Recovery Is Resiliency

David Son
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2886

I claimed recovery from schizophrenia in 2011 when I completed my peer-specialist certification. The two-week training was liberating. I learned — along with Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) — that I owned my recovery. That is, people telling me you must do such-and-such to stay well — take your meds, exercise, and eat healthily — were all good suggestions, but if I did not decide these things myself, then the suggestions were pointless and ineffectual. It is easy to tell others what to do and listen to what others say. But it is much more meaningful to make up your own mind and execute tasks you know will foster your recovery.

This attitude was in strong contrast to my life before becoming a peer specialist. Previously when I needed help, I sought it at the local clinic. They were the experts. They were in charge. I was desperate! So I did what they told me to do, thinking they knew best. They said take your medication, so yes, I took my medication. They said to go to groups, so yes, I went to groups. What they said, I did, but I was not necessarily feeling better or getting better. That happened when I liberated myself from their charge. Empowered myself and took my recovery into my own hands. That’s when my life became real again. Yes, I became a human being with dignity and self-respect, able to make choices for myself.

Learning Self-Advocacy

I was now in charge of my own recovery. Working with clinical staff and doctors was a negotiation, and they respected the fact that I could advocate for myself. I knew myself the best. I knew what I could and could not do. I knew what I wanted and knew what I did not want. For example, if the therapist said: “Why don’t you try yoga?” I would reply, “That sounds like a helpful activity, but I had a traumatic experience with a yoga instructor before and it is something I’d rather not venture at this point.” Therapists mean well, no doubt, but they don’t know a person’s complete personal history. Self-advocacy is essential to make your choices known and to bring about a recovery that makes sense to you — and that means being trauma-informed.

Soon after I was certified as a peer specialist, I started working in an agency supporting others in their recovery. This was both a step down and a step up from what I had been doing two years earlier. I had been a salaried instructor of history at a college, teaching a full course load. I was satisfied and proud of my professional occupation. Now, working as a peer specialist, I learned humility — about my status and in other ways — but I found great joy in the act of human service, helping others who were not so different from myself. I worked the job with enthusiasm while learning how to engage and interact with all sorts of individuals and situations, in times of crisis as well as at moments of success and happiness. I eventually got promoted to supervisor and was able to instruct and guide other peer specialists to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Faltering, Then Bouncing Back

My life was not always an upward swing to greater recovery. During my work as a peer specialist, I took a vacation to Finland to visit a friend. I looked forward to my planned trip but, once en route, the time difference and the stress of travel hit me in an unexpected way. Psychosis set in and my voices came back, along with delusions — nothing grounded in anything but the intangible. When I returned home I checked into a psych ward, where they increased my med dosage to settle my nerves. This was the standard procedure (hospital compliance). There are few options available when psychosis comes on, and yes, more humane choices, such as respites or other alternative services, need to be put in place.

Nonetheless, the human mind and body are resilient — recovery is, in effect, resilience. I have gone from full recovery back to psychosis only to bounce back to full recovery again. Recovery is not a bridge we cross and never return to. Rather, it is more like fording a stream by side-stepping on different stones. Not all of the stones are as sturdy as some of the others. Yes, we slip at times, only to regain our footing and forge ahead.

After my relapse and treatment, I returned to work and slowly readjusted to the routine. My supervisor was a compassionate man who understood my need to ease back into the job. Soon I was at full strength again, pulling my weight and achieving optimal productivity.

Overcoming Self-Stigma

In 2015, I accepted a job at another agency, the Montgomery County Hearing Voices Network (MCHVN). This was an important move for me. I was a voice hearer, but at the time hesitant to be open about that fact. Through the help of the network and working as a group facilitator for voice-hearer support groups, I was better able to understand my experience and to feel less and less stigma. In understanding hearing voices not as a symptom but as an experience, I was able to overcome feelings of inadequacy and less-than. I could openly admit I heard voices, but I was still in charge of my person. The voices did not control me. I had taken back the power the voices once held. Now I could negotiate with them. Respect them, but also have them respect me. Voices are real: I hear them, and if they say go to the door, I must decide and respond to the voices’ comment. They affect me and I affect them.

