Sunday, April 5, 2009
Last week, I spent three days at a schizophrenia conference listening to some of the smartest people in the world, and I have the autograph of a Nobel Laureate (Arvid Carlsson) to prove it.
But the people I learn from the most is you - patients and loved ones - and I have this month's latest survey to prove it.
"What is holding you back most in your recovery?" I asked you over the month of March. Readers were free to check off as many of the nine answers as they wished. (169 respondents accounted for 490 answers, averaging 2.9 answers per person.) You could have knocked me over with a feather with the results:
Only 35 percent of you checked off, "Unresolved illness symptoms." In other words, a full 65 percent of you felt that your illness no longer posed an obstacle to your recovery.
Does this mean psychiatry has a high success rate? Um ... not exactly. In my January survey, only 14 percent of you told me that you "were back to where [you] wanted to be or better than [you] ever could have imagined."
What is going on here? Could it be that we have other stuff we need to deal with? This is where it gets interesting:
Fifty percent of you (representing by far the largest total) responded that the thing holding you back the most is "fears/difficulties in dealing with people." Very closely related (at 35 percent) is "bad living/work/etc" situation.
Clearly, we have major interpersonal issues that need addressing. Without doubt, our respective illnesses play havoc with our ability to get along with people. But you are telling me that people problems have taken on a life of their own, and it's not hard to imagine why.
Often, we can't go back to our old relationships or work. As we become isolated and cut off, our social skills atrophy. We lose confidence. We are overwhelmed.
Half of you are telling me that you see the world as a threatening and hostile place, and this does not bode well for recovery. We tend to judge personal success by how well we get along with others. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to help us. But there exists a lot of therapeutic and social help. You have identified this issue as your top priority. Please do not hesitate to act.
Also related to this (at 32 percent) is "inability to manage fears, impulses, etc apparently unrelated to your illness." Maybe you don't attribute, say, anger, to your illness. Maybe you talk too much or are afraid to speak up. Maybe going with an irrational thought makes you feel good. These are common problems that the general population also experiences, but you have added this twist - your sense of lack of control is holding as many of you back in your recovery as unresolved illness symptoms.
Your clinician may have overlooked all this, but clearly you haven't. You know what you need to do.
We all have "bad personal habits" (even those with good personal habits), but 36 percent of you felt they were impeding your progress. Likewise, 30 percent of you report that "making excuses" constitutes a major problem.
Congratulations at setting out a recovery agenda: You need to change; no excuses. But do keep in mind: Change does not come easy. Set modest goals, forgive yourself when you mess up, and make full use of peer and professional support.
Finally: Meds side effects (24 percent), addictions (21 percent), and physical ailments (21 percent).
Take home message: There is no such thing as "just depression," "just bipolar," "just anxiety," and so on. A lot of other stuff is going on. Whether wrapped in your illness or independent of it, it all needs to be addressed, because if it isn't - recovery is simply not going to happen
I can say this with great authority, because this is what you - my valued readers - have told me. Be smart. Live well ...
Previous survey results:
Have Our Treatments and Therapies Failed Us?
Meds and Wellness: Like Rolling a Rock Uphill?