Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Importance of Peer Support To Me

Peer support is not a new phenomenon in recovery. According to the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Course manual, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups and their 12-step model have been practicing peer support since the 1930s. Peer support is when an individual with similar concerns share knowledge and practical experience with each other to have a better understanding of their concerns and to mature in recovery.

As a person living with mental illness, a facilitator, and researcher, it is common for a person living with a mental health diagnosis to also have a substance abuse concern. This combination of concerns is called dual diagnosis.

Even though I do not have a substance abuse concern I feel like I can relate to people with substance abuse concerns. From my experience with mental illness I once lost close relationships, college education, and my livelihood. Similarly, people with substance abuse concerns may have lost close relationships, career, and their livelihood as a result of using drugs and/or alcohol.

Peer support is very important to my recovery. It played a critical role in my mental health recovery foundation. When I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 2007, I participated in recovery support groups with peers (people who also have a mental health diagnosis) in the state hospital and in an outpatient treatment center where I received services. When I had a concern with isolation I turned to recovery support groups to overcome that challenge. I participated in recovery support groups to gain more knowledge about Schizophrenia and to build relationships.

There are a combination of habits I perform to stay well- I take my prescribed medication regularly, I participate in and also facilitate recovery support groups, and I give and get support from various sources including family, faith-based community, peers, and treatment team. For me, this approach works, however, I understand that everyone is different and other people may use another approach to obtain stability, wellness, and maturity in their recovery. I encourage treatment (whatever that may include) for a person in recovery to reach their well being.

I understand I am fortunate to have a lot of support because some of my peers do not have a diverse network of support. Therefore, I encourage peers to aim for more support through participation in support groups and building a better relationship with their treatment team (i.e. psychiatric doctor, psychologist, therapists, social worker, mentor/Certified Peer Specialists, etc.). NAMI provides FREE support groups for people living with a mental health challenge, and also for family members and caregivers.

Regardless, if an individual has a mental illness or not, we all need support! We need support in school, on the job, in our family, and among our peers. If someone is not ready to go to a support group I also encourage online support groups, which NAMI also provides or anonymous conference calls (Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America provides).

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lack of Trust: A Byproduct of My Mental Illness

In this entry, I'll share my experiences with Schizophrenia in regards to feeling lack of trust in others, paranoia, and isolation.... I remember my many episodes with Schizophrenia where I felt uneasy because of lack of trust in others. In the past, isolation was a giant bullying me around.

Sometimes my mind would take me to a place of fear, hurt, and an unsettling spirit, which started with what seemed like a strange look, or a different feeling around an individual, when in reality it was another symptom of my undiagnosed illness- paranoia. My paranoia was rampant and dictated my life prior to experiencing a crisis, which led me to jail and into forced treatment and to receive an official diagnosis of Schizophrenia in 2007.

In other words, my illness created enemies in my mind. For instance, I once believed my favorite kin was against me and I felt like she wanted me to fail, and I eventually thought she was conspiring to harm me. However, she never said anything to imply these feelings of distrust. My illness attacked those closest to me. I felt like there were barriers or issues between us, when in reality there wasn't. My paranoia and lack of trust grew against other members of family and friends, and ultimately to the world.

One day I had a revelation that everyone was against me, because I was special or had special abilities. I needed to escape! I quit my job, cashed my last check, packed my bag and left the house in hopes of renting a room in a nearby community. When the room for rent situation failed I wanted to leave the state and go back home.

However, because my symptoms were severe I ended up committing a crime and being jailed. After I was in jail and my family discovered where I was they visited me. But instead of me being happy to see them in my situation, I was skeptical; I believed they were impostures- I did not trust them and was hesitant to speak. I felt alone, trapped, and concerned. I thought someone had done something to my family. Therefore, I questioned my family before I had an open discussion with them. I asked distinct questions, for instance, I asked my grandparents what gifts they brought me for my high school graduation which was three years prior to the jail incident. Whenever, my family got a question wrong I believed they were in fact impostures and I felt very uncomfortable and distrusting.

Later, I was angry at my family because I thought they did something offensive to me- I do not remember why I was so upset back then. While in jail, I remember people telling the date, but I did not believe them. My illness made me distant and skeptical over anything and everything. For example, instead of believing someone else's word on what the date was, I thought God was sending me messages of the date and other things through milk cartoons. This shows how irrational my thoughts were at the time.

Eventually, the nurses in the psychiatric unit in jail gave me pills for my mental illness. I refused the medicine because I did not understand that my symptoms were symptoms of mental illness, and that I was experiencing an episode or a psychotic break. After they forced medicated me or I gave in a took the medication and was educated about my illness in the state hospital, I yearned for family and friends again.

However, I still had to learn to overcome isolation. I wanted to have friends outside of family, I wanted to get out of the house, and I wanted to learn more about my illness. Therefor, I started attending support groups led by my therapist at the center where I received treatment. I went to all the groups they offered which was about three groups a week. And I started building relationships with others again. After that I started volunteering and then I went back to college. However, I must emphasize that this was a process that I am still learning, it was NOT an overnight recovery plan. I consider my recovery an ongoing treatment plan that must include participation in various support groups, support from family and peers, and medication compliance.

I share these experiences with you to promote awareness on the symptoms of Schizophrenia, emphasize the importance of trust, and to spread the idea that hope and recovery are possible.

If you are someone living with a mental illness I encourage you to find someone who you can trust so that they can advocate for you. If you are a family member or friend of a person living with a mental illness it is important to gain or keep the trust of your loved one. I would suggest that you stay open minded when they share bizarre experiences with you, journal about it and support them in order to get them into treatment- any sort of treatment (i.e., therapies, medication, etc.) or to continue treatment.

For more information on Schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).

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...