Many people report that sharing experiences is a vital aspect of therapy. In addition to some form of medication, talk therapy has been shown to increase the effectiveness and success of treatment. NAMI offers programs to individuals living with mental illness (NAMI Peer-to-Peer) and their families (NAMI Family-to-Family) to help provide a setting not only for education about mental illness but a place to share their thoughts and experiences.
Sometimes NAMI will ask its members to share stories about their lives and how they handle living with mental illness. Below is a story from Pat Quinn, who has lived with schizophrenia for more than 20 years. Pat tells a story a story of hope and recovery and how he was able to gain control of his illness and of his life.
Pat Quinn's Story
By Pat Quinn
I remember when I was about 14 or 15 years of age, I had the world by the tail. I was on the basketball team. My classmates were all my friends. I was enjoying my life because it was the way I thought life was supposed to be. The world was there for me to grab and I was going to grab it.
Flash forward a few years to a very disturbed young man who was suddenly hit with delusions, paranoia and hallucinations. My family and I had no idea what was going on with me. Following my disastrous first quarter at Ohio State University, my life revolved around hospitals, doctors, a search for a proper diagnosis and the medication that would allow me to function without the horrible side effects that the old antipsychotics caused for me. My former friends all abandoned me except one. My recovery began with the total support of my family. With a large family (three brothers and three sisters), that meant a lot of support.
Although there was a time when I never thought I would hear myself say this, I see my illness as a learning experience. It has given me a compassion for other people's pain and the gift of putting my own pain in perspective. It has enabled me to bring some joy into some lives that, otherwise, I would not have been able to touch.
As Americans, we have a preconceived idea of recovery. When we are young, we fall off our bike and scrape our knee or elbow and what do we do? Run and tell Mom. Mom applies a little Neosporin and maybe a band-aid and pretty soon we are good as new. When we are teenagers we develop a headache from too much school work-what do we do? Take an aspirin, right? And pretty soon we are as good as new. When Dad falls and breaks an arm, there is a cast and maybe some surgery but within a relatively short amount of time, Dad is back running the farm.
One of the most difficult challenges faced by an individual living with mental illness and his family is to change this concept of recovery. Recovery from mental illness is a long and difficult process.
There were three essential elements to my journey of recovery: one, getting out of my bedroom and socializing, two, getting on the right medication and three, using my dad in helping with my faulty perception of reality. It is very important for someone with my illness to find a person they can trust, and believe, to give them a reality check.
I believe God plays an important role in my recovery. God says in Jeremiah 29, "I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for your disaster, plans to give you a future full of hope. Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to Me and I will answer you .You will seek Me and you will find Me and I will restore your fortunes." He answers in Isaiah 30. "The Lord will make you go through hard times, but He Himself will be there to teach you, and you will not need to search for Him anymore, if you wander off the road to the right or the left, you will hear His voice behind you saying, here is the road, follow it." These words of scripture give me hope and strength. God has a plan for my life.
The caring professionals at a mental health services organization have been a great help to me. I have learned to have a sense of humor concerning my illness. I once asked a mental health professional, "Do you know which Christmas song is a schizophrenic's favorite?" The answer-"Do you hear what I hear?" I am a firm believer that work raises your self esteem and fattens your pocketbook. I lead a support group three times a week. This time I hope they don't keep me. I also work at Beacon Place, write articles for mental health newsletters and talk to law enforcement about NAMI's CIT programs.
Many people think when school is out, education ends. Not true! Education continues every moment you are alive! I have a degree in Social Work from Zane State College and a Specialized Study Degree from Ohio University, both associates. I help mom in my spare time, which gave me the incentive to move out! I have lived in my own apartment for 10 years.
Pearl S. Buck stated, "We learn as much from sorrow as from joy, as much from illness as from health, from handicap as from advantage-and, indeed, perhaps more."
I tell you today that there is hope. With new medications, therapy, the will to recover and the immense support of my family, I am reclaiming my life. It hasn't been easy and there is still a long bumpy road ahead, but I am determined to completely take control of this illness. I take my medication every day. I am certainly not healed, and my life is not perfect, but I run the illness, the illness does not run me.
Pat Quinn and his family have formed a band called the Quinn Family Singers. Every year they hold a concert, the Quinn Family Bash, to raise awareness of mental illness and the hope of recovery. This is its eleventh year. If you are in the Columbus, Ohio area, Pat and his family would like to extend an invitation to you to attend on Friday, April 8, in Zanesville, Ohio. For more information, check out the Quinn Family Bash Facebook page.