Mental Health Recovery Coordinator,


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How would you react if you suddenly had a serious mental illness at the age of 18 and could no longer control your own thoughts?

This is what happened to me and I'm curious to know how you all would deal with it. Keep in mind that it's a change for the rest of your life and the best you can do is manage it. It took over 20 years for me to get the illness under control with medication. Up until that point I heard voices for 13 of those years, was psychotic on a regular basis , depressed most of the time and isolated. I lost friends, relatives, my dignity and my place in society. It could land on your doorstep at any time and there is no going back, it becomes a part of your life. Over 20% of the population has a mental illness yet you treat us as if we were the only one. I've been disrespected, degraded, lied about and distanced from society. Now I have overcome the illness, I have no symptoms but have not forgetten the early days. I work fulltime now teaching doctors, residents, med students and people with an illness about the recovery model. I do a lot of public speaking and give trainings on the subject and I wonder what those who condemed me for having an illness would do if they got one themselves. The media has given us a very bad image and most people believe it, maybe here you can learn some truth. My passion in life is to help as many people as I can and teach the rest the truth about this subject. If you haven't guessed yet I have schizophrenia and it has been a teacher in my life. I will try to answer any questions any of you may have but it may take some time as I am very busy with work.

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    Oct 5 2011: One of the reasons such unreasonable fear of mental illnesses has taken over our societies is that we have put mental illnesses into a special category other than physiological disease. If your kidney does not work properly it does not produce its normal products- urine, blood pressure regulation, creatin clearance etc. properly and people accept that you are just sick and need help from medication and the medical establishment. Every organ has a set of outputs. Somewhere along the line we seem to have separated the physical brain into moral issues and superstitions. The brain is a physical organ. When something interferes with its proper function the disease is organic in nature- not a function of morality. People with mental illnesses have a physical illness and I wonder why we stereotype it and classify it differently. IN this case the very words we use really do damage.
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      Oct 6 2011: Debra,
      Your comment is so incredibly sensible, logical, understanding, realistic and true. The brain is a physical organ, and suseptible to illnesses and damage, just like all other organs. It really bugs me when people bring morals, spirituality and religious beliefs into a discussion about mental challenges, and it can, as you say, "do damage".
      Thanks for your wise and insightful comment:>)
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    Oct 5 2011: I can relate but from a different perspective. At eighteen, I had been involved with civil rights and anti-war efforts for almost 4 years. What my dis ease grew out of an understanding that we lived in the age of absurdity (Camus, Sartre and all) and we seem to only think from our heads and never our hearts. Thus the decades of moving away from any sense of wisdom and collectively towards greed and power. What I'm saying is better said in R. D. Laing's book, "The politics of experience", or David Orr's" Earth in Mind". Both deeply question our definitions of "normal" or healthy behavior in the face of what's true.

    If your not depressed, your not paying attention.
  • Oct 4 2011: Hi Colleen

    Stigma is one of the biggest barriers to recovery and if people understood that maybe they would be less likely to judge. It makes people feel bad about themselves and stands in the way of their getting well. They feel guilt and shame when they should not, they are made to feel as if it is a charactor flaw.
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      Oct 4 2011: I understand, and I'm glad you are helping to educate us.
      Thank you for your kindness, understanding, energy and willingness to speak about this.
      • Oct 4 2011: Hi Colleen
        It's my pleasure, I hope that one day others like me will not have to go through what myself and others like me are going through.
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          Oct 4 2011: I hope for the same thing James, and it is with the kind of education you are providing that we will learn how to act differently toward people who are facing this life challenge. Although I say I understand what you are saying, I cannot even begin to understand how it feels to be ostracized for something over which you have no control.

          Do you feel that your teaching is part of your healing? Do you feel that opinions are changing at all?
      • Oct 4 2011: Hi Colleen
        I think it's working but not fast enough and yes teaching is a big part of my healing. It helps me to let people know that I'm just like them where they might not give me the chance otherwise.
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          Oct 4 2011: I think it's working too James, and change takes patient with yourself my friend:>)
          Thank you for giving us the chance to know you better. It is a gift to all of us.

