An Interview with Janet Kuhn
In January, I continue my "100 Individuals with Schizophrenia" interview series. Janet Kuhn is a faithful Connection regular, and she tells us her story now.
CB: First off, could you tell us a little about your psychiatric history?
JK: I've been hospitalized five times. The first time was after I graduated college. I went to Northern Kentucky University, and I was twenty-three years old. I was working the whole time through college at the JC Penney in the Florence Mall. I went to work one day and just saw a picture and for some unknown reason I started screaming. They took me home and my parents called the family doctor. I went to a local hospital in Florence, Kentucky. It was run by the Salvation Army at the time. Two psychiatrists were called in, and that's how I got to be a patient of one of them. This was in 1983.
CB: What were some of your symptoms?
JK: A lot of times I would hear voices. Or I might watch TV and scratch my head, and the character scratched his head, so I experienced "thought broadcasting." I also felt at times like I was being watched. I remember I was visiting my sister in Florida and I picked up a tee shirt I had found and we went back to the place we were staying. I got real nervous and felt people were watching me or coming to get me, circa 1986. I was hospitalized again. The last time I was hospitalized was in 1997.
CB: That's a great accomplishment: to stay out eleven years.
JK: Thank you. I really feel good about that.
CB: Do you still have symptoms?
JK: They've pretty much gone away. I don't hear any voices any more. Now when I have a symptom, it's more moodiness or depression. I look at my nieces and nephews and how far they've come in life, and I don't want to say I get jealous but I get depressed. Moodiness is my number-one thing. I get moody sometimes at a drop of the hat, which I'm not proud of at all.
CB: Okay, so how were you able to stay out of the hospital, after having been in and out five times? What was the turning point?
JK: It was when I got the medication right. I've been on a wide array of drugs. At one point I had a list of all the pills I took. For the last three to five years I've been on Seroquel and that's really helped me a lot. Right now I'm on Seroquel, and I take a pill for my thyroid.
CB: How were you able to cope when the medication wasn't working? What can you tell others who are tempted to go off their meds when they're not effective?
JK: That was one of the hardest things I had to do. I was hardly able to go out of the house because I felt people were on my back or watching me. My family played a part in getting me to see that what I thought was real wasn't real. I would tell others to give the medication time to work, it can take up to two weeks and you can't want to switch every day or every week, you have to give it time. If you've waited, and it still doesn't work, you need to sit down and definitely be up front with your psychiatrist or whoever is treating you, and let them know you're having symptoms. Nowadays there are so many medications out there that you don't have to stay on only one forever.
CB: Talk about how having a good psychiatrist helped you.
JK: First of all, the most support I get is from God and my family. One thing about my doctor is that when he asks you to jump, you're supposed to ask ‘how high?' And some people don't like him for that. He works for me and I also appreciate that if I do have a problem, he gets back to me. I remember one Christmas back in the 1980s I called him Christmas night and he returned the call in a couple hours. So I feel like he's always there for me.
CB: What are your top coping skills for living with the schizophrenia?
JK: One, I feel that the volunteer work is helpful because it gets me out of the house two days a week and I volunteer at my church one day a week. It gives me a purpose in my life: getting up, I have a regular schedule and even though I'm not working, I feel like I'm making a contribution to society. Also, a lot of the medications put on weight. My mother and I have been walking for over twenty years. In the summer we doubled it. I joined an exercise class last winter for sixteen weeks and it got me exercising more on a regular basis. It not only helps physically, it makes you feel all good about yourself and your self-esteem.
CB: What can you tell someone who lacks the motivation to exercise?
JK: I want to let them know to give it a try, not that you have to exercise every day of the week. Just try to find something you like. Where we live we're fortunate we have a Baptist church not even a couple miles from our house. Some of the Baptist churches across the country I hear have free walking tracks and exercise rooms. If you can find something you enjoy doing and find someone you can do it with, that makes the difference. I'm fortunate I have my Mom, and even though she's seventy-nine, she's in great shape and we're able to push each other. Start out slow, and set it as a priority. I'm not saying walk a mile or two right off.
CB: Talk about the volunteer work: how you found it and what you do.
JK: I work in the gift shop at a hospital. I'm the cashier, and also do other work like stocking shelves and pricing items. It gives me a way to meet people. I feel like I can be a support to the visitors in the hospital, too. It makes me feel good to help others. I saw an ad in the paper in 1986. I had been hospitalized and once I was out, I had to wait six to nine months to do the volunteer work. During the last hospitalization in 1997, I was only on the ward maybe two weeks so I didn't have to wait, and the doctor gave me the okay to go back.
CB: Do you recommend that someone do volunteer work if they're not working?
JK: Yes. It's important to do something you like, whether it's fundraising or volunteering. Just find something and make it a passion so you're not always sitting home watching TV and thinking about your own problems, stuff like that.
CB: Tell us about your goals and dreams, what you're looking to do in the future.
JK: Well, after hearing about you and others writing books, I told my sister I would like to write some sort of book to help other people know how it is, to alleviate the stigma. Also I would like to go back to work. I have a degree in marketing and business, and I do enjoy retail work. My goal in life is to be happy and take one day at a time. God has a plan for each and every one of us. Not to sit back and wait for it to happen, but just to be patient and realize something will eventually work out.
CB: You achieved a victory last year. Talk about what happened.
JK: This past summer I took a big step-I admit I was nervous-I went to my nephew's wedding in Canada. The last time I was hospitalized was after I went to Bermuda with my sister and a couple of nieces and nephews, and that was when I had problems. That's why I was pleased when I attended the wedding in Canada-it couldn't have been any better. I was thankful for that.
CB: Parting words of encouragement:
JK: Every day I get up and try to put on a happy face. I have two quotes I remember. One my sister said: "Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?" I also saw one on a billboard: "Throw out a smile so others can catch it." I'm not trying to say my life is peaches-and-cream. I have my good days and bad days like anybody.
Update: This holiday season, Janet found a job at the Hickory Farm kiosk in her local mall. Everyone here at the Connection wishes her continued success.