Ascent into Love: Surviving Schizophrenia

Every person needs to be touched, supported and nurtured by the environment in which they live in order to grow. The earth’s immense force of gravity, whether physical or psychological, is too much for us to bear alone. Each of us takes a turn at holding each other’s weight, much like the spine that supports the brain or the soil that holds the roots of a tree. It is an embrace that gives definition to the unique aspects of our nature, the armature that holds our very essence. Life becomes formless without this critical structure that assists in our development and defines what lives and what dies away. To be held, to be touched, is necessary for survival. A deprivation of this leads to death…mentally, physically and spiritually. I am not sure in my case, which was worse, the downward course of my own schizophrenia or the absence of human contact as a result. Both were lethal, and as a dying leaf turns to fire in the fall before crumbling under foot, it sends out a putrid smell of decay. My body did the same. Flaming from the disease that had invaded my brain, my pores sent out an odor of cumulative sweat and filth. As a result, I pushed people away and kept them safe at a distance. All of this, especially the illness itself, added to my isolation and complete withdrawal from humanity.

Beyond popular belief, Schizophrenia does not have to be a dead end, nor is it fruitless. Recovery is possible and recent studies have shown that people can and do recover. Every individual is different and therefore each recovery is unique. The world is full of individuals who are surviving this devastating disease to the best of their capabilities. They are courageous, magnificent and strong in their striving to function in a society that marginalizes them. The days of Schizophrenia being a “death sentence” are over. There is Hope and there are countless individuals like myself who have broken the hold of Stigma as well, and who have come forward to share remarkable stories of Triumph. If you listen to them speak, their recovery is almost always about connection with others and freedom from isolation.

I have often been asked, why do some people rise above their impediments and others stay stuck? Resilience is more than just a random, enigmatic concoction of genetic makeup responsible for survival. We all possess in us the seed of resilience in one form or another. However, this potential for growth is not enough by itself. The key to recovery is to nurture that seed. The way to do that is through connection, through human relationship.

Art is the language I used when I was severely disabled as a result of my illness and had no voice to express myself. It was the only way I had to connect with the outside world. For someone else in my situation, it could have been baking muffins, playing ball or writing poetry. During the early years of my recovery, making art helped me to express constructively my stopped up, often confusing and chaotic feelings that frightened me. Putting them on paper or canvas helped to defuse these internal conflicts as they spun notoriously out of control. Seeing these images with my own eyes and separate from my body helped to distance myself from the horrific anguish that I suffered from inside, giving me a sense of perspective and creating an opportunity for productivity and validation, recognition and acceptance. It was a place to begin the conversation about my own recovery.

There are no rules in art, no judgment, and in the end, a drawing is just a piece of paper, a clay vessel, a hollow mound of hardened earth. Yet, art has had the capacity to alter and influence entire civilizations, starting with the cave dwellers. It is what is left when man isn’t.

The power of art to heal is equally just as revolutionary. Creativity is the foundation from which all art springs. Like the seed of resilience in each of us, creativity is something we are all born with and have the capacity to develop and express. Unfortunately, in most instances, creativity is not nurtured. Not only is it squelched in our society at a young age, it is often times seen as a hopeless endeavor, bringing hardship and the lack of prosperity to the individual who pursues its path. Yet creativity is necessary for human life and without it, we would all live in a horrific state of boredom.

What then can make the difference between growth or stagnation, illness or recovery? Again, I come back to this question. Creativity alone is not enough. If I remained in my studio my entire life trying to recreate and define the most exquisite piece of art possible, and that’s all I did, I would probably end up under a tree like Van Gogh. A life cut short.

But art is not complete without an audience and neither is a struggling soul complete without the continual presence of another human being. However, it takes a unique and compassionate healer, ideally an entire community, who is able to stand present to support, nurture and connect, with honesty and self-awareness. It is in this continuous place where we hold each other, that the healing of our hearts and minds take root. It requires a risk for both parties and the benefit to both is indisputable. Trust ensues and recovery is now possible. Call it Love, Empathy, or Hope. For those of us who suffer, by striving to connect with others, we find the strength we need to overcome anything. For those of us who are the healers, our gift is the breath that we receive in exchange.

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