In my 19 years of living with schizophrenia, I’ve observed others and had direct experience with what works or doesn’t work. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you want to be healthy and seek to make the positive changes that will get you where you want to be. Over the last couple of years, I’ve swirled in my mind the concept of a person giving herself 10 years in which to recover. I believe certain tendencies and expressions of the illness are universal to all of us who struggle with it during this first decade to reclaim our brain.
I’ll explore what I call the “10-Year Recovery Model” in the coming blog entries, starting here with Year One: Planting the Seeds. I call this beginning our pre-covery. In this cocoon, we need to wrap ourselves in the love of close family and friends who support us. It involves giving up old relationships or behaviors that are self-destructive, co-dependent or otherwise unhealthy.
As we make this fresh start, self-nurturing is vitally important. When I got out of the hospital the first time, I went to the Mall and bought myself a black suede pocketbook, gray sweatshirt, and an intricate silver necklace. I had to pull myself out of the funk. I remember this shopping trip as if it were yesterday. The point wasn’t that material things could cheer me up, but that I forced myself to get out of the house.
From ten in the morning to two in the afternoon, every day, I went to a day program where ex-patients worked on our goals in a supportive environment. We had group therapy, ceramics, art therapy and cooking. I attended this treatment for a year, and also had one-on-one sessions with a private therapist, and saw my psychiatrist every month.
One night a week, I got in my car and drove to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center for a jewelry making class. I cut and sanded copper into a pendant and earrings, a visible reminder that I could do something, anything to take my mind off my problem.
It was all I could do. What could I do? I had reached rock bottom, and the only way through was up. At 22, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever get to where I am now. The diagnosis seemed like a life sentence. The word, schizophrenia, scared me when the psychiatrist on the ward used it to describe what happened to me.
Maybe you’re new to recovery, and can’t see a way out, either. Or you barely have the energy to get up and go outside. Do what you can do, and relish simple things, like taking a shower or writing in your journal.
Dr. John Strauss, professor emeritus of Yale University Medical School, presented a session on recovering from schizophrenia at a NAMI-New York State conference in 2002. His words are comforting: “A lot of people with psychiatric problems talk about the importance of this kind of period of what we call ‘wood-shedding.’ That comes from the world of jazz, when a musician will go into the ‘wood shed’ when they’re trying to do something new. They’ll practice when out of the public eye. They’ll work things out by themselves. When you see somebody or if you are somebody who has that kind of plateau, you don’t know that they’re going to stop here. In fact, it’s a fairly common thing that happens to quite a few people who then go on to improve significantly.”
Year One: Planting the Seeds centers around such solo activity. It is perhaps the loneliest year in our life. Our friends often fall away, and we have to form new bonds, by going to a clubhouse or reaching out to the people we meet in the day program.
The year after I got out of the hospital I lived at home, and my mother and father welcomed me back with open arms. Their faith in me, and the support of my therapist and my happy-go-lucky psychiatrist, encouraged me to start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. The veil of sadness slowly lifted. I decided to move into a halfway house in the fall of 1988, to learn to function on my own while also setting goals with the guidance of the counseling staff.
My second year began there, where I watered the soil and pulled up the weeds, continuing the slow growth that had begun in year one. I started to function at a higher level, and was able to make day trips into the City to see movies with friends.
I’ll leave you here to reflect on things so far. In my second entry for this 10-part series, I’ll talk about strengthening the shoots and using a little “miracle grow” to nurture our budding self-expression.
Published On: March 06, 2007