In a Schizophrenia Digest article I wrote, a wise woman, Mattie, spoke about how after she got sick, she went from being an extrovert to someone now a lot quieter. This is perhaps the most poignant reversal to deal with: the truth that the illness changes us.
How do we reconcile this? Another wise woman, Oprah Winfrey, in her What I Know for Sure column, tells us, "Do the emotional and spiritual work required to develop authentic power (using your personality to do your soul's work), and you will always be rewarded."
The italics I've added for emphasis because when I read that quote, it resonated with me as being the ultimate technique for managing schizophrenia. Indeed, I began to heal when I found a career that allowed me to be cheerful and express myself. Before that, I worked in corporations where I was required to maintain a stone face at all times.
As I revolved in and out of those jobs, I wondered what happened to the teen girl who thought she could change the world, one punk rock record at a time. My own quest to claim my authentic power took many turns. When I first started out in recovery, I signed up for adult education courses in handwriting analysis and magazine writing. I attended church and rock concerts. I kept a journal.
Before I got sick, I used to love to paint and draw. I sketched my moods in gray and black. My art was a form of therapy, and it sustained me on lonely nights. It wasn't until two years ago that I picked up a pencil again. Think about that. It took me 20 years to get back to something that gave me joy.
This act has been a revolution. I've requested the Art Students League send me their fall bulletin, because I have the urge to take a painting class. I also want to do yoga, my favorite exercise that I abandoned four years ago when it conflicted with my job schedule. I'll wind down the last five months of the year by working on the things that satisfy my soul. When it comes to other people's demands on my time, "If it doesn't fit, I won't commit."
Over the years, my interest in self-improvement has been ongoing. In the 1990s, I read a popular career book called Do What You Are, and this also suggested that your personality type (I'm an INTJ) determines the work that's the best fit. Recently, I found the Kolbe A Index greatly liberating because it also relies on our natural abilities to help us excel. Kathy Kolbe, the creator of this test, quotes Popeye, the great philosopher who said, "I am what I am-and that's all I am." She believes he's a worldwide folk hero because, "He knows something we all need to keep in mind: it is not necessary to be anything other than who you are to achieve your highest goals."
I refer to these tests because I feel they give us ideas to nosh on when it comes to self-exploration. Researching yourself is a useful way to pick up on coping skills you didn't know you had. Though the illness changes us, we are still the same self at our core.
The best way to deal with our condition is to mourn what we had, and move on. Dr. Xavier Amador, Ph.D., in his Lessons Learned column in the summer 2007 Schizophrenia Digest, writes: "By mourning what has been lost, you open your eyes to all that is still here. Moreover, you open your eyes and heart to new possibilities."
Taking my first stab at recovery, I sought to make a 360-degree return to the time when I was the chatty disc jockey commanding the microphone at a radio station. I had big dreams: I wanted to be a magazine editor whose sparkling wit and incisive style was the toast of the town.
Today I've resolved the truth that I'll never be as outgoing as I was then, experimenting with fashion and music, tasting for the first time freedom and a sense of self. I mourn that other Christina now. I've learned that letting go gives us a different kind of freedom.
It enables us to confidently embrace the future. We can't plan things to a T because sometimes the best plans go astray. Life will tell us, if only we stop to listen.
Published On: July 26, 2007