Pamela Mary Judge, writing SharePosts as FairfaxMorrow, is one of the next "100 Individuals with Schizophrenia" that I'm featuring in a series of interviews. Diagnosed with schizoaffective when she was 25 years old, she's now been in remission 11 years.
CB: Could you tell us a little about your symptoms and what happened to trigger that diagnosis?
PM: In 1981, after a nearly fatal suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective, depressed type. I had increasing depression, racing thoughts, and was suicidal and psychotic. I heard voices telling me to do myself in.
CB: Were you ever hospitalized?
PM: My first hospitalization was in 1982 for two months, the second one was in 1990 for three months, and in 1996 I was hospitalized for a year.
CB: What can you tell someone who's relapsed about bouncing back?
PM: Give your psychiatrist or your treatment team time to find the medications best suited to you, stay on your meds and avoid the temptation to go off them once you're feeling better. Remember, relapses are temporary even though they may feel and seem permanent. Avoid street drugs and alcohol, and other destructive behaviors. Enjoy life: don't waste the good days living in fear of your next potential relapse.
CB: You were employed for 30 years. Tells us a little about that.
PM: While I was employed, I put pressure on myself to excel at all times. I took on more than I could handle at work, and in my personal life. I tend to be a perfectionist in a lot of ways. Like most things, there are pros and cons to that.
CB: What kind of jobs did you have and how did you manage your symptoms on the job?
PM: For a little over five years I worked in private industry. For nearly twenty-five years I worked in a clerical capacity, and it was while I was employed in the office that the illness developed. When it got to the point where I couldn't function, I'd take time off under sick leave and use vacation time. In 2002, I began to get so depressed my attendance suffered greatly. I went into Human Resources without telling them too much (I had my union representative there with me), and ran up the white flag and told them it was time for me to retire.
CB: You have an amazing story because your employer kept you on and didn't fire you even though you got sick.
PM: The initial onset as well as all three relapses occurred while I was working. I disclosed, I more or less had to, because my psychiatrist sent them a letter recommending hospitalization. My employer was kind and compassionate and made accommodations. For instance, when I came back from the third relapse, I spoke with my supervisor about stress being detrimental to me and he offered to divide my job between two other employees. So we had three employees working on one job. It worked well for a number of years until I relapsed and had to file for a permanent disability retirement.
CB: Would you suggest people ask for reasonable accommodations at work if they need them?