I get physically tired sometimes, but at least I get a good night’s sleep. This is so important for maintaining focus and energy during the day. And when I am well-rested, I can even do my work faster than if I’m tired.
I take a medication that is incredibly sedating: Clozapine. Don’t get me wrong… it’s a miracle of a drug for me, and it had totally changed my life. Before starting Clozapine three years ago, my soul was crippled by the whims of my ill brain, especially after I developed schizophrenia in 2007. I’d take my medications faithfully, but still I would relapse to hospital level. And each time, I lost everything I had worked for, and was reduced to living at home.
It was discouraging to see my life fall apart again and again, no matter how much I focused my mind on success. It was discouraging to see myself gain ninety pounds from a medication. And even after all this, I still wasn’t able to work.
Where is the “wellness” in that? Is the medication worth it, when your life is just as void and empty as without it?
I guess it was. Without medicine, I think I’m evil, 24/7. That I’m the Antichrist.
I’m even getting tired of telling this story. Don’t get me wrong though. It’s my past, and it’s my challenge that I have emerged from triumphantly. These days, I never think for even a second that I am the Antichrist. I’ve beaten this!
Of course, I’m not going to get prideful and take myself off my meds anymore. I’d rather live the life I’ve always dreamed of, with meds, than struggle to keep my head over water without them.
The sense of self-pride that previously motivated me to go off my meds… it was rooted in a sense of shame within me. Shame that I was weak, and not like other “normal” people who were fine without meds. I wanted to be like them: free and without mental weakness.
Of course, I realize now that no one is perfect. But even more than this, I realize that my sense of shame… it is a result of societal stigma against mental illness. Many an unaffected person thinks that taking a cocktail of meds means that you’re “fucked up.” Someone might roll their eyes as they refer to a family member with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, lamenting about how much of a shame they are.
Do I want to be a “loser” on meds too? Certainly not. But I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. After trying to go off my meds, I know now that I cannot do this. Possibly for the rest of my life. But I’m ok with this.
I blend in easily enough these days. When I tell people that I am diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder, people always say to me:
“Yea, but you’re different. My brother… he’s just a mess. He’s always going off his meds, doesn’t have a job, nothing. He barely gets by.” Then a sigh.
But am I so different? I look into my past, and I see myself being the same thing. I spent a few years not working, simply staying at my mother’s while I piddled away time on the Internet, unable to hold down a job. My medications are a big part of what makes me the functional self than I am today. People don’t see that though. They see me as “normal,” and assume that I am ok without my meds.
If only they knew.
I hope general society can start to become informed about the basics of psychiatric care. The same way that people know how those with diabetes need to take insulin shots and test their blood sugar several times a day, so too should everyone know about the basics of how one exercises self-maintenance with a mental illness. Below, I’ll make a casual list of ideas that people should know in this regard:
1. A person sees a PSYCHIATRIST to receive medications for mental illness, and a PSYCHOLOGIST or therapist to have talk therapy.
2. The Freudian style of psychoanalysis is not an actively-practiced technique in therapy. Therapeutic techniques have developed and evolved significantly since the 1920s.
And an additional comment on his: therapy is not about talking about your mother anymore. Please stop making jokes about this. It’s insulting.
3. When a person has a mental illness, and takes medications, you have no right to judge that person for doing so. You also have no right to offer suggestions about how they should heal themselves naturally by changing diet, or adopting a spiritual faith. I’ll warrant, that people have had success in this regard. But everyone is different, and such advice-givers have no idea of another person’s past. Someone who developed mental illness in their thirties could maybe naturally heal their illness away. But with me, I’ve had that cloud over my head since age three. I don’t think macrobiotic organic food is going to cure me. When I went vegetarian for a year and a half, I felt weak and my psychosis flared up. People need to realize that miracle cures only work for some people. The way Clozapine works for me and not others, so too is natural healing. Please get with it. Please.
And leading into #4…
4. Don’t give advice as if you know what you’re taking about. Unless you are a professional in the field, you don’t know very much.
5. Get rid of the notion that “Everyone has problems.” This is usually a blanket statement that people utter, when they don’t want to talk about mental illness. Sure, we all have problems. But if you are unanle to empathize with a person with mental illness, then it’s not about a person exaggerating their problems. It’s a failure on your part, not realizing that you have more problems than you think you do.
Another comment I get from people is a bit circumstantial, but still alarming:
“Why are you talking about mental illness all the time? You’re more than your illness! And also… why do you surround yourself with people who have mental illness? You should be around normal people!”
In response to this, I will say one word: maintenance. I have fallen real hard, and a couple of those times, it was due to me going off my medications. I went off, partially because I had forgotten how bad I was before.
I don’t want to forget anymore, because my life is so good now. It’s sort of like being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Always, the same phrase is uttered: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” This constant affirmation may seem negative, but it is necessary for one to always remain mindful of what could happen again. And even if one remains sober for years, or even if I am mentally well and such… I can never forget.
This is why I want to work as a peer specialist. Because I don’t only help others. I help myself too.
My dream is to spread the peer mission throughout society, in all communities. Peer work is powerful. The community of peers is made up of many dynamic people who have survived immense defeat and failures. We hold our heads up with pride, and support one another in the process too.
I also hope… that even if a single person reads what I write, and then wants to become a peer, or even learn more about peer work… that is a huge change made in this world.
Maybe you will be that next person.
