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Bless the People Who Stuck Around After My Mental Illness Diagnosis

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There have been some people in my life who came in and out and left little impression on me. Although we seemed to have much in common, for whatever reason, the friendship did not take hold. I am grateful for those who came into my life and are still there. The ones who have taken the time to really get to know me. Being diagnosed with a severe mental illness is not something that attracts friendships. That is an adjustment I have had to make in my life.

The most important thing in my young adult life was my friends. During those years, while serving in the Army, I was diagnosed with a severe mental illness: schizoaffective disorder. After receiving a medical discharge from the Army and returning home, I was excited about rekindling relationships with the friends I had before I joined. I would meet them at a local bar, and I’m sure my friends could see the changes in my personality.  I was not taking my medication, and I was in the deep psychosis of full blown schizophrenia. In my chaotic mind when they turned away from me, I thought my friends were being influenced by the same voices that were inside my head.

I remember using words like “psychotic and crazy” when talking to them about how I was feeling at the time. That kind of talk scared them away. I understand why they may have deserted me. They were not experienced at dealing with someone with a mental illness, and I was not in any condition to accept any help they might have offered. I have come to understand that they were good people, but they could not stick around someone who would not even accept their help if offered.

If I could speak to those friends today, I would tell them I was not myself during that time. I was under the influence of uncontrolled delusions and hallucinations. I’m sorry I may have made them feel uncomfortable. It has been a process for me to learn to accept my illness and accept that I must be on medication for the rest of my life, not unlike some others who might be diagnosed with chronic disease. I am not mad at my friends. Life keeps all of us busy enough. I understand that having a friend with a mental illness can be very stressful.

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The ones who never left my side during that confusing and lost time in my life were my parents. The only people in my life who were doing research about my illness were my parents. They made it their goal to understand my diagnosis even when I did not. They joined a support group of other parents whose adult children were not cooperating with their treatment plan. They researched schizophrenia…. its symptoms, treatments and outcomes.  Although they could not fully understand what was going on in my mind, they would not give up on me. During those days their message to me was always the same:  “Jason, you have to take your medication.”

During the first stages of recovery, my parents were the only ones to visit me when I was at a treatment facility. I stopped being embarrassed about them and realized they were my greatest support system. While I received no phone calls or visits from my old friends, my parents were there for every visiting opportunity and called me daily. I realize I am blessed to have my parents in my life.

I tell my parents often how much I love them and thank them for all their support during the years since my initial diagnosis. Without their love, I probably would not be here today to tell this story. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for not letting me fall, for treating me with respect, for being my partners as we beat this illness together.

Because I am an honorably discharged veteran I receive all my care and treatment at the local veterans hospital. I still have the same psychologist who has worked with me from the beginning. She has shown extraordinary patience with me, listens to me when I might need a medication change.  Even though she is an extremely busy person, she always takes time for me. Besides being my psychologist, over the years we have developed a friendship, and I know she always has my best interests at heart.

Even my psychiatrist who prescribes my medication listens to me with no regards to a schedule or time slot. All the other doctors have treated me in a complete non-judgmental manner at the veterans hospital are dedicated to good care and treating me as an individual who has a brain disease. All of my professional healthcare providers are compassionate and dedicated to helping me. I am grateful to them for listening; for not seeing schizophrenia, but seeing a patient who needs help.

My recovery from schizophrenia has given me opportunities to advocate for those who also have a mental health diagnosis. In the process I have met some other amazing advocates. We have become friends and family who enjoy seeing each other grow in our own personal recoveries. I enjoy seeing how they are advocating for others on social media. They are all intelligent, honest and supportive with each other. They have added value to my life; I cherish them, and can’t wait to see what they do next.

The success of my recovery involves many factors, but primarily my success would not be possible without the ones who stood by me. It has been a combination of people who came alongside me and would not give up.

Recovery cannot be done in isolation. An essential part of treatment is a support team who will always be there to help. I am forever grateful for the ones who stuck around.

Getty image by Yevhenii Dubinko

Originally published: August 7, 2020
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