My name is Charles Feldman. I am 60 years old and I am in recovery, living with paranoid schizophrenia. I was in a songwriting group once at my mental health center, where I wrote songs viewing mental illness from a topical point of view. Years later, I was looking at the lyrics of one of my old songs, where I wrote: “I do not live, but merely exist.” Things have changed for me so much that I found it hard to believe that I ever felt that way. I still get anxious and depressed at times, but I now feel that these are part of normal life, and that the important thing is my spiritual search, along with my advocacy work and my relationships with family and friends. That, I feel, is recovery.
Growing up, my main concern was that I felt that I did not know what to say to people, socially. In high school, I would read anyone who was countercultural, like R.D. Laing who thought there was personal growth through schizophrenia. I now joke that I am one of the few people who chose to develop schizophrenia.
One day in a college encounter group course, the leader gave us an exercise to do. He said we should all give ourselves a piece of advice. The advice I gave myself was: “Don’t blow it.” Later that evening, I went to a lecture, and the speaker said at one point: “Don’t blow it.” I thought he said that because of what I had said earlier in the day, which I thought he somehow knew about.
From that point on, I started feeling that people I met, and even people walking by me, were saying things and making gestures referring to me, that had hidden messages. I withdrew from school. When I got back home, my psychologist asked to see me. I saw him, and this psychologist, who had told me there was no such thing as mental illness, told me he was putting me in the hospital. I thought the hospital might be a place where I could get some understanding, so I agreed to go. Once there, I thought all the other patients were agents implanted to make it look like it was a hospital. I watched TV for the first time in a long time, and I thought even the newscasters were talking to and about me.
After a few days, I saw a psychiatrist. I told him what I had been told, that there was no such thing as mental illness. He raised his voice back at me and said: “There is such a thing, I’ve seen it!” From that point on I felt he was part of the conspiracy against me.
Six years later, my parents found me an apartment, telling the landlord that I was a writer and that I was just moving into town. I still didn’t realize that my new medication was working. I told my new nurse that I didn’t want to keep taking it. She went and got my new psychiatrist who asked me how things had been going for me in the past few years. When I told him that things had not been too good, he suggested I try the medication. So I did. I started going to a day program, and going to a therapy group. I noticed that when people would get angry one social worker, she would not get angry back at them, but would respond with empathy. I had never experienced this before. I went on to do mental health advocacy both at work and volunteering. A few years ago, I found a spiritual home. I have learned to meditate, which I couldn’t do before. This has given me something that therapy, day program trips, the consumer movement, and other advocacy, could not give me. It has given me some peace of mind and purpose in life.
I now work doing mental health advocacy and support at a drop-in center. I can see people daily on the road to recovery. They feel that peer support has made a great difference in their lives. Being able to talk with their peers, and be open about their mental illness, gives them a freedom that they say they never had before. My peers and I credit things like medication, work or volunteer work, peer support and a place to socialize, spirituality, and finding or having a place to call home as the grounds of our recovery.