Thursday, February 24, 2011

To Hope Again: My Recovery Story by Rebecca Lyn Phillips

The following story was written by Rebecca Lyn Phillips, my new friend in recovery.

I’d always wanted to write. I started out a published author in 1994 with a book for teen girls, entitled “Heart to Heart.” Twenty thousand were sold. I was happy about my success, but there was something else going on in my life that I didn’t want to talk to my family about.

In 1994 I attended Kansas State University, planning to work towards a Ph.D. in Psychology. I wanted to open up a home for abused teens. I wanted to make a difference. While at K-State, however, I began to struggle with a thought and mood disorder called schizo-affective disorder. I stayed in bed in my dorm and I started to miss classes. I wanted to be in Topeka in my nice, little bed at home, not at school with all those people and deadlines. I was very depressed and everyone around me knew it, except for me.

October came and I started to lose weight. I had always been slender, but now I was missing meals at the cafeteria and I was very thin. My roommate, a friend from high school, was concerned. I started to wander around campus, aimlessly, without a direction. Finally, I went to a counselor on campus and she said maybe I could go back home. I wanted to: I wanted to be with my family and to sleep forever.

I called my dad. He came to pick me up. I felt like a failure. I didn’t know what to do. When I returned to my home in Topeka, I slept a lot and had to be hospitalized. It was the beginning of many hospital stays and I wanted to make it go away. The disorder clouded my thinking, my responses, and my emotions. I couldn’t move and I could hardly talk at times. While at the hospital, I gained strength and I met others who helped me see I wasn’t alone. I knew I was made for a purpose and through activities at the hospitals I went to all throughout the 90’s, I learned my mind could heal. I feel it has in many ways.

Now I attend groups during the day at a center in Topeka. I also have learned to be forthright about my emotions with my family. My dad and I are talking again and he and I email a lot about the day’s happenings. My mom and I attend a family support group every other Wednesday with other families and it has been great at helping us communicate better. My sister lives in Utah and she calls me and encourages me. I still feel guilty that she had to see all my pain but she’s okay about it and has her own friends.

Through my writing I gain strength. I now have a blog for cjonline. I talk about people in the community who make a difference—who care. There are people who make a difference in my life of recovery and those people I know do care. They care very much. Sometimes I feel ashamed about my thoughts and emotions, especially when they overtake me. My friends and family don’t always know what to do. I’ve gone to the hospital so many times I want to say, “no more!” My writing gives me an escape from the hospital blues. Every time I think of when I was strapped down or locked up in the name of treatment, I go to my writing and find a cause to help others who have experienced similar treatment. I know there are good hospitals and that a lot is being learned about how to treat vulnerable, mentally ill people. The ways of old need to go and new ways need to come up. That is happening and I am happy to be a part of it.

I would say I have recovered to a major degree. I still have anger and depression at times, but I have hope. This hope carries me through the bad times when I want to sleep in and not go anywhere or when I want to scream because I have to have a payee. I don’t feel accepting of all these supports in my life, but I know they are there for a purpose. So this hope carries me and defines me and I hope in my smile one can see a new me—a person who has suffered and is learning to be one with herself and give to others and try again. To me, that’s what my recovery is all about.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Trapped in my Schizophrenia: A Glimpse of my College Journal

Schizophrenia for me, is characterized by hallucinations (specifically the voices and visions of people or ghosts), thoughts of people gossiping about me, following me, or trying to poison me, and false beliefs or delusions...

As I reviewed old college journal entries it saddened me how prevalent my diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia was. Certain phrases gave indication that Schizophrenia was dominate and slowly getting worse. I relied on God to relieve my stressful situations. Now, I will share with you some thoughts I had that I wrote about in my college journal while I was a sophomore and/or junior.

Stress played an intricate role in my symptoms that surfaced. On February 26, 2006, I wrote: "...Although I have been under a lot of stress due to financial, car, and professor conflicts, everything is okay...." Most of the time I tried to stay positive. However, I was obsessed with the idea that someone or some group of college students were gossiping about me. On March 11, 2006, I wrote: "...I have the feeling that people are gossiping about me..."

