What It’s Like to Live Well With Schizophrenia
“I love that because of my work I was able to really break the stigma,” says Lisa Guardiola, vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) branch in the southern suburbs of Chicago. Guardiola, with 20 million people worldwide, suffers from schizophrenia. Through her recovery and her volunteer work, she was able to inspire herself and others. “Even though I have a debilitating mental illness, I can live a productive life – a fulfilling and happy life.”
But his road to recovery took time. From an early age, Guardiola remembers showing signs of schizophrenia. She heard voices or auditory hallucinations. It was difficult for her to socialize and form relationships.
When her symptoms peaked after high school, Guardiola’s family admitted her to the hospital. It was there, in 2004, that doctors diagnosed Guardiola with paranoid schizophrenia.
Since then, Guardiola has been able to lead a successful life helping others manage the symptoms of schizophrenia. “I take a sense of pride in what I do. It gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people in the community, ”she says. “It also allowed me to share my story.”
A journey to recovery
After her first hospitalization, Guardiola participated in various support programs as she worked to achieve her goals. Here, she strengthened her coping skills, her ability to form relationships and her medication-taking routine. She has learned to use her favorite hobbies, such as drawing, journaling, and pottery, as ways to manage her symptoms.
This prepared Guardiola to go back to school and earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and another in studio art.
Guardiola has had other hospitalizations since then, but notes they don’t look like him first. “The difference between my first hospitalization and my other hospitalizations is that I am aware of myself,” she says. “I know when I’m having trouble and it lets me know when to ask for help.”
As with many other conditions, healing from schizophrenia is not linear. Even as you get better, you may still have times when your symptoms get worse. Guardiola reminds herself and others to be patient as they heal. “It didn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and time, ”she says. “Be indulgent to yourself.”
Live a good life
Carlos Larrauri has always been a good student. But when he attended college, he found himself obsessed with religious texts. He eventually began to hear voices that he believed belonged to angels. Soon after his grades started to drop, he ignored his hygiene and started showing changes too extreme to be due to the typical stress of college life.
In her early twenties, doctors in Larrauri diagnosed her with schizophrenia. Now, at the age of 33, he is a law student at the University of Michigan, a board-certified family nurse practitioner, mental health advocate, and a volunteer with NAMI. “I achieve the goals I want to achieve. With that comes self-confidence and a sense of self-determination, ”says Larrauri. “But it’s not easy. It is always a difficult journey.
A healthy routine can maximize your recovery. There are many things you can do besides taking prescribed medication and talking to therapists to manage your symptoms.
Larrauri and Guardiola both find family and peer support to help normalize their recovery. “I have a friend who also has the same lived experience,” says Larrauri. “This sense of camaraderie and connection that we get as we share our experiences is precious.”
Physical activity, a good sleep schedule, advocacy, and self-education are just a few other things Guardiola and Larrauri use to lead successful lives. They also stress the importance of understanding the condition from a scientific perspective. Getting to know schizophrenia on a biological level can help you stay grounded during recovery.
It is also important to take an active role in your mental health. “You have to take the reins of your recovery,” says Larrauri. “It’s not like having a casting where someone puts it on for a few months and they’re okay. It is not a passive recovery process. “
Guardiola stresses that it is crucial to be an advocate for your health. She urges people to ask questions about their treatment and medications. If you can learn more about your own care, you can tell your doctors what works for you and what doesn’t.
Through their self-advocacy, Larrauri and Guardiola encourage other members of their community to remain hopeful. “You have to be convinced that things can improve,” says Larrauri. “Even if there are very thick periods with fog, or very dense and difficult.”
Larrauri admits that he has linked many prejudices and stereotypes to schizophrenia despite his good knowledge of the disease. He believed his diagnosis was a death sentence and that he would never achieve his goals of living independently, creating meaningful work, or having relationships.
“There are so many misconceptions about mental illness, especially one like schizophrenia,” Larrauri says. “The stigma is very real; it is an obstacle to care and quality of life. “
Whether it’s community discrimination or self-judgment, people with schizophrenia often develop issues with self-esteem and confidence.
After her diagnosis, Guardiola did not want to be labeled. “You don’t want to narrow people down to their diagnosis,” she says. “You want to make sure that you see the person first and not the diagnosis.”
Guardiola and Larrauri believe that the best way to overcome stigma is through conversation. When people share their stories, they break down barriers to understanding mental illness.
Years ago, Guardiola barely remembers hearing about celebrities suffering from conditions like schizophrenia. Now more and more people in the media are sharing their stories. This dialogue not only normalizes these conditions, but it also shows that the people who live with them are able to overcome struggles and achieve great things.
“You are not to be feared,” says Guardiola. “You are a person, an individual. You deserve the dignity and respect of every human being. You are more than your handicap. “
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