It can be so easy to get used to success, then to keep wishing for that higher bar. I’ve read that it’s a human to forget extreme physical pain – otherwise why choose another bout with labor and childbirth? – but what about the emotional pain attached to crisis periods in mental illness?
All it takes is one gentle reminder and the feeling of stress comes running back in.
We’ve had, now, almost five months of stability with Ben, ever since the family stepped in to “help” his official care team. He is blossoming once again after a painful summer reminder that without the right medical treatment as the cornerstone of recovery, the house built upon that foundation can crumble like a house of cards.
These days, it’s almost easy to forget that Ben has schizophrenia. He just went to his first-ever employee Holiday party, which means he is valuable enough to his company to have lasted this long, even into the off-season. His job has provided so much for him: purpose, community, focus, and a paycheck. He has something to talk about when someone asks, “so, what do you do?” He loves his job and feels like a person again.
His two college courses, too, have been a source of purpose, structure, and pride. What I wouldn’t have given, over a decade ago as his illness was developing, to have heard this from one of his teachers:
“Ben, you did your work with dedication and care for details, you contributed to the class with intelligent questions, comments, and a great sense of humor… You are an A+ student, and your final grade for this class is a well deserved A. It was a true pleasure having you on my class. I hope I’ll have the fortune of having students like yourself in my classes in the future.”
Wow – yes, I am serious. Those are the comments from one of his professors!
That almost makes us forget that, five months ago, Ben was wandering the halls of a psych unit, talking to the voices he never admits to hearing. The sudden lack of treatment services he had experienced during the summer of 2011 had led to a lapse in his intake of his crucial meds, which in turn led to a refusal to return to taking them at all.
We almost, I must remember, lost him again. But thankfully he returned to what his psychiatrist says is his “former baseline.” How? Meds in place, the other pieces of recovery could be rebuilt:
Purpose, Structure, and Community (family, friends, co-workers, etc.)
Love helps too. But it didn’t seem to stick so well while Ben was in crisis. Now, Ben is healing – and I see signs of emotional growth I have not seen in years. He cares about school. He is thrilled that, at last, he can afford to buy presents for the family with his own money.
Still, recovery (or stabilization, maybe a more accurate term) can be fragile. There is so much more to it than the medication cornerstone. This week, Ben seems just a little bit “off” at times. Is it the meds? Always the first thing we wonder. But I suspect his subtle agitation and occasional lack of focus right now is due more to the thing that affects us all, some more strongly than others:
In the past few weeks, Ben’s school semester has ended, his work hours shifted (holiday closings), and he has been experiencing the excitement of giving/getting holiday gifts. Even as a little boy, Ben was always a little “off” as holidays and birthdays approached. Like many of us, the anticipation and uncertainty was almost overwhelming, disrupting the predictability of life. That’s one reason we like this time of year, and also a reason many have an opposite reaction as extreme as depression.
It’s good to remember that schizophrenia recovery is not just about meds. Ben was anxious around the holidays as a child, so why should his basic nature change now? It isn’t always about the meds – it can be about life. Purpose, structure, community: these things help shape us all.
So we will keep our eyes open, naturally. But also our minds. When life settles into routine again, I think Ben will too. That has been his pattern since way before his illness entered our lives.
Happy holidays to all!