This week I celebrate 15 years out of the hospital. At first I was in tears, remembering that time in my life. The memories came on, and I did my best to reconcile them. Even though in sunny moments it seems like my 20s were heady, I know that I experienced a lot of pain.
The road was long and hard, often challenging, sometimes fortunate. I learned life lessons from dealing with the schizophrenia. I'd like to share with you fifteen points of wisdom, one for each year that I've lived on the outside.
One: Only today matters. The future isn't guaranteed. If you wake up to live another day, you have the opportunity to live well and do good. Treat each day on its own merits, neither comparing it to yesterday or rushing through it into the next day. Treasure what you have. Stop to eat a peach, letting the juice dribble down your chin.
Two: The number one sacrifice I made was giving up the idea that I could ever be someone I'm not. I will never be dramatic or trendy, like those women of my youth who I emulated. It took two decades to reconcile this, and I finally accept myself as I am.
Three: I take my medication every day, as prescribed. I've learned the hard way that the illness is destructive and I am powerless against it unless I take the drug. Recovery is the act of self-creation, and love and respect for ourselves. Each of us has to make that choice: illness or wellness. More likely, if we risk going off the meds, we no longer have that choice.
Four: The schizophrenia is a chameleon, changing its symptoms like colors so you don't suspect it's there. How smoothly it ingratiates itself into your brain! Desires, thoughts, perceptions, worry, insomnia and other seemingly innocent, ordinary or self-imposed behaviors could actually be the illness turning you against yourself, because the SZ loves to get us to beat on ourselves.
Five: Any day I'm not in the back ward of a hospital is a good day. This is my goal above anything else I could strive for. I want to make it okay if not hip to live with schizophrenia. In all I do, it's not about the illness. It's about living life and loving life. I've been in this body for 42 years, lived with my ups and downs and handled them with good cheer either way. Now, that's something to celebrate.
Six: I firmly believe that honest work, labored at with enthusiasm, enables you to recover quickly and more fully. It boosts your self-esteem and enables you to be self-reliant. You will feel productive and the more you do, the more you'll want to do.
Seven: You have to be good to yourself. Create an expansive "budget" for recreation. Spend your time doing the things you love and you'll feel a lot happier. That sounds like a "Keep It Simple, Sweetheart" statement because it's true.
Eight: Nobody can do it for you. You've got to be proactive and reach out for support when you need it. When you feel like you're under stress, or are experiencing new or unusual symptoms or thoughts or feelings you seem to not have control over, get to your psychiatrist as soon as possible.
Nine: Join a support group or create one. I've said this before and it's well worth repeating. The longer I go without seeing my "Saturday buddies" the more I feel lost and adrift, and I'm unable to cope as well as I could with the evolving changes in my life.
Ten: It does get better. Life isn't simple, and it isn't easy. However, you will slowly come into your own if you make your recovery the #1 focus of your life. Recovery leads to self-discovery, which leads to self-acceptance: the ultimate goal. To like yourself is a feeling stronger than any high a drug could give you.
Eleven: Refrain from street drugs and alcohol. Though I never had a monkey on my back, I remember clearly the day I decided to stop drinking. In all my life, I never had more than four beers at one time. One night in March of 1993, I sat with my friend Maya at a table inside a bar on the Island. I was laughing and acting silly, having a good time.
What I remember is this: I woke up the next morning and decided I didn't want to use alcohol to make myself more outgoing than I naturally am. That was the last time I picked up a beer. At a wedding or other celebration or jubilee, I will have a flute of champagne. One flute. And then I call it a night. Depending on your meds, even this could be off-limits.
Twelve: What more can you ask for than two friends, pizza and a really great sound system? Find the best mates you can bare your soul to, have a good cry with, and climb up the highest mountain.
Thirteen: Luck has nothing to do with it. Everybody struggles, whether or not she has symptoms. The grass isn't greener over there. Work your recovery every day and you'll have something to show for it.
Fourteen: If you're tempted to be envious of someone else, or to bemoan the unfairness of life, re-read #13.
Fifteen: Good things do come to those who wait. All five long-term studies show that 60% of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia recover fully or improve significantly. Among the 40% who do less well, significant improvement is also possible.
Now, can I say it's any better for me, 15 years later? Yes. It will only get better for you, too. At 42 years old, I wouldn't trade a day of my life lived. Some things I will never forget. Other things I left by the roadside. As I enter a new decade in recovery, I've decided to travel light.
Join me in the next blog entry when I talk about a new development in my schizophrenia treatment.
Published On: July 12, 2007