The elements of a successful recovery that one can look forward to are serenity, courage and wisdom. Serenity comes into play when we accept this life-long struggle as part and parcel of what God gave us. He never gives us anything we can't handle. To be serene, an image of Buddha or a contemplative person in a yoga pose often comes to mind. The Oxford American College Dictionary defines serenity thus: "the state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled."
Here's the trick: to have troubling thoughts and yet be serene, achieve peace of mind by deflecting worry. How do we do this? The solution is simple yet brilliant: keep active. As best we can, get out of the house and be involved in the life around us. The more opportunities we have to distract ourselves from our worry, the better outcome we have in recovery. My friend Merry was pleased in this regard when I told her I was stacking the plates up again. Another friend, Zoë, admitted she took a gift shop job early in her recovery even though she wasn't fully-functioning, because she felt it was important to go to work and get back into the world.
One casual friend tried to get me to read a book that talked about how what we program our mind to think results in a powerful belief. I'm not certain that we can erase paranoia like magic and believe something else. That's what the medication is for: it's the gateway to finding serenity. It enables us to function better than we could if we weren't taking it. Indeed, over time the new drug has slowly worked a miracle and continues to do so. This gives me the balance I sought between the chemical and cognitive, feeling and thinking.
With serenity, I accept the things I cannot change. This happens earlier or later for some people, and others don't get here after a lifetime of troubles. Part of the reconciliation of the illness involves self-acceptance and finding our identity after the schizophrenia robs us of it. It's hard to swallow that we are going to be psychiatric patients the rest of our lives. Serenity is the act of letting go of the pain and moving on. A diagnosis of schizophrenia changes us, not the least because it's an unwieldy word and the loss of self is real at a time when we're young and just starting out in life.
The next element of a successful recovery is the courage to change the things we can, and this power is ours for the taking. The diagnosis isn't a life sentence; it's merely a tool that enables us to do work and get the right treatment. Right now, I have the courage to envision a better life for myself: in one year, I move into a new apartment and start another stage of my recovery. Courage isn't the absence of fear-I could be quaking in my boots and take action anyway. It comes back to simple persistence, and requires that we shut out other people's perceptions of what we can do, unless they, too, believe we can recover.
With all the hateful and hurtful words people speak to each other, I refuse to buy in to that negativity. Lifting ourselves out of this is an act of courage when anger seems to be the norm. Letting go of the anger about having an illness is the first step in healing. It requires that we reframe our thoughts. Instead of saying, "I'm sick and there's no hope for me," we can boost ourselves with these words: "I have an illness, and I'm getting better every day." The dictionary defines courage as "the ability to do something that frightens one" or "strength in the face of pain or grief." That is the true hallmark of functionality: the ability to act counter to one's fear.
Wisdom is the final act in recovery. We know now what we can change, and what we can't; and we're okay with that either way. I'm not going to be an extrovert, yet I can risk talking more within my comfort level. An ex-boss told me I had a "quiet sparkle," and perhaps she was right. All those years I tried to be someone I'm not, because I was scared of who I'd reveal stripped down to my true self. In some ways, the illness was a protective device.
The trusty Oxford defines wisdom as "the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment; the quality of being wise." It also refers to "the soundness of an action or decision with respect to the application of such experience, knowledge and good judgment." As I evolved in my recovery, I instinctively took the right action because I knew myself better. Though I'm not a saint, it's gotten easier to do things like get to bed earlier on most nights and clean the apartment more frequently.
Wisdom allows us to take on new roles and be nurturing towards ourselves and others. My great goal is to become a peer advocate when I retire from the library. Life demands we share our wisdom, not keep it inside or use it solely to advance our own purposes.
Insight is hard-won wisdom. The Greeks tell us to "Know Thyself." With this self-awareness, we're able to unlock healthy coping skills and recognize triggers before they lead to an episode. One good technique is to go back and ask, "What happened just before this symptom came on?" so you can discover what set you off and make plans to halt it from happening again.
Think of serenity, courage and wisdom as a "skill set" that serves you well as you negotiate the challenges of living well with schizophrenia. The beauty is these traits are achievable for everyone with the diagnosis.
Along the lines of what I've written about in here, a future blog entry will talk shortly about the stages of emotional response to trauma and how we can heal ourselves.
Published On: October 24, 2007