CHOICES II-1 - Impediments to Acceptance 1A

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    In my blog entitled CHOICES II-0 - Starting Over, posted today, 13 October 2008, I cited the mantra that "The point of departure for the journey of recovery is our acceptance of the fact that we have a mental illness."  This clique represents the collective wisdom of most providers, as well as many advocacy organizations and involved family members.


    For me, as a consumer at the age of thirteen, some fifty-plus years ago, this adage was decided untrue.   For the last seven years I have actively advocated for the mentally ill.  In conversations over this period with a significant number of consumers of all ages, I have found that the experiences of many have been similar to my own.

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    I can only present the particulars of my personal story, which experience is anecdotal.  As such it does NOT represent anything even close to scientific proof.


    Starting with my very first episode of schizophrenia, I suffered from anosognosia, which means I was unaware that I was ill.  This occurs in about 40% of all cases of schizophrenia.  Understand this: I was not in denial.  I knew something was terribly wrong.  I simply did not believe that I had a medical problem, i.e. a mental illness.  I thought my problems were spiritual in nature.


    My symptoms were many.  I believed that God had given me a special mission that would save the universe [delusions of grandeur], and that Satan and three of his demons were assaulting me in an effort to ensure my failure [paranoid delusions].  I suffered from thought insertions [originating with Satan]; verbal hallucinations [Satan's demons and "orphaned voices"]; highly demonstrative operant-driven "superstitious" behaviors, and on and on.  The point is that I held with fervent religious conviction that all these phenomena and events were spiritual in origin.


    Given the above, what do you think happened when my family insisted that to solve my problems I had "to accept the fact that I had a mental illness?"


    With the certainty of my religious convictions, I did not hear the word "accept."  What I did hear was more akin to "acknowledge," or "admit, "or "confess," all of which were shameful.  I also heard the implicit suggestion that I was weak or deficient in some essential human qualities, perhaps even moral rectitude.  I then heard many of the members of our church suggest that I was a hypocrite, that I had no faith, and/or that I was possessed by Satan or his demons.


     If this had continued, I would in time have ended up on the back ward of a state mental hospital, then on the streets, and finally long since dead and buried in potters field.  So, what happened?


    My psychiatrist did not insist that I accept the notion that I was mentally ill.  In fact, he made no such demands upon me.  He extended unconditional acceptance to me and suspended disbelief with regard to my circumstances as I described them.  To be sure, he did not endorse my delusions, but neither did he challenge these.  We quickly came to agree that my problems were serious because of the disruptions in my life that these caused, but also that it was not necessary to attach a label to these problems in order for us to begin working together on finding solutions.  I agreed to take medication and followed his suggestions for coping with life.


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    Because of my psychiatrist's approach, effective treatment for me began within five days of the first appearance of my symptoms.  About three years later, I came to the conclusion entirely on my own that my difficulties were medical (mental) in nature and not spiritual.


    If my psychiatrist had initially proceeded in accordance with the mantra that "The point of departure for the journey of recovery is our acceptance of the fact that we have a mental illness." effective treatment for me would have been delayed for years or would not occurred at all, and the outcome would have been much less certain.

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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.


Published On: October 13, 2008