My first three psychotic episodes were between 1994 and 1997 when I was a teenager and young man. My fourth and most severe episode happened in 2016 when I was 39. During that three-month period, I took a medical leave from work. I had two stints in the hospital for psychiatric care, one for 12 days and one for nine days a month later.
Based on my experience, here are the five strategies that helped me cope with the recovery stages of schizoaffective disorder.
Avoid what-if mentalities
In my opinion, a what-if mentality can lead to a depressive state. It’s easy for people to get in that mindset. For me, it’s what if I never got sick? After each episode, my mind would drift to alternate scenarios that were just fantasy. On my fourth episode in 2016, I thought what if I didn’t lose three months of work, what if I didn’t abuse marijuana and alcohol leading to that relapse? The list could go on.
During that episode I was severely manic, so it took me a long time to grasp that my delusional what-ifs during the episode were not true. Once I realized they weren’t true, I felt even worse. That’s why I think it’s best to curb fantastical thinking of what one’s life would have been without mental illness, especially when trying to recover from an episode.
Don’t compare yourself to others
It’s good to acknowledge being different from the general public, but it’s also important to realize mental illness varies from individual to individual. You might talk to people who have mental illness and don’t take medication or don’t need it. With a comparing mindset, it will always feel like there are people doing better than you. Rather than comparing, focus on your own health and make sure your needs are being met even if they are different from someone else’s.
Be patient with yourself and those around you
When you have schizoaffective disorder, you are bound to make mistakes. During my 2016 episode, I put stress on my parents and family. I also made a fool of myself on social media.
In recovery, realize it’s okay if you mess up and move on.
Also, be patient with your family and friends. They may make suggestions you are not ready for. It’s good to acknowledge they care and evaluate their feedback, but only make decisions you are comfortable with.
Make a long-term goal to help others
I want to help other people with mental illness. In New York City, I encounter people with mental illness every day. So far, I have not done much of anything except occasionally have conversations with them. But I plan to change that when I’m ready by getting more involved with NAMI.
Set goals but realize progress is slow
It’s important to set goals, but you also need logical baby steps for how to achieve them.—unlike a manic idea when you feel like it needs to happen right away. All goals take time and discipline to achieve. And it’s okay if some goals never get accomplished as long as the pursuit inspires the person reaching for it.
Three years after my last psychotic episode, I finally feel like I’m making progress. I’m eating a plant-based diet, I’m sober, and despite some injuries, I’m skateboarding more. I’m working on a novel. My work as a library manager of a public library is going well. I got a car that makes commuting easier. It took time to find the right coping strategies and medication, and to heal, but I’m getting there.
Matthew Allison is a writer, skateboard enthusiast and manages a public library. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at age 17. As a kid, he moved around a few times but has lived and worked in NYC for over 15 years. His blog is the-mallison.com.