Change Your Thoughts To Change Your Life

  • When the storm of SZ rages, you need to have faith in yourself and maintain the hope that things will get better, even when it feels you’re going through hell.


    Some practical techniques will allow us to deal with our feelings, and quiet the internal narrator who bullies us.  Using what goes on in my life as an example, I’ll branch out from there.  Lately, I’m able to comfort myself by saying, “You have schizophrenia.  It’s something you didn’t bring on yourself.”  This calms me because I know I have something a little harder than most people.  Objectifying what I go through and placing it outside myself allows me to be less harsh, and more forgiving.

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    As hard as it is for me to talk about the hell, I’m going to if it will benefit others.  As an expert on recovery, I feel I must show you what I go through, and give you ideas about how you can deal with your own pain.  You’re going to ask me, “If it doesn’t get any easier, why bother to want to recover?”  First of all, nothing worth having comes without effort.  Life wasn’t meant to be easy.  We’re given knocks, and it’s our duty and right to fight back harder.


    When I was diagnosed in 1987, I didn’t have any role models.  To quote the poet Theodore Roethke, “I learned by going where I had to go.”  I’ve been down this road 20 years.  Maybe you’re just starting out.  The point is to keep walking clear into the next lifetime.  To hold your head high.  Which is why I take comfort in knowing I wouldn’t have chosen this illness, that somehow it chose my brain.


    Sometimes, at work, or during other times in the day, walking home or riding the train, I tell myself, “You have schizophrenia, that’s okay.”  I need to hear that to absolve myself from being self-critical.  I accept now that I tend to worry.  That doesn’t mean I can’t change, or won’t try to reduce the beating on myself that I do.  Accepting this part of my nature has been the first step in tackling it.  I’ve always found this to be true: “What we resist, persists.”


    I’ve come to reconcile as best I can that opposing tendencies exist in each of us.  Using dialectic thinking, I’ve come to know that things aren’t “either/or.”  Myself, I tended to see things in absolute terms: that I had to be outgoing, or I was wrong for being quiet.  My first therapist told me that wanting to be someone other than who I am, “was like a leopard trying to change her spots.  You’d do best to love your spots.”


    Dialectic thinking connects two seemingly dichotomous realities with “and.”  In this way, it’s been liberating for me to understand “I am confident and insecure,” and “I am gregarious and reserved.”  This cognitive re-framing allows us to feel good about ourselves instead of fretting we are limited in what we can do and be.  Try this: “I have schizophrenia and have a happy life.”  Even if it doesn’t seem true, writing it down or repeating that phrase over and over will make it come true.


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    Such an inclusive approach can be as simple as saying, “I feel sleepy and alert.”  It’s a way of observing yourself and allowing that what’s going on in you, at this moment, is a part of what needs to happen in your recovery.  Whether you hear voices, or simply beat yourself up, know that even though it doesn’t feel like it, things can and will get better.  Note, I’m not saying it gets easier, just that it gets better.


    Does this sound like a contradiction?  I’ll focus on my life up until now to show you how it’s possible.  Ever since I was five years old, the girls across the street treated me poorly.  The neighborhood teens taunted and teased me when I was in middle school.  As a freshman in high school, I compared myself to the other girls, who seemed to have everything going for them, and I felt inferior.  In college, wanting to come out of my shy shell, I joined the radio station so I could meet other people.  I was smitten with the trendy or dramatic rock-n-roll sisters, and thought things would be better if only I were larger-than-life.  Displaced, and cut off from my true self, I hid the truth because it was too painful: I was “merely” a humble, down-to-earth person.


    When I got sick, I wore abused makeup and dressed in tatters.  It was a way of putting myself down.  How could others be attracted to me if I didn’t like myself, and it showed?  The first decade in my recovery I spent hoping against hope that I didn’t have the illness, and that I could be someone else, anyone but me.  I hated myself that much.


    So how can I say it doesn’t get easier but it gets better?  The illness, what I go through every day, in my darkest moments or private suffering, will always be there, seeking every opportunity to destroy my newfound ease.  That’s why denial leads definitely to a relapse.  It got better for me when I made the slow evolution to self-acceptance. 


    It happened because I recognized the only way out was through.  Looking back on my two decades in recovery, I see that the changes in my self-perception were subtle, imperceptible at first.  Perhaps I needed the first ten years to get my bearings and wrap my head around the truth.  The next ten years I resolved my persona and determined that I wanted to look approachable so that I could put others at ease in my presence.


    Liking yourself is the ultimate goal in recovery.  It could be as simple as telling yourself, “I feel good, I am good.”  Treat yourself right.  In the coming blog entries, I’ll talk about self-esteem in more detail.

Published On: June 06, 2007