Chris Tomlin O Come all Ye Faithful

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons of Schizophrenia- a Repost from 2010

Someone has recently asked me what lessons I’ve learned from my journey through life as a mentally ill person. In other words, “what have I taken from my experiences?” That is an interesting question.

I think number one would be: “Don’t trust yourself.” Often what I see, think, hear, feel, smell or taste, is not really factual. So I live constantly questioning my perceptions of reality. The part which is most disturbing to me is my inability to trust my thoughts. Sometimes an idea that I get will seem SO rational, SO logical and completely supported by fact…and several days later, I will look at an email I sent based on that presumption…and think, “How could I have thought that?” Or someone else will inform me that my thinking is completely paranoid based on something I’ve said….when it seems perfectly reasonable to me. That is a horrible way to live. But I suppose that there are some good things to be said for it.

For one, it is a real pride slayer. It is a very humbling experience to discover constantly that I have made a complete fool of myself because of something I’ve thought or said or done as a result of something I’ve perceived that isn’t true. And even worse is to have to admit that to people. It’s like the Fonz struggling to say “I was wrrrrong”— and I have to admit that a lot. And of course there are times when I cling to my beliefs and refuse to admit it, and that usually leads to conflict or people walking away shaking their heads.

It also has taught me to depend more on God, to know that not only am I fallible, I am likely wrrrrong. So I sometimes need to delay my impulse to press “send” and pray about it for a while first.

It has also taught me something else…That senses are not infallible and they cannot always be trusted. In other words: Reality may not be as we perceive it to be. This idea is helpful…in thinking about God, in relationships, in thinking about Heaven …etc. There is more (or other) than what we know (or think we do)….

What else have I learned? To lower my expectations. There are people who would say this is not a good thing to have learned….and maybe it isn’t, but it certainly makes living with this kind of disability more tolerable. When I was in high school, I dreamed big…I had full scholarships to any college I wanted to attend. I was recognized by all who knew me as academically, musically, and artistically gifted. I expected to conquer the world…and others expected that of me too. My yearbook was full of notes from students and teachers expressing their high hopes for me. And less than a year later, it all fell apart when I had my first psychotic/depressive episode.

The problem was, for many years after that, I could not let go of those high hopes…the anticipation of a notable life. And that was the source of much agony for me. I’ve had to learn to measure the successfulness of my days by a wholly different set of criteria. Now, if I take a shower and brush my teeth and wash the dishes, it is a successful day. And I’ve had to learn to take pleasure in those small victories—or at least to find some satisfaction in them. Or at least, not to be disappointed that I didn’t win a Noble prize that day.

While some people would argue that it is not healthy to lower our expectations or to give up our dreams I would respond by saying that it takes a humbler spirit to be content with what we have. I heard once that happiness does not consist of getting what we want, but in being content with what we have. I could name many wealthy, famous people who are miserable….despite their accomplishments. So what really have they gained?

Now I don’t want to give the impression that I am happy that I have this disease….I really hate it….I hate what it’s done to me, my life and to my family. But people can come to accept something that they hate (like having cancer or the death of a loved one) and still go on to find some happiness and satisfaction in their lives.

So (and I’m still working on this by the way) it has been important for me to firstly, admit to others and to myself that I HAVE schizophrenia; and secondly, to alter my life expectations because my old ones were making me miserable as I failed, over and over to attain them. Years ago, I could read a 600 page book easily in one day. Now, if I finish a book at ALL from cover to cover, that makes me very happy…regardless of how long it took me. I have a choice there. I can be miserable because what was once easy is now difficult, or I can take joy in the fact of my accomplishment considering my limitations. There are still times when I think sadly of the might-have-been’s and I do avoid reading my high school year book….but I am learning this lesson slowly and persistently.

And finally, this disease (accompanied by my health problems) has given me an acute thirst and longing for the New Earth (or Heaven)…. I so much anticipate the time when I will be free of this and able to realize some of the potential I was born with…and much more besides. This longing helps me in that it affects my attitude toward this life it gives me Hope. And Hope is a valuable gift to gain.
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