Researching Treatment Options

Researching available treatment options to discover what option is best for you at this time is your right and duty as a user of medical services.

I famously haven’t recommended a traditional day program where people are housed long-term with no best-practices treatment and no practical career counseling. See my HealthCentral news article on the Triangle of Mental Health, featuring my proactive tactics for recovery.

To quote SYMS clothing store again: “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

Yet sometimes, no choices abound. I seemingly had few choices circa 1987 to 1990. Decades later, I think I succeeded despite my time in a CMHC, not because of it. A caveat though: some treatment centers are good. I can’t say they’re all sub-par.

The keyword in this value is researching your options to choose the best one among alternatives. We should have choices. Our choices should be made as partners in our healthcare, not as passive recipients of services.

We need to carefully examine what’s best at this moment in time. We might need to change what we do down the road.

I recommend setting goals for what you want to do in your life. It’s a mistake to believe any provider who reinforces to you that recovery isn’t possible. Not only is recovery possible, it’s possible to shoot through recovery into a better life beyond simply that.

To flourish instead of flounder is the goal. And a young person with so much potential deserves to flourish.

Everyone, regardless, deserves to flourish.

Halting Cookie-Cutter Treatment

The second to last value I promote as the author of my books is this:

Firing a doctor or other professional who practices “cookie cutter” or “one-size-fits-all” treatment might be necessary.

You’ve read in my last blog entry how I did this to save myself from ongoing sub-par treatment.

I’m not the only one who holds out a higher standard for the professionals that treat me. Other local NAMI members have also championed not settling for less than the best outcome for your own recovery or a loved one’s recovery.

If the status quo is working, fine. Yet it’s my belief that if you’re not moving forward, you’ll remain stuck. The number-one predictor of my success was that I always set goals I wanted to achieve. I was goal-directed from early on in my recovery.

I championed to the mental health staff my goal of finding a full-time job in 1990 when no one else with schizophrenia was employed or dared try to obtain a job. Meeting with resistance at the day program I soldiered on and was successful.

“Treatment” is not just mental healthcare. It’s the other facets of your recovery that work together with medication and therapy: treatment can be a job, a loving relationship, a volunteer job, or whatever else gives you self-esteem.

And when this “treatment” is cookie-cutter or paint-by-number or one-size-fits-all or narrowly defined, this could cause you to remain stuck. I worked in the gray flannel insurance field for seven years. I’ve written about this failed career over and over more times than I care to admit.

My recovery took off when I was 35 and started to work as a librarian.

I would like to hunt down the staff in the community mental health system that didn’t think I could do anything except be a secretary or an elementary school teacher or more likely not much of anything because I was a free spirit who marched toa  different drum.

I wrote in the Left of the Dial blog here that I value everyone: you don’t have to have an Ivy-league pedigree for me to be impressed with you. All hail the creative types who do our own thing!

In 1987, I was presented with only one option: to attend a second day program instead of setting the goal to find a job. Inmy memoir and to a counselor there, I likened this milieu to a “playpen.” Most of the members of the day program had been there for years and years.

A young person with schizophrenia or bipolar or another mental illness who has so much potential should have choices for treatment options that they research and analyze to choose the best one from.

Listen: I value living my life left of the dial–with my thoughts and feelings in balance on the VU meter.

I’ll take emotional freedom and mental clarity over having a high-pressure job where I continue to have major ongoing episodes.

Today recovery is not only possible it’s probable for most people.

I dare to dream of a day when everyone is able to recover because they get the right treatment right away.

I dream of a day when being shunted into a day program isn’t the automatic option.

A day when each of us can find our groove job and be happy and content living in tune with ourselves.

Acting as an Empowered Patient

Creating an open, honest two-way dialogue with your treatment providers is the best way to get effective treatment.

I didn’t trust the unprofessional doctor I’d seen for five years so one night I canceled our last session and didn’t go back. I was afraid to tell him what was going on and this jeopardized my treatment and thus my success in recovery.

In 2003, doctors still had live women answering the phones on an answering service to field patients’ telephone calls. I rang, canceled the appointment, and two weeks later scheduled an appointment with Dr. Altman.

A testament to how unstable the other pdoc was is that he followed up with me four months later to see why I hadn’t continued to see him. Not three weeks later. Not one month or two months later. Four months later.

