Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Recipe for Acceptance and Well-being with Schizophrenia

I wrote this article for NAMI- Athens Ohio. To listen to the radio interview hosted by Tom Walker click here.

For me, understanding of my mental health condition enables me to move forward in my recovery. A combination of acceptance, support, and treatment; and faith, motivates me to strive for well-being, which is a sense of normalcy in spite of my preexisting medical concern.

How am I overcoming schizophrenia? My journey is an ongoing process that I will continue to thrive on not only for myself, but for my family, peers, and community. Now, I will share with you how I've mastered my recovery of mental health and am living a normal life.

Since my diagnosis of a serious mental illness- schizophrenia- in 2007, I've learned to cope with my condition and to keep a good attitude no matter how individuals living with or without a mental health challenge view the concern. Getting to this level of comfort was not easy. In short, I've battled housing discrimination, social judgment, and self-stigma, among misconceptions of the community made known through uneducated comments and beliefs in response to my recovery experience, and the illness in general.

Although acceptance of schizophrenia came early for me, in the initial stages of diagnosis and treatment, I could not have overcome so much in a speedy manner without the support of my treatment team, mother and family, peers, and faith, that I will manage my life once again. For me, getting support required an open mind, willingness to share personal experiences, and offer support to peers and other individuals effected by mental illness. Support from a range of connections was crucial to me because I needed a cheerleader (medial staff, family, peers, and supporter, etc.) on my side to keep hope alive and to also let me know that recovery is possible.

Although I am on medication to help treat my mental illness, among other treatments including therapy and support groups, I understand there are alternative treatments available and unique ways to reach peace and well-being living with mental health. I am an advocate for whatever healthy coping mechanism works for my peer.

The underlying factor that helped me accept my schizophrenia was faith in a higher power and a purpose in my life to assist others in recognizing there is life after a difficult challenge such as a medical concern like mental illness. In fact, when I was diagnosed and in the hospital a few years ago my mother told me that I will be an evangelist and share my experience with the community. Back then I did not know how I would share my recovery story, but my faith has always led me in each avenue I took to help benefit individuals by sharing my life dealing with this medical condition.

I was featured in a documentary, along with two individuals living with schizophrenia, that was produced by Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. called, Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery. I've personally traveled to and spoke to communities in Canada and across the United States. My story was also presented on CNN and among several other media channels. Now, I share my recovery experience with law enforcement and facilitate workshops to support peers and family members effected by mental health.

My hope is schizophrenia will be viewed as a manageable medical condition and that understanding will flourish and ultimately reduce widespread misconceptions and myths. It is an honor to share my life with schizophrenia in our community and abroad. I plan to write a book about my experiences and to manage a wellness center for individuals effected by mental health.

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

Friday, February 3, 2012

Religion a Symptom?

I presented my recovery story to law enforcement earlier this week as part of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program. During the presentation one of the participants asked me if religion was a symptom of schizophrenia. I did not go into depth with my answer then, but I want to elaborate on how religion impacted my symptoms during the most difficult time of my life, five years ago.

When my symptoms of schizophrenia started affecting my emotions, outlook on life, and my ability to function, I did not understand what was happening to me. Consequently, I relied on my religion for understanding of myself and for the strange experiences I had.

I am able to discuss the many symptoms I endured now, because it happened in my past, and I am coping with my illness well through medication, support, and faith. Some of my symptoms I experienced included: seeing and hearing things that others did not experience, having false beliefs, extreme suspiciousness and distrust in people I usually trusted, short-term memory loss, confusion, isolation, etc.

Religion interfered with my illness through its dominance and extremity. My religion demanded routines, several hours of study, and rationalization of my bizarre symptoms. At one point, my strange beliefs took over my mind, I thought God was communicating the actual date through milk cartons, and I did not believe other people when they told me the date. On the flip side I believed the devil communicated with me through the television and radio to commit suicide, even though I never attempted suicide.

My false beliefs went to the extent that I once believed I was a prophet of God on His mission, and then eventually Jesus Christ being persecuted all over again. Though I thought these beliefs were strange, I justified them through my faith. Schizophrenia caused me to think I could communicate with others by reading their mind, and sometimes they could read my mind too, it was all very weird, but possible through my faith.

I think religion can be a symptom for many of my peers with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. The extreme examples of my experience with religion and my symptoms is my personal account, religion may affect my peers differently and sometimes not at all.

Now, I label my faith as my spirituality and not as religious practices. I still hold my faith with the understanding that the impossible is possible, however, my personal encounters were a byproduct of my undiagnosed/untreated mental illness.

* I appreciate your insight and sharing personal stories, please continue to comment to let me and our peers know what you think about this topic- thank you!

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

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