Monday, June 28, 2021

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 people will remember the person we were prior to the harsh symptoms, and know we are still that person.

I am not a doctor, I am a peer counselor of certified peer specialist. I have worked with peers as a recovery support person in a substance abuse department, housing programs, and peer-led centers. My story is just one of many. It may be widely similar, or different. Yet, I believe it can help.

Living with a diagnosis can be rough. The symptoms can turn our thoughts dark, bizarre, and extremely debilitating. As an individual with schizoaffective disorder I am fortunate to experience great days, but when I struggle- I struggle.

I know that medication cannot solve all. I know my challenges and limitations- which we all have to a degree. I take my medication because it helps me think more clearly and minimizes the symptoms. However, it does not make them go away. I lean on those close to me and also my experience.

I try to be mindful of the warning signs and triggers. I share my story to support other people's recovery journey. That journey may include: broken relationships, hospitalization, jail, and even suicide.

To my peers, we can comeback to ourselves. I encourage you to reflect on experience by reviewing the common things that occurred before the setbacks. Your warning signs may be different from mine. Or you may not remember them. You may not have support. But, you can overcome by observing the clues that we may be off-balance.

Here may be signs, but not limited to:

  • Poor sleeping habits- oversleeping or lack of
  • Poor diet- overeating or lack of
  • Irritability, frustration, anxiety
  • Distrust, suspicion and feeling like a victim
  • Exhaustion or high energy
  • Hyper-religious
  • Psychosis- difficulty understanding what is a false perception versus reality
  • Memory issues, etc.
These are signs of significant stress and symptoms of our mental condition.

The truth is coping skills can help us manage, however, setbacks may be a continual battle. 

Ways to approach these concerns may include:
  • Creativity in focusing on projects and hobbies
  • Sleeping aides- supplements, medication, sleep routine
  • Mood journal- track good days and bad days- is there a pattern?
  • Games that help exercise the mind and concentration
  • Stress management activities
  • Peer support, support groups
  • Exercise
  • Spirituality
  • Therapy, etc.

Lastly, I define recovery as staying in a good place that is by using coping skills. I advocate for therapy and look at medication as a personal choice. I believe recovery is possible and that we can have better seasons.


Monday, May 24, 2021

World Schizophrenia Day 2021: The Truths

Generally, people develop compassion for others who have a health condition, however, this is not the case when it comes to schizophrenia. World Schizophrenia Day (May 24th) is our opportunity to learn the facts about schizophrenia, and to reduce the fear, myths, and stigma that prolongs widespread negative perceptions. Schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood brain disorder that creates significant challenges for people. People with this the condition may experience a wide range of debilitating symptoms such as false beliefs and perceptions, bizarre behaviors, and confusion.

    World Schizophrenia Day was established to honor Dr. Philippe Pinel. Pinel acknowledged the humanity of his patients. He ordered staff to remove the chains and advocated for better treatment. Frequently, people identify schizophrenia as a personality disorder, which is a myth. Schizophrenia is a thought disorder characterized by psychosis, which is a break in reality. Schizophrenia is not dissociative identity disorder otherwise known as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder. Yet, the term schizophrenia can contribute to the misinformation about the type of illness which schizophrenia is a part of. In 1908, Eugen Bleuler coined the term schizophrenia that is the "splitting of the mind." The term refers to the brain’s inability to function and manage.

    The truth is schizophrenia is a manageable condition through a variety of approaches. For example, antipsychotic medications can help reduce the symptoms of psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions. These symptoms refer to the person’s lack of ability to distinguish what is real for them versus reality. Common delusions focus on the idea that an individual is Jesus Christ, the food has been poisoned, people are spying, or aim to attack and kill. Hallucinations can take on all five senses such as hearing and seeing things that others do not. Delusions and hallucinations are not imaginary or fantasy—these symptoms can be perceived as a real threat, belief, and experience despite alternative information and facts presented by family, friends, and professionals.

    Another approach to wellness is counseling. There may be individual and group therapy. The therapist will teach people how to manage symptoms by providing alternative coping strategies and ways to address events and stressors that affect the individual’s life. Peer support is another method to helping people learn about coping tools to control the symptoms. Self-help groups, outpatient programs, and peer centers may have peer support persons that are people with similar health conditions who offer insight and support to others on ways to manage recovery.

