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A Story of Survival, Courage, and Transformation

Name: Anonymous
Date: September 2003

I am a survivor, and I would like to share my story.

At the age of 30 years, I had a major schizoaffective breakdown. Unfortunately, I was hospitalized, and given a long series of electroconvulsive shock treatments. While I was hospitalized, my husband left me, and moved in with my next door neighbor. After several months, I was discharged from the hospital heavily medicated.

The odds were against my survival. I had no home and no job. I had a four-year-old son to care for, a husband who had left me, and I was still very ill. I don't know to this day why I didn't just go on welfare, or move in with my parents, but the thought just didn't occur to me. I got a job a thousand miles away, moved, and I supported myself and my son with no assistance. Most of the time I felt terrible, but slowly, very slowly, I started to get better. It took me about 10 years before I actually felt well again, but I did improve.

I am 55 years old now. My son has grown into a successful man, I have remarried, and I continue to teach school. I still take some medication, but I stay far away from psychiatrists.

I have survived! And not only have I survived, I have grown and developed strengths as a person throughout the ordeal. In fact, I never returned to the person I was prior to the breakdown. Instead I became a stronger, mentally healthier person. I have reached a level of development that I never would have attained without the experience of the illness. I feel blessed!

I believe that there are many factors that have enabled me to successfully survive my illness:

  1. The love I had for my young son kept me going. His father had little interest in him, and I was all that he had. I had the choice of either killing both of us (which I considered), or to keep on going no matter what. I couldn't justify killing my little boy, so I had to keep trying to get better.

  2. I read a book about a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. In the book, the author explained why he had survived whereas others had not. He explained that a person can not always control the circumstances of life, but a person can control the attitude with which the circumstances are met. Because of what I learned from this author, I chose to regard my condition as a challenge rather than a disability. That made a big difference.

  3. I had a lot of personal resources. Because of the late onset of my illness, I had a personality that was already formed, I had a good education and the means of supporting myself. Also, I was blessed with above average intelligence and insight.

  4. I learned early not to believe everything that a psychiatrist said, and instead, to keep myself informed, and to make my own decisions.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma about mental illness, and because I work with the public, I do not wish my name to be given out. I am not in any way ashamed of who I am, but not all people are understanding. It could affect my employment. If parents of the young children I teach were aware that I have a serious mental illness, my life would be made miserable.



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