Optimism, Delusional Thinking, and Schizophrenia

Optimism and schizophrenia are two things that normally wouldn’t go together.  Few who suffer from this mental illness would tell anyone that their hallucinations and delusional thoughts are conducive to optimism.  Most of my personal hallucinations are voices telling me all the things I’m doing wrong or how I’m angering the people in my life.  Fortunately for me my hallucinations aren’t usually loud or overbearing.  They are often whispers or low volume, much like the play by play commentary of a ballgame on television.  My hallucinations have never told me to hurt anyone or myself.  So for that alone I can be optimistic that my schizophrenia is manageable.  It does cause me irritation and anxiety that the voices are almost always there.  But, in my case, the paranoia has to be the worst.

I have had issues with paranoia even before I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  I didn’t keep journals or do any writing on my own when I was growing up because I saw my brother reading the journal I kept one summer while in junior high.  I was afraid to record my thoughts as I didn’t have a lock on my bedroom door and my parents often entered my bedroom when I wasn’t there.  Once when I was in junior high I lost over $60 in birthday money.  For years I was convinced my brother stole it.  I never confronted him about it because I was paranoid the problems it would cause would be even worse than suffering in silence.  I was paranoid enough to believe my parents wouldn’t take my side in the argument and I still wouldn’t get my money back.  To this day I never found that money nor have I ever confronted my brother to see if he took that money.  I don’t know if he did or not and probably doesn’t remember it anyway.  My paranoias involve fearing people are going through my trash, people are listening in on my phone conversations, that I’m being watched every time I step out in public, etc.

I could have worse delusions.  I met some schizophrenic when I was a guest speaker at the state mental hospital that was convinced people were trying to poison his food.  I met another mentally ill man one time when I was in hospital that was convinced he was going to prison for a minor offense and wanted to hang himself.  He was on suicide watch and that was scary seeing someone that distressed.  I have met people who had great careers and families and lost them both once their mental illness took full effect later in life than mine started.  In my case my problems started in my late teens and for years I was under the delusion that I would overcome my illness and still go on to have the career and family I had dreamed about since I was five years old.

I realized I was having problems that weren’t going away on their own when I was a junior in high school.  I didn’t think much of my problems at first because most teenagers I knew were often moody and mean. It was when it was constant and interfering with my school work and activities that I decided to self medicate.  I didn’t turn to marijuana or alcohol, I turned to herbal remedies.  A friend of mine who had a rather unhealthy distrust of modern medicine recommend I try things like St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, multivitamins, and fish oil pills.  I try numerous combinations of these for two years with no noticeable effect.  Non modern medicines may work for some cases but my case wasn’t one of those.  I may have been delusional enough to believe I could treat my mysterious problems on my own.  But I have to be optimistic that I wasn’t delusional enough to believe that modern medicine was ineffective and some elaborate conspiracy.  Some people I know are delusional enough to believe that even without schizophrenia.

Some people I met were religious people who believed that I needed to pray more and be more faithful to God.  I was already the most knowledgeable student in my Sunday school classes since I was four years old.  I read the Bible almost daily to where I had read the entire book at least a few times.  I was more faithful to the teachings of the Bible than most people three to five times my age as a teenager.  For a short while in junior high I even thought about the ministry as a career.  But none of the prayers eased my anguish or calmed my delusions and fears.  Even though I went to a Christian college I was attending church maybe only two to three times a month.  I got to where I was aggravated watching people I knew who didn’t take religion as seriously as I did just seemingly coast through college and life.  I was thinking, ‘Alright God, what are they doing that I’m not.’

Finally a couple years after college I stopped going to church entirely.  It wasn’t because I was mad at any one person, but because it no longer made sense to invest that much into something that had no results.  None of the prayers or Bible studies did anything to alleviate my delusions or allow me to cope with my paranoias.  It just got to where it seemed senseless, unproductive, and even delusional.  I don’t know if God exits or not.  But I do know if the only thing keeping someone from hurting and abusing others is fearing God, than that person is indeed a sorry excuse for a human being.  I do find it just lucky that of all the thousands of beliefs that existed all over the world and throughout history that I happened to be born into the one that was most approved by God.  If I was born in India I would have been a devout Hindu.  If I was born in ancient Egypt, I would have been all for Osiris and Horus and regarded the Pharaoh as a god.  So it just gradually came to me the idea of burning in hell for all eternity just for the crime of being born into the wrong religion, wrong time, and wrong culture was delusional.  Most of my friends won’t agree with me but let them.  I won’t convince them that if there is a God that God is indifferent (that’s what the evidence I’ve seen so far convinces me).  And they won’t convince me that God will send someone to hell for losing the guessing game of picking the right religion.

