"Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery"
A Documentary Film featuring Rebecca; Topeka Writer, Consumer, & Mental Health Advocate
Interview By Jami Nichols
The documentary film Living with Schizophrenia: A Call for Hope and Recovery was directed by award-winning independent filmmaker Emily Abt, and is dedicated to the approximate two million Americans living with schizophrenia and to the people supporting their journeys of recovery. The film can be viewed at: www.hopeandrecoveryfilm.com.
The film shares three individual's life stories, all of whom have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and are enjoying rich, meaningful lives. How did it feel meeting the others featured in the film and connecting with their experiences?
Rebecca: There are actually three other people that were in the film; Ashley, Josh, and Dave who is an advocate. They all live in Georgia, so we didn't actually meet until the first screening of the film in Atlanta where we gave input to the producers. Then we all met again at the premier of the film in Washington, D.C. in May of 2011. That was when I got to meet Emily, the Director. Ashley, Josh, Emily, Dave, and I were on a speaker panel at the premier. That was just amazing and very exciting! We knew it was a big event that was important. We got to have dinner at this great restaurant on Capitol Hill called "Art & Soul." So, we've gotten to know each other well. I feel I have a common bond with them. We have all become friends and continue to communicate via Facebook, phone calls and e-mail.
Your quote in the film struck a chord when you said, "I started to accept the illness, but I saw it as what I deal with and what I have, rather than who I am." Your motto now is, "Accept and love your mind." At what point in your recovery did you realize that everyone's brains function differently from one another, and that this is an illness that is manageable?
Rebecca: I began to realize this when I was at KU Medical Center in 2007. I was working with some really cool [Medical School] Residents there who treated my illness like a medical condition, and not a character flaw. I had been hospitalized several times, and hadn't been doing well. The Residents interacted with me very calmly. They did not seem daunted by my symptoms. I would say this is when I began my journey. I began to feel differently about my illness.
You are a published author and professional blogger. How has your writing and work as an advocate and consultant enriched your life?
Rebecca: My blog has enabled me to meet people in the community who are making a difference. It's titled, "Heart of Topeka: People Who Care." I work with all types of individuals and organizations. It is encouraging to see there are so many people who are doing positive things in our community. I often write letters to the newspaper editor about public policy. When people come up and tell me they've read my work, it's encouraging to know that I can write about issues that affect so many people, and I don't have to be a politician to make an impact. That's been very empowering to know that I too can make a difference. It's been a real learning experience to be a client while also becoming an advocate. It's been exciting doing a commercial and documentary while I've had services at Valeo. It's been very rewarding because I get to see people who've impacted my life every day, and yet I get to speak out at the same time. It's been a blessing for me.
Do you feel your work has impacted the lives of others?
Rebecca: It's touching to my heart. There was a time in one of my groups a client that I didn't know yet came up and said she had seen the testimonial commercial I was in. She told me, "You told me to accept and love my mind," and she said, "I'll always remember that." I know that the things I blog about not everyone reads, but some of them do. I can tell sometimes, just by a smile, or a look of hope, that it does make a difference.
What's next for you? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Rebecca: I'm working on a book of prayers for people with mental illness. I want to talk about issues people deal with who have a psychiatric disability in daily devotionals. I'm really excited about it, and have talked with a publisher. I'm also a paid mental health consultant for Janssen Pharmaceuticals. I take project assignments as they come. My role with Janssen is to provide public education and advocate about mental health issues, not to promote products.
You had great words of encouragement at our Community Residence Program Family Day event this year. Is there anything you'd like to add for our readers?
Rebecca: The recovery process is a step-by-step journey. When any crisis arises, whether it be financial, legal, or health; know that it will pass. Know that the end of the journey doesn't have to end in pain or disappointment. Enjoy and cherish the time with your family. Celebrate the little triumphs together. Accept your journey and don't judge it.
