I'm pleased to have interviewed Kate Kiernan, one of the top five "Best of 2007" award winners whose blog is titled "Yin and Yang". As I'm sure you'll see from our talk, she is a blessed person who has a lot to offer others with her hard-won insight and wisdom.
CB: First, I'd like to ask what your diagnosis is and when it was given?
KK: My diagnosis was and is schizophrenia. I was diagnosed when I checked myself into a hospital in 1998.
CB: You were aware that something was wrong?
KK: For months I was caught up in my delusions and acting crazy. I lived alone and it was the voices that told me to check myself into the hospital. Before that they said to call my parents and tell them what was happening, so I did. The next day my father showed up from Florida and stayed with me for about a month, and then my mother came.
CB: You were hospitalized for three weeks?
KK: No. My father had come the next day and took me home.
CB: Did they give you medication?
KK: When I was there, they put me on Zyprexa. It was strong even though I was on a low dose, so I flushed it down the toilet after I got out. From then on I only took the Prozac, and the Zyprexa every so often. I had three psychotic breaks so I finally started taking the meds. That's when I came out of the delusions and paranoia. Now I'm on Abilify and Risperdal.
CB: You've talked about hearing voices. I wonder if you could give others hope and talk about your techniques for dealing with the voices.
KK: Right now, because I'm taking the meds, the voices aren't anywhere near as aggressive or in my face; they're more removed and I can handle it. Just in the first three years it was hard to deal with.
CB: How long have you been in recovery and what helped the most?
KK: In 2002, I started taking the meds regularly, so I've been in recovery five years. I recommend anyone who gets ill with this thing go into therapy. I talked to a therapist pretty much from the beginning and the therapy got me through the hardest spots, even when I wasn't taking the meds. Also support groups of any type are really good for helping with psychotic symptoms.
CB: Tell us about that.
KK: I didn't have a group for mental illness but I did go to Al-Anon - a group for family and friends of alcoholics - because I'd been in a relationship with an abusive alcoholic. I also went into a group for women in domestic violence and I found a lot of good people there. I started to get involved in helping them with their problems, and I was able to stop focusing on my illness so much.
CB: What are your top three techniques for managing the schizophrenia?
KK: Definitely the meds, therapy and support groups are basic tools in helping you recover. I also believe in a higher power and that has helped me get through. I do a lot of praying, and working on "gratitude lists" - I think of things that make me feel good in my day. It could be a cup of hot tea, my cat or anything I can find to motivate me to keep going and not give up.
CB: I want to congratulate you on winning one of the "Best of 2007" site awards. Tell us a little how you got involved with Yin and Yang, your blog.
KK: Thank you. I Googled "blogs," and found www.blogger.com right away, so I hooked up with that last November 2006.
CB: I read Yin and Yang. You write with confidence and clarity about a number of topics, not just the schizophrenia. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a blog or explore Internet communities?
KK: I urge anyone to do a blog because it's therapeutic and helps you connect with other people. I've been trying to get my mother to start one, too.
CB: Would you say it helps with the illness to have found your voice? One of the symptoms is paranoia, so it's hard for people to trust. You're brave to be so honest by disclosing via the blog.
KK: First of all, I'm not paranoid any more, thank God, so I don't know how to answer in terms of that. For me, I find the blog gives me an outlet to talk about myself, and what I go through. I don't have that very much in my life. I'd like to go to a support group for mental illness because it's a place you can openly share yourself and your life with other people. Right now, the blog is in place of that.
CB: Tell us a little about your interests: the music and the singing.
KK: I had been in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic for five years, and he was into guitar playing and singing so I got into it. After I left him, I bought an 8-track recorder so I could start making songs and having different tracks-like a voice track, a guitar track, and a rhythm track. Again, it was therapeutic to get all this stuff out of me, the powerful emotions. For awhile I was getting good at it and then when I got sick the voices attacked that part of me so I stopped. I recently moved towards it again.
CB: You do volunteer work with a library. How did you find that and how is it going?
KK: I was talking to my therapist about doing volunteer work and I had thought about the library in town. One day I bravely asked if they needed help, and I've been working a couple hours a week. I've been doing that for four months, and I enjoy it. My mother's a librarian, so she's pleased.
CB: What do you do there?
KK: I "read" the shelves-that is, place books in order. Also I weed the books out of the collection that don't circulate too much. They're put on the book sale or discarded.
CB: You're like a librarian!
CB: Wow. What are some of your goals for the future?
KK: I'd also like to get a part-time job in the spring. My therapist recommended VESID.
CB: That's the New York State Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities. They'll either send you for jobs or train you.
KK: Right. That's what I want, because a lot of people in social services have options, and I'm not in one, so I want to try VESID. This is open to everybody. My psychiatrist said I'd need to do an interview and fill out a form. It sounds exciting.
CB: Yes, it does. Good luck with that.
KK: I'm looking forward to it. Because I have two college degrees but I don't have work experience, this would boost my self-esteem.
CB: What are your degrees in?
KK: I have a degree from Barnard in English and art history from 1985 before I got sick, and I have a BFA from Alfred University in painting and photography.
CB: So you like to paint and shoot pictures?
KK: I like painting, photography, writing, singing-all creative outlets. I obtained the second degree when I was suffering from the schizophrenia so I'm proud of myself for doing that.
CB: What would you tell anyone who wants to go to college even though she has the illness?
KK: I'd say, "Definitely go for it!" You have to judge where you're at in the illness because people go through stages. Sometimes it's too acute to go to school or get a job, but after you get through that hard part you can reach out to others. It helps to have someone show you the way, or go to a support group with other people who've been through it. I had help with my therapist.
CB: How did you manage your studies?
KK: In school, I told professors my situation because I needed that extra little bit of compassion they could give me so I could get through it. It worked out fine because they were all very compassionate and supportive. I haven't told people at the library yet, because I only see them a couple hours a week, but if you're around people for a while, it's good to tell them. My experience has been that more people are supportive than you think. Have you found that?
CB: In 2004, NAMI-Staten Island honored me as one of three volunteers of the year and that good news made its way into the employee newsletter where I work. People congratulated me.
KK: That's it: when people see you're not a monster, that you're a decent individual, they start to re-think their stigma mentality. It gives you confidence in turn.
CB: Yes, because the illness takes that away.
KK: I struggled with confidence for so long, and with self-care issues and withdrawal even today. I need to clean my house and take care of my clothes better. Still, I'm grateful the positive symptoms, the delusions and paranoia, are gone so I'm in pretty good shape otherwise.
CB: You attribute that to the medication?
KK: Definitely. I was also at the point in my recovery where I was ready to let go of the delusions. I had been through such a beating with them that I asked the voices, "Can I stop believing this delusion?" and they said yes.
CB: I want to thank you for giving me this interview and sharing your story with others. You truly are a blessed person. Is there anything else you want to say?
KK: Not to give up. It gets hard sometimes, but have some faith and keep trying. I went through periods where I wanted to die. People go through that every day and it's horrible, but you can get through it. Keep on trying.
Published On: October 02, 2007