As far as delusional thought goes, I am open to the possibility I could be wrong on anything.  I never got the memo that said I had to form my philosophy on life by my early twenties.  I am also not delusional enough to defend an idea I have that is being proven wrong.  Even though I am schizophrenic I have to be thankful that I don’t have the delusions of defending an idea I know to be off base.

 

Advertisements

Writing a Book About My Experiences with Mental Illness

product_thumbnail.php

I first wrote about my experiences with mental illness in late 2006 when I wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper about my experiences as a way to promote mental illness awareness when one of our local state legislators was putting on a forum about such topics.  To my pleasant surprise, the article/letter I wrote went over well.

From that experience I decided to write a series of short topical essays about what the aspects of living with mental illness were like.  I wrote about such topics as struggling through college, struggling in the workplace, filing for disability insurance, how to cope with loneliness, how to deal with losing friends, what to tell family members, employers, friends, and other topics.  Many good books have been written about mental illness by doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists, yet not many from the mentally ill person’s point of view.  That is where I came in.

A couple of years ago, I put all of these essays into book form in a book available through lulu.com titled The Mental Illness Essays.  The essays written in this book led me to write my blog.  I have put a link to the site where my book is available in this post.  You can also get there by clicking on the picture of the book at the top of this post.  Check it out and leave some feedback.

Things You Can Do On Your Own For Your Mental Health

This post is going to be about things you can do on your own to help alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety that goes along with mental health problems. There are times that, in spite of all the counseling, therapy,and medications involved, we still have problems. This is when we with mental health issues have to resort to our own resourcefulness. This post is going to be what you can do when you are primarily alone or in a private setting. The issue of avoiding problems in public will be the subject of another post later on.

For myself, there are at least three activities that I have found that help ward off stress, anxiety, and depression. One of these is writing out my frustrations. I have entire notebooks full of the writings I have done in efforts to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. I write in these even when I’m feeling well as a sort of preventative maintenance. I look back over these on occasion just to see if I notice patterns developing, especially over a period of weeks and months. From these writings alone I’ve noticed that my individual illness has a seasonal pattern to it, were I tend to do worse in late summer and around Christmas/end of year holidays than I normally do. My times I do best are in spring, early summer, most of autumn, and surprisingly late winter. I probably wouldn’t have figured out these patterns as soon as I did without my writing about what I was going through. An important factor in my journaling is that I do not censor what I write. I am honest with myself, even sometimes brutally. Of course I’m the only one who sees these writings. I also usually shred my writings after about two to three years as kind of a way to let the past go.

The second activity I do to alleviate stress is listen to music. I absolutely love almost all genres of music and the type I listen to varies even within a given day. Even though I have no musical talent myself, I appreciate those who can play instruments or sing and are not afraid to. To the end of listening to music I have an iPod, a subscription to Pandora internet radio service, and even look up music and music videos on youtube. A good session of listening to music can relax me even when I feel like telling someone off.

Finally, the third activity I do that helps to relax me is just silent time/meditation/prayer. While I’m not going to delve into any religious theology discussions as there are plenty of other blogs that do that, I do know that meditation, prayer, and just taking a few steps back have all worked well for me. As far as these go, I found they become even more effective once I stopped worrying if I was doing these ‘right.’ Even though I grew up in a devout Christian family, we were never required to memorize prayers when I was growing up. We just spoke what was on our hearts and minds at the time. In short, the only advice I give on this type of relaxation is don’t worry about doing it a right or wrong way.

There are plenty of things/activities you can do on your own to help alleviate your mental illness issues. While I have yet to find an activity that will cure all my problems at all times, I have at least found a few that work well for me. I’m interested in hearing from others as to what helps them to relax, calm down, etc.

Self Advocacy and Speaking Out

Image

 

There are things that you can do on your own in order to help alleviate problems associated with mental illness.  I made two big mistakes in the early years of my treatment.  One, I relied solely on medications to make things better and Two, I almost never talked about my problems.  Completely relying on the medications meant that I never went to therapy sessions and expected to find that ever elusive all purpose solution in the form of medications.  It doesn’t work that way.  For one, there is no cure all in the forms of pills.  For me, taking the meds was only one part of solving my problems.  I didn’t really start improving until I started talking to therapists, other individuals with mental health problems, and counselors.  And I really started improving once I stopped hiding the fact I had mental illness and quit lying to others and myself.

