A Story of Survival, Courage, and Transformation
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Disclaimer: Material found on the Successful Schizophrenia website is for your information only. We are not able dispense specific advice for your situation. If you are under a doctor's care, you should talk with him or her about your mental health goals and if they are not on the same page as you, ask for a referral to a doctor or counselor who is. It may mean interviewing several. If you are on your own, you may wish to contact your local county mental health department to ask for local resources. Our site exists to show people that there are all varieties of mental states and assessments of those states; that sometimes 'mental health' is in the eye of the beholder; and that the mental health profession needs to continue to open itself up to the new paradigm ... progress is being made!
© 1995-2009 Successful Schizophrenia