You’re no good! Who do you think you are? How dare you presume to help other people when you can’t possibly know what it’s like for them to live with symptoms! It’s obvious to certain people that you hate them. You’re responsible for their agony. Why do you think you could be a role model? Most people don’t want to hear what you have to say. Maybe it’s true that most people can’t recover.
And so the beat goes on, and on and on. Though I do have faith in my vision of a better life for those of us living with SZ, it’s not always enough of a puffed-up feeling to insulate me when the self-doubt whips at my mind. What causes this critical narrator to harsh on me with unpredictable force? Is this a trait I was born with, or did it intensify over the years as I tried to get approval from my mother, who loved me but didn’t always show her love? I always felt like nothing I did was ever good enough for her.
In my early years of recovery, I had a negative self-perception, even though I did find a full-time job and had a sunny studio apartment. My therapist, A., knew I was hard on myself. With him, and through honest self-scrutiny, I began to develop effective coping techniques.
An effective technique I used is creative visualization. One day, poring through the catalogues that came in the mail, I saw one for the Pottery Barn that had on its cover a modern update on an apothecary chest. Something about seeing a chest of drawers into which I could place things neatly, with “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” gave me an idea. I would visualize the image of an apothecary chest when I was overwhelmed with feelings. When I was sad or angry or beating on myself, I’d store each mood in its own drawer so that it didn’t overflow my mind and take control.
Another picture in my head empowered me, and I created it accidentally. I was at work, and pressed the button for the lobby in the elevator, but when the door opened 19 floors below, a brick wall popped up where the waiting area should be. I was in the sub-basement! Luckily, I pressed the alarm button and the guard sent me back up within five minutes. After this snafu, whenever I wanted to set boundaries with other people, I’d visualize a brick wall standing between us.
One of the first boosters I found for my battered self-esteem was developed with my counselor in the halfway house. He took out a pad and had me write down five positive things I liked about myself. Mind you, I could barely find one! Yet I took him up on the offer: I’m worthy. I’m capable. I’m beautiful. I love myself. I’m happy. Though I felt it wasn’t true, each day I wrote down things I liked about myself, and slowly but surely they came true. Even as recently as two or three years ago, I kept such a “grateful journal” in which I listed at least 15 things I appreciated about myself and what I’d done that day. I bought a cheap but colorful hardbound journal, and wrote in it a stream of positive traits and activities, re-reading them each night to remember I had done good.