One thing I never could stand in conversations with people I met for the first time was the inevitable question of “Oh, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”  I’m far from old enough to look like I’m retired and from all appearances I am quite healthy.  Since I was frequently between jobs for the first few years after I finished college, I would often lie about having a job or say I was looking when I definitely was not.  I was asked what I did for a living when I met new people practically everywhere I went, whether it was out shopping, at parties, at church, in my apartment complex, etc.  I didn’t enjoy lying at all but I couldn’t explain in ten seconds or less that I was mentally ill and had problems with holding down jobs without committing several social gaffes all at once.  So I resorted to lying for years about my work status and history.  Being asked what I did for a living seriously irritated me.  Now I just mention my writing and my blog.  Though I do all of this for free, I get looked at now like I’m self employed and working out of my home.

Advocation is another thing I do for myself.  I quit lying to myself that I was normal, at least as the world understands normal, and set about sharing my struggles, problems, victories and defeats.  I don’t shy away from people when talking about mental illness anymore.  This was far from easy at first.  It was actually quite terrifying at first.  I was scared of the stigma that I knew would come my way.  Yes, stigma did come my way.  It came namely in the form of being ignored by some, being patronized to by others (I was a frequent recipient of the “We understand how you feel” when they really didn’t and did nothing to try to figure out what goes on with mental illness), and losing friends.  I didn’t mind the losing of some friends because some of these ‘friends’ should have been given up as lost years before.

In closing, talking about my problems and the problems of others with mental illness has helped as much as anything.  It has let me know that people are often not as malicious as my paranoid mind set often made them out to be.  It let me know that there are people who, once they know the problems, are eager to help.  Sure there are malicious and intentionally misunderstanding people out there, but I have found that thankfully they are a small percentage of the population.  Conversations about mental illness, mental health, problems, etc. are not easy, especially at first.  But the stigmas can be broken down.

Taking an Active Role in Treatment For Mental Illness

This entry is about speaking up for yourself and taking an active role in the course of treatment for mental illness. I will be discussing how to ask your doctor questions about individual treatment plans.

In working with a psych doctor, you need to be completely honest. This is not optional if you want your treatment to work. Your doctor may know the human brain very well, but he/she cannot read minds. You need to tell your doctor you your bad days and the details of the worst of what is going on with you. Especially if you are feeling good on the days you go in for your
checkups.

Early in the course of my treatment, I made the mistake of telling the doctor I was doing well simply because I was feeling good on the days that I was seeing him. At the time I didn’t realize that felt good on those days because I was seeing him. I believed rightly so that he would give me new insights into how to go about my treatment routines.

But I was making the mistake of not telling him about my really bad times. For the first two years we were stumbling in the dark as to what worked and what didn’t simply because I glossed over the bad aspects of my illness.

To make up for this I started making notes and keeping journals on how I was feeling from day to day. I was amazed, and I still am, at the amount of changes I can go through during the course of a month or so. I discuss what I learn from these notes with my psych doctor at all of my checkups. I recommend keeping notes and day-to-day journals for all mental illness patients to keep track of your mood swings and emotions. You’ll be amazed.

In addition to the notes of your day-to-day feeling and activities, I strongly recommend making a list of questions to ask your doctor about your illness. Questions can include “What can I do to make things better in addition to medications and counseling,” “What are the chances of my getting better,” or any other question you may think of for your particular situation.

This list of questions is important because it will give you better information and insight into how your illness is changing and your treatment needs to go. The doctor may know your illness, but you alone, know the true extent of your own problems. Mental illness is not a cookie cutter one size fits all deal. Mental illness varies greatly from one person to another. This is even true of individuals that have the exact same diagnosis. Body and brain chemistry play a role in how certain medications will and will not work.

Since no two people have the exact same body chemistry, finding the right combinations of meds can be somewhat of a trial and error deal. Sometimes you and your doctor will hit the bull’s eye with your meds; other times you may miss the board entirely, while others may work some but not as effectively as other types of treatments.

The important thing to remember in all of this trial and error is to never give up. I cannot stress having hope enough. New anti-psych medications are being developed all of the time. There is a great chance that there is at least one combination of medications and treatments that will work for you. Yet I can guarantee that is absolutely no one combination that will work for everyone. There just isn’t and probably never will be. But medical science is making new breakthroughs every year. Many of the best medications were not even in existence even ten years ago.

I recommend that you keep informed on your treatment and diagnosis. Read books about your illness. Read the handouts given out at the doctor’s office concerning your illness and treatments. Do read some of the Internet sites, but do be careful the sites. Some sites are very reliable. But there are many that are not reliable, some that are biased, and some that are complete frauds. Seek the advice of experts know mental illness treatments. Seek the counseling of people who work with the mentally ill every day. Keep informed about your problems. And inform your doctor about your problems.