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Living a full life, despite a diagnosis with mental illness…

I often get asked how I have done so well in life, even though I live with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. BY AUSTIN MARDON I often get asked how I have done so well in life, even though I live with the diagnosis of schizophrenia.  The answer is simple.  I have never gone off my prescribed medication.  Why I have never gone off my medication is a much harder question to answer. I’m told that a relatively small percentage of us take our medication as prescribed.  That’s not just for people with mental illnesses, that’s also for diabetics or people on high blood pressure medication.  If you have diabetes and you don’t take your medication, you might go blind or lose limbs.  If you don’t take your high blood pressure medicine, you might have a stroke or kidney failure.  If someone with the diagnosis of schizophrenia doesn’t take their neuroleptics, you might become psychotic. In my opinion, our society seems to do a good job of finding things for the physically disabled to do, so there are reasons to get up in the morning –  therefore,  a reason to go on living.  We haven’t done a very good job of finding things for those living with schizophrenia, thus giving them good reasons to stay on their medication. I have lots of reasons to stay on my medicine.  I have a wife and a son, and a very spoiled Basset Hound.  I have lots of friends; many of them have mental illnesses. However, I didn’t have any of those relationships when I first became ill.  My father somehow convinced me to take the medicine.  My mother moved in with me for the first several months of my recovery, until I got stabilized on my medicine. Looking back, after those first few months, and having to face my new reality, I can understand why some people will want to fall back into psychosis. I had to find a purpose in my life, and so I began volunteering.  I get a lot of personal satisfaction in fighting against stigma.  I am honored to be allowed to give speeches.  I think these activities are important.  It is easy to read about schizophrenia in text books, but truly understanding what it feels like takes close interaction with someone like me. So, how do we give people enough hope for the future, a reason to get up in the morning, a real reason to want to stay on their medications?  I believe the answer is relationships.  Early on in my illness, I helped start the Club House.  Making friends with other people living with schizophrenia allowed us all to support each other in making good decisions.  But, it’s far too easy though to limit ourselves to a small, safe circle out of fear of rejection from “normal” people. I’ve had people break off communication with me abruptly as soon as they discover my illness.  Even when we try to establish relationships that can anchor us to reality, the illness can get in the way.  This illness robs us of the ability understand body language, hidden agenda, nuances of communication.  It can make us seem abrupt or rude or even clueless.  The negative symptoms of the illness combined with the side effects of the medication, means relationships are nearly impossible to maintain. Yet, relationships are crucial to our well-being.  Imagine being the doctor for someone my age and size with schizophrenia.  I’m already afraid that the government wants to implant tracking chips in my body.  I’m also having chest pains.  How are you going to convince me to have an angiogram?  How are you going to talk me into allowing a doctor to insert a catheter into my heart?  I mean, isn’t a stent just a miniature antenna for you to listen to my thoughts? In my case, it would be my wife talking me into the procedure.  She would be easing my fears, assuring me that it would save my life.  If I said no, she’d just have to get out her rolling pin and then I’d agree.  For others with this illness, it would be much harder. Good relationships are key to good health for those with schizophrenia.  They can be with family members, social workers, neighbors, other people with mental illnesses, club members, fellow parishioners, or even a pet.  Good relationships give us a reason to get up in the morning.  They give us a reason to want to stay healthy and live long stable lives. So, if you want the mentally ill to stay on their medicine, get them out of the house.  Get them involved with volunteer activities.  Those who are up to it might do well with a part-time job.  A leisure access card is an open invitation to exercise classes or swimming.  There are all sorts of free classes.  If we find something to be passionate about, it gives us a reason to stay in reality and stay on our medicine. St. Valentine’s Day is a hard time of year for people alone.  It’s also a great time of year to make friends.  Look around.  Take a chance.  Risk opening your heart.  You might be just the ticket for someone else to have a reason to live. Here is a link to Austin Mardon talking about living with schizophrenia and advocating to save Alberta Hospital.

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