My voice is not only that of a survivor, but also one of a medical provider, as a nurse practitioner. I utilize my journey to help others and to advocate for them. Mental illness and suicide do not have to be invisible. They are topics that need voices and I am one of those voices.
Living with schizophrenia, I sometimes find it challenging to share my observations with others. Probably because I’m never really sure about what’s happening and what I think is going on. To that end, I work hard to discern the difference between reality and fantasy. It’s not always that cut-and-dried. Sometimes it’s a blur, a watercolor wash that makes things hard to distinguish.
Standing outside the mental health facility as I waited to see Jackie was the most profound moment of my life. My mind became filled with happy memories of us playing four-square at the bus stop, walking to middle school together, and speeding off to high school in her rundown car. But, suddenly those images were interrupted by the intense guilt I felt for failing to help her and the fear of seeing her in such a harsh place.
In the immediate sense, there’s nothing I can do to avoid the funhouse ride of cascading symptoms once it begins. I strap in and practice my circular breathing. I close my eyes to get in touch with my body, to turn inwards and hopefully calm myself. If I can’t, my obsessive-compulsive disorder surfaces and my personal ritual of counting and cataloging begins, making my bus ride more of an endurance run than a simple crosstown commute.
While insomnia seems to be a frequent visitor to those who struggle with mental illness or disorders, it can also cause them. Because of changes in the brain during sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, and depression are more common in the chronically sleep deprived.
Use self-care skills like stretching, meditation, self-massage, and breathing techniques as needed through the day;
Be an active listener, try to be a good communicator, open to negotiate and compromise, and enter into interactions with an open-mind and heart. Ask questions, and make less assumptions. Set limits and boundaries as needed, with diplomacy and politeness.
Within that framework, there is a danger that suicide becomes presented as a ‘selfish’ action, addiction as ‘indulgent’ and depression as ‘dramatic.’ We need more people who suffer with mental illness and addiction to tell their stories, if they are willing and able. We need the real narratives of mental illness and addiction to both challenge stigma and to impact the policy and public health approaches that are implemented.