The Courage To Change

Having the courage to change is in my estimation the single greatest predictor of success in recovery.

A person must adapt and not settle for the path of least resistance. Doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result could be a recipe for failure.

A person might get a payoff from engaging in unhealthy behavior. Or he or she might choose to live with symptoms rather than take the medication that can stop the symptoms completely. Either way, he or she might not be invested in creating positive changes, for numerous reasons alongside these.

I’m here to tell readers that the benefits of making positive changes outweigh the negative.

Consider that your medication causes you to fall asleep during the day. This could cause you to be in danger of losing your job if you boss doesn’t allow for this.

A simple switch in dose time could change things so that you’re awake all day, every day.

My story is that in 2007 I started taking Geodon and it was like a miracle drug. I started to wake up two hours earlier and go to bed earlier and sleep straight through the night for 7 or 8 hours. The old drug had stopped being effective.

As soon as I switched and started taking the Geodon at night instead of in the morning I was wide awake every day instead of falling asleep three days a week. I write about this in one of my books because it’s imperative that a person doesn’t give up hope in this regard. Discontinuing your medication isn’t the solution when a remedy like this could be possible.

Always talk with your pdoc about these things before making a change.

You might be surprised about what’s possible.

Having the courage to change is one of the all-time great skills in recovery.

I’d love to hear your comments on this.

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We Are Not Entitled

I was unable to post yesterday so I’m here today. I want to give my observations here now.

The work ethic of the average teenager stinks. I would like most teens to prove me wrong.

Over the years I’ve supervised plenty of exceptional young people who have gone on to great colleges. Yes, there are hard-working, intelligent teenagers out there. Yet they are the exception not the rule.

I don’t know where young people today got the idea that they were “entitled” to be given things without having to work for them. As a teen, I didn’t get a choice as to what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted a boom box (portable radio). I was given luggage instead. I hadn’t asked for nor wanted luggage as a Christmas gift.

Luggage. Really.

I write about this in one of my books in detail: having a hard work ethic. And this kind of “self-esteem, everyone wins” attitude is ridiculous. You compete to win. You don’t win just by showing up. You don’t “give” things to kids without expecting them to be grateful, not entitled.

A teen I supervised asked me to write a recommendation letter so he could get a prestigious scholarship. He won the scholarship and didn’t thank me for writing the letter. A year later I happened to see him and I asked him about it. He told me he won it; again, without a simple “Thank You” added to this acknowledgment.

I write this because a lot of young people diagnosed with mental illnesses have no experience working at paid employment. And if you have a diagnosis and want to go to work, it serves you well to have a hard work ethic.

Young people who go around thinking “I’m great, I’m great–the world OWES me a living” are going to do our country in.

So if you want to succeed, and you have a diagnosis, run like hell from that attitude to make yourself stand out in a crowd of applicants for a limited number of jobs.

Period. End of story.

Proof

Two weeks ago I helped create a guy’s resume and he was given a position as a supervisor and his salary doubled.

I tell this story because living only for yourself and your needs and desires is not the way to go.

I’m not a celebrity with schizophrenia like another person might be billed. I’m just a recovered person who wants to see justice served for the still-significant minority of people with this illness who have a greater hard time in life.

My calling is to champion that getting the right treatment right away results in a better outcome.

For decades now, individuals have been turned away at the hospital doors and sent back out into the community where they get sicker and sicker every day they go without treatment.

I have the experience of talking with family members whose loved ones are ghosts of their former selves; whose loved ones committed violence or killed because a judge failed to authorize mandatory treatment. Family members hurt and they suffer when their loved ones are denied necessary treatment or their loved ones have anosognosia and so refuse treatment.

The list of tragedies goes on and on. I want to be a spokesperson for schizophrenia like Temple Grandin is for autism. Yet I take no joy in shining a light on superstars that manage herculean feats despite having ongoing symptoms. The reason is because when you get the right treatment right away it’s possible for the symptoms to stop completely.

I’m more interested in giving a voice to people who it seems have no voice in society, either because their level of disability is too severe to be lauded as remarkable, or because they’ve become pawns in the anti-psychiatry war game.

My two self-help books are geared to individuals who are often told they’ll never achieve their pre-illness dreams; that they’ll never amount to much because they have schizophrenia; that they’ll have to live out their days collecting SSI and living in a street-drug-infested housing complex.

