It is high-time that I switch focus on my blog back to how I function despite my various mental health diagnoses. This post will summarize the five pillars of my management of my schizophrenia symptoms. I will then continue with a series that will describe each of these in more detail.
As long as I retain some semblance of functioning I consider myself to be successful. The disease will be beating me if I can’t hold a job and I’m not able to comfortably leave the house and have some semblance of a social circle. What I will be outlining is what works for me with my unique version of schizoaffective disorder. I feel that these could be helpful to others to explore but it would be neglectful to not mention that some things that work for me might not work for you.
There are five pillars that form the base of my disease management: external help, self-help, medication, healthy living and support network. By focusing on these separately and how they relate to each other I continue to live as well as possible despite my disease.
The first of my pillars, external help, is where formal counseling lives. I’ve spent numerous (hundreds) of hours in front of professional therapists including psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, social-workers, regular doctors, emergency room staff and call-in counselors. I have been through the whole gambit on this one. Some professionals I have had a lot of success with and others weren’t really worth my time and even made things worse (and not in a it’ll get worse before it gets better sort of way).
Currently I am between professionals as we prepare for our imminent move. I am very apprehensive about starting all over with a new one. If it is another one trying to guide me through the same kind of cookie-cutter processes that I’ve seen before then I fear it won’t be of much help.
The next of the pillars, self-help, is a large area of my disease management. If it can be tried, then I probably have tried it in some way or another. Most of the things that I have attempted have been of little or no success. Some of the attempts have made things worse.
For instance, it has been recommended to me over and over that I need to add meditation to my self-help. The only thing I have accomplished in meditation has been to discover where The Dragon lives. He lives in the quiet parts of my mind, the very places I would seek out in meditation. Whenever I meditate it is sure that I will be, at best, in an angry mental dialogue with The Dragon. At worst, he leaves me in shambles with his anger and hatred.
Many of the tools that have been taught to me by my various therapists are used in my self-help. I have been through a gauntlet of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions four times now by different professionals. CBT has some successes and some failures for me. The problem that I have is that logic and rational thought are huge components of CBT. The Dragon, however, has trained me to think, in terms of myself, illogically and irrationally. It hasn’t been all hopeless for me though. I’ll describe, in the follow-on article about self-help, the tools that do work very well for me.
On a whim, a few months ago I started this blog. Of all the self-help tools I have in my belt, this one is the best. Blogging about my own personal brand of mental illness has been very beneficial. Every blog that I post has the primary goal of being beneficial to myself. This post, and the more detailed ones to follow, are intended to help me revisit all the things that have and have not helped. My secondary goal is that some of my readers may also benefit from my writings. Twice now I have been reached out to saying that they have benefitted. I can’t adequately describe how great the feeling was.
My relationship with the third of the pillars, medication, has been a love-hate sort of affair. I have been on so many kinds of medications. Some have been very helpful; some have been completely awful. At one point, I was being medicated for bipolar disorder with a mood stabilizer which I attribute to a complete mental break that landed me into an intensive inpatient program. I have since been told that I am not bipolar.
It has been a long journey of trial-and-error with small and large steps in types and dosages. While I have always remained compliant with my medications, I have been a very active participant in demanding that I be tapered off some or tried on others.
The best thing that happened was when my military duty assignment was to an area where there wasn’t a psychiatrist on the department of defense payroll that I could trust only had my best-interests in mind. This isn’t a statement that they were out to get me… just that I was mistrustful of the military doctors. I am on a mix of medications now that have very beneficial effects without many negative ones. In fact, my biggest complaints, my psychiatrist assures, are not from the medications at all. If anyone is curious which medications are helping me they can send me a message.
Even though I learn the lesson that this is important over and over, I have trouble sticking to the next of the pillars, healthy living. I have noticed that food-benders result in The Dragon and the depression both gaining strength. I have also seen that the better physical shape I am in the more mental stamina I have to fight The Dragon and the less the depression.
But eating right and working out can be very difficult when your mind doesn’t feel right. A bag of candy and the sugar buzz feel terrific even though that wears off and feels awful. A beer is the same way. Trying to drag myself out of bed when feeling down for a run is just about impossible.
My goal is to eat a healthy vegan diet, not drink alcohol (9 months so far) and workout every day. I’m doing good on what I put into my body but am doing bad at working out. The only exercise I get right now is walking my dog twice a day, but we don’t go far. Exercise in an apartment complex surrounded by busy streets can be pretty challenging.
The final of the pillars is my support network. I’ve written about my social network before. I’m trying very hard to expand the membership of my support network and also my trust in them. I am one of the lucky ones and I have an amazing spouse that couldn’t be more supportive and wise. It isn’t me that sits at the center of my support network, it is her. There is no one else that I am completely open and honest with.
Once we move back to Kansas I will placing a priority in reforging bonds that I had when we left locally and then with extended family. What will be difficult will be in determining how far to let each one in and then keeping track of who knows what. My goal is to form a strong enough support network that I can lean a little less on my wife so she doesn’t feel like our relationship is based off her as a caretaker.
I’ve also included a dog into my support network. We are still working on our relationship, but it looks like this one will be a keeper!
Another big part of my support network are the people that I have met through this blog and their blogs. I am more open in this forum then I am with anyone else other than my wife.
I’ll be discussing these five pillars in greater length over the next few posts. I want to know what the areas are that you focus on in your own journey. Even if you aren’t schizophrenic. Or if you are someone who supports someone with mental illness, how do you help them. Please comment below or send me a message.