychiatrist, therapist or personal advocate [whether a family member or a treatment professional] say "You've got to recognize the fact that you have a serious disability [i.e., a mental illness, or brain disorder] that you will never overcome?"  This statement and variations on it are stereotypes that give rise to the most insidious of all forms of stigma.


    When the diagnosis of schizophrenia is first made, how many consumers and their families are led to believe that the above stereotype is true?  How many hopes and dreams are forfeit?  The forfeiture of one's own hopes and dreams constitutes the most destructive form of stigma, i.e., self-stigmatization.  This form of stigma robs consumers and their families of their potential for happy and productive lives.

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    Well, excuse me!


    I also have unstable angina, hypertension, high cholesterol, coronary stent implants, Crohn's disease, infectious arthritis [with chronic pain], sleep apnea, diabetes, osteoporosis, chronic back pain, COPD [chronic bronchitis], and an overactive bladder.  I take twenty-one different kinds of medicine every day for a total of 56 to 62 pills, depending on the severity of my pain.  I receive treatment from a psychiatrist, diabetologist, gastroenterologist, cardiologist, internist, urologist, orthopedic surgeon, dermatologist and an ear, nose and throat specialist.


    Because of my jobs, or my wife's, my family and I have lived and worked in San Francisco and New York, and lots of places in between, both north and south of the Mason Dixon line, so I've had many personifications of all of these types of doctors.  The only physicians that have ever told me that I have "a disability that I cannot overcome" have been psychiatrists.  Even though it raises a serious question about the type of treatment I will receive, the first time a psychiatrist tells me this, I give him, or her, the benefit of the doubt.  I form the working hypothesis, however outrageous, that the psychiatrist simply doesn't realize that recovery is possible.  The second time a psychiatrist says this, or something comparable, I fire him or her and look for a psychiatrist that has kept current in his or her profession.


    During my life I've been a member of the Teamsters Union and a medical research scientist.  I've worked in a lumber mill and on Wall Street.  I've routinely traveled on Greyhound buses and in corporate jets.  I have lived in a $40/month rooming house and in a high rise on the upper east side of Manhattan.  I've borrowed money to buy food and negotiated highly sophisticated financing transactions in the 100's of millions of dollars.  More than once I've been confined to a single room against my will [in psychiatric hospitals], but have also transacted business throughout the US and abroad.  I've been involved in corporate turnarounds, and have created, bought and sold companies.


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    In recent years I have devoted my time to writing, public speaking and advocacy for the mentally ill.  Numerous articles have been written about me.  I currently serve on the New Jersey Governor's Council on Mental Health Stigma and the NAMI New Jersey Board of Trustees.  I have written a body of poetry and I am presently completing a memoir that recreates some of my experiences with schizophrenia.  Among others, I have appeared on Voices in the Family (WHYY) and in the BBC documentary "Voices in My Head."


    Well excuse me again!


    Nobody has ever said recovery is easy.  It is a most difficult and quite often a very painful journey.  It can be a roller coaster ride of good and very bad times.  But, don't ever try to tell me that recovery is not possible.


    Recovery comes in many different forms.  Each of us must develop our very own version of recovery and everyone's recovery is unique.  But each and every person's recovery is equally precious to us all.


    In a previous blog entitled "Coping Skills - #12 - Recreate Yourself" I told you about a young man who is treatment resistant. In other words, there is no medication or combination of medications that provide him with relief or any reduction of symptoms.  Yet he delivers hot coffee every morning to patients in a nursing home near his rooming house.  This young man is one of my heroes because he has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to bring joy into the lives of others.  I think of him often.


    I leave you with a poem.




    It is so simple,

    And yet profound,

    This issue of the glass

    And what we've found.


    It's both a window

    And a mirror.

    It's what we see,

    Not if it's clear.


    With claim to reason

    In what's expected,

    Some find themselves

    In glass reflected.


    And thus circumscribed

    By clarity of sight,

    They never see, or become,

    What they might.


    While yet others,

    All less than whole,

    Look through the glass

    Into the soul.


    They find pain,

    But also hope,

    Both out of focus,

    With which to cope.


    If truth bears promise,

    And narcissism not,

    Which perspective in the glass

    Is better sought?


    It is so simple,

    And yet profound,

    This issue of the glass

    And what we've found.



    With all my love and respect,



    * * *

    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.


Published On: June 16, 2008