First, he wanted me to switch to an atypical when the Stelazine was effective and there was no justification to change the medication. Second, he kept insinuating that because I was Italian I would send the mafia after him if he kept pressing me to do this and I refused. I kept refusing to switch to an atypical because I didn’t want to gain 50, 60, or 70 pounds on Risperdal, the drug he would’ve switched me to.

As it turned out, the first session with Dr. Altman I was upfront and honest. Dr. A did switch me to Geodon in 2007 and I was lucky I didn’t gain weight from the drug. Instead of committing a “lie” by omitting the truth about what was going on, I was able ever since our first session to tell Dr. A the truth and get premier treatment.

It’s hard not to be intimidated by the ex cathedra nature of the doctor-patient relationship. You see someone in a suit and you confer status on them. You see their degrees taking up the space on the wall and you might not want to question their authority.

I’m here to say that I questioned the authority of the unprofessional doctor. I fled treatment with him when I realized the lack of open, honest dialogue jeopardized my mental health.

I will talk in a coming blog entry about firing a poor performing treatment provider and finding a better professional to treat you.

Getting the Right Treatment Right Away

Getting the right treatment right away can totally stop symptoms or minimize their effect on your life.

The earlier a person with schizophrenia is treated with medication, the more likely the medication will work, according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter November 2008.

I’ve seen what can happen when treatment is delayed for years and years. You can read certain other female bloggers’ accounts and you will see how a person’s life can be hell because they revolve in and out of the hospital or have ongoing symptoms.

That. Does not. Have to be the norm.

You don’t have to live in hell. You don’t have to revolve in and out of hospitals for years and years before you can get better.

You can get better quickly if you get the right help, right away.

I go against the idea that a person should be in pain and not get help. “Help” doesn’t always require medication. Yet for those of us who can be helped by getting the right treatment, right away, I will not remain silent.

No: I will not be complicit in advancing the idea that it’s OK for a person with schizophrenia to be in pain for the rest of his life, or for years and years because he or she shouldn’t take medication.

You can read the other female schizophrenia memoirs. You can see the hell those women live in. You can be a JD and wear a suit to work and still have major ongoing episodes. You can publish a memoir in 2005 and revolve in and out of the hospital every year after the book comes out for 10 years straight.

There has to be a better way than that: a life where you can recover quickly and not be burdened by hell for the rest of your life.

“Hell” doesn’t have to be the guaranteed outcome for a person diagnosed with schizophrenia.

I’m against living in hell if you don’t have to.

I’m pro-medication when it’s necessary to stop or halt symptoms.

I’m pro-recovery. I’m pro-having a better life.

I’m pro-creative.

A life of hell and heartache doesn’t have to be the norm.

Succeeding By Acting True To Yourself

Acting true to yourself is the best and I dare say only way to succeed in life.

I’ve talked here and elsewhere numerous times about my failed gray flannel insurance career as a young woman.

The longer you cut yourself off from expressing yourself, the longer you’re restricted from becoming who you are, you’re going to get ill and make yourself miserable.

This is especially true for artists and other creative souls who are told from an early age to do something practical that makes money. Yet why can’t we have a good life doing the things we love that also earn us income?

You can work as an accountant during the day and play drums in a jazz band on the weekend to find your thrill. Or you can save up all your money from working as an accountant, retire, and dare to devote your life to jazz drumming full-time.

Seeing the possibilities is a gift because not everyone will take the baton and run with it when another person passes us an idea for what we can do.

I see the possibilities, and I recommend each of us grabs the baton of an idea of what we want to do, and runs with it.

Years ago I read that the thinking shifted in experts’ minds: it’s now thought a person can grow and change throughout our lives, that our personalities are not set in stone like previously thought.

We have the gift of a lifetime–we have our whole lives–to set goals and reach for them. We don’t need to conform to what others in society tell us we must do or how we must act. That kind of judging has to stop and the sooner the better.

I’m an artist as well as a writer. I’m a fitness buff, and a cook when the spirit moves me. I realized long ago that acting false to yourself creates ill-health.

In my Left of the Dial blog on the WordPress site I wrote that I value what others bring to the table: that you don’t have to have an Ivy-league pedigree in my book to be considered successful in your own right.

Acting true to yourself is the best way to succeed in my estimation because constantly straining to go against your nature sets you up to fail.

It’s OK if a person has no ambition. It’s OK if she wants to rule the world.

Either way, I doubt any of us can be truly happy operating against ourselves.