Upon further thought, I realized that my voices represented trauma in my life. My voices were representations of conflicts I have carried with me since I was a child, echoes of various traumatic events. This insight fundamentally transformed the way I heard my voices and responded to them.

My career continued, but not without further psychosis. Yes, once again, a psychotic moment appeared. Voices overtook me even though I knew they represented past and unresolved conflict. The speed and intensity of the psychosis did not permit me time to reflect and evaluate what was going on, to connect them to the prior conflicts seemingly etched into my psyche many years before. It was only with time, patience, and more time that I could clear my head. Finally, the inanity of repeatedly thinking thoughts that had no anchoring in objective reality made me realize the truth. A truth that struck like a bolt of lightning and returned me to my senses and back to sound mind. I am resilient, I concluded.

Where I Am Today

In retrospect, my life has ebbed and flowed between recovery and relapse, hope and struggle, but with support and understanding, I have healed more than once. I look forward to sharing my story of resilience as a peer specialist. I have presented and held many trainings on hearing voices, developing the curriculum to suit varying audiences. I also became an Intentional Peer Support (IPS) trainer and have successfully presented the five-day core curriculum on multiple occasions. I hold high hopes for the IPS curriculum, believing that it can help transform peer support toward more equal relationships beyond the strained power dynamic of quasi-medical peer-worker and peer-patient.

I am also an Advanced Level WRAP Facilitator, and I find the WRAP tool so valuable that I staunchly advocate that all should learn it. Finally, I have been trained in understanding trauma, and strongly argue that trauma be evaluated along with any diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

I know acceptance is my primary need. I need to accept myself for who I am, but I also need to feel acceptance from those around me. My experience has taught me that stigma is real. If people stay in the dark about psychosis, believing that it is chronic and increasingly debilitating rather than something individuals can and do recover from, this heinous stigma will continue. Recovery will only become more of a challenge, compassion will decrease, and marginalization will increase. There will be more barriers to acceptance and inclusion in greater society. Therefore, it is imperative to educate others about the myths and to demonstrate with the living proof of people like me that we can recover and lead phenomenal lives. I am open about my recovery for this reason, and I hope others will find the courage to share their journeys when the time is right.

I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone. We stand together!

33 COMMENTS

  1. You’re lucky to have found an occupational niche appropriate to your capabilities. My long acquaintance with orthomolecular medicine and its treatments make me unacceptable to supervisors and directors. Say, I’d get a depressed client with white spots on his/her nails, who doesn’t sleep well and doesn’t remember dreams- and out would come the B6 , zinc and magnesium. The pink slip would come several weeks later, when the case worker found out, no matter what the state of the client was.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Resilience is something you learn by doing.

    I couldn’t get a “job” as peer specialist, either. I told them I didn’t believe in force. One mention of human rights and that did it.

    It’s okay, there are plenty of things I can do for a job. Thank goodness I don’t have the mentality that “peer support” is my only choice, given my background. Now that I have gotten far, far away from the mental health system, I can choose for myself. Pretty much anything that suits me.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your experience David,
    there is quite powerful message here: yes people can recover from what they call ‘psychosis’, even if it may return, and then you recover again, and can lead a productive and happy life.
    I don’t find though that the current mental health system supports the person to recover, it often makes it worse, and unfortunately, at the current moment it totally falls on the individual, where the knowledge is the key to be able to advocate for oneself. Most people lack this knowledge and have no voice or choice about their ‘recovery’.

  4. You show great self-awareness and courage in your humility. Congratulations on walking your path in service to others. I agree, it is incredibly rewarding and it brings us closer to our true selves, in synch with who we really are. That is where we experience the true abundance of life.

    One sentence from your article stood out to me which gave me pause–

    “I need to accept myself for who I am, but I also need to feel acceptance from those around me.”

    To the first part, I definitely understand that from self-stigma, the first step would be self-acceptance. But even more aligned with who we are would be to celebrate and embrace who we are, beyond mere self-acceptance, to really shine our light. That is when the power of our hearts and spirits come to light in the world, and we can truly make an impact on a grand scale, from example after example influencing and inspiring more and more people to shine their light, rather than to fear it. Most people do fear their own light, given the turbulence which authentic truth can stir up in the midst of corruption, the light showing where all the shadows are lurking. But that’s a good thing, and I stand by that firmly. Speaking truth clealy and directly without fear–or in spite of it, either way–is the essence of change because it inspires action from all that triggering.

