Schizophrenia, in the early years, is totally disabling because it shuts down our brain, the command center of our functioning. Young and in love with the music, at 22 years old I was a college disc jockey. It was 1987, and I should’ve been on top of the world. Instead, I sank into despair. I dressed in black and wore theatre makeup, imitating Siouxsie Sioux, the iconic Goth lead singer of the Banshees, a British band popular in the counterculture.
Our teens and 20s are precisely the era when we individuate and form our unique identities. I was always sensitive, and I was creative. At the radio station, I came out of my shell, and was outgoing. I thought I’d found myself, until the schizophrenia robbed me of my personality.
The second year of my recovery, I moved into a halfway house. Living with the other residents, I struggled with my identity. Though our tour of duty here was meant to be transitional, most of the others had been in the system for five years or longer. Was that to be my fate? Would the “former mental patient” label follow me the rest of my life?
As I slowly got better, I set the goal of finding full-time work and living independently. I didn’t want to collect a disability check forever. While I wasn’t in denial that something devastating had happened to me, I didn’t think I was that sick. I was angry that the illness robbed me of my daring self. I wanted to make a 360 degree return to the way things were before.
Alone with my grief, I stayed in my tiny bedroom listening to scratchy albums on my stereo, and sketched my moods in a journal, documenting what was going on. The more I took risks to express myself, both on paper and at the new day program I attended, the easier it was for me to envision that I had the potential to recover. I set one or two goals, writing them down and re-reading them to reinforce that I could do it, yes, I could!
Recording my goals in a binder greatly aided me in making my dreams a reality. I also used other techniques to nourish myself during these in-between days when it felt like I was in limbo. My counselor, Brett, suggested that each day I write down five positive things I liked about myself. Though I continually beat on myself, and felt ashamed for having an illness, I took him up on his offer. “I love myself. I’m confident. I have what it takes. I’m beautiful. I’m worthy.” I wrote in this grateful journal as often as I could, and before long, my mood improved.
At this point in my recovery, I still longed to express myself and be creative. I wanted, ultimately, to write for magazines and publish books, a dream that got derailed when I became sick. Langston Hughes’ poem, “Harlem—A Dream Deferred” inspired me. I taped it to the bulletin board above my desk to remind me to never give up hope. Using photos or quotes to visualize an outcome I couldn’t yet see has helped me to this day.
My slow dive to come alive—to find out who I was apart from the schizophrenia—did indeed take 10 years. I recommend that when you take your first stab at recovery, you allow yourself to feel all the feelings you have. Get into therapy with an empathetic counselor who can gently coax out of you what’s going on. This objective ally should believe in your potential.
Year Two: Nourishing Yourself is exactly the time we need to take for ourselves to enrich our minds and begin the emotional healing which is at the heart of any recovery. This self-nurturing is like “miracle grow” for our souls. It can take many forms—sculpting, writing, yoga, baking, inline skating, seeing films, browsing thrift shops—you name it.
The key here is to be good to yourself. Doing what you’re passionate about will get you energized to explore other things life has to offer. Meet me here in the next entry when I talk about the exciting things going on in year three.
Published On: March 08, 2007