Managing Schizophrenia and Moving Ahead with Life
With family support and proper management, Lesley is living well with schizophrenia
Photo Credit: Martin Noel
Today, Lesley lives a full and rewarding life – with a schedule that would rival even the most ambitious among us. In addition to her full-time work as an accounting technician, she is studying full time to complete her Master of Arts in counselling psychology, volunteering with several organizations, and pursuing passion projects of her own. What makes Lesley even more remarkable is how far she has come since being diagnosed with schizophrenia six years ago.
“Now that I have answers and the support I need, I am determined to make the most of every day,” she says.
In that time, Lesley has learned what works for her. Living with her dog in the detached suite of her parent’s home, she is surrounded by support. She sees her mental health team regularly to receive her medication, which is taken every month by injection, and sees her psychiatrist every three months.
Lesley continues to set new professional goals and makes time to do the things she loves outdoors – golfing, skiing and hiking. She accepts the fact that schizophrenia is a chronic illness that she will need to manage for the rest of her life. Because, as she says, she never wants to be in the place she was before her diagnosis.
“Before my diagnosis, living with the symptoms of schizophrenia, my life was a mess both emotionally and personally,” she says.
Lesley describes her first experiences with auditory hallucinations as intensely confusing. She was compelled to chase the voices – to listen to what they were telling her. Unable to determine what was real and what was not, Lesley was paranoid and behaving erratically. Knowing something was just not right, she checked herself into the hospital and was seen by a psychiatrist.
However, the voices told Lesley not to be honest with the psychiatrist. They told her that her family would be harmed if she told the doctor that the voices were there. That day, Lesley left the hospital with a prescription for sleeping pills. She would be hospitalized and discharged without a diagnosis two more times that summer. Delusions and hallucinations are typical symptoms of schizophrenia and Lesley felt compelled to withhold this information.
“I was covering up the fact that I was hearing voices,” she explains.
It would take almost six months before Lesley felt there was enough trust built between her and her care providers, that she was able to mention the voices. For Lesley, that moment was the turning point in her journey, as it enabled her psychiatrist to confirm the diagnosis of schizophrenia and determine an appropriate management strategy.
“My diagnosis was a turning point. My treatment began immediately – both counselling and medication – and my life began to improve.”
Initially, Lesley’s diagnosis was compounded by a debilitating depression. Fortunately, both she and her family recognized her need for continuous support. At the time, Lesley was living in British Columbia – an entire country away from her parent’s home in Nova Scotia. But her father, Robert, was doing his best to involve himself in Lesley’s path to mental health recovery.
“I was worried she would turn to the streets and that would be awful. I have seen it,” Robert shares.
Robert worried about Lesley facing her diagnosis alone. In their conversations, Lesley had told him that many who attended group therapy with her were facing schizophrenia alone – and many in that situation could not cope with the challenges of managing such a complex disease by themselves. Both depression and substance abuse are common co-occurring disorders.
Individuals with schizophrenia often need support with money, housing, food and clothing, as well as access to an all-encompassing management approach. Robert wanted to ensure Lesley did not fall through the cracks.
“We helped to get Lesley set up and direct her energy to finding work. She needs a lot of encouragement – she looks for reassurance that she is making headway,” Robert says.
With her parents’ support and encouragement, Lesley moved back to Nova Scotia. Having a separate residence, while also being so close to her parents, enabled her to regain some independence without feeling isolated. Achieving small goals, like daily dog walks, gave Lesley the confidence to set larger goals, like returning to full time work and pursuing her M.A. in a field deeply important to her.
“Once I was diagnosed and got the support I needed, my relationships grew, my friendships grew, my family relationships grew – I was able to work, able to study, able to golf and ski and hike and do all the things I loved to do,” she says.
Lesley’s experience with mental illness has fuelled her passion for helping others through advocacy and volunteer work for organizations such as the CureSZ Foundation and the Schizophrenia Oral History Project. Her next goal is to be a peer supporter with the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia – and that is a perfect place for someone who has emerged from a trying journey with a wealth of insights on what it takes to live well with schizophrenia. “It begins with talking to a health care professional,” she says.
If you are living with schizophrenia, talk to your doctor about treatment options to help manage your symptoms and the optimal dosing frequency for you.
For more information on schizophrenia, including its symptoms, and how it’s diagnosed and treated, visit iamentalhealth.ca.
Disclaimer: This story was created by Content Works, Healthing.ca’s commercial content division, on behalf of a Canadian research-based pharmaceutical company.