I think the most important stage of recovery means to first overcome the more positive symptoms of schizophrenia (i.e. hallucinations, delusions…) as much as possible. This can be accomplished through a collaborate effort of:
- the right medications
- education and
I believe the most important step to start with is by taking medications; however, this can be difficult for oftentimes, a person with schizophrenia doesn’t believe they need any medication. For example, with me, it was more like the world is crazy—not me.
This is the reason why so many with mental illnesses have to be court-ordered to an in-patient mental health facility. What does this mean? It means that the consumer is forced to take the medications, or they could be tackled down and given a shot of the medication. This happened to me and after a couple of shots; I became compliant and began my journey on the “pill popping path.”
The next, yet equally important step on the road to recovery is the adequate education of exactly what schizophrenia is. Thankfully, through outside agencies, such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), there is more information available than ever as in the form of websites, pamphlets and support groups. The knowledge helps to empower the mentally ill person and their care-givers so that they can start recognizing their own unique set of symptoms and warning signs.
The problem though is that oftentimes, if a person is psychotic and hearing voices, it makes it very difficult for the individual to focus and to concentrate. That is why attempting to find the right medication first is so crucial to the development of recovery. Once some of the “noise” is lifted from an over-active psychotic mindset, simply learning to recognize a thought as being either “paranoid” or being “delusional” is the first step to retraining those automatic thoughts.
Another step is learning how to recognize psychotic ideations through the use of quality counseling on both the individual level and group level. For me, this didn’t help at first for I was in a state of denial, plus I wasn’t on the right medications; however, after a time of medication changes, I was better able to focus on developing these skills. I can recall some of the staff at the hospital (during my early days) teaching that if you are having negative thoughts just say “Stop!” Well, the reason I am pointing this out is because I wouldn’t classify that type of counseling as being very therapeutic….
Yet, with some good individual counseling, a person with schizophrenia can learn to decipher just what is real and what isn’t. In my case, I had I very highly over-active imagination which didn’t help matters as it was easy for me to believe whatever my mind concluded to be the truth. So it took a while to weed out the delusions and to recall my past as it was in a more accurate reflection.
During the overcoming of some of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, it is time to reflect on the individual issues in counseling and group therapy. I believe the first major step under this classification is learning to develop adequate social skills based on an accurate perception of other individuals:
I can recall when I was in the city jail, before coming to the hospital, one of the other inmates told me not to come near her (they all knew what my charges were). However, in my deluded state, I didn’t take her seriously for I thought she was joking. So I took a big step towards her and grinned—next thing I know, I got hit on the forehead with a metal dustpan. As the blood was being wiped away by another inmate, I can remember being completely confused and didn’t understand why she hit me.
Prior to my illness, I used to have a borderline aggressive type personality; however, after the tragic event and the reality of everything crashed down on me, I became very passive and quiet. I basically had to relearn how to communicate effectively with others and develop my non-existent social skills. With the help of classes such as assertiveness training and the development of listening skills, I began re-learning how to interact with other people in appropriate ways.
Another obstacle I found was learning how to find balance in a world of opposites. I used to think of people in a very positive light; however, when they did something that I classified as wrong, I became very negative and refused to talk or interact with the person. With the help of individual therapy, I learned to recognize this pattern and to reclassify my judgments into thinking that people had both strengths and weaknesses in their personality; as a result, I became less critical of others.
A huge aspect of recovery involves the development of coping strategies through the use of both cognitive therapy and recreational therapy. Using cognitive therapy approaches in both an individual and group setting, I believe a person with schizophrenia can develop coping strategies in several areas:
- Learning to be aware of paranoid or delusional ideations; then retraining the mind to think before acting on a thought that may or may not be real.
- Learning to recognize negative thinking patterns and then retraining the mind to be open to different perspectives that are more positive.
- Learning how to appropriately handle strong and intense emotions in a positive manner and then utilizing these skills.
- Learning to engage in a hobby such as gardening, painting, or even sewing to help a person cope by allowing them a unique way to express themselves and find peace.
For example, after a period of writing poetry for four to five years, I just stopped for I no longer seemed to have such intense mood swings—I had come to accept that I had this illness. Once acceptance came, I began to channel my energy in through other outlets such as learning various types of arts and crafts. For example, I engaged myself more by learning various card games, signing up for a crochet class, painting other patient’s fingernails, and then teaching myself how to make jewelry.
Through the realization that hope is not a futile emotion, acceptance of one’s illness can eventually begin to settle within the mind and the person can then decide with conviction that they can move forward with their life. Full recovery begins when a person has found meaning and purpose for their life regardless of the fact that they have a mental illness.
- They are no longer driven by their illness in an attempt to learn about it or analyze it.
- They are no longer blaming their mistakes or behavior on the mental illness.
- They develop a support network of positive people in their life.
- They begin to set realistic goals and start pursuing dreams.
Recovery can start now.
Best wishes to all!