    World Schizophrenia Day is important to me because it restores genuine curiosity for this illness that will help breakdown the stigma. I look at my mental health condition as a medical illness that deserves a chance at discussion without judgment and prejudices. There are so many myths that overpowers the truths. 

    Still, recovery is possible. The truth is this condition like other severe health issues should promote education, support, and dignity. World Schizophrenia Day is a day to reflect, learn, and develop our understanding of schizophrenia to seek help, and to stop perpetuating the myths, discriminatory practices, and ostracizing. Let’s promote the truth—share the facts.


References/Facts

  • Britannica: Philippe Pinel, French Physician 
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - Mental Health Information, Brochures and Fact Sheets: "Schizophrenia"
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): "Changing Focus: The Right to Treatment of Serious Mental Illness,"  Elinore F. McCance-Katz, MD, PhD 
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "History of Schizophrenia"
  • Wednesday, March 10, 2021

    Regaining Control in Response to Early Warning Signs and Symptoms


    I discovered how to regain control of my recovery by redirecting the focus onto stress management techniques. Initially, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, however, my symptoms presented those which resemble both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Specifically, my symptoms included: mania, anxiety, depression, delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations, etc. Accordingly, my diagnosis became schizoaffective disorder. Managing the mania is an ongoing battle for me.

        Reflecting on my past behaviors, especially shifts in my mood and symptoms, I created a blueprint on how to rejuvenate and get back on top of life. In this blog article, I will list seven early warning signs to be mindful of. Moreover, I will discuss methods which I personally use to fight back against the odds. However, I am not promising complete healing and avoidance of relapse, but I am simply sharing the tools that I utilize to maintain my health goals.

        Whenever I exhibit certain signs and symptoms I try to recycle my wellness tools. Here are 7 early warning signs:


    1. Shifts in sleeping patterns. For me, not getting adequate sleep could lead to elevated moods or mania. Yet, excessive sleep could indicate a steady decline into my depression.

    2. Excessive texting. A strong indication that I am manic occurs when I reach out to people in my circle of influence and beyond with excessive texting to check-in, catch up, and to share thoughts, etc.

    3. A surge in thoughts. Occasionally, my mind races with ideas that demand a lot of attention, but I cannot activate the plans because my mind cannot to focus on multiple projects at once.

    4. Misunderstood. When those closest to me tell me they can't follow my train of thought or are confused by my line of thinking I reflect on these conversations after the fact, and consider analyzing my stress level in order to address it.

    5. A buildup of stress. Life is stressful, however, I recognize that I can be hyper-sensitive to everyday stressors. Examples of daily stressors is managing traffic and being late, bills and financial obligations, and also disagreements with family and friends. Overtime these stressors buildup and wear me down by interfering with my memory, feeling like there's ongoing pressure on my mind and body, and thus, triggering my lack of patience and producing irritability. 

    6. A disrupted routine. I discovered that I manage well with a self-care routine. I have a wide variety of habits that helps me stay balanced such as writing in my journal, and prayer and meditation. When I lose consistency in my daily routine I could tell I need to concentrate on my wellness. 

    7. A pileup of house chores. Whenever I notice how uncomfortable or unmanageable areas of my space becomes I start to realize that I need to regroup and redirect my attention onto my basic self-care needs. Not to say that my home is tidy or spotless, however, there are degrees of tolerance or intolerance to messiness such as an overfilled trashcan that just sits and I seem to work with it. 

        

        However, accepting a rigorous call to action can disrupt the downward spiral. Here are 7 stress reduction strategies to maintain wellness:


    1. Walking. Walking has always created stress relief whether around my neighborhood, in the park, or gym, because I can clear my thoughts.

    2. Therapy. When I feel overwhelmed I schedule an appointment with my therapist and come to the session with an agenda or list of stressors to discuss and resolve.

    3. Medication. Even though I understand this may not work for all of my peers, it works for me. Occasionally, I ask for an adjustment to my medication dosage and discuss additional options with my doctor. 

