During Schizophrenia Awareness Week, testimonies of lives well lived such as the one presented in the following story, help dispel myths surrounding mental illness. Anna, who lives in Australia, spoke today on radio station 612 ABC Brisbane about her experience living with symptoms, sharing her practical steps to recovery. She received a diagnosis of schizophrenia 20 years ago and now lives such a calm, restored life that she no longer sees the illness defining her as a person. Her goal in speaking publicly was to honor her husband, her most staunch advocate, who died recently.
You can hear the interview¹ (only 10 minutes long) at http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2012/05/meet-anna-living-with-schizophrenia-in-central-queensland.html . During the interview Anna shared five steps she took that helped her manage symptoms, which I have recapped. Over the years she learned and practiced the following:
• Came to terms with the fact she was sick and had a real need for medication.
• Recognized the negative effects of stress, which seem subtle at first, but can lead to a recurrence of symptoms.
• Taught herself self-awareness by “writing things down,” such as when she actually took her medication.
• Taught herself to look at the facial expressions of family members who could tell when she was sick even though she thought otherwise. Recognizing their distress helped her to gauge her own condition.
• “Became a mental detective,” examining the thoughts in her mind and how she should respond to them.
A very supportive family network, including a husband who “wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” provided the foundation for Anna’s progress. “He pushed me,” said Anna of her husband. The interviewer, Elly Bradfield, asked Anna how she managed to face her husband’s death, a stressful event for anyone.
“I had to sink or swim,” said Anna, “and I chose to swim. I didn’t cave in to the voices. I ignored them.” She chose to speak about her experience, inspired by her husband’s words. “Those words he spoke to me, ‘be brave and be courageous’, it’s been embedded in my heart.”
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Though this is Schizophrenia Awareness Week, your symptoms won’t differ from this week to next because of the campaign. Hopefully, more people will be willing to offer you help with less fear in their hearts. Hopefully, more people will recognize the courage it takes to face each day tackling symptoms in the mind that are cruel, not well understood, and disabling if not confronted by some means. Each day calls for a measure of courage and bravery that few healthy people can comprehend.
I use the term “confronted by some means” with respect—some of you have taken steps and have found no noticeable relief. This week, and the next, may God pour out a great measure of grace upon your spirit, soul, and body. I pray he will strengthen you with inner might by the work of his Holy Spirit, that you will find relief, in any measure large or small, and that you will make progress in the steps you try to take.
¹ “Meet Anna: living with schizophrenia in Central Queensland,” interview with Elly Bradfield on Mornings with Kate Leahy, radio station 612 ABC Brisbane, 5/17/2012.