The road is often long and winding with many detours when you have schizophrenia and want to get to a better place in life. You shouldn’t have to go it alone with no help from the very people who are tasked to help you.

I’m not a superstar. I just dared early on to dream of having the kind of life I wanted to live. I dared fight to have this better life. It didn’t get better until I turned 35 yet that was when I decided to become a mental health activist.

Those of us with beautiful brains owe a debt to society to uphold the social covenant: to take our medication if we need it to be well; to extend a hand. Like Audrey Hepburn is quoted: you have two hands: one for helping yourself, and one for helping others.

Creating resumes and seeing all kinds of people get jobs when it took them months of searching on their own without success is what motivated me to become a mental health activist. Mind you, only one person over the 7 years I’ve been doing this has called up to thank me for helping her get a job. More people than not obtain jobs and go on their merry way.

So: I was creating resumes that helped people get jobs and I thought: what if I could help individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar and other mental illnesses get jobs, live on their own, and have lives that are filled with joy and satisfaction just like people who don’t have illnesses?

Bingo: I understood my own life was proof that individuals with mental illnesses could overcome hurdles if they had cheerleaders urging them on, not a firing squad shooting down their hopes and dreams.

You’d better believe that more people than not who have mental illnesses can have good lives if they get the right treatment right away. Going to school and getting a degree or working at the job you love: that’s a kind of treatment too.

No kidding.

Living Life

I recommend becoming self-reliant: not having to rely on an kind of marginal mental health system. Seeing the best private doctor and therapist you can afford.

If your son or daughter or other eligible loved one will have to collect SSI, the rest of his or her life, I recommend you set up for this person a special needs trust. This legal protection in the Estate Law that was created in 1993 allows a person who collects SSI to draw funds from the trust to pay for living expenses.

It boggles my mind that two individuals I know had family that failed to create special needs trusts for these people. How could a mother or father leave their son or daughter out in the cold? Whatever you can afford to fund the special needs trust with is better than not creating a trust. This is one instance where any tax liability the parents will have is well worth the peace of mind that your loved one(s) will not live in poverty, forced to live in a dangerous neighborhood or a group home of poor reputation.

I’m not joking. The first order of business is to create a special needs trust for a loved one. Pronto. Immediately. Having this stash of cash can enable your loved one to see a better doctor and have a better treatment team.

A loved one who is secure financially can then move on to other matters.

Like choosing the color for the new couch he or she needs to buy to replace the old one.

Unstuff Your Life

I’ve read a book I’ll review this week in the reviews forum: Unstuff Your Life.

It’s about developing organizing systems that you can rely on to make order out of chaos.

I write about this because it’s critical not to live in a mess of papers, half-full coffee mugs staining the coffee table, abandoned junk mail on counter tops, and so on.

Two secrets to organizing exist: get rid of things you don’t use instead of storing them in closets or cabinets or drawers. And for every new thing you bring in one thing has to go out.

A lot of us get attached to our stuff because we equate what we own with who we are.

It’s healthier for those of us with challenges to understand that we are not our stuff. We don’t have to “keep up with the joneses” to prove our worth. Living on limited incomes could be the cure-all for spending-itis.

Better to have on display only a few items you cherish than to clutter your spaces with numerous tiny knick-knacks that make it hard to dust. That alone is a compelling reason to pare down.

All this comes to mind because it’s the fall and what better way to bring in the new in this harvest season than to clear out and make room for new things and people in our lives.

One thing in, one thing out. Get rid of what you don’t use.

Lastly: I recommend the Feng Shui book Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life and Buy Your Home Smarter with Feng Shui, two books that will help you find and create healthy living spaces. Buy Your Home Smarter will help you not make a mistake in renting an apartment or buying a house or apartment.

Defining Success

Elyn Saks, the J.D. law professor who has schizophrenia and wrote a memoir, is billed as a “celebrity.”

I find it curious that people revere a person who has ongoing major episodes simply because she kept going on numerous drug holidays that failed. She might have obtained degrees from Oxford and Yale yer her family did little else to support her as a younger person.

The reason I talk about this now, the reason I wrote about intrinsic motivators, is because I don’t think the goal is for everyone to become a superstar. I’m not impressed with other people’s on-paper remarkable achievements when they have to live with symptoms every day.