    And to the second part of that statement, well, I have a lot to say, I’ve worked with this aspect of myself quite a bit over the years, and it has been profound in how it affected my life experience, so I feel compelled to share my experience and thoughts about this here.

    This phrase about seeking acceptance from others from others brought up for me when I’ve had to traverse environments where I was a treated like an outlier, yet from all the evidence of my life, I knew I had purpose there, this was not random. While no, it does not feel good to be in a community of bashers, stigmatizers, and marginalizers (which to me, is pure bigotry), if we are doing this with purpose (to change the system), then not only is it to be expected, but we also have the opportunity to really own our power and not give a rip what others think. Totally disempowers stigma, as it is no longer relevant. Power is power.

    I know that often one is addressing a core wound of “rejection,” and of course acceptance is a much better feeling, but until we embrace ourselves for who we are and totally release the opinions of others, we’re more applying a band-aid rather than actually healing from rejection, scapegoating, or unnatural separation from our family/community of origin. Usually that’s what drives people to seek approval and acceptance in life, and it’s quite common, unfortunately, because we lose ourselves in that process.

    But we can remedy this within ourselves with deep inner work and expanding our self-awareness to include spiritual aspects of ourselves. That tells the whole story of who we are, rather than just a fragment of it.

    That was the most significant change I went through, because like most people, I was seeking approval, and it wasn’t consciously, it was just programmed into me that this is what I wanted to look for in life, that was my upbringing as well as the messages from society.

    To me, seeking approval is exactly the same as seeking acceptance. I see no difference in this because people will accept you if they “approve” of you, which is, in essence, CONDITIONAL love, which is purely manipulative and double binding, and again, more common than not.

    When I stopped seeking approval from others and stopped fretting over whether or not I am being “accepted” or “approved of” by others, and instead embodied my authentic truth, I grew by leaps and bounds and my entire life changed for the way better, to pure cteative freedom, because that is the real me, and not the product of programming. No emotional shackles from needing approval or acceptance, because I know myself and my place in the world. That is not up for judgment by others, it is mine to know and to own–between me and my God, so to speak.

    And it led me to those with whom I am copacetic, and where I no longer have to fight this particular battle because it is no longer relevent.

    Standing ones ground while facing double-binding opposition, which comes across as irrational, is extermely empowering and leads to all kinds of clarity, truth, and personal growth. That’s an entirely new reality, the essence of transformational healing, which is where “relapse” ceases to be an issue, there is no such thing in that expanded consciousness because we have integrated on the most profound level when we stand in our light of truth despite anything at all. That is tremendous strength and power, above and beyond the ego. In fact, the ego dies here, which is where “transformational” comes from.

    To expect approval from others is to give away one’s power. When we can stand in our light of truth and feel good about that because TRUTH is the light and we can feel it, then we have overcome the need for approval, and we are good with ourselves, no matter what others might say or think. That inherently translates into peace of mind, self love, and profound synchronicity in life.

    Of course an oppressive culture would want you to rely on their approval to keep you out of synch with yourself. That’s how they get you in their control, how we get programmed to appease social norms, rather than to challenge them as they should be challenged during these toxic times.

    The remedy is to have an unwavering sense of self, and to know our own hearts. That’s more powerful than any social program, which relies on undermining people’s sense of self and empowerment, through fear, judgment, marginalizing, etc., and results in such a personal transformation, that there is no relapse after this because we’re functioning in an entirely different paradigm of being, based purely on self-agency and free will, and NOT appeasing cultural norms (aka, seeking approval). That is where change will occur in the biggest way.

    With all that said, you do seem to know your heart and it is about being of service to others, with which I match, I’m purely in service to others, when I am not taking care of my own needs.

    Thank you for being an inspiration to others. That right there raises the energy of the planet and makes the world a better place in which to live. That’s the direction in which I’d like to see the world go, one in which people own their power, embrace new ways of being, and forget this blasted system which divides people up into columns of “approved” vs. “rejected.” No one, but NO ONE should have that power, and they wouldn’t if people did not go by this blatantly false and measure of humanity. That’s exactly what gives power to “stigma.”

