Living with Symptoms

  • What I've learned the hard way: schizophrenia is a chronic condition, and it doesn't go away on its own. Like a sleeping tiger, it's always ready to pounce, given the opportunity. It's a mixed metaphor perhaps for me to also say the symptoms mutate over time. The prognosis is good when a person takes his meds as prescribed, commits to his recovery, and refrains from drugs and alcohol.

     

    For close to 20 years I took Stelazine, and when it stopped working, I switched to Geodon, a newer atypical. The observable improvements: I fall asleep earlier at night and wake up earlier in the morning; my worry has fallen off because I'm able to think rationally about what goes on; my brain is no longer fried. The meds won't alleviate all symptoms at all times, yet the life quality they provide us is immeasurable.

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    Schizophrenia is a "no-fault" brain disorder. For too long, I lived with my troubling thoughts, convinced that if I just tried harder, or practiced cognitive reframing, they would go away. Since the fall of 2004, I've lived with them nearly daily, and yet didn't realize until now that I was having symptoms.

     

    In Monday night's session, Max, my therapist, reminded me that having symptoms isn't a personal failure or weakness or character flaw. I'd told him that I was a recovering perfectionist, and often felt my best wasn't good enough. Unusually talkative, he must have felt he had something to say: my intense worry about what people think of me is most likely a variation on a symptom.

     

    Truly, what I go through happens at random, only when I'm around certain people, and I can't predict when it will happen. I can go for days or even a week or two without distress, and then the worry will come back. Max told me, "Your symptoms will wax and wane throughout your life. That is what you have on your plate."

     

    This blog entry is an exception to my usual sunny good cheer, perhaps. My intent in writing it is to show you that you can succeed, even if you have symptoms. If even one of you is inspired, that would be a good thing.

     

    For too long, I feared what people would think of me if they knew the content of my thoughts. Now I accept that not everyone is going to believe they're the result of the schizophrenia. Some people will judge me, and I have no control over this. Instead, I focus on what I can do to be compassionate towards others who live with mental illnesses.

     

    Only how I act is under my control. At the end of the day, I have to be okay with the choices I made and the actions I took. No one else gets to decide my worth or my goodness. And when I doubt myself, I surrender to God's love and his mercy and justness.

     

    That's how it is right now. Max reinforced that we have no control over the illness, but we do have control over our response to it. I'm a big fan of self-determination: deciding for one's self how he or she wants to live. To manage the symptoms well involves medication, therapy, friendships and close family ties. With these things in place, recovery is possible for you and me. I make no bones about what I've achieved and how far I've come. I wouldn't ever judge someone else. On Monday night, my therapist suggested, "Don't discount your pain, you're feeling it, it's real to you." Indeed, one of the NAMI Connection peer support model guidelines is, "We do not judge anyone's pain as any less than our own."

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    SchizophreniaConnection, indeed, is a stigma-free zone where people can express themselves without fear of reprisal or judgments. What I write here isn't about me; rather, I aim to use my recovery as a guidepost or lantern for you as you navigate what goes on in your life. I hold out the hope that you are inspired by my humble words.

     

    I soldier on, because I must. The alternative is no option. I don't take anything for granted, because I see how hard it is for some of us to get up and greet the new day. Every day I fight the good fight, because what choice do I have?

     

    I don't want to die with my boots on.

     

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    In coming blog entries, topics will include: practicing mindfulness, developing self-esteem to combat the self-stigma, and managing symptoms. I'd like to interview people who hear voices and get their coping skills for dealing with the hallucinations, in the form of a focus group. If you are interested in being part of the discussion panel, please e-mail me at christina.bruni1@gmail.com, and I will respond to you within two days.

Published On: February 20, 2008