Living with schizophrenia

Being diagnosed with schizophrenia should not rule your life

By Dr Sabina Rao

Schizophrenia is an uncommon illness. To be diagnosed with schizophrenia can be hard for both the patient and their family. For most people, the illness comes under control once the person starts taking medication. However, there are cases where the illness does not fully disappear despite medication. This affects the ability of an individual to function on a daily basis. Families at times feel that their relative is no longer the person they knew them to be.

For individuals and families, having a diagnosis of schizophrenia is challenging, and it can be devastating when the society reacts adversely. To be labelled “schizophrenic” can make one feel that one has lost their identity.

The mind of a person with schizophrenia does not work as quickly as it used to. The body does not have the reflexes it did prior to the onset of the illness, especially since the start of the medications. All these changes can affect one’s motivation.

The good news is that treatments are available; treatments are better than in the past decades and most people do well on them. Having to take medications every day can act as a reminder that all is not how it used to be. Yet, it is important, if not imperative, to notdefine oneself as being “schizophrenic” or having a mental illness.is only a part who youare and not allowing the diagnosis to rule you is very important.

Living with the illness means doing as much as one did before the diagnosis, as much as possible. If the illness is affecting your ability to think, then wait until the medications help your thinking. The medications might clear up some of the confusion associated with the illness. Your goal should be to get back to life as before.

Some of the medications that help the illness can cause weight gain and other problems – so staying healthy becomes very essential. Even if you have never exercised before, now is the time to make exercise and a healthy diet a part of your routine. Looking healthy, and feeling fit can offer a great boost to how you feel about yourself. Waking up every day and reminding yourself that you are not your illness can help you and your mind take the focus off the diagnosis.

Making a routine helps. In the initial part of the illness, your routine can include things like waking up at an appropriate time, eating healthy meals at regular intervals, taking your medication at the prescribed time, exercising and helping around the house, spending time with your family and not spending too much time by yourself. Sometimes the illness can make you not pay attention to hygiene and cleanliness. Your routine should include taking a bath daily and grooming yourself so that you look neat and clean.

Once you start to feel better and your psychiatrist says you can get back to work, work on a routine that helps you work and do all of the above activities. None of the suggestions are any different from what anyone’s routine should look like, with or without the illness, minus the medications!

There might be family members who you trust, who can help when you get confused about what is reality and what is not. You can ask for help from your family to remind you to take your medications, until it becomes a part of your routine.

Sometimes, the job that you were in before the onset of the illness might be too stressful for you. Don’t be disheartened if you are advised to change your job or are asked to find something less stressful. The change might be short-term, lasting only until you feel you can handle higher levels of stress. Many types of jobs that are available these days require that you work night shifts. This would also be something you should consider staying away from. Good sleep is a large component of your recovery and stability.

Living with schizophrenia might mean you have to learn to be more organized than before. It could mean asking for help, when you never needed to before. Acceptance of the diagnosis might help you move beyond it. Remember, acceptance does not mean that you let the diagnosis overwhelm you, or define you.

People around you might notice that you needed to be hospitalized or that you had a period when you were “not yourself”. They might want to know what happened. Frankly, it’s none of their business! You can decide who should know what happened and who does not need to know. Some people truly care and want to help and you might consider telling them. On the other hand, you might choose to tell no one other than your immediate family. This should be your choice.

Keep talking to your psychiatrist about how you feel. This would be what someone with diabetes or high blood pressure would do, staying in touch with their physician. Just like these other illnesses, there may be times that you are doing everything right, yet you don’t feel great. Let your psychiatrist know.

Being diagnosed with schizophrenia is by no means an easy thing to accept or ignore, but small steps every day, using your own strengths and that of loved ones around you will help you move ahead, and maybe beyond what you thought were your limits.

Dr Sabina Rao is a specialist grade psychiatrist, department of psychiatry, NIMHANS.