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September 29, 2011 Volume 2, Issue 36
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Putting Joy Back into Your Life:
My Truth About 'Wellness and Recovery'
by Jacquese Armstrong
Life is tough, even without a mental illness. In my opinion, everyone is recovering and on the road to what we call wellness. We all have our own definition of wellness and it may change from time to time.

As a person with a mental illness, I am no different. From childhood through the beginning of young adulthood, wellness hinged upon my level of maturity, whether physical or philosophical. Unfortunately, this process was interrupted by a mental illness called schizoaffective disorder.

The disorder brought a new spectrum of "wellness and recovery" to my thoughts. Things I took for granted became goals to be achieved. There were losses I will never recover. I had lost my identity as an intelligent, successful young adult. Suddenly, I was a child again. I had to learn to reasonably master growth in the environment called mental illness.

The first goal was to get back to college and finish my engineering degree. I believed once this happened, I would be okay. I was in denial for a very long time.

Before the onset of the illness, I was a B average student studying chemical engineering. Upon my re-entrance, I earned a D and two F's (my first ever). This was the first kick in the teeth. Clearly, I was no longer suited to this career path. More kicks followed. But I picked myself up—albeit slowly at times—every time. After the first kick, I changed my major to journalism. Because of the revolving door between school and the hospital, it took 6 more years to earn my B.A.

I should have lowered my expectations so I could experience the success of completing goals again. But for a long time, I hung on to the same proverbial yardstick I measured myself with before my illness. Consequently, I kicked my own butt.

A healthy recovery sets small, achievable goals. In my opinion, this promotes a satisfactory state of wellness for the individual in stages.

I now set achievable goals and am much happier—a feeling that was jump-started by finding the right meds. When the meds started to work, I was ecstatic and enjoyed a 2-year high. There was only one voice in my head and I was sure it was mine. I no longer believed people could read my mind. The level of comfort and relief I felt was indescribable.

Four years later, I am meeting career goals and objectives once again. Of course, I am now middle aged, but I try not to let it bother me (I will be a young 50 this October). I am a peer support specialist, something I have wanted to do for a long time. And I have learned something: success is relative and so is "wellness and recovery."

Four things bridged the gap for me up to this point and brought me to a degree of wellness that I can live with. They brought my Joy back.

First, I had to truly accept my illness and all the complications that came along with it. I had to accept that I will always be in a state of recovery.

Acceptance goes a long way. In my view, if you accept something, you take responsibility for it. You can try to change it or you can live with it. But this is your choice, and no one else can carry the blame. I was 10 years into my illness before I could begin to bear that load. Now I own my illness and approach the pains that come along with it as spiritual challenges.

Don't get me wrong: it's no cake walk. Even when you find the right combination of medications—a process of trial and error that I call Russian roulette, only instead of a single bullet, there is only one empty chamber—there is no guarantee how long that combination will continue to work. There is always a looming threat of relapse, which is why acceptance is so hard. It doesn't seem fair to recover only to relapse again.

That's why another part of getting your Joy back—and keeping it—is learning to deal with disappointment. To deal with mine, I developed what I call the Four R's.

First you refocus, singling in on one positive aspect of your calamity. Then you re-evaluate to see if another route or goal is possible. You redefine yourself in light of the new goal and truly commit to it, trying not to look back. Finally you bundle these together and redirect yourself towards the new route or goal. This has always worked for me, but not without regrets. I am only human.

I've used the Four R's to deal with the reality that I would never be the scientist I hoped to be, nor have the life I would have lived had I experienced that dream and not a mental illness. I still grieve for that 20-year-old me and probably always will.

But you also have to recognize the beauty of God's plan. Now I know the days I suffered only reinforced my newfound Joy and made me a consciously stronger person. I can only say God has blessed me. I can't let my old longings dominate my thoughts. New challenges are waiting.

To sustain my Joy, I give myself over to an "attitude of gratitude." Gratitude acknowledges a benefit one has received or will receive. Granted, gratitude is a positive emotion, and most people don't think about gaining something positive from pain. But scientists tell us for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I truly believe whatever is taken from you will be returned and more. So when I'm going through a difficult time, I count my blessings.

My spiritual dimension is probably the main thing that has kept me going through the years. Every day I wake up sane is a blessing from God and everything else is gravy. It will be this way until I die. (I do not plan on getting that ill again.)

Gratitude thinking is a good thing to do when I reflect on the trauma I've experienced living with a mental illness. Mental illness is a traumatic event in one's life. But there is always something to be grateful for. Sometimes, it's just knowing I have a roof over my head, transportation, a job I want to make my career, and food to eat. If you had known me just 5 years ago, when I was severely depressed and hoped to die every day, you would be amazed. I am now thankful for every day and I wouldn't miss one.

Wellness came to me like night changes to day. One moment I was praying to die and the next I was looking forward to a new day and enjoying the present.

If you've suffered long enough, you always look back. Twenty-five years of severe illness was too long. But once you get that Joy back, you protect it like its gold.

Jacquese Armstrong is a peer support specialist, writer, and poet living in Edison, New Jersey. Contact her with questions at jacquesearmstrong@hotmail.com.

The RTP Resource Center Announces
Its Final Webinar in a Four-Step Series:
Step 4 in the Recovery-Oriented Care Continuum:
Graduation
Date
Thursday, October 6, 2011

Time
3–4:30 p.m. ET

Description
In the final Webinar of a series on the continuum of recovery-oriented care, we focus on a relatively new but important concept: an individual's "graduation" from formal services, which often involves a transition to less formal, community-based supports.