    • Recovery is real and need not be from “mental illness”. For some of us, recovery is from the traumatic harm of the medical system misdiagnosing our physical ailments as “mental illnesses”. I also recover from bouts of inflammation – when my joints swell up and the night sweats are in full swing again, the depression hits me like a brick wall. This is an inadequately treated systemic infection, not “mental illness”. It doesn’t mean I’m not sick and don’t have to recover over and over again. For all I know the OP has something similarly *physical* happening in his body that precipitates his psychosis in a cyclical nature. Embracing notions of recovery does not equate to embracing modern notions of “mental illness”, but physical ailments can and DO have mental effects.

  5. “Recovery is not a bridge we cross and never return to. Rather, it is more like fording a stream by side-stepping on different stones. Not all of the stones are as sturdy as some of the others. Yes, we slip at times, only to regain our footing and forge ahead.”

    Then why — O why O why O why O why O why O why — use this word “recovery” and not simply say, “life”. Life is full of ups and downs. We get knocked down, we get up again. Then, we die. We get knocked down, we stay knocked down. We learn to appreciate the dirt. Dirt is good. Dirt is life. We get knocked down, then we get knocked down, again and again, over and over and over. Until finally there is no distinguishing between our lives and the shitty earth’s shitty firmament of decayed shit and decaying shit-filth. We get knocked down, and we learn that it’s a bottomless pit. O the beauty of the bottomless pit! On our ever-nearing return to the shit from whence we came we pass lots of smiley no-can-do’s, they bother us as they float upwards, ever upwards. We try telling them… all that up there, it’s all *ill*usions whose only purpose is to delay the downward drop, which, given time, is where we’re all headed, every one of us, for all of time. The smiley-narkeys never stay long enough, except to nark a bit, nark and chomp, nark and chomp, and we’re going down, down, down, and they are so fixated on upwards. Upwards up the poop-pipe the wrong way.

    “Not all of the stones are as sturdy as some of the others. Yes, we slip at times, only to –”

    Drown. We slip at times, only to drown. And our senseless bodies fill and bloat and we sink, sink, sink, endlessly sink and it gets darker, so dark, and not a shard of light, not a glimmer. And not a hand, and not an eye. And not a word. And not a sound, or a soothing sigh. Nothing, as we sink, bloated, bewildered. And not a person on this planet, not a memory, not a poem, nothing can comfort, nothing can prevent our striken bodies, our striken drowning, nothing.

    These days, schizophrenics are troubled by the oppression, the anti-poetry, the anti-thought of these hyper-positive spin-yarns. Yes, I know life is hard for you but. You know. Me. It is important that we consider me. Life is hard for everyone. Even me. Life is hard for me. I mean. Only this morning, the toaster broke. I got jam on my shirt. I caught my lonely lamentables in the zipper. Excruciate. Excruciate! My pain! You see? And I snuck a glimpse of my face looking back, quizzically, and momentarily it was: you’re a git, like the others you resent. So yes. You and your precious schizo-problems. You and your… Er, excuse me. Are you listening?

    A recovery workshop is comprised of one or more persons explaining to other persons why they should “get a life”, and that not doing so is because they are making all the wrong choices.

    Stop choosing the colour black. Stop choosing to listen to Sigur Rós’ Valtari. Stop re-reading Jude the Obscure. Stop the mulling over EM Cioran. Stop fixating on the annihilations. These are all your shitty shitty choices and they are making you a sick shitty person in a splendid era, for splendid people.

    This is not a splendid era splendidly peopled. Is it?

    Or as some would have it: All. The. Wrong. Choices. As if adding some grammatical petulance is equivalent to pathos.

    To conclude todays parable: I put together my own recovery workshop, and marketed it to the recently beareaved, and to mortuaries, and to crematoriums, and other burial/burning specialists. Take up was slow, morbidly slow. Yet once the acrid pun was out the way, I got a few bookings. There is truly nothing in life more lusciously empowering of the non-sexual passions than finding oneself afore a roomful of dead folk, lying there, arrogance abounds, neither going forwards nor backwards, neither desiring nor annulling, merely composedly oozing, and as I say, standing afore these shameless shells, and shaming the shit-for-nothing life back into them. It’s a wonderful feeling. It is. I’m telling you now it’s an out-and-out extraordinary.

