It has been a while since I’ve gotten my first psychiatric diagnosis (it was a tentative schizophrenia initially), and with experience of 18 years with it, I can tell you one thing:
YOU CAN LIVE WELL YOUR LIFE.
Living well is not what some call an ‘easy’ life. It’s the problem of normality, where life is defined by looking at work as labour, planning holidays in between, and the obsession with shopping, saving for a new a car, or a new house.
In a psychiatric tale, life can’t be easy, but it can be extremely interesting and rewarding.
I know several people, me including, who live amazing lives with a diagnosis of some chronic mental illness hanging above their heads. Ha (!), the examples of public figures, while being rare, also show us a different way, to the one you can find on search engines, if you search what your mental illness entails. It looks discouraging, agree? With bipolar disorder (my diagnosis) and schizophrenia, the words staring from Wikipedia are sad. They say it’s chronic, they say it’s bad, they say, you might die earlier and are prone to overspend your money, are unstable and moody.
But look at Stephen Fry! Look at Robbie Williams! Listen to Taylor Swift! Look at Britney Spears, and Catherine Zeta-Jones! All of them had a bad psychiatric experience, or had their whole reputation at stake, but managed to rebuild their lives, almost from scratch and lead amazing, meaningful life journeys!
The diagnosis of a psychiatric illness acts as a curse. It’s like a strong belief system, similar to religions, that proclaims something that is not based in facts. I know many other patients, or former patients, who managed to overcome all odds, and continue working, creating families, earning good money, and building meaningful, beautiful relationships.
It’s all in your hands.
But how do you do it? How do you find that balance that can allow you to lead an amazing life?
It all starts with having an insight into your ‘condition’. The condition does exist, but it isn’t an illness, and it isn’t a curse. You are just very different from the majority, and you need to learn to accept it and start liking it. It goes with you, whatever is your condition.
You need to learn how this condition manifests herself, why and under which circumstances. I can only talk from the experience of the diagnosis of ‘Bipolar One’ or ‘Schizophrenia’, which are basically the same thing. The psychiatrists don’t really get them, and thus, there is still a niche to change the damaging narrative one can find in the descriptions of these ‘chronic illnesses’. Yes, it’s chronic but it isn’t an illness, it is a condition, just like autism.
Rewrite the narrative starting with yourself. You really need to take it into your own hands. The medication the doctors prescribe is usually (unless you are very lucky) very damaging, debilitating, and indeed life-wracking. I don’t know a single person who leads a proactive life on 300 mg of Seroquel (quetiapine) or 10 mg of olanzapine (Xyprexa). I tried them all.
Search for your own cocktail of pills. I do believe in the progress of science and found out that some medication helps to maintain the balance and even gives you extra energy and stamina. I was on aripiprazole (plus medication against side-effects, which is extremely important!), on low dose, that helped me (but then it appeared that Aripiprazole is better for depression rather than euphoria, my doctor switched me to something else), to maintain the balance, travel, live in different countries, get a PhD, raise a son, and work. If you can’t work, then you can’t lead a meaningful life. Work is an essential part of life, where we express our creativity, and contribute to the community, develop ourselves, and that allows us to earn well-deserved income. Work is different from labour, as Karl Marx explains in his ‘Capital’ in a much better way that I. Without work we feel useless and we despair. But when we work, and luckily in a job we love, we feel fulfilled, and happy.
That’s why the right medication with a right dose is so important. You change your life by having a good job. Part-time, volunteer, or full-time and demanding, it doesn’t matter, as long as you work. But if you can’t work because of what you take as medication, then you need to ask your doctor to try something else, at a lower dose, at different time of the day, in a different way. You might not even need it. I need it, but we are all different.
Because once you start feeling well enough to start looking for a job, that’s where you start your journey towards an amazing life.
I am a psychiatric patient, and I always work, because I love working, and it’s an essential part on the road to happiness. Work gives you daily meaning, nurtures your creativity and makes you feel good about yourself.
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