Success Beyond Recovery
By Michael Bray
Valeo Community Residence Program Annexer
Success, I have often thought, is being in love with being alive. As I have progressed in psychiatric and psychological treatment, I have overcome suicidal feelings and tendencies. I am, in part, a mental health patient. I call myself a patient rather than a client or consumer because thinking of myself as a patient is more nurturing. I have needed and received care. I have overcome my illness, a diagnosis of schizo-affective, with secondary obsessive-compulsive disorder. I was formerly diagnosed as suicidal, and struggled with drug addiction. I am in recovery progressively.
As I have recovered, I have achieved success. In the past 11 years and more, I have gone forth from being suicidally depressed, even after 20 years in treatment, to succeed in recovery. I rose the morning of December 13, 1996, having laid on a futon in the basement of a halfway house for ten days and nights straight. I returned to my apartment and began what I think of as a winning streak of positive accomplishment.
I worked at the Menninger Clinic canteen for two years. I helped develop a consumer-run organization called Morningstar. I wrote essays about illness and recovery, one of which was published in the Menninger Perspective. I presented some of these essays at different groups and classes. I volunteered at NAMI Kansas and Freedom House, a mental health drop-in center in Topeka. I attended Washburn University and excelled studying writing and other subjects. I traveled many times to be with my loving, understanding family. I worked at a nursery in North Topeka.
As my winning streak continues, I am minimally involved in treatment. With each step I take, my treaters encourage me. This is a refreshing situation, as I have many times considered being pulled in to be punitive. Each time I meet with my case manager and med doctor, I am "cleared for takeoff." I have not been seeing a therapist for the last two and a half years.
I see my parents as coaches. They have never settled for my recovery being the end. I agree with them that recovery is a means to an end, a successful evolution in the mainstream.
I am now out of school. My job at the nursery is seasonal, from March through November. I use my free time creatively and constructively. I am involved with NAMI Kansas. I am a regular at the local coffee house. I read and write on my own. I hike four miles a day. I like to sing, play guitar and listen to music. I like to go see a movie.
Elements of success include keeping basic needs met, assertiveness, communication skills, being open to therapeutic assistance, affirming reasons to feel good about myself, motivation, energetic curiosity and spirituality.
I aspire to keep my basic needs met. I believe my basic needs are food, clothing, shelter, sleep, exercise, work and love. I have enough to eat, a nice wardrobe, a nice apartment, and a good job nine months a year. I work at staying busy creatively. I get a good night's sleep each night. I have the love of family and best friends. I love my family and friends.
I aspire to assert. When I peacefully state what I am thinking, feeling, saying and doing, I am protected from angry situations. When I react as my healthy self, I help others assert. I have learned to assert who I am.
I aspire to communicate well. I am willing to listen. I have studied writing, broadcasting, public speaking, acting and computer science. Communicating in a clear enunciating voice is therapeutic. Talking about situations helps solve problems, including mental illness.
I am open to therapeutic assistance. I use effective medication. I meet regularly with a case manager and med doctor. I talk honestly and openly with my family, friends and treaters. I annex once a week at a group home [Valeo Community Residence Program]. I appreciate therapeutic environments. I am honest about my illness.
I affirm that I am a free citizen of the United States of America with civil rights. I am loving, healthy and intelligent. I have talents that help me help others. I am a member of the Bray family. I speak and think clearly. I have succeeded with the odds against me. I am a positive element of Planet Earth. I am peaceful.
I am motivated. I am coachable. I take advice and respect others. I love to work hard. I love to achieve. I have the right to do my part. I give as well as earn and receive.
I am energetically curious. I am an avid student, learning from each experience. I love researching. I am fascinated by the puzzle this world faces. I seek knowledge and challenging experience.
I hope reading this piece helps you succeed. I hope those experiencing illness recover. I, for one, will not give up the ship. The ship is capable of smooth sailing.
I will advocate. I will do what I can to communicate assertively about the needs and accomplishments of the mental health community. I will try to be exemplary. Hopefully, we can all succeed.