          I asked about healing, because my father was a very violent, abusive man, and nobody believed what went on in our home because he appeared to be very kind and charming outside the home. He also was a law enforcement officer, was supported by that dysfunctional system, and nobody believed that he would beat or violate his family in any way.

          For many years, I felt "different"...stigmatized because I came from a very disfunctional family. I thought everyone elses family was like the "Brady Bunch"...calm, peaceful, always having fun and loving.

          As an adult, I was invited to speak at the Univ. of Vt. on the topic of violence and abuse in relationships. I also studied and explored the topic extensively and worked with victims of violence, as well as offenders. All of this process was healing for me, and helped decrease the stigma I carried for a long time.

          I sincerely hope you are experiencing a similar feeling about yourself with the teaching process.
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    Oct 3 2011: James, I would surely react with great fear. I cannot imagine anything so frightening as to be unable to rely on your own mind. I could only hope that someone somewhere would have compassion upon me and help me to get the meds I needed.
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    Oct 3 2011: Over 20%? Is chronic depression considered a mental illness? Is ADHD considered a mental illness? Does that including mild forms of autism? Actually, if it was including mild forms of autism, then I suspect it would be far higher.

    Could the problem of understanding be caused to a mis categorization? It's difficult to sympathize on the one side, when others are diagnosed with a mental disorder when they appear and act no different then anyone else in society. We need to redefine our definition of "normal". Also, could there be an over exposure and dilution of what we call a "mental illness"? It seems that the term is being used every couple of days, and yet we are unable to determine when someone is functioning with the illness, or the illness is controlling them. Most of the diagnoses end up being based off of the doctors judgment. Where is the line drawn, that defines someone as having a mental disorder? This problem is exposed at every court proceedings where mental illness is being used as an excuse. The prosecution finds a doctor that says "no", while the defense is able to find a doctor that says "yes".

    And I completely agree that the media has given both mental illness, and physical disabilities a very bad image.
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      Oct 4 2011: There is a whole variety of mental disorders with no way to categorize them in a proper way.
      Some brain dysfunction of a kind works out different in different people whether they are male female or the character of any person has to be add to it.
      Two of my children have those handicaps and my daughter has been diagnosed 6 times over for another disease. My son has schizophrenia but doesn't think of himself that way because he has known himself that way from birth. It is inconceivable for me that he can be cured in anyway. In that he is incomparable with James that claims to have overcome this.
      I think that we need another approach to mental disabilities and have stop giving them names.
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        Oct 4 2011: I agree Frans, that there are many factors involved. Have you looked at the site James recommends? There are several videos, that are very informative. Apparently, many people can manage this dis-ease with medication and other practices.
        • Oct 4 2011: Thank you Colleen and it looks to me as if your done great with your obsticle also.
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          Oct 4 2011: Thanks Colleen,
          I haven't looked into them yet.

          Both children have medicational treatments and my daughters is as good as anyone because of this. For my son it is a way to keep life livable. He doesn't suffer psychoses anymore and is functioning within his limitations very well. He is almost 40 years of age now and it isn't 10 years now before medication became an acceptable option.

          Before that we have suffered a lot of psychology.
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          Oct 4 2011: I'v looked at the website a little.
          The video's contain a lot of familiar stuff.
          Maybe I've seen it all and lived it all and worse.
          I'm grateful though that we live better times now.
      • Oct 4 2011: Hi Frans
        Thank you for your comment. I just wanted to agree with you and think we need to move beyond labels. We have started a public service campaign in Pittsburgh called Drop the Labels. Actually I started it but we don't have it up yet, I hope it will help. I also wanted to say that one of the symptoms of this illness is a lack of insight into the illness, people don't believe they have it and maybe that is what your son is having problems with, I hope he gets better. Take care.

