On September 25, 1987 I had a break that was sudden, total and irreversible. It's exactly 25 years later and I wanted to tell you my story in more detail to offer hope.
Ever since I was five years old, the neighborhood kids bullied me at the bus stop and in the school yard. It's possible I didn't develop a sense of entitlement because no one else in my life, not my parents nor the bullies, reinforced in me that I could ever be superior in any way.
So the first rule of thumb I can give you when you're newly diagnosed is to embrace the struggle. My ethic is "here's the playing field, please join in." After struggling so long with the diagnosis, I manifested a desire to embrace other people's differences and quirks because I knew I was different; so I started to reach out to others traveling down this road.
At 35, I set out to spend my life in public service. Had I not had a hard life, had everything come easy to me, I might have accepted the status quo. I might not have been motivated to be a change agent in the world.
My earliest experiences in recovery shaped my worldview. I have strong views on certain things because the staff in the system resisted me when I said I wanted to get a full-time job and live independently. After I got out of the hospital, I lived at home for a year and attended a day program. I attended a second day program and lived in a halfway house for a year after that and then in a residence for close to a year.
The residence was located in a dangerous apartment complex on the edge of town. Crack vials littered the hallways. A police officer masqueraded as the security guard to try to break up the drug dealer activity. Some of the psychiatric residents got addicted to crack.
A life lived on the margins of society quickly became unacceptable to me. If I continued to collect my meager $423/month government disability check, I wouldn't have any other option.
So I got clerical training via OVR-the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation-the New York State agency that helped people with disabilities get jobs. (It's now Acces-R more commonly remembered as VESID recently.)
As a result, on August 13, 1990 I obtained my first job as an administrative assistant. Seven months later, I moved into a studio apartment near the beach. I worked in the gray flannel insurance field for those first seven years.
In the fall of 1997, I went back to school and in June 2000, I obtained a Masters in Library and Information Science.
One thing I know: You have the power to make the world a better place simply by being in it. The external markers of success don't impress me, it's the nature of the human spirit to prevail that awes me.
I respect and admire everyone living in recovery, from whatever hard time they're in recovery from. You do not know, when you are 22, and have a limited view of the world, what awaits you years later. I'm 47-I look in photos like I'm in my 30s-only I'm 47 and I got here. So I'm clear that you can get to the cusp of middle age with a renewed hope for the future.
It could seem to you like your milestones are moving targets. I'll tell you this: life is a journey, not a destination. Be proud of who you are not what you own. As you move into your older years, you'll set new priorities and take on reinforced values. So I can tell you too that when you live in accordance with your values, that's all that matters. You can be satisfied with your life when you've done what you know in your heart is the right thing to do.
I was 35 years old when I articulated the goal to become a schizophrenia spokesperson. I started working at this HealthCentral community when I was 42, so I've been the HealthGuide for six years now. I've been blessed to meet the greatest people online here: all of you whose courage, resilience, faith and hope carry you through the challenges of living with this illness.
In the end, it's not so remarkable to me that I earned a degree. Sure, I can check certain things off on a resume or a profile. Yet what matters most is that I got in the ring with the SZ and fought a brave fight and I was the last one standing.
In recovery as in life, there are no guarantees. One thing I honor above all: my ethic that those of us who succeeded owe a debt to the world to help other people succeed.
I do what I do for one simple reason:
I've lived in recovery for 25 years: all of my adult life.
I will end here with this:
I got to this point because I rebelled the role of mental patient.
Your are not your illness, you are not your symptoms. You deserve to have a life of your own choosing, even if you have housing or healthcare limitations.
Write your own story from the very beginning. Erase the doubt that tells you won't be able to accomplish very much. Question your providers when they give you negative reinforcement instead of positive encouragement.
Risk taking action to do new things and to challenge yourself to do a little better every day. Doing your laundry after spending five days holed up in bed merits a recovery Noble Prize. The playing field is always level when you compete against yourself and no one else.
You do not know when you're first starting out what the future will hold. You can only keep taking action. I asked my mother about 10 years ago why some people keep carrying on when there seems to be no end in sight to their struggle.
"The alternative is no option." She looked me in the eye.
Today, recovery is not only possible: it's probable.
Keep one foot in front of the other and keep on walking.
I'm confident when I tell you that better things lie ahead.
You can have a good life living with schizophrenia. It's not over by a long shot when you're diagnosed. Your life has only just begun.
If you don't believe me, listen to a woman who was a true champion:
Wilma Rudolph is quoted: "The triumph can't be had without the struggle."
"Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: the potential for greatness lives with each of us."
She was born 4 lbs and sickly and no one thought she would live. As a kid, she had a crooked leg and wore a brace.
Wilma Rudolph became the fastest runner in the world.
She won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics.
Now you see: giving up is not an option.
I'd love to hear your comments on this SharePost.
Published On: September 25, 2012