At one time, the mental health field believed most people would not recover from serious mental illness. Their lifelong dependency on formal treatment was expected, as was their chronic and deteriorating course. People did recover (in large numbers), though their exit from care was unplanned, unpredictable, and often unaddressed at the system level.

As a result, routine outpatient services typically have no-show rates around 50 percent, and the average age of individuals receiving publicly funded mental health services is around 40. People have "voted with their feet" and left care despite our best efforts. But we now know one of the reasons for this exodus: many individuals learn to manage their condition and want to return to their lives.

If people can recover from or learn to cope with serious mental illnesses, how can mental health professionals plan for this transition from the very beginning of treatment? During the Webinar this question will be addressed by three gifted speakers: Wes Sowers, M.D., a psychiatrist and Director of the Center for Public Service Psychiatry at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic; Lauren Spiro, Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery; and Antonio Lambert, a certified peer specialist and RTP Specialist for the National Association of Peer Specialists. Dr. Sowers will broach the issue as a psychiatrist who finds it gratifying to accompany people on their recovery journey and assist them in healing and reclaiming full and meaningful lives beyond the boundaries of the mental health system. Ms. Spiro and Mr. Lambert will describe personal recovery experiences as well as their work in facilitating the recovery of others, identifying resources and supports they believe are instrumental in promoting recovery. These include elements of formal treatment, such as healing relationships and medications, and spirituality, friends, and "giving back" by helping others.

This Webinar will discuss options and alternatives for individuals who wish to move on from formal services and—more importantly—how we can help ensure that those who have optimally benefited from treatment have a meaningful life to return to. As with all RTP Webinars, participants will be encouraged to call in or submit questions and comments for presenters to answer at the end of the session.

To Register
https://www.livemeeting.com/lrs/8000963084/Registration.aspx?pageName=m9jp5rbfg7d5lsfb

Please share this announcement with friends and colleagues who may be interested in learning more about recovery-oriented practice in behavioral health services. For more information on SAMHSA's Recovery to Practice project, please contact the RTP Technical Assistance Center at recoverytopractice@dsgonline.com or 877.584.8535.

Mental Health in the Headlines
Week of September 19, 2011
Study: Suicidal Teens Rarely Receive Treatment
A new study reports few suicidal teens receive the treatment and care they need. According to the research, only 13 percent of teenagers with suicidal thoughts visited a mental health professional through their health care networks, and only 16 percent received treatment during the year. Low visitation rates were apparent despite the fact that teens were eligible for mental health care without a referral with relatively low co-payments. The study, reported in Academic Pediatrics, analyzed the use of health care services among 198 teenagers. Although half of the teens had experienced suicidal thoughts, mental health services were significantly underused. Eighty-six percent of those with suicidal thoughts had seen a health care provider, but only 13 percent had visited a mental health specialist and only 7 percent received antidepressants. To read the complete article, visit
http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2011/09/16/few-suicidal-teens-get-the-help-they-need.

People with Depression Don't Reveal Symptoms to Physicians
People suffering from depression may not discuss it with their doctor for a number of reasons. According to a recent analysis, one of the most common reasons is a fear their doctor will recommend antidepressants. Published in the Annals of Family Medicine, the study asked 1,054 adults why they wouldn't share depression symptoms with a primary care physician. Their answers included fear of medication, question about the doctor's ability to handle such issues, and privacy concerns. At least 10 percent of participants said their fear of being referred to a psychiatrist or being branded as a "psychiatric patient" was a deterrent. Visit
http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/12/news/la-heb-depression-silence-20110912 to read more.

Indonesians with Mental Illness Confined
An estimated 30,000 Indonesians with mental illness are caged and chained because of associated stigmas and lack of treatment. Last year, the government's mental health department launched "Meuju Bebas Pasung," a roadmap for freeing such people held in confinement. Officials have struggled to reach communities and raise awareness, and the difficult task is compounded by the fact that mental health remains low on the government's priority list. To read the article, visit
http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/indonesia/110907/indonesia-mental-health-schizophrenia.

Mental Health in the Headlines is a weekly newsletter produced by Mental Health America (MHA) that highlights recent MHA developments and summarizes news, views, and research in the mental health field. News covered in this publication does not represent MHA's support for or opposition to the material summarized and views expressed. To subscribe to Mental Health in the Headlines, visit http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/action/subscribe.

Reducing Costs and Protecting Consumers
One year after the Affordable Care Act's Patient's Bill of Rights took effect, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report summarizing the health reform law's achievements.

Visit the HHS Newsroom for the press release and see how health reform is helping families control health care costs at http://www.healthcare.gov/law/resources/reports/patients-bill-of-rights09232011a.pdf.

The RTP Resource Center Wants to Hear From
Recovery-Oriented Practitioners!
We invite practitioners to submit personal stories that describe how they became involved in recovery-
oriented work and how it has changed the way they practice.
The RTP Resource Center Wants to Hear From You, Too!
We invite you to submit personal stories that describe recovery experiences. To submit stories or other
recovery resources, please contact Stephanie Bernstein, MSW, at 877.584.8535,
or email recoverytopractice@dsgonline.com.

We welcome your views, comments, suggestions, and inquiries.
For more information on this topic or any other recovery topics,
please contact the RTP Resource Center at
877.584.8535, or email recoverytopractice@dsgonline.com.


The views, opinions, and content of this Weekly Highlight are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect
the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.