Having the courage to like ourselves and be happy with ourselves just the way we are is the way to go.

If we’re not satisfied with our lives or with any aspect of ourselves, we can take action today to change things for the better.

Persisting Even Though It’s Hard

Persisting in taking action will help you achieve your goals even though you’re going through a hard time.

You might not see the light at the end of the tunnel and that’s OK. Just keep taking action. The alternative is no option: giving up is not an option

Surviving a setback is easier when you have a goal to strive for: an image in your head of what your life looks like when you’ve arrived at the other side. Write down in a notebook where you want to be and what you want your life to look like in three years. Create a one-year goal, a two-year goal, and a three-year goal.

Often: it makes sense to write down your long-term goals as a guide. They’re not written in stone even though they’re written down. They can be changed or modified along the way. Yet having this clear vision gives your life a focus and purpose to look forward to when today isn’t so hot.

Have a long-term goal you can review every so often. Yet know that focusing on weekly goals and taking your life week-by-week can be the necessary and useful and positive solution when you’re going through a hard time.

I set weekly goals now that are simple and can be achieved step-by-step. Yet I also have goals I want to achieve in five years that are always floating around in my head.

Writing down your goals is the best option for reviewing them as often as you need to review them.

Make the goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-specific.

Yet also give yourself a generous time to complete certain goals instead of narrowly restricting yourself to thinking you have to solve things quickly.

“Quick” is often the antithesis of “Lasting.”

It takes time to create positive, lasting changes in your life.

Nothing succeeds like persistence.

I’ll end here by telling readers that persistence is simply putting one foot in front of the other to keep on walking.

It doesn’t even involve always having the faith that you’ll achieve your goal. It only involves continuing to take action even when you lose faith.

Action cures fear. Action leads to success. Hope coupled with action is the way to go.

Having Joy and Satisfaction

It’s true that doing the things that give you joy and satisfaction can reduce the impact of your disability.

Too often, a person decides to do something because she’s convinced she wants to do it or she’s supposed to do it. This happened when I took my first full-time job in 1990 as an administrative assistant. I was female so decided to work in an office as an administrative assistant. No true career assessment was given to me to help me figure out what might be a better option.

In 1996, a chance meeting with a therapist turned my life around when he gave me vocational counseling and told me I’d make a good librarian. The health insurance only authorized five visits because I had a preexisting condition. He was a career counselor to high-level executives during the week and I met him on Saturdays when he was still doing therapy on the side.

My life wasn’t so hot from 1987 through spring 2000: the first 13 years of my recovery. I floundered through one job after another in the gray flannel insurance field. I kept being laid off and in June 1997 I followed through with my goal of going back to school even though I was unemployed.

A job might not give you total satisfaction so having a good life outside of work can tip the scales for your happiness.

I’m confident when I tell readers that taking any old job just to pay the bills isn’t the way to go when you have a mental illness. The good news is that if you take a detour or make a false start, you can change course at any time in your recovery or your life.

Those first seven years in the insurance field are long gone so you can see that your life isn’t over when you’re first diagnosed. And you CAN change your life and change the course of your life for the better at any point along the way.

Finding out what gives you joy and satisfaction is as simple as trying on or trying out new hobbies and activities to see which things boost your mood.

I’ll end here by reminding readers to remember what you liked to do as a kid so that you can find inspiration for your life’s work today. I was luckier than most because I knew by the time I was seven years old that I wanted to be a writer. I was also sketching and painting and reading books by the time I was seven.

Rewind your own life to see what used to give you joy and happiness as a young person. Rule out nothing even though you might be an adult now. You’re not ever too old to have fun doing what makes you happy.

Joy and satisfaction. Each of living with a diagnosis deserves to have joy and satisfaction in our lives.

It took me 13 years to find a good job. It might take you longer to find your life’s purpose.

Yet when you do I can guarantee you’ll be able to shift the needle to the left of the dial, achieve a calm balance, and have mostly good days instead of having only not-so-good days.

Daring to Dream

The third value I espouse as an author in my books is this:

Getting off the SSI dole can allow you to have a better life than you thought possible.

Today in 2015: permanent disability doesn’t have to be the norm once a person is diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, or another mental illness.

Instead, most people diagnosed with schizophrenia can and do recover. Upwards of 85 percent of individuals with schizophrenia reach the stabilization, stable, and recovery phases of this illness. Fifteen percent have a refractory version.