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          Oct 4 2011: Hi James,
          Yes, I'm doing good with my "obsticle" too:>)

          Although I can maybe relate a little bit to the uncertainty, frustration, and confusion, I cannot relate to the disrespect and degrading attitude of members of our society, and that feels very sad to me. To think of how many people in our world are not understood and accepted for having an illness they cannot control is mind boggling. My challenge was an accident, so it was understood more than your challenge, and I was accepted and loved in that condition, which no doubt greatly contributed to the healing process. We need to give that love and consideration to those we do not understand. We DEFINITLY need to move beyond labels. Thanks for helping all of us understand that labels and non-acceptance is not helping our society to evolve in a beneficial way.
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        Oct 4 2011: It is very sad to know how many people in our world suffer because of lack of understanding.
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        Oct 4 2011: Did you ever feel ashamed of yourself, over the fact that your son had schizophrenia?

        I see how closely mental and physical disabilities are treated by our society, and I know in many religious circles, having a disabled child, means that god is punishing the parents for their sins. Does that mentality stretch further, where parents feel ashamed if their child is not "perfect"? Where they second guess themselves on things that they could have done differently? So rather then having a lack of understanding or information on the topic, could the ignorance be self inflicted? A refusal to accept it, as people view it as a "failure"?

        Actually, a better question would be... Did anyone come up to you, and criticize you as a parent because your son had schizophrenia?
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          Oct 5 2011: I never felt any shame but could feel a bit jealous for a moment as others were showing off with their children. And yes of course we were condemned as parents that were unable to raise a child. He was the eldest and as there came three more it became more obvious that he was different. The second one a daughter started with problems as she reached puberty and then again we had to be bad parents.
          We've seen a lot psychologists and here again the parents were scrutinized. My daughter that didn't know the answer either acknowledged everything they'd put her in the mouth and what looked like an explanation.
  • Oct 6 2011: Hi Debra
    I don't understand why people don't accept mental illness as a disease of the brain either. They always look at it as a charactor flaw or weakness and I am by no means weak.
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      Oct 6 2011: James, Hello to you!

      Weak? You are anything but weak and your great goodness and courage in deciding to help others through bringing your condition out in the open makes me admire you even more! I am glad you are here on TED, James!
      • Oct 7 2011: Thank you very much Debra, that makes me feel good.
  • Oct 6 2011: Hi Adriaan
    The sites you gave me were helpful, I also believe we must treat our spirit and kindness does go a long way.
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      Oct 6 2011: Adriaan,
      With all due respect for your beliefs, thankfully, we use all the wonderful scientific discoveries. Have you noticed the actual topic of this comment thread? Have you noticed that James stated he has the illness under control with medication? That medication is a product of science. There is no point in trying to de-value science....especially on this page!

      In my perception, we do not "live in a spiritual world "apart" from the world we see with our eyes". In my perception it is all connected, so it does not serve any useful purpose to seperate these concepts. The thoughts in our mind are indeed part of us as we are in human form. This is not an appropriate place to preach your beliefs like "the feelings that are generated are not ours...these are generated by the spirits around our spirit". Sorry, but that makes no sense at all.

      People with mental challenges often cannot simply ""tell the source to get lost", and it feels unrealistic and unkind to present your theories, such as they are, on this page. I respect your choice to deny that the brain is part of you, I know that my brain is very much a part of me, and I suspect many other people share my belief.
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      Oct 5 2011: Adriaan
      In the days of Swedenborg a lot of people suffered mental distortions due to repression of natural drives that was condemned by religion and through this by culture at large. Most of the time they had nothing to do with brain disorders.

      For a spiritual way to release mutilated souls out of distress you better study Ho'oponopono.
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          Oct 15 2011: Adriaan,
          What I can see as I look into that book is a nice attempt to make sense of the bible that in his days, of swedenborg couldn't be discussed as the only and true word of God.

          Happily a lot has changed in-between and we can neglect the existence of any bible with our endeavor to understand truth. It can only distort a clear inner sight.

          If you want to discuss any passage of his texts I would love to shine some light on it from a different perspective.
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      Oct 5 2011: Adriaan,
      The brain is very much a part of our human form. To say otherwise looks silly.
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          Oct 14 2011: Adriaan,
          You write..."As they say on the choiceinrecovery site 'A medical sickness is the result of a condition of the brain'. That's right, good to know we are not our brain, wish they would know it too".

          The brain is as much a part of the human body as any other parts. To say "we are not our brain" doesn't make any is part of us.

