When I was first diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder I had psychosis, neurosis, and I couldn’t speak an intelligible sentence never mind have a conversation. I had referential thinking, auditory hallucinations, mania, depression, OCD, and also a great deal of anxiety and paranoia. I had no friends, no job, no meaningful activities to participate in, and I had no social skills.
Recovery was something I longed for, and I worked hard at it. I feel that I’ve advanced far beyond it. All of my previous ailments are mostly experiences of the past and I am now close with my family, I have several great groups of friends, a girlfriend, a full-time job, and many meaningful and fun activities in my life. I deal with little to no symptoms of schizoaffective disorder in my day to day interactions.
During recovery there were times I wished things could go back to the way they were before my episodes. The thought of reverting back to old practices seemed comforting because there was familiarity with it. Unfortunately, I learned I couldn’t just erase five years of schizoaffective disorder from my memory and do everything the same way I used to. I was forced to face and work through the many fears and issues from trauma and schizoaffective symptoms. I was initially uncertain of whether I could get through schizoaffective and for a while with the help of my doctor I was merely trying to identify unknown issues in my psyche and find resolutions for them. It was similar to fumbling for a light in the dark. It took some time but after finally seeing some improvement I began developing methods and ways to continually improve. I’ve found having short-lived habits (Nietzsche) has worked for me. I live within a certain comfort zone for a short while and work on self improvement through change thus finding a better comfort zone.
Recovery was a result of setting goals for how I wanted my life to be and creating logical and rational plans to obtain them. I’ve had goals involving my functionality, my social life, work life, and all aspects of life. They’ve given me direction and something ostensible to work towards. Low expectations can be endemic to schizophrenia patients so setting the bar high was helpful in my recovery (Lisa Halpern). A part of recovery was rebuilding my brain’s functionality by redeveloping literacy and critical thinking skills through reading, writing, and putting my mind to work. Recovery also involved learning more about life, changing my perception of life, and eliminating inhibiting thoughts with the help of journaling and talk therapy. I had a traumatic past but with the help of my doctor I changed my perception of it to pacify my fears and worries. I have regular talk therapy sessions scheduled so I can improve with schizoaffective and life issues. I journal to improve my wisdom and knowledge base, work through personal issues, and resolve inhibitions and delusions.
Self-reflection and self-honesty have been important tools in identifying ways I can change, improve, and build upon who I am. For example while working towards re-assimilating into socialization I found it useful to reflect upon the past and also on exposure therapy experiences. While reflecting I noted what worked well and how I could build upon my successes and create more success. I also identified what didn’t work and made plans for what I could do differently when that same situation recurred. I eventually began thinking ahead and anticipating the social situations I would be put into and I identified which parts of those created anxiety or could create potential problems for me. After doing so I made an effort to talk with my doctor or think over what I would need to do in those situations to be successful. Having a game plan is extremely helpful for new situations because it has given me a course of action to revert to and other times I found I had to adapt and adjust as I experienced these situations. This method of problem solving and working through new situations has become a part of my life and I use it almost every day.
Recovery is too commonly defined as returning to a state of being similar to the one experienced before the traumatic event(s). Although working towards recovery brought back facets of my life I had been missing for years such as family, friends, social skills, and the ability to work I am not the same person I was before having schizoaffective. There are still facets of my personality that are the same but there is also a lot that’s changed. I’ve improved a great deal. Recovery is a way of life more so than a destination. Whenever I’ve tried to maintain the status quo I’ve found that I’ve usually fallen back. I think it’s important to note that I don’t have to change from moment to moment but over time it’s good to improve and evolve. I’ve found in order to stay in good health I’ve had to frequently adapt to and anticipate change. The only thing we can be certain of is that life is going to change so figuring out and being aware of how it will change gives us more control over it because we can make plans and have expectations to work from. Mental flexibility has been a useful tool for successfully navigating the unexpected circumstances or situations life has also brought my way.
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Photo by Matt Perich