I’ve learned more about recovery from severe mental illness in the last two months than during the approximate ten years since my original diagnosis, hospitalization, and crisis intervention in New York City for bi-polar 1 disorder, acute stress, and anxiety.
When first diagnosed, I was provided only treatment to alleviate my symptoms but never given the rehabilitation therapy to help me re-assimilate into my post-diagnosis life. In the initial phase of my recovery, I spent five days in the hospital taking medications, talking with psychiatrists and social workers, and attending group therapy sessions. The group therapy sessions consisted of licensed and non-licensed personnel facilitating group sessions discussing the way we felt and allowing everyone to participate in the process of fellow consumer’s issues. There was also an art therapy session which was designed to help us get our problems out by drawing them onto a piece of paper. The hospital discharged me with my prescriptions in hand and sent me on my way back to my extremely stressful job (owner of a clothing manufactures company). None of the staff informed me of useful rehabilitation practices, wellness programs, twelve step programs, or guided me to local community assistance in my home state, New Jersey. All of which, with the exception of the twelve step program, I have been taught in the last two months. My perception, at the time, was the only plan the hospital was concerned about was to process me through the system and make sure I had a follow up appointment with a psychiatrist.
When I was released I started receiving the services of a psychiatrist who wrote my prescriptions and spent an hour with me discussing my present and past emotional problems. I would spend forty-four minutes talking about whatever I chose and she would talk for one minute. I would spend the next five years and thousand of dollars to eventually be instructed and convinced that I should apply for “total disability”. During those five years my physical health deteriorated. I gained 30 pounds, developed psoriasis, sleep apnea, shingles, increased panic attacks, and my overall physical condition put me at a high risk for coronary heart disease. My personal environment would greatly worsen as well. I lost my marriage, finances, self esteem, friends, occupation and finally my children’s respect. All of my dreams were shattered. I would just sit and loop negative thoughts that would encourage me to own my diagnosis. My mom wrote the following poem months before her suicide that kept circling in my mind:
I once called you “friend”
I once employed you
You are the user
Sheri Zinn (1972)
I would continue on my recovery path for the next five years with varying successes and failures. I would go on and off medication, try every holistic approach I could find, and cycle from hypo-mania to depression every few months. This entire ebb and flow of recovery that I was enduring was best illustrated by Patricia E. Deegan, “It is not a perfectly linear process. At times our course is erratic, and we falter, slide back, regroup and start again.”
On April 17th, 2009, I once again was released from an inpatient hospital in New York City without any treatment or rehabilitation plan. I immediately sought refuge in my marijuana addiction and began to feel the side-effects of the medications that were given to me; tremors, depression, inability to focus, and loss of appetite. This resulted in my hitting rock bottom ten days later. I called a 24 hour warm line (uncertified volunteers for casual conversation) and checked myself into an intensive outpatient program (IOP) that would assign a case management team (psychiatrist, CSW, and an intern) to oversee my treatment. Most of the treatment, once again, was focusing more on treating my symptoms rather than the process of rehabilitating me. The major positive influence of the program was the introduction of the twelve step program (Alcohol Anonymous) and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). These programs were instrumental in helping me accept my diagnosis and most importantly, I accepted for the first time the dual diagnosis that I was an addict as well.
I started to feel hope as I began to get better. “Hope is the turning point that must quickly be followed by the willingness to act” Patricia E. Deegan (1988). I began to explore ways to rebuild my life. Patricia Deegan’s article (1988) sites a quote from (Knowles, 1986) based on her understanding of how to rebuild your life that I have embraced these past months. “I am hopeful”; “I am willing to try”; and “I discover that I can do” (Deegan, 1988. p. ?)
In September of 2010 I registered for college, took a 32 hour intensive course on Wellness Coaching Process/Method (with Peggy Swarbrick, Michelle Zechner, John Garafano, Ann Murphy, Amy Spagnolo-UMDNJ-SHRP & CSPN) and auditioned for and got the part in a college play. I have completed or am doing all that I have set out to do two months into the semester with a great deal of success. I certainly have had to deal with the stress of putting too much on my plate, but I am currently coping with these challenges with the help of my support team, teachers’ assistance, and a better overall wellness plan which includes eating better, exercising, helping others, praying, taking medication, and resting when possible.
“Recovery, as we currently understand it, involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic events of mental illness”. William A. Anthony (1993). For now, “I have found my purpose in my life and now it is I who own my time once again”. Jeff Zinn