    What is resilience? Resilience is being punch-drunk. It’s having your head caved in so many times you can’t feel the pain any more. Or, resilience is when it’s been so long in pain that pain is all you know and you keep on going through the pain. Because the pain has to cease at some point, right? That’s what they’ve been telling you, every chance they get, they keep on repeating the same yawny lines. Ofttimes they are singing it and passing you a song-sheet and a nudge in the back, a cold fixated stare, and you mumble along with them, dreadfully, hopelessly hanging on to whatever uninspiring moment’s rejected teaching offers you next.

    We are alone. Endlessly, unstoppably alone. It begins, as it will end. Alone, alone, alone.

  6. i enjoyed reading this…the author’s perspective should be valued. debated, perhaps, but…valued, nonetheless.

    I’m torn between thinking that many (most? all?) stories of ‘recovery’ are really psych survivor stories, edited and retold by the same Mental Health, Inc. that caused much (sometimes all…) of the troubles in the first place….and then thinking…

    well, people have always gone batshit crazy insane. Some people could come to function in their communities, some got new jobs, such as shaman or witch or…anyway, others were disposed of, left to wander the streets in never ending pain and social rejection. so…

    for now, is reforming Mental Health, inc. perhaps the best step, for most of the mad? if they say ‘hooray! you’re in recovery!,’ is it best to stop and debunk, or is it actually best to…go along with this rather absurd social theater?

    i really don’t know. and if recovery and the recovery segment of Mental Health, inc.=jobs/careers for some and also=more humane experiences in Mental Health, Inc…

    that’s a worthwhile use of time and resources, right?

  7. I just don’t see how anybody can be liberated from the role of mental patient and work as a “peer specialist”. I know the “self-help movement” has made some strides, and developed its own jargon, but this part of it I’m extremely leery about. I was finished with my “mental illness” before it began having had unwanted “treatment” forced on me against my will and wishes. No more of that, thank you. I also don’t want to have anything to do with the ‘mental health treatment system’ because, as they say, there is ‘health’ in not having anything to do with it.

  8. There is certainly no ~recovery~ from ~mental illness~ as there is no such thing as ~mental illness~.

    As far as ~recovery~ from addictions, well people who have addictions do so for a reason. People who have lives where there are not built in structural problems and a history of abuse, tend not to have addictions. This is so true that some are completely rejecting the concept of ~addiction~.

    ~Recovery~ has turned into the new version of the religious concept of Original Sin.

    • as much as I’d love to disagree with this…

      I cannot.

      “Healing” and “recovery” are part of the secular faith that I’m beginning to realize most people believe in, even when their own experiences and those of people close to them run counter to dogma drilled into us from all angles. Even what remains of the old religious institutions have been largely infiltrated by Mental Health, Inc.

      A journey out of and away from Mental Health, Inc. is a lonely experience, indeed.

  9. “Even what remains of the old religious institutions have been largely infiltrated by Mental Health, Inc.” This is very true. The religions long ago entered into a faustian deal with the “mental health” industry, the “mental health” workers have been covering up the “zipper troubles” of the religions for a long time.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo
    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/

    The religions employ the “mental health” workers. They teach the DSM in their seminary schools. If you don’t believe in the DSM, or point out the toxic nature of the psychiatric drugs, the religious employees want to “change your mind.” I had to leave my childhood religion because it has become a DSM “bible” believing religion, rather than a Holy Bible believing religion.

    But stigmatizing, poisoning, and making people ungodly ill with the psych drugs is a lot more profitable for the religious hospitals, than treating others in a manner commensurate with how you’d like to be treated. Or confessing to your religion’s “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions” systemic child abuse covering up crimes.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=xI01AlxH1uAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Thanks for sharing your story, David. I agree, “stigma is real. If people stay in the dark about psychosis, believing that it is chronic and increasingly debilitating rather than something individuals can and do recover from, this heinous stigma will continue.” And getting off the psychosis creating anticholinergic drugs is what helped me recover from the anticholinergic toxidrome poisonings, to which I was subjected.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxidrome

    Both the antidepressants and the antipsychotics are anticholinergic drugs, which can create psychosis. All doctors, including the psychiatrists, are taught this in med school.