Eventually, I did not trust anybody including my closest friends, and I began to isolate myself. These thoughts and actions are portrayed in the following journal entries: (March 12, 2006) "...I am at peace with myself I do not feel bad about deteriorating relationships at school..." I went on further to write on March 23, 2006: "... I am blessed because I know I cannot trust any of my closest friends with my secrets..." As you can imagine, not being able to share information with other people, or even your best friend, can make a person feel trapped... I felt trapped, and I did not understand why.

The belief that others were talking about me behind my back got worse to include a group of individuals outside of my initial circle of support. On March 31, 2006, I wrote: "...I think I am certain of who the main gossipers are- [I listed several names]..."

Back then, I remember whenever I was under a lot of stress, (which was a lot), I would take a walk around campus (I lived on the college campus), no matter what time of night. For instance, I took a lot of late night walks just before and during finals week. During these walks, I sometimes heard voices or people laughing (at me). I rationalized the voices by believing that I had extremely good hearing, and I assumed my friends were laughing at me in secret, which made me withdraw from them and eventually everyone else.

In my mind, the stress got so bad that I needed to take a break from school. A year after the listed journal entries, I withdrew from all college courses during my junior year in March 2007. I felt like I lost my drive, focus, and motivation to complete assignments, and to even go class.

I must emphasize that during the time I journaled, I did not know I was living with a mental illness. Also, even though my faith seemed to help me get through some difficult times, my mental illness was not prayed away, and I have learned that it cannot be willed away, or slept away. (I am not by any means suggesting that divine intervention or miracles are not possible). How to treat a person's mental illness should be discussed with a mental health professional.

Now, I no longer feel trapped by my Schizophrenia. I have friends and relatives who I can trust. As I do research on the illness and remember situations from my past, or read old journal entries, I am able to distinguish reality from delusions... I am still putting together the pieces, which is refreshing to me- to know the difference. More important, I am back in college!

To learn more about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Messages of Hope

Don't let Schizophrenia steal your joy! If you or someone you know is living with Schizophrenia or any mental illness there is hope. Schizophrenia is a manageable illness, like other medical conditions, with treatment and support.

Hope to me is to hear my own voice and only my voice when I am alone. I am thankful that I tried something that manages my hallucinations and other symptoms. I am hopeful that others living with Schizophrenia may find the treatment that works for them too. And hopeful that society will find solutions to many complications associated with the cause, or causes of the illness, and to find better treatment or a cure for this concern.

Someone with Schizophrenia can live a "normal" life in recovery, which is an on-going process to manage this illness. There is no set time frame for recovery. And, I will say this again, there is no set time frame for recovery, everyone is different and may require unique avenues to reach stability despite one's challenging illness.

I am a genuine example of someone successfully managing Schizophrenia! I am still in recovery, still putting together the pieces of my past realities or product of symptoms, and I am still learning myself like many other people who may not have a diagnosis.

What helped in my recovery is treatment, hope from family and health care professionals, and education, education, education! Here are some websites on Schizophrenia and other mental illnesses:

Yes, Schizophrenia scared me, yes, Schizophrenia stole meaningful relationships from me, and yes, Schizophrenia even had the audacity to take away daily choices from me... but today, I am overcoming Schizophrenia, and you can too!

To learn more about Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Mindful of Present Symptoms

Some of the symptoms and side effects of my medication that I still struggle with are lack of facial responsiveness and seeming to walk a little stiff. Because other people have told me about these symptoms and side effects of my medication I try to overcome them.

While I am speaking to someone I may intentionally blink my eyes so that I don't seem to stare off, and I smile more. Occasionally, I nod my head so that the person I am talking to knows that I am following with whatever they are saying. And, I may turn away and then look back. Now, I have mastered these movements.

