Schizophrenia Tactics: Awareness and Mindfulness

  • The community leaders at the mental health sites for HealthCentral will focus on mindfulness and awareness for Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 2-8, 2011.


    It is clear to me that awareness is the precursor to insight and first we must become aware of how the illness plays out in our lives.  Our recovery can be thought to run along a curve from awareness to insight to acceptance.

    Focusing your awareness, or practicing mindfulness, is a key technique to use in recovery from schizophrenia.  I've said often here that what you resist, persists.


    The first order of the day is to accept you have this illness, yet to know it is not who you are.  The author Jodi Picoult in an interview describing her characters, said, "People are not the sum total of their disability." 

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    You are a person first, you are not a schizophrenic.


    Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as using dialectic thinking to describe what you are feeling, sensing, or thinking, by connecting two opposing things with the word "and."  This could be: "I'm awake and exhausted."  "It is hot and dark in here."

    Mindfulness is simply a fancy word for a devoted awareness to what's going on.


    We need to be aware and realize what we're thinking and how it affects how we feel about something.  This is the tenet of the rational-emotive philosophy.

    Awareness can take the form of simply observing the world around you and taking in what's happening.  I gained a ton of insight over the course of the two days I was holed up in my apartment because of Hurricane Irene.  I typed up a list of reasons why I felt it was okay that opposing forces were at work in my life.


    Seeing in print why this was a good thing enabled me to reconcile how I felt about it.

    As a person with SZ, you need to be aware of your surroundings too, and of what other people are doing, say, in a crowded train station.


    I will focus on mindfulness in another way now: to be in tune with yourself, to understand what makes you tick or tock.

    My goal is to live a simple, authentic life unencumbered by the pursuit of material goods.  I know a woman who craves the things money can buy like a $700 watch and endless expensive vacations.  To that I say: "To each his own."


    Only I treasure what I have and I do not want what I don't have.  I'm mindful of not lacking for anything.  I'm grateful I'm alive because I'm aware it could be even worse.

    In one way awareness helps you manage your illness better: when you develop insight into what goes on, you can feel better.  The situation might not change, yet changing your perception of it gives you peace. 


    In this regard I recommend the Karen Casey self-help guide Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow.  It is a short book you can read in a day or two and refer to again and again.

    In my life: the cognitive therapist told me what happens might not ever go away.  I'm better able to accept this fate because I changed my perception of the severity of the problem.  I no longer get upset when it happens, so I can live through it when it does, whereas before it greatly upset me.


    A basic approach to mindfulness is to be aware: to truly see the objects around you, to see things and people as they are not as you would like them to be.  On a recent walk, I noticed how the branches of the trees were so leafy they hung over the middle of the street like a canopy of lush green.

    Truly, we can't control other people and often in our lives there is so much we can't control.  Focusing on what we can control is the healthful response.  I recommend another book: Easier Than You Think because life doesn't have to be so hard.  It talks about "The Small Changes That Add Up to a World of Difference."  Richard Carlson, Ph.D. is the author.

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    To take joy in ordinary delights is another benefit of adopting a mindfulness practice.  This proves it doesn't take much to be happy.

    I'm glad I bought a glass jar to place the ladles and serving spoons in to store on the kitchen counter.  It freed up space on a shelf in the pantry to store my vinyl lunch tote instead of getting rid of the tote.  This one simple act paid extraordinary dividends in how I felt.


    We also need to be aware of the triggers that set us off, and develop ways to halt an episode.  That is the ideal approach to managing the illness: proactively not reactively.

    Awareness can take the form of keeping either a happiness journal or grateful journal or a combination of the two.  You record the things you're grateful for and the things that give you joy and re-read the entries often.


    Yoga followers focus on the breath and bring their attention to their breathing.  Indeed, yoga or meditation could be a useful way to counter anxiety.  I'm going to dust off my old copy of Meditation for Dummies and see if it would indeed give good suggestions.

    I e-mailed a friend in September and she told me she would call me on the phone that day could I give her my number.  I was bummed out about my feelings about what I wanted to do and felt conflicted.  This friend reminded me of what pop psychologists everywhere have been touting since forever: be fully present in the moment because this is all you have: today.


    She told me: "You need to be comfortable in yourself wherever you're at." 

    It is incredibly hard for some of us to confront our fears or to accept our messy emotions and untidy feelings that often well up so strongly that we feel overwhelmed.  The key is to honor your feelings and give yourself the option that they could change in the future.  Understand that feelings come in waves that crest and fall in a rhythm.


    I've written in here before that numbing our feelings with street drugs or alcohol or comfort food doesn't solve things; it only causes a whole new set of problems and is like a bandage.  Get to the root of what's going on and focus your energy on solving the problem instead of distracting yourself from it.

    One thing I do nearly every day is keep a journal in a 5-subject spiral-bound notebook.  I re-read the entries often as I'm writing them because they are clues to what I'm feeling and thinking about what's going on in my life.


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    Developing this insight into yourself and your life is the number-one tool for living well in recovery.  I'm currently using the notebook to examine my time spent in recovery to come to an understanding about why certain things happened.

    Having self-awareness allows you to understand what motivates you to do or not do things.  You can choose your responses instead of acting in an automatic way.


    With awareness hopefully comes insight.  And having insight into who we are, and how our illness manifests itself in our life, gives us control.  It is not the enormity or severity of our challenge that determines our fate, but how we respond to it.

    It comes down to this: we must pay attention.  Clarity of mind is possible when we take the time to listen to what our bodies are telling us and what our intuition is guiding us to do.  It begins with our awareness.


    My favorite strategy is this: to embrace the struggle.  To be aware of why it's here and how we can use it in our lives to emerge stronger and fitter in all ways.

    Schizophrenia can be managed and lived with just like any other illness.  You can recover from schizophrenia and have a good life. 


    I hope this SharePost gives you some ideas about how to do that. 

    Next up I will talk about National Depression Screening Day: October 6th.

Published On: October 02, 2011