The good news is that we don’t have to suffer in vain or suffer alone. With the right treatment and support, it’s easier to envision having the kind of normal life that a person who doesn’t have a mental illness lives.

The SYMS clothing store TV advertisements in the 1980s boasted: “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

Educated patients are the best customers of medical services as well. Research with due diligence the treatment options available to you.

I’ve been employed at full-time jobs since 1990. I’ve been a public service librarian for over 14 years now.

Your own idea of what you want to do with your life is all that matters. Collecting SSI or SSDI and working part-time at Rite Aid might be an option for some of us. Others might be able to go to college and get a degree and work at a professional job.

I take this imperative stance:

No one on earth has the right to judge another person for what we’re capable of doing or not doing.

I regret that most people buy into the myth that a person is only successful and worthy of praise if they are contributing to the economic stream in society by working at a prestigious full-time job like a JD.

Finding your niche might take time as it did for me. The first 13 years of my recovery from the diagnosis in 1987 to finding my library job in 2000 were not the best years of my life. Yet I prevailed, and that’s the secret: nothing succeeds like persistence.

It can take time and it often more so than not takes time to find your niche in the world.

Yet once you do you will be a lot happier and achieve emotional freedom and yes clarity of thought.

Collecting SSI the rest of your life is NOT a guaranteed outcome today in 2015.

You have options for what you can do and it all starts when you research the things you might want to do that you would like and be good at.

Giving up isn’t an option.

Numerous long-term studies of individuals with schizophrenia that review their recoveries at the 25-year mark or 30-year mark find that we are living in society with great success doing things that so-called normal people do with jobs, romantic partners, and satisfying lives.

Search for and seek out members of your treatment team who believe that recovery is possible and who wholeheartedly support you in your goal of living a full and robust life.

You don’t have to settle for less than full inclusion in society.

Next I’ll talk in here about the fourth value.

Taking Action to Achieve Goals

The second value my books offer is this:

Taking action to achieve your goals is possible with the right support and treatment.

As soon as I got out of the hospital the first time I had the goal of finding a full-time job and living on my own.

I was shunted into a community mental health center system ill-equipped to help a young person like me with so much potential. Yet I succeeded because I took action in the direction of my dream(s).

Being goal-directed might simply be the number-one predictor of how far a person will go in his or her life.

You might not be able to achieve what you set out to right away (or at all) yet continuing to take action will help you succeed.

The goal is to not let setbacks along the way defeat you. If you can’t do one thing, try to do another thing.

A real-life example: a woman I know couldn’t cope with the demands of a rigorous university where she would’ve gotten an occupational therapy degree. This didn’t render her life a dead-end. Her life wasn’t over and the possibilities for what she could do were still evident.

The woman years later did get a masters degree and is now quite successful in another career.

That’s why giving up on yourself isn’t an option.

The corollary to this value is another value: that being able to adapt to what happens in your life and to change course to do something unexpected that can be better: is a valuable mindset to have.

Rule out nothing.


Nothing’s Impossible.

The word itself says: “I’m possible.”

Living a Full and Robust Life

Living a full and robust life is a goal that is within reach and I’ve seen this firsthand.

I also have friends who have been able to create better lives for themselves.

It takes courage to dare dream of having the kind of life you want. It takes a rudimentary belief in yourself to carry on in this goal when no one else believes in you.

For those of us who don’t have the competencies to rely on the “Dream. Believe. Achieve” mantra: social skills training and cognitive remediation (cognitive enhancement therapy) are two treatment options that can help individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia set and achieve goals.

You meet with a counselor to set goals and are given homework assignments to go out into places and develop your skills.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might be good as well to reduce the effect of any symptoms you have or to better improve your thinking to cope with your own roadblocks that hold you back.

I had 10 sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the fall of 2007. This treatment greatly improved my ability to get through a hard time I was having.

I’ll end here by telling readers that you get to define the kind of life that you think is a full and robust life. The goal is not for everyone to rise up to become superstars or schizophrenia “celebrities.”

The goal is to do what makes you happy every day or as often as you can.

This might be paid work or it might be volunteer work either way.

It involves not comparing ourselves to others and seeking happiness inside ourselves not from other people’s praise.

A full and robust life might not come sooner to us yet we can go out and make it happen at any point in our recovery and our life.


In the next blog entry I’ll talk about taking action to achieve your goals.