Over the years with schizoaffective disorder, stress has been the main factor which has determined how much my symptoms affect me. When I have higher levels of stress I have auditory and visual hallucinations, sometimes referential thinking, I become more paranoid, and I struggle with social interactions. When my stress levels have been lower these symptoms have been kept at bay and don’t have much of a presence within my day to day interactions.
Reducing stress has been a constant battle which I have worked hard to master. Overall, doing a good job at work has been the first component to keeping my stress levels low. When I’ve worked hard I haven’t had to worry about work once I got home. I knew I would be able to maintain my employment and also get along with my coworkers. Everyone at work likes a person who is helpful so that also aided with my interpersonal work relationships. Also, when I’ve done a good job at work it’s kept my mind free and clear to enjoy life away from the store. It has also improved my self esteem and emotional health because I knew I was doing the right thing. Sometimes when I worked in insurance and I did a lesser job at work I had insurance nightmares. I laugh at this now that the nightmares are gone. Doing a good job also gives me confidence that I’ll be able to obtain my next raise. In two and a half years at my current job my wages have gone up seventy percent. Having more money has helped with stress reduction immensely.
With my hard work all the increases in wages have immensely reduced the stress I had surrounding money. After my second episode I could barely speak a coherent sentence or have any sort of conversation. As I progressed I began improving with my ability to work. I worked eleven different jobs from age 25-27 and I wasn’t able to keep a job for much time. However, although I wasn’t able to keep a job I kept saving my money and it started adding up. I was living at home but having a cushion which I could one day use helped reduce my stress. It gave me hope that I wouldn’t be stuck living at home for my entire life. At age 27, I transitioned to my current job as a meat-cutter. Persistently working hard towards finding suitable work eventually paid off. Meat-cutting was easy for me and I found something I was good at.The other great part about my job was that it allowed me to write. Writing is one of my favorite things to do and having a job which allowed me to pursue my passion was very energizing. I felt good about going to work every day because I could come home and write and learn about writing. The other good part about the job was the store was only open 9-7 and we had set schedules. This allowed me to have a social life which also alleviated a lot of stress. I could plan fun activities with friends to unwind and have fun. When I previously had rotating schedules I was out of the loop because I could never plan anything outside of work. In short, the quality of life I have with my current job was very helpful for my mental and emotional health.
At this new job I realized I just had to work hard and treat people well and things seemed to take care of themselves. The other issue I ran into was people talking about one another in the work place. I initially wanted to participate in all the conversations and be a part of the talking but I realized this caused me a great deal of stress. I eventually realized it was much better to keep my nose clean. People began realizing that I wasn’t going to talk bad about my coworkers and we found other things to talk about. I felt better about myself for not saying bad things about others and this also reduced stress.
In life, I felt a lot of stress because I was behind all my peers. A lot of my friends were married, buying houses, and starting families. I had to remind myself that I started at a disadvantage and I was catching up. I continued to work hard and my wages eventually increased enough where I could live away from home.
Living with friends was a stressful situation. I was initially excited to leave my parents house but this wasn’t an improvement. In my new living situation I never knew who would be at the house, the doors were never locked, and there seemed to be a lot of trouble surrounding these people. I originally considered it an important move to live away from home because I was twenty nine years old and I had lived at home the majority of my life. It was a helpful stepping stone to live away from home with some friends. I learned a lot about independent living in a short period of time and I got to the point where I felt self-sufficient. After a while I realized how much stress these people were causing me from bad decision making and selfishness and I decided I needed to live elsewhere. I didn’t have the money to rent anywhere else but my saving grace was my frugality. Over the past six years I had saved enough to put a good down payment on a condo and buy my own place. Buying was cheaper than renting for me. I moved back with my parents for a couple months while I shopped for homes.
Another helpful piece to the puzzle was my continual hard work and commitment towards doing a good job. I got a promotion which accompanied a raise and I now had the income I needed to pay my bills along with a mortgage. Working hard every day finally paid off. I mention this because I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel until it came out of nowhere and I was into a better life. Throughout the previous five years I had been in a difficult living situation and I felt depressed but things changed pretty quickly.
Finances have always been a huge stressor. I’m always looking for ways I can save and this has helped immensely. I realized food is probably my biggest expenditure so I worked towards reducing my food budget. I do this by buying meals like a carton of eggs, and a carton of yogurt so I get more food for less money. I shop at a cheap grocery store and I don’t go out to eat much at all. If I do it’s only once in a while. I also buy a lot of frozen food and work at reducing my food waste. I originally wanted to reduce food waste for the sake of doing the right thing but I found when I waste less food I save a lot of money. Quitting drinking also gave me about 60-100 extra dollars per week. Along with saving on food I rarely buy new clothes or new expenditures unless I absolutely need them. I’m fine with the clothes I have and I simply ask for a new shirt or two for my birthday and Christmas. During these holidays I only ask for the things I need and gift cards to stores where I can shop for things that I need and this has helped save a ton of money. With all this extra money I’m now able to golf once a week which is one of my biggest stress reducers. I still have capital left over and my budget is far more comfortable than it used to be.
Looking at the big picture has also helped reduce stress. I understand money is tighter now but I logic my way towards seeing how things will become much easier. I know if I continue to work hard and treat people well my wages will continue to increase. I also realized that my mortgage is never going to increase so my disposable income will improve with my wages and life will continue to become easier. I also realized as my health continues to improve my social skills go along with it and I’ll have more friends and more social activities to participate in. I’ve also made more new friends and without alcohol they’ve been easy to keep. In the past I sometimes struggled with friendships because of alcohol. The drinking tended to bring up negative emotions from years of trauma which hampered my socialization but without it I’m very positive and fun to be around.
I eventually bought my own place where I currently live but I was still struggling. I realized I needed to improve with my social interactions. Every time I went out with friends I was drinking and this hampered our interactions. Quitting drinking immensely reduced my stress and improved the quality of my life. The final piece of the puzzle, socialization was finally working itself out. When I had been drinking and trying to socialize I found I struggled to say the right thing or do the right things. This was a result of having spent six years in isolation from schizoaffective disorder up to age 25. In the previous years I had been playing catch up with social skills but without the alcohol I found it much easier to navigate my way through social situations and problem solve them as I experienced them. With alcohol I couldn’t think clearly and I unintentionally hurt a lot of peoples feelings.
Stress reduction also came in the form of being close with my family again. I made a strong effort to rekindle my familial relations and spend time with my family frequently. These were the people who were always there for me and for a while I had blamed them for my illness. I realized the illness was not their fault, nor was it mine, and this helped me to see things more clearly. The emotional ties we had from years of taking care of each other were strained by my not spending time with them. It was painful until I finally realized family comes first, and these are the people I need to take care of before anyone else.
Photo by Christina zur Nedden