Measuring Recovery Gains

  • As a follow-up to my blog entry on "setting treatment goals," I'd like to talk about how we can measure recovery gains. I offer you the hope that the tide could turn at any moment. When you look at your life, I'm confident that in retrospect you will see when things fell into place. It's not always clear in the moment it's happening. One woman, Mattie, who I interviewed for Schizophrenia Digest, revealed that she knew things had changed for the better when she was on a bus going to work and the paranoia was gone.

    Recently, in the past two weeks, I could look back and say that I've noticed a subtle shift. What happened? The first event was that I mentored a library science student. It felt good to share my wisdom. As a result, I discovered that to be successful, I would need to work in the kinds of jobs where I act in the role of a teacher.

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    At the end of Jasmine's internship, she gave me a Starbuck's card and a blue coffee mug. I will always treasure the mug, which has come in handy because I now drink a glass of skim milk with my lunch, so I have my own mug to keep in the kitchen.

    The other good thing was that I did something I was trained to do: I assisted a patron with her resume. I spent fifty minutes with her at a table in the library, helping her whip it into shape. Before, it wasn't much; after, she had a good one. On lunch after the session with the patron, a co-worker wondered why I was "interviewing" the woman, and I talked about this service I provide. It was another happy moment.

    Slowly, slowly I can see that the effects of the cross-titer are continuing long after Dr. Altman instituted it. Since April-about five months now-I've been solely on the Geodon. I was hesitant to articulate my good fortune because I didn't want to break the spell. I was afraid it might not last, so I left a message for Robin [the other expert blogger] to call me tonight, because I felt he would be able to provide insight.

    The question is, how exactly could a person measure recovery gains? In the hands of someone else, it could seem arbitrary. Who gets to decide how far you've come? You do. Understand that not all successes are measured equally in society, and you are the only person whose approval matters. If you're OK with things as they are, fine. Be honest if you feel things aren't working-you can change your life.

    Here now I want to list some ideas about how you could possibly assess your progress:

    1. First, have realistic expectations. A trip to the laundry center after a week of piling clothes on the chair merits a Recovery Noble Prize. It's worth repeating that to strive to "always do your best" is a noble ethic, because competing against others is a no-win situation. In my spiral notebook, I wrote down these words: "The truth is the advent of the schizophrenia was a hidden opportunity to become my best self." So, too, each day you live with the illness is the chance to prioritize what's important to you, and discard what doesn't work. Every baby step you take, counts.

  • 2. Keep a journal. This isn't going to be the "dear diary" type of daily recordkeeping. In it, you record at the end of the day the things you've done, however small, like wearing subtle makeup instead of going bare, or taking a shower before leaving the house. Don't discount anything. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." You could feel you're not making progress until you see in black-and-white that you have.

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    3. Find a mentor if you're just starting out in recovery, or act as a mentor to somebody once you have experience under your belt. This encouraging guide will cheer you on and be able to tell you when he sees good things happening. Acting as a guide will boost you, too.

    4. Work with a psychiatrist who is your ally and "gets it" that people can recover, because then you could ask her how she feels you're doing, and it won't be a judgment, only an honest reflection. Again, refer to my blog entry on setting treatment goals. Often, we need an objective outsider who sees in us what we can't see in ourselves. Also, relying on a therapist to talk with could be a wise investment. In the time I've been seeing Max, I've taken new risks and gained confidence. Take the time to interview three potential therapists-that's what I did before I knew Max was the one I wanted to see long-term.

    This weekend I understood one truth about measuring recovery gains: they're often slow to come and one must be patient with herself when it seems like she's not seeing immediate results. Sixteen months after the cross-titer, I've begun to see new, positive effects. The best image I could use to describe what happens is that of a plant. You water it and feed the soil and pull out the weeds and over time, the plant grows strong. The gains you make in your recovery can't be taken away and will appear throughout your life, like perennials.

    Day-by-day, you can't see the change in the height of a plant, yet one time when you look at it the flower will be in full bloom. Enjoy the results of your hard work, too, and more than that, appreciate the effort that went into making it happen.

Published On: August 12, 2008