For a brief time, I did not have choices in my recovery. My life was limited by the state system in jail. In fact, I had my choice to deny medication taken from me. I was court-ordered to medication compliance, which was encouraged by my family. I am thankful my family advocated for medication compliance because it ultimately saved my life. During the time I was not well, I recognized this only after I was medicated and educated on my health.
When I was not well four years ago, I believed I was a victim of conspiracy. I thought someone in my family were playing a prank and took me to an enclosed facility with routines not of my own (jail). I believed others were against me and working together to poison me and to spy on me; I felt my life was in danger, and that I had reason to feel uneasy and suspicious. As a result, I did not speak much, shower, or eat at all. I feared someone tampered with my soap and believed it would burn my skin. All the while I thought I was okay, and did not take medication.
After refusing medication one day a group of guards along with a nurse barged into my space, held me down to the bed and gave me a shot. I refused to take medication several times after that and we went through the forced medication routine regularly. Eventually, I complied with the nurse's request and took the pills because I did not want to receive a shot. The nurses did not tell me why I was forced to take the pills, what was my mental health condition, or what the medication was.
Soon I felt some uncomfortable side effects to these pills and did not want to take them. The nurses knew why I did not want to take the medication, but bribed me with candy and beverages to take them anyway. Now, I wonder why didn't the nurses advocate for me and take my concerns to my doctor, or maybe they did with no further instruction, I don't know.
The pills interfered with my sleep, made me feel excited and jittery. I complained to my doctor with no solution. Eventually, I found an alternative route to have my concerns met. I talked to another doctor after my doctor was off shift. This helped, the other doctor gave me another medication to relieve the side effects.
One day, I asked the nurse for information on my medication. And I learned of the type of medication I was on and additional information. While reading a magazine I came across an advertisement for medication. It listed similar experiences as symptoms and I took the advertisement to my doctor to request a medication change. My doctor said no because it was not in my best interest to switch medication for several reasons including stabilization. I felt like I was not being heard and did not have any control over my recovery.
This feeling of lack of control in my recovery changed when I went to the state hospital. For the first time a doctor asked me what I wanted. They gave me options and I made a choice, which we agreed upon. Moreover, they suggested I get off the medication my jail doctor put me on because of my family's medical history. I felt like my opinion mattered and that I was in control of my recovery.
Since that hospital visit I continue to play an active role in my recovery. After I was released from the correctional facility and institution I joined a county program that offered housing among other services. My mother enabled me to make the decision to move into a group home, commonly called independent living, despite her concerns. I was in control of my recovery and life.
My treatment team enabled me to go back to college, because it was my goal. When I moved back to Atlanta with family, they suggested activities, but did not force me to do anything I was not ready for. Eventually, I got frustrated with limited social support from the community and made the decision to go to the support groups offered at my treatment center to meet people and to make friends.
I am in control of my recovery and life. I say that because treatment teams, family, and others enabled me to have options and to make a final decision that I wanted and needed at that moment in my life. Now, I live alone, I am attending college, and I lead support groups to give back to my peers and the mental health community.
Self-direction in a person's life is essential to recovery. I experienced empowerment by being able to make decisions, and I want my peers to have the option to do the same. I am an advocate for my peers by sharing my personal recovery story, and sharing resources and information to reduce stigma.
This week I completed the Georgia Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) training. The priority of a CPS is to give the individual living with a diagnosis a voice. As a peer, someone also living with a mental health diagnosis, a CPS listens to the individual and advocates for them to their treatment team. The role of a CPS is a growing movement that is established in several states across the United States.
Finally, Embracing My Mind, Inc., a mental health organization that offers peer support will have education-based recovery support groups open to the public at the East Point Library in East Point, Georgia starting Thursday, September 8, 2011. Please go to the website click here for schedule information and additional details. The objective of Embracing My Mind, Inc. is to reduce stigma, change perceptions, and to promote awareness and hope.
To learn more information about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).