    4. Cleaning. When I am anxious I focus on performing house chores. Cleaning takes a level of concentration to organize and rearrange stuff. It helps me clear my mind. Afterwards, I feel relieved and enjoy the atmosphere.

    5. Rest. This is a huge stress management technique because resting rejuvenates the body. When I get enough sleep I can utilize my energy to work on other areas of my life.

    6. Projects. Sometimes I create new projects to exercise my creativity and to stay busy.

    7. Prayer. My prayers manifest clarity. I say my prayers aloud and remember to be grateful for what I have. 

        

        I share my experience so that it may empower others to relate and enhance coping strategies to manage similar challenges. Therefore, I encourage my peers to observe and accept individual warning signs and symptoms in order to address them. 

        I've experienced two psychotic breaks over the last 14 years, and I have more mental battles to overcome. I believe that another breakdown is inevitable for me, because of the uncertainty in dealing with a brain disorder. I understand I am not immune to another psychotic break. Still, I strive to master stress management skills every day to control what I can. My goal is to defeat my condition by getting back up after every breakdown by utilizing my wide range of coping tools, my faith, and hope that I can manage to bounce back. 

        I must be clear that mental illness is a very serious condition that stress management techniques may not always be able to resolve due to the severity of the condition. In fact, I advise every individual living with a mental health condition to discuss treatment options and a crisis plan with their healthcare professional. 


    Wednesday, February 24, 2021

    How to Overcome Disappointments by Redirecting Your Focus


    Living with a mental health condition is very challenging. As an individual living with schizoaffective disorder I must be mindful of my stressors, thoughts, and social needs. Setbacks are disappointing, but they are a part of life. For instance, having a hospitalization, getting rejected, being discriminated against, experiencing self-doubt, and coping with disappointments that lead to changes can be stressful. 

        Most people will not understand individuals with mental health concerns because of varying perceptions on the symptoms. Moreover, widespread misconceptions drives fear, lack of education, and discrimination, that perpetuates barriers to socialization, treatment, and understanding. It is imperative for us to develop alternative skills to maneuver and manage the difficult times. I encourage peers to focus on confidence-building activities, which I will share. Also my tips will help people who do not have a diagnosis. Here, I will focus on 7 habits, which will help you develop self-validation and improve your mental health.

    1) Concentrate on reciting affirmations and reassuring statements. This is one of my most powerful habits because this activity creates excitement and hope. Life is full of ups and downs, therefore, it is important to motivate yourself to press onward.  Reciting affirmations rejuvenates your ability to hold on to hope. Stating positive thoughts and objectives aloud or writing them down will manifest inner-strength and belief in one's ability to move forward. I identify as spiritual and believe that words can dictate the energy and develop into a reality. Therefore, I encourage you to say uplifting things. For me, I might repeat the following statements: “I have the spirit of strength on me today. I am bold. I master resiliency.” “I welcome the spirit of love. I give and receive love. I will embrace love by focusing on loving gestures today.” “This is only for a season. I have support. I am an overcomer. I am fierce. I have power over my reactions and I can get through this.”

    2) Meditate on your higher power. Redirecting thoughts onto the power that oversees your well-being, and has a greater influence on life events, will help restore a sense of peace. I encourage you to develop comfort through your belief system. What stories solidify your beliefs and connects you? Which religious or spiritual sayings can you recall that resonates with you and propels you to keep going?

    3) Embrace your support system. It is imperative that you surround yourself with empathetic persons who want to see you do well. When in doubt reach out to that individual who acknowledges your efforts and strengths to help you persevere. In the past, I leaned on a wide variety of cheerleaders or supporters that went beyond my family. The people that helped me stay motivated to get back on track included: coworkers, neighbors, roommates, family and friends, etc.

    4) Seek counseling. Exploring situations with counselors may provide reassurance. I advocate for therapy because it helps identify solutions everyday problems and stressors. The sessions focus on coping strategies. For me, I brainstorm ways to work through daily stressors with my therapist that is on relationships, financial priorities, or simply acknowledging my options, which I did not see before. The therapist can equip you with resources and skills to help you improve your situation.

    5) Create a positive atmosphere. I enjoy producing positive vibes. Sometimes I buy myself flowers, greeting cards, and candles to create a comfortable environment. Frequently, I set the tone by listening to different music that speaks to my vibes.

