In April, I turned 43. Yes, I'm a Taurus. Living in the middle of what I hope to be a long life, I'd like to give you some observations about recovery at mid-life.
When I was in my twenties, I had a rocky time of it. My first psychiatrist, Dr. Santiago, told me, "Your thirties will be prime time." It turned out that he was on to something. That was the bridge decade-between sickness and health. Now that I'm older, I can honestly say that our forties are the victory lap. Your forties are going to be some of the best times of your life, a time when the symptoms hopefully attenuate.
I talk every so often in here about "ultimate goals" to strive for in recovery and I'm not sure the one that takes center stage, but this one is up there: forgiving yourself and letting go. What I know: at 43, I'm more open and kind and generous, towards myself and others. I'm not so concerned with how I look, and with other people's appearances.
In my twenties, I abused my face with theater makeup and wore trendy clothes, as if to make a point. This self-hate was symptomatic of the illness. At the same time, I valued different things from what I treasure now. I thought if I dressed and looked that way, it would impress people.
Quite simply, I didn't like myself and tried to be someone else. The schizophrenia had battered my self-esteem. It takes time to see a reversal of fortune in our recoveries. I venture that few of us are naturally resilient. We're not going to fall off a horse like John Wayne in a Western movie, and get right back on. Give yourself time-the gift of a lifetime in which to heal.
Today, my mantra is, "I'm happy being me, there's no one I'd rather be." I suggest you repeat these words to yourself, or write them down daily, if you've gone through something like this and could use the boost.
It takes a lot of effort, money and time, and energy to keep up a false self. As I write this, I've come to the conclusion that the goals at the top of the list are self-acceptance and self-approval. This is hard when the stigma exists. It also wasn't easy for me to do this because I lived with a residual symptom for close to four years, one that wrecked my self-confidence.
I'd say the forties are the "Be Kind to Your Mind" decade. After spending half my life in recovery, I'm able to regard my younger self with a compassionate eye. The years give us wisdom and maturity, yet at 40 we're still young.
What's different now? I have no room for anger in my life-either towards others or turned inward. Indeed, it has been a long time since I beat up on myself. I hope that when you reach your forties, you, too, will have made strides in your recovery. I'm at a point where the worry has left, because I'm better able to manage the symptoms: the subtle thought broadcasting and paranoia has weakened in intensity and frequency.
When I researched the events of my life, I discovered the Stelazine started losing its effectiveness in the fall of 2004, yet even before that things were touch-and-go, on-and-off. It truly is a miracle that I was able to get benefit from one drug for close to 20 years.
The human spirit wins out-always. Courage, peers! You will find your niche in life. That is why we are here: to be happy and like ourselves, and to "find our bliss" as the expression goes.
One thing that aided me greatly was reading the Four Agreements, a book by Don Miguel Ruiz that I will review in here next week to show how we can use the four agreements to master our recoveries. Because the new atypical I'm on is working, I'm better able to "reality check" when my anxiety comes on. The book covered a lot of what I was going through, and while it's not a replacement for treatment, I'm convinced a lot of us will relate to what he says and benefit from reading it.
Other things I've learned at mid-life: to rest and relax, to take a nap on a weekend afternoon, to honor my limitations. To stop and smell the American Beauties, those roses in the garden of life. And to trust that God holds each one of us in the palm of his hand.
At 40, I had begun my freelance writing career. That's why I'm fond of analogies to Grandma Moses, who didn't start painting until she was in her eighties. It is never too late to start something to change your life. The one commodity that all of us have in plentiful supply is hope.
Those of you just starting out, I want to know that it does get better. By making your recovery the number-one focus, and working it every day, you can do well. At 22, I didn't know then what I know now, and I will tell you this secret: though your life is forever changed by the diagnosis of schizophrenia, it can be a better life than you ever imagined. It won't be the same, it will be different, yet it can be better.
A long life to you and I wish for you peace of mind, joy and contentment.
Published On: May 28, 2008