Having uncertainty has been one of the most difficult and fearful parts of having schizoaffective disorder. There have been many times where I wasn’t certain how my life would turn out or whether I would ever recover from the illness. Wrestling with uncertainty has been an adversity in itself.
When first diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder simultaneously, I honestly didn’t know what to think. I had a lot of misinformation about the illness from popular culture which made the diagnosis somewhat terrifying. However, as I acquired more knowledge about what I was really going through, it became easier to deal with the illness.
I think the first part to finding some peace with my diagnosis was knowing from experience what having schizophrenia meant and also knowing that people do recover from the illness on a regular basis. One of the most difficult parts about initially getting diagnosed was not knowing exactly what had been going on in my mind and what was causing me to be so dysfunctional mentally and emotionally. Learning that my symptoms were manifestations of trauma from earlier years in my life helped give me an understanding that I just had to work on my trauma to recover. I realized that as I continue to educate myself on schizoaffective disorder, the fear that came from not knowing what it was or how to deal with it began to dissipate. For me, education has been a useful combatant in dealing with uncertainty. Education has given me more control over my illness.
Going forward, I at least had an idea of how to improve my mental health. However, I still had the fear that I would not have a full life. There were years I spent working hard on my mental health, day in and day out, and the part of not knowing whether my life would turn out for the better was very painful. I felt like my suffering had no ending because there was no paradigm for when I would recover. There wasn’t a set date that my life would change and there weren’t days I could leave the house without my coat of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Not knowing at which point I would be back to myself and free of pain was agonizing. Not knowing when or if my life would ever get to a place I wanted it to be caused a lot of hopelessness. Along with this, the hopelessness caused a lot of fear and negative emotions. When I felt uncertain of whether I could have the life I wanted, it was very difficult to work towards creating that life.
However, as I began making breakthroughs that improved my mental health I started realizing that I maybe could one day recover. I started believing in myself because I was proving that I could make progress and improve my mental health through hard work. Turning uncertainty into certainty helped change my hopelessness to hope. During some of the darker years of my life, hope was derived from the belief or partial certainty that I would one day overcome all the adversity I had been going through. I would one day live a life where I didn’t wander through the day constantly dealing with emotional and mental pain from my trauma. I began to believe in myself and believing in myself was a manifestation of having some sort of certainty that my efforts would not be fruitless. This certainty was derived from taking more longitudinal looks at my life. I would look back six months to a year and make assessments realizing my health and life were better than they had been. My efforts and my belief in myself were the fuel that motivated me to continue to work and progress through some of my darkest hours.
Sometimes just the fear of facing uncertainty on smaller scales was difficult. For example, I had a fear that I would get made fun of by other people and I was terrified of it. My doctor asked me “What would happen if they made fun of you?” I answered, “it would be embarrassing. He asked, “What would happen after that?” And I replied, “I wouldn’t know what to say.” He asked, “What would happen after that?” And I said, “They would laugh at me.” He asked, “What about after that?” And I answered, “I would go make new friends.” This process of taking my uncertainty and exploring all possible outcomes to the greatest extent by asking questions has been a useful practice for me. I found many times I was afraid to ask myself what would happen because I was so afraid to face the uncertainty.
I also found that when I thought out what would happen with my uncertainties, even in the worst case scenarios, I had nothing to fear. I was more afraid of uncertainty in my life than I was with knowing what the worst case scenarios could be. So knowing the worst case scenarios became a reprieve for me and I learned for me that even having a certainty as to what the worst possible outcome could be was less fear provoking than simply not knowing.
While working through these difficult years I realized that finding certainties in uncertain times created hope and motivation to continue forward. Although my social life was in disrepair and my mental functionality was not where I wanted it to be, I still had some certainties. One of them was that my parents were always going to keep a roof over my head. Knowing I had food and shelter was very comforting as I had nearly starved to death in my first episode. Knowing that visiting my doctor helped improve my mental health every week also provided some hope. Knowing my Dad would take me golfing and my family was never going to leave me was also very comforting.
I think above all though, having made progress was one of the biggest motivators that fueled my recovery. After developing the ability to effectively alleviate mental health burdens I had some certainty that I wasn’t fighting a losing battle. I knew that I had the tools I needed to combat schizoaffective disorder.
My recovery tools
Being a good person, making as many good decisions in my life overall as I could, going to therapy, journaling, reading good literature and acquiring as much wisdom as possible, and making certain I was treating people well.
I found that when I did these things, I developed the realization that I was more successful and better able to cope with my illness. Having a plan that worked in combatting my mental illness fueled the fire and motivated me to work harder than ever to get rid of the ailment. Developing my tools in journaling and talk therapy came in the form of self-educating and asking for psychological education from my doctor. There still were times periodically where I felt hopeless and during these times I did have suicidal thoughts.
After seven years of periodically having suicidal thoughts I came to realize that I usually felt suicidal when I felt stuck. Feeling stuck meant I had problems I felt I couldn’t fix and I had no belief in myself whatsoever that I would be able to fix them. The most important tool that has helped me during these times is knowing that I’ve been in these times before and I’ve been successful in finding the necessary wisdom to pacify the burdens of trauma. Having faith in myself has and will continue to be the certainty I need to give me hope to fight through some of the darkest moments of my life. I never started out with the requisite tools and resources to overcome mental illness, but through hard work and being a good person, I developed them and I’m certain that everyone else can too.