Recovery Revisited

  • Recovery is hard work, yet it's the most rewarding work you'll ever do. I wanted to revisit this topic after receiving a private message from someone who read my SharePosts and noted that I consider myself "Recovered From." She had some interesting questions that I answered and would like to talk about now in the hopes that others will be comforted.

    First of all, I'm an incurable optimist. Not only do I see the glass as half full, I drink up and refill it often. At the end of this blog entry, I'll link to an early SharePost I wrote titled "Optimism and Hope for Successful Treatment Outcomes." The reason I say I'm recovered from is because, as a rule, I won't sell myself short. I recognize just how hard it is to live every day with schizophrenia. I believe in my vision that people can recover.

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    When someone you love gets sick, it could be devastating because you fear the person will never be the same again. Years ago I interviewed for a magazine a woman who gave voice to her own transformation after a diagnosis of schizoaffective. The question posed was, "Did your personality change with your recovery?"

    Mattie told me: "That is a very good question, because even today, as I speak to you, the person I was doesn't exist anymore. She is gone. I was an extrovert, and now I'm a lot quieter." She continued: "That is paramount to one's recovery: you wind up a different person. You will be well and whole and healthy, but you may not be the same type of well that you were before."

    In my own life, my break was sudden, total and irreversible. I had been a disc jockey on the FM radio in the 1980s, and that career-the joy of my life-ended when I was diagnosed. Years later I tried to recreate those glory days, but they had passed me by and were never to be again. There's an expression: "Don't go there," and it relates here in that I don't go there, I don't question whether the illness fundamentally changed my personality.

    It's my contention that the SZ doesn't change who we are deep inside. I will tell you this: having schizophrenia is what motivated me to do things, to go back to school for a library degree, to have a freelance writing career. Fighting the illness made me determined to fight for other things in my life. We can argue that maybe I was born a fighter, that I inherited this fighting spirit from my mother. Fair enough.

    The diagnosis changed my approach to life. I take nothing for granted. I'm humble. I accept that I'm powerless over the SZ unless I take my medication and work at the jobs I love. The diagnosis altered my worldview, or more likely, when the drug holiday I was on failed, I realized I couldn't go back to business as usual.

    Having insight is half the battle in winning the war against the illness. Lots of people have anosognosia and thus don't think they're sick so refuse the medication and treatment that would give them a better life. Insight is like what happens when a drunk finishes a glass of whiskey and all he can see is the clear bottom. Insight is the clear bottom: the unvarnished truth.

  • My denial was a coping mechanism. Going off the meds and having to be hospitalized again brought the bottom of the glass in sharp relief. I could take the glass and throw it against the wall or I could stare into it for as long as it took to come to accept the diagnosis.

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    This is the secret to recovery: you have to be emotionally ready to accept your illness. Some of us make this leap early; for others it takes longer, years if not decades. Understand that if someone you love or know has SZ, he or she will come to this acceptance in their own time if the anosognosia isn't a factor. Your love and support will enable them to heal and even if they can't express their gratitude, know that your faith in them makes a positive difference in their recovery.

    In my memoir, Left of the Dial, I describe a flash of insight I had early on: "The irony in my having become ill is that I've been given the chance to discover what's important to me." These things I value: that I treat myself and others with compassion, dignity and forgiveness.

    The question that begged the answer was, "How did you do it?" How was I able to recover? Something changed. I graduated school, got a job in the new field, and I understood that I was at a good place and the risk of going off the meds again was too great. I recovered because I made my recovery the number-one focus of my life. Any activity that did not support me in my recovery I cut out. I joined a peer support group.

    At the time, I began writing Left of the Dial and presented scenes at a writers' group. One of the other women quoted the lost Gospel of Thomas: "If you bring out that which is inside you, that which is inside you will save you." It was clear I couldn't live in hiding any more. At 35 years old, I set the goal of becoming an expert on recovery from schizophrenia-seven years before I began writing for the Connection.

    I realized I had to turn my life inside-out because I had experience, knowledge and hope that could benefit other people who struggled with SZ. Next week's SharePost will continue my "100 Individuals" interview series. I'll be talking with a courageous mother, an impassioned woman who volunteers her time, about what it was like when her son was diagnosed.


    Optimism and Hope for Successful Treatment Outcomes:


Published On: April 20, 2009