Facing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder has been an on-going project for the past ten years. There have been days of constant adversity where I’ve been facing hallucinations, psychosis, neurosis, social anxiety, trauma, and paranoia throughout my daily interactions. Along with these burdens I’ve also been aspiring to become a writer full-time. Since I began the pursuit of writing it’s gone hand in hand with my recovery efforts from schizoaffective disorder.
When I first set out on the road to recovery I struggled to find motivation to carry on. Every day was pretty dismal. I slept about 12 hours per day from depression, I didn’t have any friends, and I didn’t have a job. An old dream was revived when I took an adult education course. During my first episode of schizophrenia while I was an English major I had dreams of becoming a writer. I soon figured out that writing would be something I could work towards. Having a positive goal to work towards soon motivated me to improve in my recovery. For the first time in years I had a real life goal to work towards. I soon learned that the progress I made with my mental health also improved the way that I wrote. Improving as a person became paramount to my success as a writer. When I first set out I was more focused on being a good person so that I could become a great writer but I eventually learned that being a good person is of far greater value than being great at anything else. Being a good person is worth while for the good it has provided for myself and for others, and not necessarily for improving the quality of my writing. However, I realized that in order to be great at anything, great character has to be developed.
There were a number of days where I wanted to go out and be with friends and just have fun but I wasn’t ready for it. I struggled with socialization so I would stay home and work on my mental health so I could one day socialize. Reading other people’s writing at length and watching fictional TV were also two of my greatest triggers for schizoaffective disorder therefore those avenues of fun were also ruled out. For a while I lamented that I couldn’t do these things, but I learned the value of sacrifice.
Through my troubles with socialization, reading, and watching TV I was focused on writing. It was at first a burden but I learned the value of putting forth great effort and time towards self improvement. I learned that in order to be great at anything sacrifices have to be made. After doing this for a number of years I’ve realized it’s the amount of hard work that I have been putting forth towards my health and my writing that have been changing and improving the quality of my life. This was difficult to see at first when I was struggling through the fog of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder but now that my life is beginning to piece together in a good way it has all seemed worth while.
This has also entailed ensuring I go to my therapy sessions with my doctor for one hour, every week, which is a forty five minute drive there and hour and a half back through rush hour traffic. Although the first step to improving my mental health was showing up to therapy, I also learned that simply showing up isn’t enough. The weeks I have made the most progress were when I went to therapy with a purpose. I had things I wanted to figure out and discuss. Along with having a purpose the effort put forth in the session also determined the results yielded. I applied this same lesson for my writing. I learned I not only have to show up to my workshops but I have to be ready to work. I have to be ready to learn and grow as a writer and a person so that I can improve and take another step forward towards becoming healthier and also being better at one of my life’s passions. I also learned that when I sit down in front of the word processor it’s not enough to simply write my thoughts. I have to put forth the effort to put together a great piece of writing every time.
Beyond this I eventually realized that greatness is achieved by doing my best in every facet of my life. This means by the way that I treat others, the way that I work as a manager at a butchery, the way I treat my family, and taking care of my responsibilities as a person, to myself and to others. It’s a way of life, which can’t be turned off and on by the flick of a switch. It has to be constant.
Over time my eventual dream of becoming a writer became a goal. When I first set out years ago I didn’t talk to anyone about my dreams or about what I was pursuing. I didn’t want to talk about what I was trying to accomplish. I simply wanted to work towards pursuing my passion. I didn’t want to hear what people had to say about my dreams or my abilities as a writer or to put them down. Because at that point I hadn’t developed much ability or made much progress in my recovery from schizoaffective disorder either.
I learned four ways that having goals helped to improve my mental health:
- I have to write for the good that it provides others and not for any acclaim it may or may not provide. This caused a major improvement in my writing.
- I learned to focus my efforts towards conversations that will make a difference in improving as a writer. There were times where I became complacent in my therapy and my writing and I learned that I have to continually create motivation for myself. This is when the dream started becoming a goal.
- When I’m able to set goals for becoming a better person and/or writer and achieve them, I then have to raise the bar.
- After several years of continually improving I finally learned if I keep raising the bar and putting forth my best effort, I can advance and with enough improvement I can get to where I want to be.
There have been several instances that have really revitalized my purpose as an author and that purpose always lights a fire. It strikes a chord that makes me emotional. I usually go straight to work when this happens. One such instance was recently lecturing for Cook County NAMI which is in the Greater Chicago area. Arriving early to the lecture I sat down and organized my books for sale and my lecturing materials. A number of parents of patients arrived early as well as patients. They were searching for hope and help in any way they could find it and it reminded me of the reason I originally decided to write. Seeing patients in the midst of their battles against mental illness was a reminder of where I once was and how far I had traveled on my journey. Seeing the parents who would do anything to help their children was also very emotional.
When I sometimes struggle to set pen to paper I have reminded myself that there are a lot of people who are going through a great deal of adversity. I remind myself if I can face the emotional burdens of winding back through my past to dismantle problems I’ll be able to help a lot of people. Doing so has been an honor and has helped me grow as a person and progress in my own battle against schizophrenia and bipolar disorder astronomically. This is the fuel for my fire in my recovery and also as an author and having it has motivated me to become increasingly better. I mention this because I don’t think I would have made as much progress in my recovery and in my writing without this motivation.
The last thing I remind myself when I need motivation is that no one is going to hand me my dreams and goals of recovering from schizophrenia and/or being a great writer. It’s not going to be put on a platter, or served at a dinner party, or gift-wrapped in guild. My Dad always told me if you want something badly enough, you can find a way. He always told me in sports and in life that if you want something to happen, if you have a dream or a goal, you’re fully capable of achieving it. However, if you truly want it you have to rise up and take it. This is why it has been critical for me to continually restock the furnace of motivation. Knowing this has fueled my recovery. It’s encouraged me to relentlessly pursue my goals and to continually raise the bar. After years of struggling through daily and constant adversity I learned that my goals of being a writer for a living, and most importantly fully recovering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are there for the taking. All I have to do is put in the work and the effort. I learned that I have to seize the moment, and seize the things that I want out of life in order for them to happen.
Photo by Florian Christoph