Many United Staters are aware of the obesity epidemic that is sweeping our nation. According to the NCHS Data Brief, between the years of 2011-2014, 36% of adults and 17% of children were obese. Percentages that include those overweight are almost double of the above percentages. And while common sense might dictate that we make healthier choices in eating, rates of obesity continue to climb.
In my waking life, I observe various reasons why this occurs. First off, fast food and processed fare, whether Twinkies or hot dogs, are cheaper. Our economy ails, and many people cannot afford to feed themselves healthy food. And if someone is used to eating cheaper, unhealthy foods… certainly a sense of taste is developed, wherein that person enjoys that food.
Of course, obesity does not only affect the poor. Plenty of people who can afford healthier food, choose not to eat it. I suppose this is because they prefer the taste of unhealthy food. Or maybe food provides emotional comfort in times of stress. The feeling of a full stomach is pleasantly satisfying.
Many people are crippled by this desire for “tasty” food. While many know intellectually that they should lose weight, or even if they want to lose weight, they cannot. Eating is a habitual process, and it is difficult to kick, as is smoking or drinking. It is not easy.
Certainly within the past couple of years, New York City has made efforts to publicly advertise the benefits of healthier eating. Or rather, the dangers of poor eating. I think of those bus ads that show gobs of fat being poured out of a soda bottle, intended to communicate that sugary drinks are empty calories. And then there’s the slogan, “Your kids could be drinking themselves sick,” again decrying sugary beverages.
And for a few years now, fast food restaurants and corporate chains such as Applebee’s… they are legally required to post the amount of calories of all items on the menu. I personally really value this, since I look at the calories of everything I eat… or at least I used to, before I stopped eating garbage altogether. But I see so many people continuing to order single-person meals with four digits!
I’ll warrant, it’s extremely difficult to change eating habits. I remember myself… as a kid, I was stick-thin, and could eat whatever I wanted without consequence. But in my early twenties, I developed schizophrenia, and then was put on a medication that made me gain 90 pounds in two-and-a-half years. I got off that medication way too late. Just saying.
But then… one day, I decided to myself… This can’t happen anymore. I was definitely obese, and I knew that if I didn’t turn around, my life would change for the worse. Because growing up… I was used to being attractive and thin. And that whole identity that I had, would be gone.
So I up and joined the nearest Lucille Roberts in my area. They’re a women’s gym chain. The manager there was, and still is, an absolute saint. I had dozens and dozens of questions, and she answered them all freely and kindly. I changed what I ate, and I lost 50 pounds in six months.
All wasn’t rosy though. After those six months, I had the worst breakdown of my life, and was hospitalized for three months. But I remember… so vividly… returning to that gym after those three months:
“Hey Neesa, haven’t seen you in a long time! How’ve you been?”
“Eh… not too good. I was just in the hospital for three months. I just got out.”
The staff knew already about my schizophrenia, and were super supportive.
“How are you feeling now?”
“Ok.” I suddenly noticed the band-aid and cotton wad in the crook of my left elbow, from a blood test earlier that morning. I made a shameful gesture towards it.
“Don’t worry about it.” 🙂
I had spent three months solid in a unit, where I only went outside for fifteen minutes a day. Where I was restricted to a single unit, maybe two hallways. I’d sit in a chair and read a book, or watch TV, or journal, or eat, or go to group therapy… barely any movement.
I then got into the classroom, where I was about to start a class. Basic toning aerobics. Right when it started... it was the best fucking feeling in the world. I felt as if I was getting three months of backed up toxins and chemicals out of my system. It was as if I was finally having freedom to run around, after being in a jail cell for weeks on end. While my mental hospital stay was fortunately not like jail… it sort of was on the physical front.
If people were able to tap into this sense of physical freedom, transitioning from stagnation and obesity to physical freedom and energy… perhaps the challenge of weight loss would be more bravely approached. I will admit though… starting to work out when you are at a low level of fitness isn’t necessarily fun.
Instead of trying to “feel good,” or to “get the pain over with as quickly as possible” … look at it more like… I need to move my body. My body needs to be free. This weight is like a prison for my organs. My bones. Maybe even my soul. And when I work out… I’m breaking through these chains of this prison. And I will fight, because I am worth it.
Another thing is… patience. So often, we see magazines, where they say, “Lose 20 pounds in 10 days!” You know what I’m doing right now? I’m shaking my head, no. You are only supposed to lose 1-2 pounds a week. If you’re very heavy, you’ll lose more in the beginning if you go full force. But really… over time, this adds up. I lost 50 pounds in six months on this time trajectory.
I just want you to know, that you can lose the weight. The best thing to do is, once you make your decision, begin to surround yourself with people who support you in this goal. Don’t just go to any gym. Choose a gym where you love going to. Where the people and the classes are really cool. You can reach out online too. I personally found out about Beach Body workouts from a guy I went to college with, and now he’s my coach. (I’m not trying to plug any products here, but rather am sharing my story.)
I also find that… people who really care about my fitness, from the bottom of their hearts… they don’t charge me an arm and a leg for their counsel. In fact, I haven’t really paid anything to these supportive people, more than a gym membership fee or a few products here and there. These are the kinds of people you want to surround yourself with, once you decide to get your health up and running.
And also… the internet is amazing. You can reach out to people online too. Start small though. Join groups you like. Start responding to posts you like. You might start responding to the same posts as others. Then you have a common interest, and you can chat about it.
Again, patience. We want weight loss to happen overnight, but then we lament how fast the kids grew up. Let’s reverse this, shall we?