Schizophrenia and community

Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pizza Margh...

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In Schizophrenia, I believe there is more to recovery than antipsychotic medications.

“Meaning, Mastery and Membership.  Without these people go nuts,” a former anthropology professor told our class one day.  “The three m(s),”  he called them.  I remember this because it made a lot of sense to me.  I really like things that make sense.

I’m not against using medication to treat symptoms of a mental illness, but it doesn’t make sense for this to be the only treatment method used.  I’m also not referring to an immediate mental health crisis.  I’m talking about the ongoing trials and tribulations of living with the symptoms of a mental illness.

I used to plant flower gardens to attract butterflies.  Butterflies are smart.  They would come when I arrived on the scene with potted plants that hadn’t even bloomed yet.  They would wait, for days and days, while I dug holes and prepared gardens.  Many times they would drink from the sweat on my shoulders, hanging out with me while I worked.  I felt good about myself when I planted those gardens.

I found personal meaning and a sense of mastery when they came to drink nectar from the flowers they had waited for, that I planted for them, and sometimes to lay their eggs on the glorious Bronze Fennel.

Mastery refers to the experience of being capable of doing something.   We don’t have to literally be masters or experts.  Being good at something of course gives us a sense of mastery, but also believing we can learn something new or get better at something we are interested in can also be empowering this way.

Membership is about having a sense of belonging.  Getting paid for my gardens included me in the work force.  I felt too that I had a place in my community as a business owner with a service that I felt good about.

In my personal experience, with my son and other adult children who have schizophrenia, work is either minimal or absent.

I think it’s true that if you work in a career or at a job doing something you enjoy, it’s more likely you’ll be happy and successful.  This is especially important for people who struggle with a thought disorder.  There is a symptom called disorganized thinking.   It is very much the same as being in a room where nothing has a place, a lot like my son’s apartment.  It’s completely overwhelming.

It only makes sense, at least to me, that he would succeed in an area that allows for free thinking, creativity, and time for him to focus on one thing at a time.

He got fired from a pizza parlor because the manager said he took too much time making the pies.  My son said he couldn’t make them unless he could make them just right and that the people deserved better than what they were getting.  He liked to decorate the edges and make sure the crust was perfect.  This took time he said.  He was passionate about the pizzas.

He had made pizzas before, when he was only seventeen.  His pizzas were famous among the locals and with the manager for being the biggest pies in town.  Once I went there and ordered one with artichokes.  The owner, who liked my son’s enthusiasm, laughed that night saying that there weren’t any artichokes left.  They had all gone on my pizza.  My son was proud, watching me as I ate so heartily.

This symptom of disorganized thinking is the main reason my son is not making pizzas as I write, along with the fact that most managers will not allow him to create his own masterpieces.  If I had the money I’d open him a pizza place.  It would have to be known for the biggest pies in town so he could pay the overhead.

There are residential therapeutic living centers in the northern and western part of the US, along with one in the southeast that has become popular.   Some of them have farms and animals.  Some of them teach certain trades or skills.  Unfortunately they are expensive.

I honestly wish that our local neuroscience teaching hospital included a residential living place for the patients who are able to leave and expected to survive in the community.  A place where meaning, mastery and membership could be cultivated and nurtured.  I wish we expected the patients leaving the hospitals and institutions to thrive and not just survive, even as I am certain that every single day my son survives is a blessed day.

Sometimes surviving each day is the very best you can hope for.  I understand that.  Most of my life is like that.

I know it’s dreamy to imagine a place, such as a residential healing farm, as being part of modern-day America’s approach to treating mental illness, but I think it’s a reasonable and rational imagining.

People who have the money are paying and saying wonderful things about some of the therapeutic residential living centers.  Plus, modern medicine doesn’t have illnesses such as schizophrenia figured out.  Recent studies show that being a friend to a person with a mental illness can change brain chemistry.  Well, I figured that all along.

We are told by psychiatrists that schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance in the brain and that antipsychotics are the only answer.  We are told schizophrenia is a lifetime brain disease.  This may all be true, but it doesn’t mean these are laws written in stone or that they apply to every individual diagnosed.

I think there is more to treatment, healing and rehabilitation than medication alone.

Meaning, Mastery and Membership.  We all need a healthy dose of each.


Thank you for visiting my blog.

I’m a just a mother with a few dreamy dreams.

I am not a doctor, therapist or medical professional of any kind.  I am not attempting to give advice about treatment of a mental illness.

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