Chronic Not Hopeless

I’m grateful to my peers for retweeting what I write on Twitter. I wanted to extend what I talk about to any chronic condition now.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer circa 11 years ago. A routine yearly mammogram detected a lump at Stage 0. Stage 0 is the best kind of cancer to have. She had an operation and has been in remission from breast cancer ever since.

I have only empathy for anyone living with a chronic medical condition–whether it’s a mental illness or heart disease or osteoporosis or any other kind of illness.

My life changed forever on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2004 when I experienced a minor version of PTSD related to a traumatic verbal attack I experienced while in graduate school. It’s the effect of the event on the person that renders it traumatic even if to another person it wouldn’t set off alarm bells.

The wind-up was in 2007 the Stelazine wasn’t effective anymore and I was switched to Geodon which has been a miracle drug for me. I said in the last blog entry that in recovery as in life nothing is guaranteed.

A chronic condition can often be kept at bay with medication–whether the condition is a migraine or symptoms of schizophrenia. And I know what it’s like to have a migraine. I once had a migraine so severe that a co-worker had to drive me home from work at noon. I went straight to bed shut the lights and lay under the covers with no light and no sound until midnight when I went to sleep. As soon as I had gotten home I had to throw up.

It’s been over eight years now since I had a migraine. I talk about this–I talk about the breast cancer–because IMHO getting the right treatment right away equals a better outcome.

Living with a chronic condition isn’t easy. I’m grateful for my peers who understand what it’s like.

I will quote Wilma Rudolph again: the gold medalist at track in the 1960 summer Olympics. She was born 4 pounds and sickly. They thought she would not ever live. Growing up her leg was crooked and she wore a brace.

Wilma Rudolph when she was 20 won three gold medals in track at the 1960 Olympics.

The greatest quote I ever read comes from this champion:

“The triumph can’t be had without the struggle.”

I’m confident that a lot of people who struggle go on to have a ton more empathy and compassion than a lot of ordinary people living “normal” lives. I don’t expect anyone who hasn’t struggled like I have to truly understand and have a natural compassion. That’s why I’m OK that stigma exists because I don’t expect most people to understand.

A former friend once told me: “Maybe your role in this lifetime is to fight stigma.” It just might be.

Right now I will end this blog entry by stating that living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or any other chronic condition can often be like looking in a fun house mirror: our self-perception is distorted because the mirrors can often at first magnify how we feel about ourselves now that our lives have changed.

I propose looking in a different mirror: visualizing in your mind’s eye like a camera a more hopeful outcome. And remembering the magnificent story of Wilma Ruldoph. And remembering that self-pity and jealousy serve no purpose.

I’ll cap off this entry now with this quote from an Internet message:

“Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is facing some kind of battle.”

Living an Organic Life

One definition of organic is “denoting a relation between elements of something such that they fit together as parts of a whole.”

This is what I’m referring to in the Mission Statement link on my author website. Living an organic life is the true premise of Left of the Dial: where our thoughts and feelings, actions and values are aligned and in balance.

I’m interested in how elements fit together as part of a whole. The goal as I see it in recovery is to be whole and well. You can have a full and robust life.

In this regard I don’t discount that a lot of times a person’s life is changed forever after they’re diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia or another mental illness. Yet here too life can be beautiful even though it’s hard.

The goal as I see it too is to find what gives you joy and satisfaction and go do that as long as it’s healthy.

One thing I firmly believe: it’s not the enormity or severity of a challenge that determines a person’s fate but how they respond to that challenge. It’s possible to find pockets of joy even though a person struggles or is in pain.

In this regard I have been famously assailed because of my love of fashion and makeup. Yet I can tell you without a doubt that my interest in fashion was one of the prime factors that helped me do better in my recovery.

For you it might be painting or sketching. For another person it might be hiking a mountain trail.

The point is it’s interesting to me how these elements come together in an organic way. And when our lives are out of balance it’s often because we’re caught up in busywork that is out of synch with who we are.

I will write in here about my theory on this next week.

Having a Full and Robust Life

I’m not a fan of labels like psychiatric survivor. To me a survivor is merely someone who survived an experience. I’d rather be a winner: a person who got in the ring and fought the illness and was the last one standing.

In recovery as in life there are no guarantees. We have to treasure what we have because it could be gone tomorrow. That’s what I would tell anyone who doesn’t have a mental illness too.

I want others to focus on the humanitarian work I do not on what I’ve achieved for myself. I use my experiences to uplift and inspire others–true–yet my goal was not to claim that everyone can do what I’ve done or has to do what I’ve done to be given credit in society.

Since I first started blogging years ago I’ve championed that each of us figures out what makes us happy and goes and does that. Your blueprint for living your life is going to be different from mine.

My ulterior motive was to show how I rose up against the stigma the mental health staff tried to reinforce when I dared tell them I wanted to get a job and live independently. My contention has always been that a person diagnosed with schizophrenia should not settle for less than full participation in society on equal footing with everyone else.

Most people covet having a “normal” life or covet being “normal.”

The book flap for Kelly Cutrone’s Normal Gets You Nowhere defines normal as:

“according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle / conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern / of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development.”

That doesn’t sound like something I ever wanted to be though at one point I wanted to be “free from mental defect” another definition of normal.

Like I said I consider myself to be an ordinary person. I simply wanted to do great things. That’s the difference: each of us has gifts we were born with to use to better ourselves and others in the world.

Everyone has God-given gifts and talents. No one is better than anyone else because in this regard we’re all equals: we have gifts and talents. Daring to use these strengths to create a better life for ourselves and others is the secret to success in recovery.

I make the case for striving to have a full and robust life not just surviving hell and living a life of anger and resentment.

A trend has come on to champion having an ordinary, average life in recovery. Yet I don’t think a person is ordinary or average even if they have a “normal” life. I think greatness lies in each of us regardless of whether a person has a masters degree or is a JD or MD.

That’s why shortly I’m going to feature other peer stories in here. I promised this a couple of months ago and I should be able to start this in September.

A lot of people still cling to using a label like psychiatric survivor. My goal is to showcase peers who have real lives apart from their illness and apart from their diagnosis.

Having a normal life doesn’t appeal to me: having a full and robust life does.

That’s what I intend to do: feature peers who have full and robust lives. Stay tuned.

30-Year Schizophrenia Recovery Outcomes

pink lipstick haircut

This photo is what 28 years in recovery looks like. Most of us will have something to smile about after living in recovery 30 years when we get the treatment we need.

I’m two years shy of the 30 years in schizophrenia recovery outcomes where about 60 percent of us are recovered or are doing well according to long-term studies. Professionals do observe that at the 30-year mark individuals with schizophrenia can have normal lives: living, loving, working, and playing alongside people in society who don’t have mental illnesses.

I’m 50: I’ve written in here about this milestone. You can have better mental health at 50 than you did at 22. You can have a better life too.

Kim Kardashian was shot without makeup for a Vogue Spain cover. Dare I tell you I was wearing only lipstick in this photo? You don’t need Botox or fillers or other wrinkle erasers when you’re happy.

A smile can lift your spirits and make you look vibrant and younger.

Turning 50 is when a person should no longer keep apologizing for who they are or how they live their life.

I learned when I was 35 that having schizophrenia was not a mark of shame or a sign of disgrace. This coincided with when I started my job as a librarian in a creative field. At 50 it’s too late in a person’s life to still get spooked by having a diagnosis or needing to take medication.

The hardest-won victory is the sweetest.

In the coming months I’m going to feature the stories of other people living in recovery under the category peer stories.

I’m not the only one who has made it to 50 and is in good mental and physical health.

The wait is worth it.