Strengthened by Schizophrenia - Michael Allen's story

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - March 1999

The tragedy of schizophrenia is not in the experience itself, but that psychiatry misrepresents what is known about schizophrenia. Contrary to assertions by psychiatrists, "schizophrenia" is not a brain disease that leads to slow, progressive deterioration. Research shows that over one third of the young people who have an episode fully recover and do so without medications. Another third achieve very good social recovery. In general the condition does not progress more after five years from its outbreak but, rather, improves. A small percentage of people not only fully recover, but go on to become even better than before the episode. Poor outcomes are usually attributed to the effects of hospitalization and medications.

Michael Allen contacted me through my "Successful Schizophrenia" web site. He tells an inspiring story about how he rejected the gloomy, discouraging prognosis given to him by his psychiatrist. He has given me permission to publish his story here:

Michael says:

To all those survivors and thrivers out there in this beautiful world. I am compelled to share with you my experiences in the mental health field.

First of all, if I would have stayed in my doctors care, I'd still be in the mental health system surviving day to day only with the aid of "chemical straight-jackets" (psychotropics). I had the courage, the strength and the wisdom to know when and how to go off the Thorazine. When I told the psychiatrist I was off the medicine, he told me that there was a 90% chance that I would end up in the hospital again. So I told him that meant there was a 10% chance that I wouldn't. He disagreed and said not exactly. I never went back and every day is a celebration of my right to choose mental health. Yoga, vegetarian lifestyle, proper sleep, no artificial stimulants, good relationships with friends, co-workers and neighbors and a strong faith in Jesus Christ have allowed me to fully participate in life once again.

When I was 18 years old, my worst fears came true. I lost control of my thinking. I developed, gradually over a 5 year period, depression as a result of hypoglycemia which manifested itself in psychotic behavior. I voluntary checked myself in for help as life became dark and horribly unbearable. The sounds and actual physical sensation of insects gnawing at my brain are what finally drove me to the mental institution Jan. 1, 1987.

Life has been a natural progression to wholeness ever since. I owe all my recover and documented remission (circa 1993) to my faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am so happy I had the strength and confidence to stop taking the Thorazine the psychiatrist demanded that I could never stop taking. It's been just about 7 years without any legal mind altering substance.

I have learned many things through the 5-6 years of mental health system life-style. I want to help people choose to "want to get better, get whole, get back to living" Sometimes I feel that my purpose in a career is to motivate those people who "want" to get healthy. Health is a choice. I see so many people give up on themselves because of what other people say. I think a lot of it has to do with a person's level of maturity and function prior to the onset of mental illness. I don't think it takes any magic to become healthy. People just need to want it bad enough and live by principles of good health.

I work between 48 to 58 hours a week and spend a lot of time with my fiancee. I've studied for many years the different facets of Jungian Psychology. Most of my formal education with the exception of some art and general education classes has been self taught. I have a small business that started last May and am gradually building it up. My plans with the business ( it's a novelty product and design business--mostly bookmarks and refrigerator magnets) are to teach people with mental health issues how to design and also manufacture novelty products. I have a certificate in the trade of offset printing and screen printing (tee-shirts, garments, etc.---also custom computerized embroidery.) By learning the software and using a digital camera & scanner on my own, I know how to complete an order from the beginning of taking one until the product is in the hands of the customer.

It would be easy to just get married and live a fairly comfortable life with children and certain luxuries but I'd be neglecting the work of my soul and die that much more lifeless. I believe that there are five stages in human development 1. Innocence, 2. Victimhood 3. Victorhood 4. Teacher and 5. Master. I'm a strong 3 looking to express and learn how to be the best teacher I can be.

One key symptom of schizophrenia, in many cases, is a lack of continuity between thoughts, emotions, words, and actions. As I began to experience the onset of this illness, I became aware that there was no central person in me conducting the once beautiful song of my life. Gradually, I became more withdrawn and isolated, while feeling insecure about my abilities to contribute to a world that was increasingly becoming foreign, dark and distorted. I was tripping over my thoughts, choking on emotions, speaking anything that would come to my tongue without respect to the situation and feeling my body going numb and sleepless.

After 5 years of therapy and Thorazine, I knew the psychiatric community was not healing me. I was stabilized and aware of my will yet I did not feel alive and whole. I needed to reconnect to the conductor of my life's song. Through prayer, nutritious food, exercising, employment and community involvement, I noticed the person I once knew before the hospital was slowly being revived. The many integral notes, rhythms and melodies of my life were being orchestrated in harmony once again. My emotions are in tune with my thinking in the here and now. My words speak truthfully without the delusions that once haunted me. My actions keep time with the will of the conductor in me.

Since I've been out of the community mental health system (cystem) and off medications for 7 years now, I am so blessed with a strong will that effectively deals and utilizes stressful situations that define the song within me. Prior to the illness, I was very shy, insecure and fragmented searching for the person in charge of conducting the score of my thoughts, emotions and actions. It was through the process of schizophrenia that lead me to a higher knowledge of wholeness. This world can knock us down and destroy us, or we can choose to learn from adversity and change and thrive becoming one with ourselves and the life around us.

Email Michael Allen.

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