Keys to Managing Schizophrenia

By Andrew Downing | Dec. 08, 2017

 

When I was 16, I was ranked number one in North America’s National Hockey League central scouting agency. Most scouts considered me a shoe-in to play professionally. But by the time I turned eighteen, both my grasp on reality and my aspirations to be a professional hockey player were gone. This is when my mental illness journey began. This is when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Since then, I’ve been hospitalized twice—both times in a dramatic fashion. Before my second hospitalization, my visual hallucinations were out of control and I nearly died. I was carving gibberish on the walls of my apartment with a knife and I thought I was made of sand. I threatened to prove this reality with the knife and began gliding a (thankfully) dull knife all over my body. My mother was forced to call the police.

I spent two weeks in a psychiatric ward after that episode and narrowly avoided being committed to a more permanent facility. Nearly every time I write or talk about this time of my life, I cry. I feel so blessed and lucky to be alive so many years later. My symptoms have never completely gone away, and I’m always at risk for a psychotic episode if I don’t take all my medications. But I’ve learned to better manage my condition.

After nearly twenty years living with schizophrenia, I’d like to share a few key pieces of advice that have helped me during my recovery:

Find the Right Treatment Plan

Managing schizophrenia starts with finding the right medications, and there are more options for treatment now than ever before. Everyone reacts differently to various medications, so getting the proper diagnostic assessment is very important. And developing a relationship with a professional can be very valuable, as it increases a person’s chance of finding a medication that works. Learning to speak truthfully and openly to a medication provider may prove to be the greatest asset to a person living with schizophrenia, especially in the beginning stages of treatment.

Find a Support System

Sometimes people experiencing mental illness choose to isolate, but we can all benefit from relationships—remember that no one is an island. Finding healthy activities that foster relationships may be intimidating for someone with schizophrenia, but having a support system is invaluable. One place to start is support groups within organizations like NAMI.

There is a special bond between people who have mental illness or have a loved one living with a mental illness. Having an informed, listening ear can provide immense healing for someone with schizophrenia. While living in fear of relationships is a reality for many, there are tools and programs to help people conquer these fears and maintain fulfilling relationships. 

Find Your Own Road to Recovery

Medicines and relationships are incomplete without addressing what a person can do to improve their own quality of life:

  • Eat healthy. A well-balanced diet offers many mental health benefits. Side effects of antipsychotic medicines can cause constipation, dehydration and weight gain. A healthy diet and plenty of water can remedy those issues.              
  • Exercise. Walking is a fantastic source of exercise and many people find peace in the great outdoors.
  • Find work that isn’t too stressful. If a person with schizophrenia is unable to work, they can still accomplish small tasks that can make them feel productive.
  • Spirituality. Religion can offer help in conquering addictions, finding community, support and help in navigating delusional thinking.
  • Art therapy. Painting and drawing is a common practice in mental health facilities throughout the world. Expressing yourself through creative art can help reestablish identity lost to delusional thinking.

Schizophrenia is not a hopeless situation—people living with schizophrenia can experience recovery and live fulfilling lives. I’m an example of that. I may not be a professional hockey player, but I’m grateful for my life. I’ve learned to manage my mental illness and you can too.

 

NAMI also recognizes the importance of research in managing and recovering from schizophrenia.
Last night, Dec. 7, we recognized Sophia Vinogradov, M.D. for her contributions to schizophrenia-related scientific research. Learn more about Dr. Vinogradov here.

 

Andrew Downing is a published co-author, alongside his wife who is a seasoned mental health practitioner. Their book, “Marriage and Schizophrenia: Eyes on the Prize,” vividly details their fifteen-year partnership together. You can check out the book to hear the full story. Andrew now lives in recovery and has been stable for nearly seven years.

