In addition to the symptoms of this thought disorder, stigma is a great challenge, especially self-stigma. I believe it is among the top barriers to wellness. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia it seemed that my identity crumbled. I used to cling to my college student role. My symptoms took away my motivation to study, speak, and do activities which usually gave me joy and a healthy outlet. When I dropped out of school I felt like I was less than. In the beginning, I did not know what my recovery could look like, I thought I would not be able to live a fulfilling life.
However, I was fortunate to have a lot of support and hope despite my health challenges. My doctor, mother, and treatment team gave me hope. When I was diagnosed my social worker, Elaine, referred me to a housing program and clubhouse which was empowering, because I was surrounded by peers with similar diagnoses. The program engaged us through recovery-oriented meetings, fun group activities, such as outings in the community, and a range of different classes like cooking. I am grateful I had access to the clubhouse and to treatment. A combination of peer support, therapy, family support, education, and goal-setting, helped me minimize self-defeating thoughts.
I have come a long way. I channeled my energy to grow at life. I worked diligently to live independently. I lived in a group home, rented a room from a family, and had a roommate. I learned how to negotiate my housing agreements in spite of a fixed income. I accomplished returning to work by volunteering. Moreover, I practiced what I learned to build myself up again after hospitalization. By taking on the work of goals and a series of building blocks I developed an enriching understanding of my recovery. Seeing peers manage the condition played a significant factor in my motivation to press forward in addition to the energy I put into my self-care.
Over the years, I learned how to focus on hope and goal-setting. Journalling, reciting affirmations, and cheering myself on along with my support system helped me overcome limitations that I thought I would not be able to maneuver. I have been in recovery for over 13 years. I volunteered with NAMI and other organizations, participated in group therapy, and became a peer counselor that empowers me to keep moving forward.
I accept I will have setbacks due to the nature of my illness. Mental illness raises many concerns like a wide range of various symptoms that effect mood, thoughts, behaviors, and the ability to function in different settings. I experienced the voices, a break in reality, mania, depression, catatonia, and the list goes on. I believe the stresses of life worsens the symptoms. I manage my condition by striving to follow a balanced routine that includes medication, therapy, walking, writing, spirituality, etc.
Mental illness is an invisible beast that most people do not understand. I aim to identify my needs, empower myself, and to be my best cheerleader despite the passing of my mother, who was key in the beginning stages of my recovery. Still, I hold on to hope that I will overcome setbacks through reflection on experience, using my coping tools, and embracing support from others.
My diagnosis stole my identity, but I created a better one which is the woman I am and also becoming. I encourage you to overcome self-defeating thoughts that bring you down.
For my peers and our caregivers: accept the fact that there will be great challenges, but also great triumphs in recovery. Everybody has different goals, needs, and concerns with this condition. Lastly, hold on to hope to accomplish your goals- whatever they are, because you are resilient, unique, and an overcomer.