Getting the right treatment right away could enable a person to live symptom-free. I’m not a fan of having to live with symptoms. Most people with ongoing symptoms might not be able to do what Elyn Saks can do so this is another reason her story doesn’t impress me.

The focus on achieving external markers of success (husband and kids, picket fence life, Ivy League pedigree) didn’t appeal to me as a young woman and it doesn’t interest me now.

I want to write about this here because in keeping with the last blog entry I want to limn that traditional markers of success aren’t the only valid accomplishments that anyone should covet claiming, whether or not you have a mental illness.

Each of us can get to the top of our own staircase yet the room on the other side must have a view of the kind of life we’ve expressed is personally meaningful for us. For you, it could be an M.D. For another person, it could be having a career as a chef. Yet another person might want to work at Rite Aid part-time while he collects SSI.

Our family members, others in society, would be wise to champion us in our goals and dreams, as hard as this can be when we’re first starting out and might have reached a plateau. I quoted the professor two months ago in here who said a person who reaches a plateau can then go on to be successful.

Define what success looks like to YOU. Nevermind what others in society think it should look like for you. Nevermind what others in society can achieve.

I’ll end here by confessing I was just as guilty of being skeptical of a young woman who didn’t immediately set out to get a job after she graduated college. A year later she applied to library school and is going to be quite successful in a non-traditional career.

I was just like her when I graduated college: I was a free spirit who didn’t relish the thought of being chained to a desk in a cubicle.

Thus my contention that using only traditional markers of success to define a person’s potential is not right, especially for a person with a mental illness who had a harder stair to climb.

I’m not a special person either. I’m just a person who survived the hell of a mental health system ill-equipped to help a young person like I was in 1987.

I decided I wanted to act as a cheerleader today because back then I had no one on my side except my close-knit family and my private therapist and private doctor.

I fought to create a better life for myself. The stair was steep. And it’s why I cheer on everybody now, circa 2014: it’s too late in the history of psychiatry for providers to keep reinforcing to patients that they won’t be able to do the things they want to in life.

Each of us can do the things we want to in life.

It starts when we stop chasing what other people have and decide to work towards our own version of success.

I have no doubt that the young woman who decided to go to library school will be successful.
I have no doubt that people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses can be successful.

Dare to Dream. Take the stairs, one step at a time. There is no elevator to success for anyone. That’s the point. It’s not about what’s on the other side. It IS about “the climb.”

(Cue the Miley Cyrus song lyrics.)

No Crystal Stair

Out of the blue one night last week I remembered the words to the Langston Hughes poem, “Mother to Son.”

She told him: “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Those words popped into my head over 30 years since I read the poem in high school.

Lnagston Hughes, in my estimation, is one of the greats, not just of the Harlem Renaissance, but of all time. I’ve memorized his poem “Harlem–A Dream Deferred” and can recite it at the drop of a hat.

I wanted to write about this because it seems relevant to recovery. Life isn’t a crystal stair for anyone. Envy serves no purpose. I want to inspire people to dare to dream of having a better life–to go to school or to work, to live in their own apartment or to own a house, to do what anyone without a mental illness does.

If you reach for these things, others might be jealous of you, yet carry on. The stair might be long and hard to walk up to get to where you want to go, yet keep on moving. Another great, Martin Luther King, is quoted: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

Taking the first step is what counts. Even when others try to cut you down.

And if you’re looking at someone else and think he or she has it easy, think again. Are you a mind reader? How do you or I or anyone know what’s going on in another person’s head and life?

Jealousy serves no purpose. Focusing on what other people have or can do doesn’t help you succeed. Strive to do the things you can do instead of harshing on yourself for what you can’t do.

Maximizing our assets instead of trying to correct weaknesses is the only way to live.

Instead of keeping ourselves stuck in a negative thought loop of envious thoughts, we can pick the brains of successful people to see how they did it. Truly accomplished people will harbor no secrets; they want others to follow along in their footsteps. They do this because they realized the secret to making yourself look good is to make the people around you look good.

I say: send the haters packing. Acknowledge that their insecurities come from a place of pain, and have compassion for them. Reach for the stars and settle for the moon. It’s just as easy to dream big as it is to settle for less.

Be grateful for the tacks and threadbare steps. Every effort to climb the stairs counts.

You can get to the top.