Comments
Savahnna
OMG.my daughter has it to.paranoid schitzophrenia.she thinks she is on an army list that take care of her medically.she talk to people who aren't here all the time.some times I hear them too and doors and dinosaurs and footsteps.the doorbell rings Boone therebthis be the stuff I seen and heard.she think everything covered in poop think I clean my hands on her face.think I attack her in the shower.she been forced to the hospital two times ability Helps but she won't go to her doctors appointments and they won't give the ability if you don't show up for the appointments.she don't know her name.she don't know her family.she was an artist.she was solid in engineering.i miss her.i hide in room on her really bad days.
6/1/2018 10:44:18 PM

Mom
In response to James Wright post. Author in story so fortunate to have been diagnosed at early age and on right meds for him, as well as a supportive wife. The fewer psychotic breaks, hospitalizations BEFORE the right medications get the better results. From a mom whose son was diagnosed at 17 with schizophrenia (after 3 hospitalizations with in 6months) I hadn't fully accepted diagnosis but went along with outpatient med plan (couldn't be my son - but as I now know, family genetics do not lie). We were so proud that he graduated high school on stage with his class. He soon turned 18 and was too afraid to make any changes/additions to medications so for 9yrs on same 2 meds trying to get by. Now after recent hospitalization hopefully on right track with new psychiatrist & meds.
2/11/2018 8:28:53 AM

Pamela Clarkson
Underlining all these comments is the struggle to get our afflicted loved ones on meds and keep them on meds. The law says that if you are not suicidal or violent then you cannot be forced to take meds. But what if you don’t believe that you are mentally ill? What if you suffer from anosognosia or lack of insight? How can you ask for help and treatment if you don’t know that you are ill? My son is schitzoaffective- bi polar. He is not violent or suicidal. He is homeless and tortured by his delusions. We need to change the law to include anosognosia as a criteria for forced treatment. Please call your senators and representatives and ask them to change the law. I have done this . I have even met face to face with them, but we need more people to demand a change.
1/22/2018 12:59:12 AM

Rebecca Fabry
Thank you for all of the input from Everyone, I don't feel totally alone. I have a sister that I grew-up with, she was away performing upon a Christian cruise ship; they sent her back because she stopped eating and wouldn't come out of her room. She was showing her beginning signs that we did not expect. So far the Dr. from about 30yrs ago, diagnosed her as "Multiple Personality Disorder"...but its sore obvious to be Schizophrenia. My Granny was said to have Manic Depression back in the early 1900's, now this with my Sis, and also now my neice from my other Sis!!! My Mom is now 87yo with dementia, and I PRAY to figure-out how to show Mom that Sis can get on meds and do okay before Mom passes. Life can be difficult, but when our time happens, Heaven shall be Joyous! Think Positive each and every day!!! We ALL need it!
1/19/2018 4:10:21 PM

Anna D
Caroline,

I thought I was the only daughter of psizophrenic /affective also add in a dual diagnosis with alcoholism Mother in the world.
I was introduced to NAMI as a teenager, so of course I didn't believe I gain any knowledge I didn't want to talk to people about my mother's illness since I mostly kept a secret, Now I find myself wanting a daughter of a schizophrenic somehow in my life
Whether it be in a support group or
An online support group.ANYTHING!! its a lonely world when you feel like nobody understands the feelings of being the daughter. Also I'm in McHenry County IL & I'm looking for any support groups in the area, as everyday I watch my mom suffer after years of institutions and heavy medications, all the side effects. Its heartbreaking to watch such a beautiful womans appearance change so dramatically ad well :(
It hurts to much & I can no longer put all of this on my partner it's not fair and quite frankly It's hard its very hard . And as you get older it still hurts to see your mom
Suffer....
1/5/2018 4:57:06 PM

Heather Grimshae
My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia a year ago at age 21. He lives with his Dad but has ***** me out. I'm trying to gain his trust but he's stopped taking his meds and is avoiding me. I feel so helpless. His Father is of no help.
1/5/2018 12:01:31 PM

Chris Florentz
My 26-year-old son was diagnosed with schizophrenia three years ago. I totally relate to all of the stories that are shared here. As another mentioned, the 12-week NAMI classes are wonderful. I highly recommend. No one can truly understand what families of loved ones with a mental disorder go through unless they have gone through it themselves. For my son, refusing to acknowledge his illness is the biggest barrier to compliance (with meds and therapy), and to his recovery.
12/30/2017 3:44:58 PM

CY
Dear Lory M,
As someone familiar with this disease, but not as a therapist or psychiatrist, I would suggest:

- contact NAMI and talk to help line, describe daughter's condition, ask for suggested next steps, and NAMI programs available in your location. NAMI has been a big help to us

