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Pushing Through: How to Help Yourself Get Through the Bad Times

Posted Nov 07 2011 12:00am
"It may be difficult to differentiate between inertia brought about by demoralization and despair resulting from repetitive failures and losses, co-morbid depression, and the anerga, apathy, avolition, and anhedonia thought to be negative symptoms of the disorder. Regardless of the cause, the person is faced with an uphill battle of the will, the only solutions for which appear to be perseverance, pleasure, and learning to push back against the illness..... Later in the course of illness, participants report finding ways to counteract these barriers. In some cases, this is done both directly and simply by pushing on through, persevering with one's interests, goals, and activities despite not feeling up to it."
-Living Outside Mental Illness: Qualitative Studies of Recovery in Schizophrenia, by Larry Davidson
If you have read any of my posts from the past month or so, you will see that I have been having a difficult time. What I want to talk about in this post is dealing with difficult times. We all have them, no matter what mental, or physical illness, or other challenge in life we have. But for people who experience psychiatric illnesses, sometimes the difficult times get overwhelming. 31,000 commit suicide each year. I named this blog with the title it currently has for a reason.

What I want to say first is that I do not believe in "the power of positive thinking" per se. I really do not. I have read some things such as Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich, where you can see someone explain more eloquently than I could exactly why this type of self-help, pop psychology, New Age nonsense is just that, nonsense. I watched the video of The Secret with my ex-boyfriend when we lived together, and I remember that I sort of thought it was amazing, and sort of thought it was ridiculous at the same time, but all I felt comfortable stating within the confines of that horrible relationship was that it was amazing. It really wasn't amazing to me. It really was pretty stupid to me. (I am sure someone reading this post will disagree, and that is your right, but I am stating my opinion). Ehrenreich wrote Bright-sided after she got diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was disgusted with how women with breast cancer were "infantilized" by things like pink teddy bears given to them by organizations that were supposedly fighting for their cause. You should read that book sometime if this line of thinking interests you at all; she's a great writer. I haven't read the whole thing, because I can't right now, but I've read lots of parts of it. (I did a presentation on her for a class today, and I've always loved her writing).

Now, that I've gotten that out of the way....I do want to say that I think there is something to be said for "pushing through" illness, as the quote at the beginning of this post describes. I will tell you about how I came across that book (Living Outside Mental Illness). I was in a library at my college trying to study, but studying was futile because my brain wasn't cooperating (once again), so I ended up piling up a bunch of books on Schizophrenia (there were no books on Schizoaffective Disorder, of course), and trying to read parts of those for help. I wanted advice, research that would give me hope, input that might assist me in functioning, some kind of help. And I found this one book that really was helpful. That was a few weeks ago. I am doing a bit better now, but I want to say that picking up those books, rather than just walking out of the library, defeated and depressed, was an example of pushing through.

Then I decided not to withdraw from my classes. This was different than times in the past when I did withdraw from classes. As someone said in a comment on one of my posts here, "withdrawal is demoralizing". It certainly is! I got horribly depressed about withdrawing every time I did it. I will probably never get over the fact that I couldn't go to Smith College when I got admitted there, like I wanted to. But this time, what I decided was that, even though I thought I was going to fail the classes if I remained in them, I would remain in them anyway - for now. So I took two tests, and got A's. I turned in papers, and got A's on them too. Actually, even though I thought I was going to fail, I haven't gotten anything but A's on everything that has been due.

Now, I'm in my mid thirties. I am not a spring chicken anymore. It isn't like I'm in college straight out of high school, where the most important thing on my plate should be getting good grades (or partying a lot). I am probably too old, and should be too mature, to care about getting any kind of grade much. But I do care, so, I mention that this pushing through in completing my classes has been beneficial to me. It has been a lesson too, because every time you do what Eleanor Roosevelt recommended and "do the thing you think you cannot do" you learn a little more about your competence.

Besides school, I've gotten back involved with NAMI in the past couple weeks for the first time in months. People there are very kind to me. They hug me, tell me they're glad to see me, and invite me to do speaking engagements at places like high schools, and hospitals (we'll be doing hospitals in the future for the first time). I am always happy to see these people. They understand my illness, so there is something already taken care of where I don't have to explain anything about myself, or feel bad about myself, the way I do in other groups, because I don't "measure up" or don't always feel great. I spend far too much time comparing myself to other people, and I never measure up, so it's hard to be in groups of any kind sometimes. But it's not hard within NAMI. (NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness , and it's a wonderful organization).

So returning to NAMI, despite the fact that I haven't been doing so well lately, has been something that was good for me and it was also something that I had to force myself to do.

Another thing I did that was helpful, was return to the women's rights organization I am part of (NOW) for our recent meeting. That was something I didn't do for last month's meeting, which I somehow completely forgot about even though I had advertised the meeting myself. So I forced myself to go and be around people in that group too, and those are also people I like and respect. So that was good for me. It wasn't really an easy thing to do right now, but it was good for me to do it. Working for women's rights, and mental health rights, are both empowering activities, which always make me feel better when I do them, or, at least, make me feel like my life has more meaning and purpose than it otherwise would.