A major side effect for the medication I am taking was stiffness. When I first started my medication regimen in 2007, my peers said I looked like a robot. However, I did not feel stiff, but doctors and others noticed how I walked. In fact, my doctor gave me another medication to help counteract the stiffness. Now, I am not taking the other medicine because the side effects have seemed to fade away over time. To overcome the appearance that I am a little stiff I slightly swing my arms when I walk, which helps tremendously. Moreover, I take my medicine at night in hopes that the stiffness will decrease. Even though I manage these little things very well, I am mindful of them and continue to work at it.

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Overview of My Experiences: Overcoming Schizophrenia

I have had this blog for over two years and feel honored to share my experiences and suggestions with you. I love to write and am striving to help others in advocating for mental health, in order to reduce stigma, promote awareness, and to continue to share my testimony so that other people living with a mental health diagnosis understand that they are not alone, and that support is available if they seek it. Now, I am in school to learn how to become a therapist, and I oversee a non-profit organization I established called, Embracing My Mind, Inc.

It is unfortunate that some people, including myself, have to endure an extreme chaotic situation or crisis, before getting the treatment we need. In addition to the ordinary stresses of life, in my experience, I suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 20 that resulted in my arrest and hospitalization as a result of my unknown mental illness, Paranoid Schizophrenia. It is important to acknowledge the fact that I was and still am very involved in my community. I was a youth church teacher, assistant coach for the youth, student mentor in college, and a poll worker for the presidential election before the adult-onset schizophrenia disrupted my life. My family and I did not understand mental illness, its seems to have crept up on us, and stole my livelihood, personality, relationships, and ultimately my mind, before I started the recovery process.

The illness terrified myself, family, especially my mother, because she did not know if I would be able to function again. During my most challenging experiences with schizophrenia, I experienced auditory and visual hallucinations, the voices, sometimes only one, other times multiple voices, were discouraging and told me that 'I was a dishonor to my family,' the voices were cruel and confusing, especially because I thought the voices were coming from the people around me.

And the images, I'll never forget the thought and fear I had, that I was being followed. One of the images were of a man on an antique bicycle, it dreadful, no matter how hard I tried, I could not escape him, it was scary! I became extremely paranoid to the extent that I stopped eating because I thought others were trying to poison me. Eventually, I stopped taking care of myself, speaking, and even moving.

I thought the devil was communicating to me through the television and radio, trying to persuade me to commit suicide. Imagine watching a church service on T.V. and at the end of the program you see the words "How to Commit Suicide" on the screen to order tapes! it frightened me. Other times I thought I felt the devil's presence in people around and even in church, which was not a good feeling. I am glad I received treatment when I did before those thoughts got any worse, or before I acted on them.

Also, I believed I could read people's minds, and they read my mind as well- it was all confusing and exhausting. Eventually, I had no recollection of where I was, I thought family members were impostures, and my personality fluctuated depending on the severity of my delusions, which were bizarre.

I am thankful to be able to do the things I want and need to do. Also, I am thankful for treatment and all involved in my recovery (God, family, peers, NAMI, online friends and supporters like you, and health care professionals). I appreciate the opportunity to share my story with you, it is therapeutic to me and I hope beneficial to you, too. I encourage you to partake in whatever helps you or your loved one's recovery (i.e., therapy, support groups, journaling, hobbies, meditation on higher power, family and friends, etc.). My episodes and encounters around my experience with mental health are all true.

Event Announcement: NAMI In Our Own Voice Presentation

I am excited to announce that myself and K.C. Jones (her blog, Hope Is Real) will present our experience with mental health, TONIGHT at Charis Bookstore & More!! The NAMI In Our Own Voice presentation will be located at 1189 Euclid Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia, at 7:30-9PM. This event is sponsored by Charis Bookstore & More and Circle of Grace Community Church. All are welcome, hope to see you there!

For more information about the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) programs visit the website.

How to Cope with Dark Seasons

I aim to empower those affected by mental illness. However, the truth about recovery is there will be many dark seasons. Still, I hope peopl...