Stress makes my illness flare up or worsen, I know this by experience, however, fortunately I usually understand how to cope with the stresses of my life- discussing concerns with family and friends, writing, listening to music, or walking- I handle my stress like other people handle theirs who are living with or without a mental health diagnosis.
In the past, my stresses of college and finances led my symptoms to escalate to psychosis- where I heard voices that other people did not hear, saw individuals that did not exist, experienced confusion, anxiety, irritability, irrational thinking, racing thoughts, etc. etc.
A few weeks ago I experienced some bad days. In the beginning I felt jittery, anxious, and then exhausted and irritable. One morning I had a lot to do, however, it took me three hours to get out of bed despite the aid of the snooze button and alarm, which I pressed and set a few times, because I felt extremely overwhelmed and tired. I did not make my first meeting and almost was late to the second meeting that morning. The warning sign that alerted me that something was not right with me was not only the long morning in bed but also the high level of anxiety, which reminded me of my physical state during the most difficult time in my life- five years ago when my life went out of control- in my mind, and in reality, because of my undiagnosed mental illness- schizophrenia.
This feeling of anxiety frightened me, I thought to myself I've come too far to let my diagnosis pull the rug from underneath me now, I have accomplished a lot since my diagnosis for my schizophrenia to flare up and to steal my joy like it did a few years ago. I knew I needed to take a break, and fast!
Prior to the bad days my stress built up. I recently gave birth to my son, which that alone impacted my mood and hormones like it would for any new mother, living with or without a mental health diagnosis, my personal relationship has been especially challenging with our little one to adjust to, I had a lot of events to either host or to participate in- a weekend training out of town, train peers in a two day training, manage a workshop, and to attend a conference- all within a month's time, among daily life stresses for myself and family. So, I had a lot things going on in my life at the time my bad days tried to dominate my livelihood.
I did what worked for me in the past to cope with the stress, and to recuperate, by discussing my challenges with close family and friends. Accordingly, we decided I should seek professional support immediately, and the respite bed for clarity and a fast resolution to overcome my uneasiness and exhaustion.
I called my mental health clinic and requested to speak to my therapist, which we did talk that same day. As a result of our conversation I made an appointment to meet with my doctor, however, I went back to the facility the next morning as a walk-in because the appointment was a week too far out for me. I shared information with my mental health doctor on how I was feeling, what I was doing that may have contributed to my health, and what other medications I tried that previously worked for my concerns. Together, my doctor and me made some adjustments to my medication and made a follow up appointment for the near future.
To help me cope with these new stresses I went to a wellness center and interviewed for, and requested a respite bed for a couple of nights. A respite bed is a comfortable place for individuals who need to regroup but do not want to go to a hospital and their symptoms have not worsened to the extent that they need to go to a psychiatric hospital.
Accordingly, I made arrangements for my son and then checked into the respite center and stayed there a couple of nights- I would have stayed longer but I had to return home to care for my son and because I missed him. During my stay at the respite bed I relaxed- I snacked a lot- ate fruit, popcorn, etc., watched a movie with peers and got some rest.
Analyzing the situation now, I think I alleviated a hospitalization stay by immediately addressing my mental health concerns, being honest with myself and those that can help, and seeking professional advice to prevent a crisis. I recognized I needed help and sought help before it spiralled out of control. Now, I do not feel uneasy or anxious! I am thankful for my support network and access to services to help me overcome schizophrenia. I believe if my peers who are experiencing bad days recognized their early warning signs and triggers or experiences that made their symptoms worsen, and seek professional help, they can prevent a crisis.
I shared this experience with you to let you know I still have challenging moments despite taking my medication regularly, and I have overcome them through support. If you experience some bad days I hope you will recognize them and seek the support you need to overcome your challenging moments too.
To learn more about schizophrenia and to get support visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Choices in Recovery, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).