          I did not say anything about an NDE on this site because I do not feel it to be appropriate, just as I do not feel it appropriate to bring one's personal religious or spiritual beliefs onto certain sites.

          This topic is: "How would you react if you suddenly had a serious mental illness at the age of 18 and could no longer control your own thoughts". James tells us that he has his illness under control, and he is here to teach us by sharing his experience. I don't percieve him to be asking for religious/spiritual guidence.

          In other words Adriaan, I am aware of what you "have been saying all along", and what I've been saying, is that every TED site is not a platform for you to promote your personal religious/spiritual beliefs....ESPECIALLY when the topics are about mental illnesses, depression, suicides, etc. A person's personal religious or spiritual beliefs are not the cause or the cure for mental challenges. Thanks.
  • Oct 5 2011: Hi Alisa
    It's not known yet what causes it nor is there a cure, they think it might be genetic or virul but no studies have proved either. I do take medications to control my symptoms and it works great, I have not had any symptoms since 1997. Thank you for asking and take care.
  • Oct 5 2011: Hello James,
    I am so sorry that you experienced bad things, but still I am happy to know that now you can control your thoughts. Here is a question, What causes you to have schizophrenia? I mean why you had schizophrenia, what caused it? Also, did medicines help you to overcome it?
    Thank you.
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  • Oct 4 2011: Hi Benny
    It was no joy for me it was a nightmare, the voices would constantly put me down and yes I'm able to control my own thoughts now. No more hearing voices or any other symptom. Thanks.
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    Oct 4 2011: congratulations! i hope your able to control your thoughts now.
    i hear thought control is a form of constant prayer.
    i am the only thinker in my mind.
  • Oct 4 2011: Hi Kavitha
    I think education is key and should start in high scool. I have gone to some universities to speak but only one high school, everyone needs to be educated on this subject because there are so many of us.
  • Oct 4 2011: Hi James,
    How could u made it possible.. its really rocking..Wt s the effecient way u rectified this problem?
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    Oct 4 2011: Hi James sorry for what you suffered. And it is joyful to see how well you are now, great inspiration . As an answer to your question I would go tell it to mom either way. ( Firstly because she is a psychologist and then she would be the first one to notice the disorder)
    • Oct 4 2011: Your very lucky to have your mom in the field, none of my family or myself new what was going on, thank you for the comment.

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    Oct 4 2011: Dear James,
    I learned more about you and your challenge by watching the videos you provided the link for, which I appreciate very much. I have an incredible amount of respect for you and the way you faced this life experience. I am glad that you can now help educate others about this illness, and the fact that you can look at the illness as a "teacher" impresses me very much.

    You ask..."how would you would you deal with it".

    I can connect a tiny bit with your experience, because I sustained a near fatal head/brain injury years ago. I went horse back riding one day as a mentally and physically healthy adult, and regained consciousness two weeks later in a child like state emotionally and physically, totally dependant on others for my needs, unable to make very simple decisions, unable to walk or talk. My family and I were told I would never function "normally" again. I had no idea what that meant to me for the rest of my life. I explored and researched many mental disorders, in an effort to understand my condition. One conclusion I came to, is that we all experience some kind of "abnormality" some of the time, at some level. We need to learn how to function in this life experience to the best of our ability at any given time, and use the experience as a teacher.

    Kudos to you my friend:>)
  • Oct 3 2011: I would try and do as you did, and hope that I had the strength to get through my ordeals and survive. On the other side, I would do what I felt I had passion for and what brought me happiness. I would look forward and try to seek out experiences that I thought might be interesting. I would connect with my family and try to change opinions and replace old memories with new.
    • Oct 3 2011: That would have been a good strategy, my family is what kept me going. I tryed everything you could think of to get better or even feel better, nothing worked. Finally a medicine did but it was a long time in coming. Thanks for the comment.
  • Oct 3 2011: Yes chronic depression is considered a mental illness as is ADHD and Autism is up in the air. It is very difficult to plead insanity even for someone like me, I know what I'm doing. The question was however, what would you do if you one day found you could no longer control your thoughts. I only ask because I didn't know what to do at first.