Eight Great Recovery Secrets: Part One

  • I'm going to offer eight great recovery secrets here as a prelude to talking about my schizophrenia experience in September: the 25th anniversary of my diagnosis.  This is Part One and Part Two will follow.


    Over the six years I've worked for HealthCentral, I've offered various Top Ten lists.  This list of eight is culled from what I learned living in recovery successfully for 25 years.


    1.         Mourn the past, and move forward.


    I was a disc jockey on the FM radio when I got sick and that was the happiest time of my life.  Deciding to join the radio station was the defining moment of my life.  I was distraught when I couldn't go back to the way things were before.  The lowest point of my recovery was six am on New Year's Day 1988.  Washing and scrubbing dishes at the kitchen sink, I looked out the window onto the silent, empty world that would never be mine.  Or so I thought.

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    I was able to move forward when I accepted I would not ever be a coveted magazine editor whose bon mots were the Toast of the City.  I realized quickly what I could do: get trained to be an administrative assistant instead.


    25 years later I draw upon the memories of these careers to sustain me.  My courage to risk becoming a disc jockey reminds me that I can draw upon this strength to take new risks today.


    I was able to embrace a different future when I mourned my early life.  How can we regret what might have been if it didn't happen?  We can only regret an actual event.  Yet even then regret serves no purpose.


    Each of us needs to embrace the possibility that the future can be better.


    2.         Take your medication.


    This is common sense.  Taking your meds can get you to remission.  The idea that people with schizophrenia can have "full and robust" lives isn't debatable.  Medication makes this possible.  In my book, "the sky's the limit" rings true.  Yet the goal is different for everyone.  Some of us will continue to have residual or breakthrough symptoms.  Not all of us will be able to do what others do.  That's not the point.  The point is that by taking the medication our lives become more comfortable and manageable.  The reality is: no one I know who discontinued his or her meds got better.  They relapsed and had a much harder time of it.


    3.         Do the hard things first.


    Early on in my recovery, I chose to focus on taking action to advance towards my goal of finding full-time work.  I attended a day program for two years and lived in a residence and was trained as a word processor so I could get office work.


    I steered clear of negative people.  I didn't succumb to the allure of street drugs and alcohol.  The earliest kind of goals I set were treatment goals with the counselor at the halfway house and the director of the first day program.


    Would I recommend a day program?  Only for the short term and only when you set a goal for what you want to do when you get out.


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    It might be easier to watch TV all day.  Indeed, you might lack the motivation to do very much at all.  This is understandable.  Yet I suggest that as soon as you can, you get outside of your apartment and do something.  Volunteer work is a good option.  You   might not be able to work at a job, yet if you love music you could join a band.


    A lot of times in your recovery, especially early on, you will have to do things you don't want to do just to be able to get better.  I decided my recovery would come first and this is what I devoted my time to.  As things got better, I started to envision having the kind of life where I could do what I want.


    You're not boxed in.  If you try something and it doesn't work, go back to the drawing board.  The more mistakes you make, you know what not to do, and you get confidence. That's the sure-fire secret to success.


    4.         Set goals.


    Bill MacPhee, the founder and CEO of SZ magazine, famously wrote in one of his  editor's letters that "The goal is not to set the bar high.  The goal is to set it.  Period."  By taking healthy risks, we can grow and change for the better.  I would fear not setting goals because I wouldn't want to drift through life with no purpose.  By setting goals and achieving them, we boost our confidence. 


    The key is to start out by setting goals we know we can achieve, and moving on to more challenging goals.  Set one goal at a time, do one thing each day to move towards completing it, and cross it off your list and reward yourself when you make it happen.


    Indeed: a goal can be as simple as taking a shower five nights a week or doing laundry once a week or just getting out of bed on the days you have no energy.


    Remember: praise yourself for what you are able to do instead of beating yourself up for what you didn't do.  If you want to exercise five days a week and you work out only three days, celebrate this victory anyway.


    Revisit or revise your goals if the deadline seems too restrictive or the demands you've placed on yourself are impossible to reach.  Set SMART goals: ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific.


    Remember that you have control over a lot of what happens in your life.  Engaging in goal-directed behavior at your own comfort level can enable you to feel like you're in control.


    The second part of this SharePost series will talk about the last four secrets: to do what you love, have empathy for others, know that we're not victims and that love is worth the risk.

Published On: June 24, 2012