Some other things that I have forced myself to do are regular grocery shopping, after going several weeks without bothering to do that, going back to the gym, after several months of not bothering to do that, and taking showers pretty regularly (not every day, but I'm not perfect by any means), after not bothering to do that for a little while. I make myself do this stuff. It isn't like I wake up and feel inspired to go and do things. I don't. I tell myself, "You must do this", and then I make myself do it. It would be easier, really, to lie in bed and do nothing, and I could certainly retreat into my mind and allow myself to stay there and accomplish nothing if I wanted to. But I really don't want to do that. I really want to live, without letting this illness destroy me. So I have learned that, sometimes, I have to push through, and do the dishes that I don't really care about doing so that they don't draw bugs, and go to the library whether or not I feel like I am able to read, so I can at least know that I tried to read. Sometimes it is this pushing through that makes my life possible to live, because if I just laid in bed and lost my job and dropped out of school (all of which I have done before), I would be suicidal right now. I would have no reason to NOT be suicidal right now. I would feel so horrible about being without a purpose, that I would want to die.

But right now, I don't want to die. And I think that part of the reason for that is my medication. Latuda does seem to be helping me. I think another part of the reason for that is simple perseverance. Like many of you, I have lived through a lot of crap over the years, and it has not been easy by any means. But what I have learned by now is that I must keep going, and not give up. Because it is the giving up that will make me lose everything, become homeless again, end up in a hospital, or wind up dead. Luckily, and because of helpful meds, I have not been in a hospital for psychiatric reasons for almost four years. That is an accomplishment for me. There were years of my life when I was regularly in and out of hospitals. That was before diagnosis, before proper medications, and before I really, absolutely knew that I had to really force myself to do the things that make life possible to live, which does not, right now, include going to the hospital.

I would never underestimate the benefit of medication, and that has made all the difference in the world in my life. Without shots and pills, in copious amounts, I would be dead for sure, and I would not be happy at all. I know this from experience. I think that medications definitely saved my life, and I will probably be taking them for the rest of my life, unless my liver fails to function anymore.

At the same time, every answer doesn't come out of a pill bottle. Sometimes the meds are not enough. Sometimes, you have to make yourself get out of bed in the morning, and make yourself go through the motions of your daily activities, and make yourself socialize. If you're having a really hard time, all of that might be too much, and just making yourself get up might be an accomplishment. And that's okay too. But what's important is to have goals, and to try to reach them. It sounds like stupid, silly, cognitive behavioral therapy stuff, but I think it's true. For me, it is, anyway. If I don't have any goals, I don't feel like I have any reason to be alive. So I make some goals, and I try to accomplish them. It doesn't always work, as you could tell if you read a lot of the posts here, but when it does work, it is a good experience to have.

Sometimes people are so depressed, or are experiencing so many of the negative symptoms of psychosis, that they cannot go out and accomplish the typical things that society looks at as accomplishments. I have been there, many times. I understand. What I think matters in times like that is that you do very simple things, like get up, get dressed, get your mail, eat, etc. You do not have to work to have a life worth living. You do not have to go to college to have a life worth living. I do those things because I am now able to do them, but that was not always the case for me, and I'm glad I lived through the years when it wasn't. I read in Living Outside Mental Illness that something many people with Schizophrenia do, and something I certainly have done for many years, is go to fast food restaurants. And sometimes the reason they do this is to simply be around others. Because there are times when holding a conversation is too hard, and there are many people who have not even one friend to talk to in the first place. But if you can get out of complete isolation, that's an improvement, and, according to this book, many of us instinctively know that. So people will go to McDonald's and sit out in the world, for a little while, before retreating to their homes to be alone. If that is all you can do, then that is all you can do. But that is not nothing, that is something.

I think that college matters to me more than it matters to some people, because it has always mattered to me. This is probably related to the fact that I always got accolades in school which I did not get at home, as a child. I learned to love school, and getting good grades. I'm not saying that everybody should go to college, or do the things that I do. All I'm saying is that it is important to do something, to move about, to take actions, to go forward, to set some goals and work towards them, to not give up, to live. Anne Sexton wrote in, "Live":
"So I won't hang around in my hospital shift,

repeating The Black Mass and all of it.

I say Live, Live because of the sun,

the dream, the excitable gift"
I believe in the Twelve Step idea that you should take things "one day at a time". I try to do this, and it helps me in difficult times. If I look at the whole next year, I will become overwhelmed, and give up. I don't know, for example if I will remain in college for a whole year, or if I will ever graduate. When I try to look at cleaning my apartment after it gets disastrous, I will get overwhelmed if I think about cleaning the whole thing, so I have learned it is important to just focus on cleaning one room at a time. You have to do things in steps, sometimes.

I plan on getting A's, or, at least, B's in both my classes this semester. And I will do it. I plan on keeping my part-time job, and I will do that too. In the worst case scenario, this will be the absolute all that I can do, but hopefully I will manage to fit in a few other things like NAMI events, and going to the movies, and maybe even reading something here and there, and taking care of the laundry, the dishes, the cats' litter box, the grocery shopping, and the daily stuff that everybody has to do. I plan on pushing through.

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