- from hospitals in your area, get list of therapists and psychiatrists in your insurance network who specialize in treating this disease and who also specialize in your daughter's age group

- shop around for therapists and psychiatrists, calling and leaving messages, setting up meetings, and going with your daughter to meet them. You can continue with the ones you and your daughter like most

Hope this helps.
12/29/2017 7:15:43 PM

L. Hamilton
Wendy - The injections are wonderful because they help someone remain constant with their medication that otherwise may spiral deeper into psychosis. The newer meds are easier on the body than the old ones, but the side -effects are still present. However: even unfortunate side effects are better than watching someone self-implode into lunacy and dangerous homelessness. Once our family member becomes more stable, we can see if he wants to TRY any reductions under doctors supervision. But that can be risky - any mental instability and delusional thought can result in refusal to take meds at all and lead to the BIG SLIDE...
12/28/2017 6:07:51 PM

L. Hamilton
Lori M. - and others.
My son is schizophrenic and drug addicted. It's been a long haul , but he's in a County Residential Dual Diagnosis treatment as of yesterday. Upon turning 18, he had 6 years of arrests, releases, probation, court ordered rehab, and periods of homelessness - BUT he wasn't diagnosed with mental illness until 2015, when he had a 6 month jail stay in jail psychiatric unit. Since then he's had a successful 18 months outpatient program (lived w us) followed by a slow, painful, and crazy descent back into drugs, homelessness and psychotic behavior. Couple of 5150s, and releases back to the streets, arrests, etc...
Anyway, all I can say is : Advocate and never, never give up. You will find VERY helpful mental health professionals, but you have to do a lot of connecting the dots to get comprehensive treatment. Begin with your County Family Advocate Program. Make an appointment and establish a connection. Get a notebook, and document every phone call - make a timeline journey of facts.
Keep your notes clear and factual, and use a journal to record your personal thoughts, feelings and observations. So: #1) Fact Log #2) Personal journal
Also - Join NAMI and attend their informational training. It was a Life Saver for us when our son was 5150 by Sherrif and put in the psych ward, because it was a whole new world, a whole new lingo, and an unexpected experience for us. We were floundering, and so so heartbroken when we talked to our delusional son in jail.
I echo Janet - NAMI helped so much and the County Mental Health Department too. But you HAVE to advocate: the system was not designed to handle the explosion of mental illness we have seen.
P.S - ALWAYS be polite and respectful to officials within the system... you will not get cooperation from people if you become rude of offensive; remember - they are also frustrated with the system!
12/28/2017 6:02:18 PM

CAROLINE I.
(Daughter of a mom with Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar I disorder of 46 years)

The roads are bumpy and the hills are eroded and high in altitude, however I am in constant prayer that one day I will be able to assist my mom who suffers from these two disorders. Although I have been hurt and continue to get hurt by her, I know the suffering for her has to be far more severe than anything I have gone through.

My encouragement to author of this post and those that have commented:

*Be transparent in hurt and hopes
*Keep expectations realistic and obtainable
*Lean on a support system

Blessings to all!
12/28/2017 4:30:02 PM

mauricio
i have schizophrenia and a similar story. i been in the hospital and im glad your doing okay
12/28/2017 3:40:41 PM

James Wright
The basic premise of this story is misleading. Most people with SZ and SZA disorders have difficulties establishing steady employment and stable relationships.

After 30 years, of the people with schizophrenia:
25% Completely Recover
35% Much Improved, relatively independent
15% Improved, but require extensive support
10% Hospitalized, unimproved
15% Dead (Mostly Suicide)
12/28/2017 3:37:49 PM

Don M
Great article. Thanks for sharing your story.

My mom has Schizophrenia but lives a healthy fulfilled and productive life. She has to carefully manage her condition.

She takes medicine (Zyprexa)
She goes to an adult program twice weekly where they discuss mental health in a group setting.
She nurtures her few family and friends. (Cultivating relationships)
She sees her psychiatrist at least monthly
She sees her counselor weekly

I had to get a conservatorship over her to Force her to take meds. Took about 6 months to get with an experienced attorney and testimony from psychiatrist that treated her during one of numerous hospitalizations. The key was proving she was endangering one of the following:
Her own life
Others lives
Her housing. This was the key for us. She got in argument with neighbor and judge decided she was endangering her ability to stay in homeowners association. Very hard to prove the others.

