Winning Against Fear: How to Do It

  • Living with the schizophrenia, we go through everything: paranoia, moods and anxiety-a range of symptoms. Here now I want to talk about the anxiety. Sometimes it seems like a companion, always there. Case in point: I agonized over the delivery of two 16-piece dinnerware sets that were to arrive on the Wednesday after New Year's Day. They were a reminder that within one year, I'll be living in a new apartment, hopefully a co-op.

     

    The feelings crept up on Saturday night when I met someone for dinner in the City. Adrian and I ate sandwiches in Cosi. We'd been together on the board of the Theta Chapter of Beta Phi Mu-the librarian honor society linked with Pratt Institute, where I went to school.

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    We caught up on our lives, and he gave me information about where he works, because I'm considering transferring to that library system when I move out to Queens. To say I felt awkward was an understatement. In lulls in the conversation, I stared down at my tuna-and-cheddar. Eventually he had to leave to attend a party, so we walked to the train and said goodbye.

     

    What I learned: we are all human, and have insecurities. I took a risk worth taking, even if I feared Adrian thought I was fishing for a friendship. True, I wanted to keep in touch.

     

    This is the ultimate goal in recovery from schizophrenia: to be at ease in the world. The main thing is to function. To be able to walk down the street with your head held high.

     

    I believe we need to seek common ground with people who don't have mental illnesses; to "break bread" with others, so to speak. And perhaps I wanted more from Adrian. My goal this year is to branch out from the MI focus and do things I wouldn't have considered.

     

    As hard as this life gets, we must take these risks. I will monitor my anxiety, because I don't want to medicate it unless it gets out of hand. I have some ideas about dealing with anxiety: choose the one that works for you.

     

    First, you can meet your fears head on. This I feel is preferable. Make it a goal, as Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted, to "Do one thing each day that scares you." The other option is to compensate for your anxiety. Riding buses, I listen to my iPod, and taking trains, I read a book. Sometimes, rather than risk a meltdown, I take the express bus home from the City. Other times, if I feel I can handle it, I take the subway, but always with a book or magazine I can read for the remainder of the trip.

     

    It isn't healthy to avoid all risks. What can I tell you of my impromptu dinner with Adrian? I survived. And I gave myself credit. I suggest you take a risk-and report back in here how you did and what the outcome was. We will support you.

     

    The truth is, a person living with schizophrenia might have to go on an anti-anxiety medication if he has clinical symptoms of anxiety. I don't rule that out for anyone, even if I'm stubborn and want to try things on my own at this point, because I'm able to feel anxious and the feeling passes. But if you can't make it on your own, consider an adjunct medication.

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    Ironically, I feel most anxious when I'm home alone. So I prefer to be actively alone-when I'm in my apartment, I'm always doing something productive, like writing, reading or listening to music.

     

    When I look back on my recovery, I wonder if I had it any easier when I was in school, and when I got my first jobs. I have to concede it wasn't easier. Someone I know, Tom, believes the schizophrenia is a sleeping tiger, ready to pounce at any moment, and that we need to stay vigilant. He believes the symptoms mutate into something else over time.

     

    This is true. I started having anxiety four years ago, and never told my psychiatrist what was going on until the Stelazine stopped working in 2007. I implore you: regardless of how embarrassed you are, or how scared, it's imperative you're honest with your doctor. If you feel you can't be, you have to find the p-doc you do feel comfortable saying anything to. Because unless you're going to commit a crime, what you tell your psychiatrist is confidential.

     

    The next time I see Dr. Altman, I ask him, "Will it always be difficult?" You may ask me why life has to be so hard. It's because we have every challenge to thank for making us who we are. I have every hard time to thank for my self-growth.

     

    And if I had to do it again, I would: I'd meet Adrian in Cosi for dinner. The ball is now in his court. If he wants more, fine. If not, I can live with that. Life will go on.

Published On: January 08, 2008