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Stories of Recovery, Voices of Hope

As part of our Countdown to Recovery year-end campaign, we asked you to submit stories of your experiences to help let others know that there is hope, that recovery is an attainable goal for many. Throughout the upcoming months we will publish new stories in each e-Advocate to help inspire courage in individuals and families impacted by mental illness.

My Journey of Recovery

By Jill Eley

In December 1990, it all started with needing less and less sleep, having boundless energy and never ending ideas. This “productive” period soon gave way to elation and grandiosity. Then, I was overcome with paranoia and delusions. I had experienced my first psychotic break from reality. I called my dad in the middle of the night.

He gently urged me to calm down and try to get some sleep. I called again and again. Thankfully, my stepmother had an educational background in mental health. She knew a good counselor whom she contacted immediately. She and my dad took me to the emergency room. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward. I hid in the backseat of my car until my parents could get to me. I was convinced my delusions were real and that my life was in danger. I spent a month in the psych ward. I remember crying alone in my room on Christmas Day.

Finding the right diagnosis, doctor, counselor, medication and support group has been a 20 year process.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the early years of my recovery, I remember saying to my dad “I wish there was a support group for what I have”. Being the problem-solving, action-taking civil engineer that he was, he said “Well, start one.” I was not in a position to start a group, but my psychologist gave me a brochure for Emotions Anonymous.  This is my 16th year of membership in EA. It helps me immensely by teaching me practical coping tools for everyday life and reminding me that I am not alone in my situation. I had heard about Schizophrenics Anonymous and was attracted to it due to the frequent paranoia and delusions I experience with my condition. But, my counselor said SA would make me feel “normal”, so I never tried it. I did, however, go to a group called Bipolar Bears. In this group, I learned a lot about medications. I even got an idea for using two mood stabilizers in tandem. I presented the idea to my doctor and am still on this medication combination today.

In 2002, my diagnosis was changed to schizoaffective disorder. This diagnosis seemed more appropriate as I have seemed to struggle a bit more with thought disorder (paranoia and delusions) than mood disturbances. Whenever I was hospitalized, it seemed I felt more comfortable spending time with other patients who were diagnosed with schizophrenia. I could relate to them and they seemed like kindred spirits. I have experienced hallucinations (visual, auditory and olfactory) and have heard voices for years and years, even though I didn’t realize until the last few years that they were in fact voices. I often hear several voices at once and have learned to tell them to “stop” one at a time, over and over. Sometimes they listen, but most of the time I need a medication adjustment to quiet my mind. I keep extra meds with me so I can take them throughout the day as needed in addition to my regular doses at night.

I am a born-again Christian and am grateful that my pastor referred me to my current psychiatrist and social worker/Biblical counselor. My doctor sees me for medication management and is a highly respected psychiatrist in the central Ohio area. My social worker counsels me, gives me information and assists with problem-solving and relationship building.  He also opens the Bible and prays with me in my sessions.  I am maturing as a Christian and trusting in God, relying on, leaning on and being confident in Him, more and more every day.

I am thankful for the resources that God provides. These gifts include medications, doctors, social workers/counselors, support groups and friends/family. Most recently, I decided to finally go to Schizophrenics Anonymous after all these years. I attended my first meeting in early January. I was greeted by many warm and helpful people. I felt so at home with them, that I even went out for coffee and dinner with them after my very first meeting! The person who had led the meeting gave me a book to take home with me along with a phone list to use in between meetings. I do not know why I had waited so long to go! This group specifically addresses my diagnosis and set of challenges.

Finding the right doctor, counselor, medication combination and support group is most definitely a process that takes time, patience and persistent action.  Never give up! You are worth the effort it takes to achieve mental health for yourself. There are many resources out there. Learn what they are, find out the details and take a risk and try them out. Organizations like NAMI are invaluable in finding validation for your experience and direction for your journey.