Good luck!
12/28/2017 12:44:15 AM

Karin Webb
Are schizophrenic people always unable to be polite around their family members? My adult son is unable to say thank you or show any appreciation for anything.
12/27/2017 7:46:08 PM

Anna
I am 34 old woman & My mother suffers from schizoaffective disorder
And addiction . It's been a difficult road watching my Mom deal with this nightmare . In and out of institutions I've stayed by her side. It's always nice to hear that I'm not alone although I have to admit it feels this way as a daughter of a mother with this mental illness,people do not understand and often place judgement . So I've grown up keeping it somewhat of a secret to keep from answering ignorant questions or just plain I guess uneducated . To all family members living with loved ones who suffer from this awful illness sending much love this Holiday season.
12/27/2017 7:18:25 PM

Lory M
My daughter suffers from schizoaffective disorder, I have been desperately trying to get her help with everything. I have reach out to DMH and their outreach program which is getting no where. I feel completely helpless, while my daughter is getting worse. Some say I should just stop and let her go, but as a mother I just can't do that. Any suggestions, comments, I will do the foot work, I just need someone to point me to the right person or direction.
12/27/2017 7:06:12 PM

Janet Nowell
Thanks so much for sharing your story — but most importantly being authentic & real about your illness. My oldest brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20’s. He is now 65 years old and luvs in the sane town. I’m ever so grateful he decided to get back on his medication ... at a time he was off his meds and was homeless... his entire personality flipped.
Now he goes to therapy & is doing well .. living on his own and takes his medication regularly. W have an awesome support group. I am blessed to have a daughter who helps him get his groceries & takes him to all of his appointments. It has been a long hard journey — but there is hope & anyone reading this — I want to say helping a sibling with mental health issues requires sacrifice - patience & education. Thanks NAMI for being there for us.
12/27/2017 7:01:04 PM

VICTORIA HAMM
My daughter now 38 is schizophrenic for as long as I can remember. It took 15 years of hell 2 or 3 commitments and several chem deep treatments programs. She is going on 3 years at Walmart full time now. She takes a shot every month and has a few other meds to take as needed. Pot helps with her anxiety, but she has a terrible cough now that's worrisome. For the most parts things are ok. I went to the Nami class on how to deal with the mentally ill a few years ago and it changed our lives, I highly recommend it. Working on getting her to get her own place!😊
12/27/2017 6:31:26 PM

Kati A. Arp
My son is diagnosed with schizophrenia and now refuses to take his meds. I feel hopeless trying to help him. He is so tortured but I see glimpses of my son every once in awhile so I know he is in there. He says he's not a threat to himself or others but he has a bat he carries around to kill vampires. But they won't do the 72 hour hold.
12/27/2017 6:02:12 PM

Betty Cook
My son have the same mental illnes,I make sure he take his meds but it's so hard to meet people and support groups with people his age where he can learn and grow,If any one have any suggestions please let me know
12/27/2017 4:35:28 PM

Ana Santisteban
My sister refuse to take that medicine and that result of that her behavior get so aggressive and word and conduct I was call the police they send to that hospital for 72 hours ( she Lord everything job, place to live and money) how can I help from here
12/18/2017 11:55:27 AM

Jeanne Braun
My daughter Michelle is schizophrenic since she was in her late teens. Has been hospitalized so many times. They keep moving her further away from me and I am the only one who has tried to keep in contact with her. I have been separated from my husband for about 20 years and her father or siblings do not even try to see her. It have been very hard on me as I take care of my 88 year old mother on the weekend who live with my sister who I think may be bi polar. I have been trying to get her moved closer to me so I could be there more for her and do more things with her for 2 years but not making any progress.
12/12/2017 12:58:12 PM

Jamie
Great read same sort of storey here .
12/11/2017 10:56:52 AM

Wendy Block
Do you think the newer anti psychotic medications are more effective? Are monthly injections better?
Thanks for sharing your story. We need more positive stories to share.
12/10/2017 7:58:31 PM

Heather G.
Thank you for sharing this article. I have schizoaffective disorder which is on the schizophrenia spectrum and there have been times where I’ve felt hopeless. This gave me a flicker of hope again.
12/9/2017 7:41:13 PM

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