    6) Reflect and release burdens. Sometimes I write to let go of my stresses or stay active. I record my things to do list and journal about challenges. Other times I focus on organizing and cleaning my home because it helps me think clearly. I walk to regain physical energy and to also help prioritize ideas and needs. 

    7) Bring your attention to positive messages. Listening to enlightening messages when you wake up can help you stay focused throughout the day. I study motivational speakers and recall their messages of hope as the day progresses. 

        Over the years, we have endured a lot. Still, we are learning how to manage and overcome situations. I encourage you to continue to practice those lifestyle habits that work well for you. However, consider some of these tips to add to your daily routine in order to get through the day. 

        Again, incorporate some of these habits to overcome life's disappointments. 1) Concentrate on reciting affirmations and reassuring statements. 2) Meditate on your higher power. 3) Embrace your support system. 4) Seek counseling. 5) Create a positive atmosphere. 6) Reflect and release burdens. 7) Bring your attention to positive messages. Living with a mental health condition can create disappointing experiences, however, how you cope is more important. Lastly, focus on reassurance by developing those practices that builds the stamina in your confidence to get needs met and to continue to persevere through life's challenges. 

    Monday, February 1, 2021

    Recovery - The Process of Staying in Your Good Place

    I define recovery as staying in a good space. But what does that mean? How can an individual cope with the internal conflicts of self-doubt and symptoms let alone the external battles with discrimination—in the workplace, housing, and barriers to treatment? Moreover, the universal unspoken code of widespread fears and social ostracizing. My ability to endure, cope, and to keep pressing forward demands that I relentlessly challenge the mind wars through my recovery tools. 

        Most people do not understand what it's like to live with a mental health condition, but they can testify that resiliency is a part of the human experience. Naturally we rediscover ways to bounce back from heartbreak, unemployment, and feelings of hopelessness. Yet, the choice to practice healthy strategies to persevere or destructive methods to get by is on us. Quick fixes are fleeting moments of relief which eventually leads to more problems. However, going through the process to develop creative solutions to complex problems enables us to gain balance, confidence, and the strength to overcome. Self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous are examples of the power in the process to manage recovery and life. 

        People like me (individuals living with a diagnosis) have to produce alternative ways to cope. Coping tools may include: making art, playing music, participating in therapy, exercising, engaging in community service, getting and giving peer support, articulating recovery stories, mastering hobbies and skills, etc. Still, how can we stay in a good place to overcome mind wars? What does recovery look like? Recovery is unique—we must remember that and take ownership of our coping weapons to live well.

        I choose to focus on confidence-building techniques to maintain wellness. Yes, recovery is about doing those things that supports wellness, but also incorporates self-healing. During my last hospitalization I focused on creating a positive atmosphere. I did what I can with what I had. I would sing lullabies to myself as if I were singing to my child. I played spades with peers. I walked around the courtyard. I reflected on stories from the Bible, recited affirmations, requested a journal to write my thoughts, and prayed for my wellness and reunion with family. To have a good day I encourage myself. 

        Now I light white candles while I worship my higher power. I say my prayers aloud to talk to The One as if I were discussing concerns in my mind. I listen to motivational speakers almost every single morning to remind myself of my potential. My potential to develop skills. My potential to be a better individual. My potential to maintain wellness. 

        Because mental illness is a severe medical condition I work diligently to manage resources in order to take control of my health. I strive to keep my doctor appointments. I take my medication as prescribed. I create the agenda for discussion with my therapist, and journal daily to reflect on stressors and also resolutions. Recently, I joined the gym to get toned, energy, and stress relief. I do these things to manifest wellness. I do these things to stay balanced. I do these things to stay in my good place because my recovery demands it. I conquer my mind wars of self-doubt, symptoms, and self-stigma by focusing on the process of self-empowerment and healing. 

        Finally, recovery is the process of staying in your good space. Recovery is about self-care, self-empowerment, and sticking to your health plan. Will you choose the short-cut to wellness, or commit to the process? Your unique recovery demands much. It requires your strength and courage to manage. What works for you? What things can you do to encourage yourself? Have you made this a part of your routine? What tools will you use to create your recovery atmosphere?

    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...