Riffing on Robin Cunningham's series on coping skills, I'd like to every so often give you my own. Here I'll talk about three habits that will serve you well in your recovery. Think of these skills as hanging on a clothesline that you can pull closer when needed to access each one.
1. Strive to be well.
It seems counter-intuitive that a person recovers because of the actions he or she takes, yet medication alone doesn't do the trick. I'm often reminded of two people I know who live with symptoms of schizophrenia even though they take meds, and yet manage their illness and function. The secret is that the medication promotes neurogenesis, or the renewal of brain cells, so that we CAN function. Yet is that all there is to life--functionality? Now more than ever, it's possible to be well. One of the women I refer to recovered after two decades of struggle.
A regular at the Connection wondered if other people are stuck--just when the good times roll, do you retreat into an old habit. I want to clarify my response here. I know all too well what it's like to be stuck--either by choice or simply a symptom of the sz. So the skeptics among you are going to ask, "How can a person strive to be well?" That is the great good fight for all of us. There comes a point when maintaining the status quo takes all your effort, so in reality change is in order so that you can grow. I've decided I can't beat on myself any more for imagined sins. Tonight, I'm going to call a long-lost friend, risk his response, and see how it goes. At the end of this blog entry, I'll share the results. He and two others I felt were casualties from the effects of the Stelazine not working. For too long, I was stuck in that feeling and it immobilized me. I realize now that there is no easy, so you keep on moving forward no matter how hard it is.
This is my intention: that we can't rely on an outsider to determine how well we're doing. We need to look at ourselves with a kind eye. Sometimes the changes happen inch-by-inch when we hold up an internal tape measure. The flip is not to settle for less just because others don't expect much of us. If you read the University of Pennsylvania study linked to in the "Latest Schizophrenia News" section of the Connection, you'll see members of the public believe people with sz need treatment, yet feel it's unlikely we'll improve. This is an outright version of glass ceiling-stigma. When confronted with this, I only want to try harder to smash the barrier.
So what can we do? Strive to be well. It isn't easy, yet it is within reach. To quote Bill MacPhee, the founder and publisher of Schizophrenia Digest, the goal is not to set the bar high, but to set it.
2. Remain Proactive.
To stay on top of the sz is my goal. So it won't end-there's no point at which I can say I no longer need to be vigilant. Given the chance, the schizophrenia will find an opening, and enter through the back door when I'm not looking. This isn't to suggest recovery is a chore. Simply, it requires that we remain proactive. Taking initiative to manage our illness actually makes it easier to recover. The passive approach-whereby I allow people and events to act on me and determine how I feel about my life-hardly bodes well for instilling mental health. It is my life's goal to stay out of the hospital. If I were to achieve only that, I'd be a happy camper and feel I was doing well.
Being proactive can take the form of doing your own laundry once a week, or cooking meals for yourself, or committing to taking the medication every day. It does require being aware of triggers, developing coping skills, and monitoring things, and adjusting your responses as you go along, based on new approaches to try that might work better.
3. Write your own definition of recovery.
I'd like to re-visit this chestnut now. It is clear to me that one can have recovered yet still have days where he or she struggles. "Recovery is a process, not an endpoint," as the expression goes. So why do I consider myself "recovered from" for the purposes of the Connection? I won't downplay the role I played in coping with the worst of the symptoms and living through the hard times. [For the same reason I won't over-pack and schlep big suitcases through an airport-I'm well-organized.] So I take the credit for arriving here with my sanity mostly intact. What's my definition of recovery? Every year that I'm able to stay out of the hospital and continue to have a writing career.
For you, choose your own benchmark. Visualize what your recovery will look like in vivid detail. Write out one complete paragraph of what your life is like when you've recovered-so that you can see, touch, taste, smell, and feel it coming true.
These three habits-striving to be well, remaining proactive, and writing your own definition of recovery- increase our self-esteem, and good feelings about ourselves could be in short supply. Establishing these habits allows us to love, honor, nurture and protect ourselves right where we are at this given moment.
I'd love to know what you think about this, so do post comments if you'd like. I look forward to hearing from you.
A Chris update: I called my friend, and he's calling me back tomorrow morning. He has stitches in his mouth and gauze, so perhaps he had dental work. The next day he called promptly at nine o'clock, as he said he would, and we had a delightful conversation. He suggested I could call him any time to talk about what's going on. As usual, the damage control I felt I had to do-was all in my head. We made plans to meet in two weeks after work for coffee.
Published On: September 18, 2008