I remember after the first time I was hospitalized, when I was in the depths of my first post-psychotic depression, the tremendous weight that I felt. I was so depressed, that I could barely do anything. My body was so frail and hyper-sensitive, that even taking a shower was difficult for me. The changes in temperature were unbearably uncomfortable, and the task felt like a huge burden that I had to push through every time.
During that period I spent a couple of months mostly lying in bed. The powerlessness, hopelessness, and despair that I experienced were indescribable, and I don’t thing anyone could imagine what it’s like without having gone through it. I don’t wish that upon anyone. One of the hardest parts was the loss of my sense of self. Prior to that, I had identified myself as someone who was very driven, a high achiever (namely in academics), and someone with a lot of personal power. Everything that the ego identifies with, a job title, influence, a nice physical appearance, and material possessions, etc., were stripped from me.
I was so angry about not being able to do the little things that I once could, such as setting a goal for myself and following through on it. My friends were moving onward and upward, while I was stuck in the mud. I was insulted by some of the advice that my therapists gave me, such as “set a little goal for the day, like going for a five minute walk, and just follow through on it.” I had rowed heavy weight crew for hours a day at an ivy league school, and now my aspiration was a five-minute walk? It was hard for me to accept.
One of the “blessings in disguise” of an illness like schizoaffective disorder, is that the suffering breaks down the ego. There are two ways to grow in this life, through suffering, or through proactive choice. While growing through proactive choice is the ideal way, suffering does the trick too. It teaches us to let go, and to discover what really matters in life, as long as we are willing. The personal growth that I experienced from having an illness has been an incredible gift for me.
While I don’t believe that we should lower our expectations for our lives (which therapists also told me), I do believe that taking it day-by-day, and doing a little bit each day, is helpful advice. A trick that I learned from eating a healthy diet is to add in the good food as much as possible, and the bad food will fall away. I think this also applies to life. If we add in the positive actions and habits, as much as we can each day, the bad habits will fall away. Little by little, over time, the momentum builds, and our lives begin to shift in a positive direction.