Self help comes in many forms and it was essential in my recovery from schizoaffective disorder. After my second episode and hospitalization I had many symptoms such as referential thinking, psychosis, social dysfunction, auditory hallucinations, OCD, and mania. I also didn’t have any friends, a job, I was overweight, I didn’t have any meaningful activities or a girlfriend in my life, and I didn’t have a functional mind to help implement change. The future looked bleak.
The first step to recovery was putting forth effort. I didn’t have much faith that my life would ever change but with some help I decided to at least try to improve my life. There were times I put far more effort in than others and I initially thought it would be fruitless. At the outset of talk therapy I was fairly lethargic and still exhausted from my second episode but I decided to show up to therapy sessions on time every week for one hour and participate in the conversation which was crucial to my recovery. After discovering I could make progress just by trying I was motivated to continue forward. Although therapy was helpful most of my day was spent on the couch watching television but I did put forth the effort to search for work, exercise periodically, and read a little to keep my mind active. Some other things I utilized were taking time to talk to family members regularly over the phone. I had trouble socializing so having people to talk to gave me an idea of how healthy conversations happen and it also helped pacify the loneliness I had been experiencing. Several months after my second hospitalization I got a job at K-Mart which got me out of the house for twenty five hours per week and put me to work in a meaningful environment. Working was good for my mind because I was socializing, using critical thinking skills, and I was also obtaining a pay check. Whenever I’ve had a paycheck it’s been a good source of self-esteem. My career opportunities seemed bleak at the outset of reentering the workforce but about one year later I was working for an insurance company. Although work was helpful I found I was still highly symptomatic and I wasn’t happy with my life. I was still somewhat suicidal and felt my life was meaningless.
I didn’t have much self-esteem when I first came out of my second episode which left me unmotivated to help myself because I didn’t feel I was worth it. I figured I could still help other people and build myself esteem by doing so. Sponsoring a child made me feel more worth while and created some motivation. I felt at the very least I have to take care of my self so I’m capable of helping others.
There were times I showed up to work with many life issues on my mind and it was extremely difficult to put forth any effort towards my job. However, I eventually found working hard was an easy thing to do and it did a great deal of good for me. Regardless of how I felt before work if I put forth a respectable effort and did a good job my self-esteem was better and my mind functioned at a much higher capacity. I also found I had far less suicidal thoughts and my outlook on things was more positive. Hard work transcended into other facets of my life such as therapy and writing and has helped me progress in most areas of my life. Another facet of improving self-esteem was treating others well. Sometimes it’s been difficult to treat others well when I’ve been hampered by symptoms but I’ve found doing so has helped me work through issues for a number of reasons.
Helping out at home has been a way for me to care for others. When my family has been happy with me it’s made my life much easier. There were times they knew I wasn’t feeling well which was why I was less helpful around the house and they did their best to conceal their emotions. However, we have gotten along much better and they have been far more supportive when I’ve been willing to pitch in. Simple things like vacuuming, doing dishes, and dusting can go a long way for self-esteem and also familial relationships. Carrying my own weight made me feel self-sufficient which was a source of pride. Getting along well with my family brought happiness from having healthy relationships with the people who cared for me most. It also made it easier for me to talk about issues when I needed to because I didn’t feel guilty from not having helped out. I also spent more time with them because I wasn’t ashamed from having felt I let them down.
Although sponsoring the child and re-building familial relationships were improvements I was still far from where I wanted to be and I still had a long way to go. I found I needed something meaningful to help motivate me and I remembered how writing had been a passion of mine in college. Having something fun and meaningful to pursue outside of work completely changed my life. Once I started writing again my self-esteem immediately improved and my life changed for the better.
Previously there had been too many days where I came home from my insurance job dreading the next day because I knew it would be exactly the same as the previous one. I had nothing in my life that meant much to me and this in itself was a huge burden. Once I knew I wanted to write I decided to leave the insurance company because I didn’t have the mental capacity to pursue my writing after a full day’s work. I bounced around from job to job and finally decided to work in an industry that allowed me to write as much as I wanted.
For two years I was uncertain whether I would ever accomplish anything or get anywhere with writing. I realized I had to get a job that would pay the bills while I could write on the side. I thought about giving up writing because I couldn’t make much money but the thought of doing so was dreadful and created an immediate depression. I decided it would be a hobby that I would rationally pursue but it wasn’t something I was going to live without. Living with the difficulty of having a low income and living at home at age 29 was far less of a burden to bare than working a job that made me miserable which I dreaded going to every day for the entirety of the day.
Writing has been an essential part of my therapy and I have learned a great deal from it so I felt at the very least I’d be learning about life and that would make it worth while. With writing there has always been new challenges that kept me motivated to improve as a writer but most importantly as a person. I started using Lumosity for brain training and I read as much as I possibly could. I worked towards developing my mind which gave me the tools and resources to resolve most of my issues from schizoaffective disorder in my own time. I found the better my mind functioned the better my writing became and it really motivated me to work hard with talk therapy, my journaling, exposure therapy, and a number of other therapies. I started exercising again because I wanted to be healthy enough to live a long life and I also knew there were cognitive benefits from doing so. Eating healthy was also something I incorporated because I knew it would improve my mind and make me feel better.
Although I gained a great deal from writing I realized it’s a huge crutch which could potentially fall out from under me. I needed other reasons to make life worth while and interesting because if I was ever unable to write life could instantly become bleak again. I found other activities that have interested me such as pool, golf, listening to music, and playing guitar and they have been fun to work towards and improve at. I realized my family and friends are two very important reasons to stay healthy because we keep each other healthy, happy, and we care a great deal for one another. This means there will always be people in my life I’ll be able to help.
Through helping others I learned how to help myself. After developing enough self-esteem and working through enough issues I realized I am worth taking care of. I changed the basis of my self-esteem from helping others to just being a good person and I also realized I am someone good who’s worth while. I’ve found by being a good person I’ll be of good use to a number of people every day. It’s still important for me to help others through writing and lecturing but it may or may not be something I am always capable of doing. I learned that I’ll always need to take care of myself to be helpful to anyone else but if I ever become unable to write I’ll still be able to find plenty of ways to put myself to good use.
Photo by Soumyadeep Paul