Hello, my name is Judi Chamberlin and unlike the two previous speakers, I am not a mental health professional. I was a person labeled with a serious mental health illness - I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 21 years old, and I'm a person who's recovered. So I'm an example of what we're talking about today. And I think it's very important to recognize that recovery is not something that happens to a few exceptional, privileged or lucky people ... recovery is possible for everyone who's been diagnosed with a major mental illness.
Being told that you have schizophrenia is a devastating experience. Especially when I was told this, I was also told that I would always be ill, I was going to need treatment and it was terrifying. This happened in a time in my life when lots of things were going wrong and to be told that they weren't going to get better ... that things weren't going to come together for me, was taking away hope at a time when I needed, more than anything else, people believing in me. And I needed support, I needed someone to say that there are ways out of this morass you find yourself in and I wasn't hearing that. And what compounded it was that these people were the experts. They were the ones who were supposed to have the answers. So it was a terrible blow to be told by these experts that I was never going to get better.
At the same time, and I've heard this from many, many people over the years who've been through this, there was always a part of me who didn't believe it. There was one part of me that was saying, 'Well, these people are the experts, they know what they're talking about,' and another part of me was really inside me screaming, 'No, no, no! I cannot believe that my life is over at the age of twenty-one!' I had all kinds of hopes and dreams about the future, like other people, and to be told that there wasn't any point in dreaming them, just didn't make sense to me. I needed to hold onto my dreams.
I had gone into the mental health system because I believed that there were people there, with the right kinds of training and knowledge and expertise that would help me figure out what had gone wrong in my life, and that they would be helpful in getting my life back on track. Instead, I found out, in addition to all the other problems that had brought me to that point, I now had to fight the mental health system and that's really what I did.
I've written an article called Confessions of a Non-Compliant Patient and I really believe that it's those of us who were considered the most ill, the most non-compliant, the most trouble, we're the ones who have the fastest track on getting better, because there's always that part of us saying, "No, no, no. I'm not going to take your vision of what my life is going to be. I'm going to stick to my own vision of what my life is going to be."
At that point in my life, I thought maybe I was the only person who felt like that. I didn't know that there were other people -- I hoped there were, I believed there were. I used to have a dream that sustained me that somehow I'd find other people who'd been through the same kinds of experiences and that we'd join together and do something about it. But it took me five years after I got out of the hospital to find that there was, in fact, a group of former patients that had started meeting in New York City - this was the early 70's - and it was only when I became involved in the self-help and advocacy movement that I found what I had been looking for in the mental health system but never found there. That was people who were willing to listen, willing to accept my experiences, take me at face value, not start labeling my feelings and thoughts as symptoms, and that we can do this for one another, that it was a mutual activity - it was mutual support.
Source: The Recovery Vision [PDF File]
Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Recovery, The Recovery Based Model, Hope for Schizophrenia Sufferers