The Author

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Atlanta, Georgia, United States
I am overcoming schizophrenia, and I believe others can too. Here is how I am managing my condition...

Friday, January 27, 2012

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The following blog entry was written by a guest blogger:

My name is Christina Bruni and I want to thank Ashley for allowing me to be a guest blogger at Overcoming Schizophrenia. I'm the Living Life columnist for SZ magazine and the community leader and expert blogger at HealthCentral's schizophrenia community Web site.

Life is not easy-it is not always, and sometimes it is not often-golden for those of us with SZ or another MI. The respect and compassion seemingly so freely given from one so-called normal to another is not routinely given to the neediest of us in society, who do our bravest and our best to manage our schizophrenia, to manage whatever life chose to give us.

I propose-as I have in my own blog, Left of the Dial-that we fight hate with love, we send those ignorant and fearful people a healing vibe, and wish them well. More than this, I submit we cannot afford to treat each other, as peers, with less than respect, dignity, compassion and AWE. Awe for what a great job each of us does to soldier on every day with varying levels of symptoms.

We each of us will have good days and not-so-good days, and this is how it goes for all of us, so-called normal or not. I choose optimism as a response; I want to keep up a positive spirit in the face of so much resistance, because certainly hope heals.

We can choose how we respond to stigma. It carries no weight with me. Every day I come in contact with so-called normal people who, without any known or verifiable diagnnosis, act like the worst stereotype of those of us who were locked up. While they do their thing, I tell no one I was once branded as having schizophrenia because I have been in the real back wards.

I admire how quickly Ashley committed to a life of advocacy so soon after her diagnosis. My own rocky road in recovery was long and winding, yet in 2002 I decided to become a mental health activist too. We can no longer afford to feel guilty and ashamed for having SZ when we have the best role models to inspire us in the recovery movement.

My buried secret-no longer a shame-will be revealed when my memoir, Left of the Dial, is published in the fall of this year by Vantage Point Books. I wrote the book-which focuses on recovery, not illness, to uplift and inspire all of you walking this road of recovery.

There is hope and there can be happiness and there can be harmony in your head-living with schizophrenia. I take my medication every day as prescribed and I credit this as the key to unlocking the door to my success. I share my story to encourage you to look on the bright side, to always be hopeful, to not be sad or upset when others in the world are not kind to you.

I understand how hard it is living with this diagnosis; it isn't easy.

We're all in this together-let's extend a hand to each other. Together we can win.

To go to Christina's blog click here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blind to the Person with the Illness

Recovering from schizophrenia is an ongoing learning experience- what I learn about myself, peers, and research. Whenever I share my personal experience I try to use appropriate terminology to not offend, misrepresent, or make it sound too traumatic and without hope- Yes, schizophrenia can be a debilitating illness, however, it can also be very manageable, which I focus on the latter outcome to provide hope to my peers and families effected by mental health.

When I share my story I frequently use the phrase 'living with schizophrenia' opposed to 'suffering from schizophrenia,' because I have overcome the hardest part of the illness, to me- that being psychosis and the criticizing voices that nobody else heard. It does not bother me when someone uses either of the phrases, because everyone's experience is different.

There is no right or wrong way to describe one's experience with a mental health concern, in my opinion. Like so many perspectives on life, there is no specific style to depict one's feelings and emotions, or response to a mental health diagnosis... So why do some of us still compare and judge a person's recovery???- There is no standard like there is no normal person or perfect person, so why do some people still make comparisons?

I can go on and on about why we should not compare, but that is too easy to discuss, so why don't we take a look at ourselves and be truthful about whether we are judgmental or not and why. I used to be very judgmental before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, not because I was mean-spirited, but rather because of my lack of life's challenges and ignorance.

I remember nurses trying to persuade me to take medication in jail, but I refused because I did not know I was battling with a severe illness like schizophrenia. In fact, I remember seeing several jail mates take their medication like candy, to me, and thinking I was better because I did not need medication. However, the truth be told I was probably one of the sickest inmates in that unit... I eventually stopped speaking, showering, moving and functioning.

Being diagnosed, in jail, has chipped off a lot of judgmental attitudes I had previously. Now, I feel like I can relate to more people of diverse lifestyles, not because we may have had similar upbringings, but rather because we have experienced something traumatic, life-changing, and stigmatizing; and more bluntly put- taboo.

Now, it concerns me when some individuals want their loved one to recover like me, because I see someone making unfair comparisons on two individuals in recovery without all the pieces to the puzzle to make a far-fetched criteria for wellness. A common question I get from some is: 'how long did take you to get to where you are now in your recovery?' Even though this concerns me, I understand this individual's intent is not to be judgmental or to harm anyone, however, it seems to naturally hinder their loved one's growth in recovery, to me, with the expectations to see results.

Like many families affected by mental health and its ups and downs, my family struggled too. More specifically, my mother and me. Several members of our family gossiped and blamed my mother for my psychic break. It did not help that my illness impacted my feelings, thoughts, and mood around my mother to make me angry, distant, and unwilling to cooperate when she tried to help. I consider my mother a survivor of the remnants of my mental health because she endured a lot to hold my hand through this entire experience; before, during, and after my diagnosis, which I am grateful for because I believe her support plays an intricate role in my recovery.

Finally, it is upsetting when individuals hold a strong opinion about mental health-related concerns when (1) they have never experienced it, (2) or never encountered it through a loved one, or (3) even researched it to know what exactly they are talking about.

Therefore, I challenge you as a peer, family member, and health care professional, and citizen, to not correct and judge an individual's experience with mental illness, and to be more open-minded, and to not place expectations on other people's lives when you do not know their personal history.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit: Embracing My Mind, Inc., Choices in Recovery, LinkNAMI, and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).