An Interview with Pamela Mary

  • 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?

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    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?


    PM: I think since the ADA Act has been watered down, you have to be careful what you ask for with regard to accommodations. You have to be reasonable and put it in writing in the form of a memo. When you discuss accommodations with your employer, if you have a union, you should have your union people with you.


    CB: How were you able to stay employed for 30 years?


    PM: It was the opposite: working helped with my symptoms and gave me the courage to keep going. It was my reason for living for a number of years. I lived to work: that was my motivation.


    CB: Any suggestions for good types of jobs for people living with schizoaffective?


    PM: Often your state department of rehabilitation can be useful, or a temporary agency. Volunteer work in something you enjoy could also lead to a part- or full-time job. I worked at a local animal shelter, and at the university's botanical garden. Clerical or other work, at the church or synagogue of your choice, is another option. Also, you could find a job that tends to be low stress, like a county or city job. Working with computers could be good if you have a mental illness.

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    CB: What are your top coping skills for dealing with the symptoms?


    PM: First, knowing from past experience that stress can cause me to relapse, I divide things over a number of days whereas I used to do as much as possible in one day. Instead of running errands in one day, I space them out over three or four days. Also, I have contingency plans. I notify friends if I begin to relapse, and give them the address and phone number of the local county hospital where I'd be taken. If I were hospitalized, I know which friend would take care of my finances, like pay the rent and bills so I hopefully wouldn't lose my apartment. Also, I designated a friend to take care of my dog and cat.


    CB: Jack Jasper and Shirley?


    PM: Yes, I'd want them to be taken care of.


    CB: What other coping techniques do you use?


    PM: I take my Abilify and Cymbalta as if my life depended on it, and to a certain extent it does. I promptly notify my doctor if a medication is no longer working, isn't effective from the start, or has major side effects. I consider my psychiatrist to be my professional health advocate. If I'm not comfortable or satisfied with a particular doctor, I take swift and decisive action to get a new one. Fortunately this was necessary only once.


    CB: At what point did you feel you turned a corner?


    PM: When I was hospitalized during the third relapse, I wasn't responding to any medications and the doctor talked about putting me in the state hospital. Luckily that never happened; I was transferred to a different hospital. The doctor there told me that a new medication called Zyprexa had come out and she wanted to try me on it. Two weeks later the hospital staff told me I'd made a remarkable recovery. The next day they hooked me up with a social worker to look for a board-and-care. This was in or about 1997.


    CB: Talk about your Master Gardener designation.


    PM: I've loved and been interested in plants since I was three years old. When I was five, I planted about 100 brightly colored marbles in the backyard in the hopes trees bearing thousands of marbles would grow. Horticulture was my major in college, and the Master Gardener classes built on that knowledge. I enjoy helping others in their gardens, and giving advice. If you enjoy gardening and don't have your own, you can get a small plot of land in your city's community garden if one is available.


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    CB: You give advice on gardening on Yahoo! Answers.


    PM: Yes, I love that.


    CB: What are your plans for the future?


    PM: I want to start a walking program with my dog, Jack. Also to continue to maintain existing friendships as well as acquire new friends. I give myself a year to lose a certain amount of weight. Another goal is to get my manuscript published. I feel these goals are achievable.


    CB: Tell us about "Naming Horses."


    PM: I've written a short story about my mental illness called "Naming Horses" that was well received by friends. One of them told me to get my things together and see about being published. I have a manuscript that covers from 1968 to the present. I went out on a limb three weeks ago and submitted it to a publisher in the Midwest. I'll know by mid-December if they're going to publish it.


    CB: Good Luck!


    PM: Thank you.

Published On: November 07, 2007