Like many other people in this world I want to feel important.
It could be motivation for greatness or an unfulfilled disaster.
Making an impact on millions of people could make a person feel important, however, helping one person could be just as meaningful. Numbers are not the only way to measure the impact of the person.
Are you ready for your first client, my boss says.
He has a mental illness and has cognitive impairment, laments my boss. I remember the first time we met.
Struggling with my own paranoia and delusions, I was still nervous before I met my peer.
He looked like in his 60s and could barely mumble something of a “good” after we asked how he was?
Even though I learned that people living with schizophrenia are usually non-violent, I felt intimidated at first, I had my concerns about violence and aggression.
I had my reasons, going through psychosis made me realize how little control you have when ripped from reality.
My boss and I made a recovery plan with my client’s mother. Steve, my client, patiently waited, but he had an uncomfortable stare.
As a new peer coach for a mental health provider, I was unsure if I would be able to do my job.
We had a common diagnosis, but each person is different. Judging him, my first thoughts were I’m not like him, am I?
Do I make other people feel uncomfortable?
We finished up and made the first appointment date Steve and I would meet Steve alone.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia has positive, negative and cognitive symptoms. The severity widely varies from person to person.
Positive symptoms are all the things added to a normal person, like voices, hallucinations, and delusions.
Negative symptoms are all the things taken away from a normal person, like low motivation, low energy, poverty of speech, apathy and lack of social interest.
Cognitive symptoms include slow thinking, disorganized thinking, poor memory and poor concentration.
Many people have heard of the positive symptoms, but might not be aware of the other symptoms. Schizophrenia is a misunderstood condition. There is even stigma within the mental health community itself.
Contrary to my belief, people living with mental illness are not violent.
Research has shown that people living with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, instead of being the aggressor.
First Time Alone Together
Driving my car with the windows down, I enjoyed the fresh island air. When you live in Hawaii sometimes you take for granted the nice weather.
I made a left turn onto Mauhina St. and pulled into the driveway of Steve’s house. As soon as I got out of the car the dogs were barking again.
After our first visit the dogs must have not remembered us. Or at least not trusted us yet.
Steve’s mother let me into the house and she calmed the oversized bark from the miniature dogs.
Steve came out of his room and I greeted him and asked how he was that morning.
A mumble reply and I couldn’t make out what he said. He strung words together at the speed at which I could not translate into a thought.
I was nervous, but at the time I didn’t realize maybe Steve was nervous also.
We headed out to the beach and on the car ride I tried again to engage with Steve. He finally slowed down his speech and I could clearly make out a word, just “fine”
All of our conversations, Steve tried to disengage by avoiding answers with more than one word.
We went to the beach for a short minute, then we returned back to Steve’s place.
My first thought was, this is not going to work out. I didn’t realize I had unrealistic expectations. I had to build trust before I expected anything from Steve.
What is Schizophrenia
There are misconceptions about schizophrenia. “Schizo” means “split” but that can be misleading, because schizophrenia is not split personality, but actually it is a break from reality.
About one percent of the population are affected by schizophrenia. However many people living with schizophrenia go untreated. It is because of a symptom called anosognosia.
Anosognosia is a condition where the person living with schizophrenia is not aware or does not believe to be ill. If people don’t think they are, in fact, living with schizophrenia, why would they take the prescribed medication.
The onset of schizophrenia in men is late teens to early 20s. For women, the onset is late 20s and early thirties. Schizophrenia can be devastating while surfacing right at the coming of age for a person.
Months have passed by and I wasn’t feeling any closer to Steve, let alone feeling like I was making a difference.
Shameful to say but on our visits he became invisible. Because of his cognitive disabilities and little to no responses, I started to give up on Steve.
At the time I started a YouTube Channel and website called Schizopedia. It was trying to share stories about people living with schizophrenia and to bring awareness.
On my visits with Steve I was more busy checking how many likes and subscribes I was getting than actually paying attention to Steve.
Then the COVID19 pandemic hit and our sessions were put on pause.
A week later Steve called me and we had our longest conversation we had ever had. He asked me how I was doing. And he told me about himself. And he didn’t want to get off the phone. He missed me.
There was Steve, all along waiting for me to open my eyes.
Medications for Schizophrenia
Medications for schizophrenia are relatively new. The first antipsychotics, Chlorpromazine, was introduced in 1952. Before there were no significant treatments.
For some time, the prevailing treatment was the “moral treatment” believing that if we nurture and treat patients living with schizophrenia well, they would be cured — which is not true.
In the last eighteenth century a coffee merchant named William Turk III, who was mourning the death of someone close to him, Hannah, who perished in York Lunatic Asylum, could not stand by and watch people living with mental illness being mistreated.
The affluent man decided to create his own facilities to house the mentally ill, focusing on caring principles and human decency. His belief was that well treatment could cure the condition.
Although Chlorpromazine was a breakthrough, it did come with many unbearable side effects, which made it difficult to stay on the medicine regime. Another drawback is that the medicine subsided the positive symptoms, but was not effective with the negative and cognitive symptoms.
Fast Forward to 2020 the medication has improved, but many still choose not to take the medication. Psychiatry is still in its infancy and there will be more innovation and improvement in treatments.
Connecting with Steve
My YouTube Channel faded away and I lost motivation to make more videos. My subscriptions did not climb, and I felt like a failure.
My job was to coach Steve, but at the same time feeling like a failure, time with Steve saved me.
One sunny day at the beach, Steve smiled at me, and it made me smile. His happiness was contagious.
Steve was so content and happy. When we talked his words were short and simple, but had a kind of wisdom.
After we got out of the water, we just sat on the beach. Usually he would be restless and want to go home, but we just sat and enjoyed the warmth of the sun.
When I didn’t spend all my time on the phone checking likes and subscriptions, he noticed. He knew I wasn’t ignoring him, I could see it in his eyes and body language.
I asked myself, what else could I do?
I decided I wanted to write him letters, because I thought it would be nice to receive something in the mail.
I am still a peer coach and currently focusing on other ways to connect with one person Steve.
Everyone can make a difference and feel important
Schizophrenia faded away and for the first time I saw Steve. I started to realize I could make a difference in one person’s life. My opportunity was right in-front of me.
I started to notice small things like smiling. There is so much you can communicate with a smile. It sounds small, but my new job was to smile at Steve everyday, and return the favor by bringing joy into someone’s day.
Maybe Turk’s theory, Moral Treatment, is partly true. Treating someone living with a mental illness with dignity and kindness could cure the negative effects of the condition.
We made each other feel important. And seeing our impact became obvious.
Steve was the coach in this story and he was the one who made a difference in my life. Success is not measured in numbers. We can make a difference one person at a time.