I'll be 43 in April. It seems like only yesterday I turned 40, surrounded by family and friends at Bella Luna, sharing a rustic Italian meal, cake and good vibe. Ten months before this next birthday, I already feel that "43" is going to be the hard one - heck, I almost wrote hard-won. Both are true.
This fall, I start my third decade in recovery. Such a milestone is easier to swallow than my chronological age, because it feels almost like a jubilee. Otherwise, I feel old.
As I move towards 43, as I come into the next ten years in my recovery, I'd like to share some ideas and goals that sustain me, and talk about how I got here. First, years ago I wanted to win the Pulitzer Prize for my memoir. Though that's unlikely to happen, it keeps me going as I try to get Left of the Dial published.
Now, I just want to do good, in my own humble way, to help lift others out of the hell that can be schizophrenia. My ex-boyfriend of a couple years ago pushed me to branch out quickly into other genres, like fashion or music journalism. (As you can see, that's only one reason he's the ex.)
I will admit to one guilty hope: that somehow I can use my love of fashion to help peers feel good about themselves and live well in their recovery, in the same way my friend D.J. uses sports to bring people together and elevate their spirits. On that note, dealing with my residual symptoms of late has indeed battered my own self-confidence, and so perhaps doing good for others will help me feel good.
In five weeks, I celebrate - if you can call it a celebration - the anniversary of my first hospitalization in 1987, when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Twenty years ago. From there to here, I've learned something, a life lesson I couldn't have predicted that fateful fall: there is another side. You put one foot in front of the other and keep going.
To recover you need only this trait: persistence. I'm here today, quite simply, because I did what I had to do, and kept doing it. This ability to persist - when you can't see the end of the road, or the outcome or the light ahead - is all you need. Anyone with the desire to have a better life will prevail if she takes baby steps, and takes them again and again.
Just exactly how do we muster up this motivation in the face of odds? Maybe the medication makes you drowsy, as it did for me every morning for 15 years. Track each day for a week when you're at your most energetic, and schedule that time to do your "work," whatever it is. So if you're not alert in the a.m., try doing things in the p.m., and vice versa.
Or it's hard to get excited because it seems like nothing is possible. This is what I can tell you: seek out the support of a therapist. Attend a day program or IPRT (Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment). Do volunteer work. Find a clubhouse. Get a TEP (temporary employment) job that's short-term and you can leave at the end.
To be honest, nothing happens in leaps. For me, slow, gradual changes worked best and I feel strongly that this is the case for most of us. I spent the first three years of my recovery living in a halfway house, and going to program five days a week. The monthly trips - to a museum, to the ballet and other cultural events - helped re-orient me and the other ex-patients in the world.
At that time, at the house and the day program, the counselors worked hard for me. Olga, Greg, Maureen, Sharon, Laura, Penny-Oh, I hope I haven't forgotten anyone. It was their job to help me get better, and though I was impatient to get out and do things, and I fought with them at times, in retrospect I can say they did indeed give me back my life, and I hope they're doing well today.
So, if you want to branch out and do something new, I definitely recommend a residence or program or clubhouse, and a support group. I got here with "a little help from my friends." True blue peers who've been down this road and walk with me into our future, through good times and bad, just like a marriage.
Do I know what the future holds for me? I can't possibly know, and so I've come to let go of the need to predict. My friend Eric once asked me why every anniversary still matters to me, why I focus on it and haven't forgotten what happened. I'm not sure, except to say that perhaps to remember where I've come from is to understand what other people go through, and will continue to go through.
It does get better, I'm certain. If you despair, take heart. Shortly I'll be posting a blog entry about what happened when my symptoms came back, and I needed to change meds. I'll send it early next week for you to read. I have something to say about that, because I truly believe hope springs eternal.
Published On: August 22, 2007