Self-Responsibility and Recovery

By Andrea Hercha-Schmook 

Since her recovery from diagnoses of acute paranoid schizophrenia, schizoid affective disorder, and manic depression, Andrea has been involved in promoting mental health. Currently, she is Chief of the Consumer Affairs and Development Section for the Illinois Department of Human Services, Office of Mental Health.

 Self-responsibility is an important step in recovery. What does it mean to be responsible for your self? One of the first steps is to just accept yourself the way you are. Sometimes we're not very happy with our lives, but we cannot make them any better if we donít first accept ourselves and our lives as we are.When we begin to accept ourselves, it's important to understand that blaming others, chemical imbalances, genes, or conditions and circumstances must stop. It's easy to blame our illnesses on something or somebody.The hard part is accepting and taking responsibility for our illnesses.

You might be thinking, "Well, does that mean I begin to blame myself if nothing or nobody else is at fault?" No, that's not what this means at all. It's just that if you are going to improve and recover, the blame game must end. This just puts us in a better frame of mind to begin to make changes in our selves; it helps us begin to take control back of our lives.Itís important to understand that circumstances and conditions, and even others can and do contribute to episodes of mental illness.When I think I have no control over things around me, I begin to lose control of my feelings, thoughts and actions. My feelings, thoughts and actions may begin to escalate and without insight I am overwhelmed and my inner world collapses,which brings on relapse.† 

We have all heard of the principle "know thyself.Ē†† When I begin to accept and stop blaming, then I am able to start to know myself. I can then take a personal inventory of myself so I can see areas where I need to improve. This helps me take responsibility for my own recovery. This is how we begin to get insight into our condition.

Itís also important to understand that mental illness is just like any other illness. When we see it as an extraordinary illness to other illnesses, this view keeps us helpless to be able to do anything about it. As we change our thinking about it and give it the same importance as a cold, the flu, a sore throat, a toothache, then we are not powerless to help ourselves.Even people with other chronic illnesses that may be life threatening, such as heart disease or cancer, have to keep their illness in perspective so that they can still live as satisfying and productive a life as possible.Itís about taking the extraordinary and making it ordinary, such as getting to the point where you see it as an interruption in your life rather than robbing you of your life.

Using this insight as an example, how does one take responsibility for mental illness without blame and begin to view it as any other illness? Well, when I get a cold or sore throat, I begin feeling achy, my throat is scratchy,my nose begins to run.†† What circumstances or conditions contributed to it? I may have been around a friend or loved one who had a sore throat; I may have been where it was drafty; I may have overworked myself and let myself run down.Even someone with heart disease needs to take responsibility for the illness as well.They must look at their life style and how it contributed to their heart disease.They may have to ask what circumstances and conditions contributed to it?Being a workaholic and taking work home;eating rich and fatty foods; lack of exercise; not managing reaction to stress; ignoring the warning signs.

Any number of things may have contributed to it and this gives me an awareness of how I may have become sick.When I gain insight as to cause then I can take steps toward prevention.Are relapses triggered by my reaction to stress?When I miss a night of sleep, does it cause a manic high?Do I isolate fromfriends and not answer the telephone when they call?Do I feel guilty thinking that I caused a disaster that I read about in the newspaper?When this happens, do I hear voices blaming me and telling me to hurt myself? 

There are things that we can do to gain back self-control.As we take responsibility for the illness and our lives, webecome self-reliant and competent.Recovery is learned through a process of perspiration, inspiration, hard work, relapse, setbacks, and gains.† 

For instance, In order to manage my reaction tostress,†† I can take a class on how to handle stress through meditation, relaxation, yoga, tai chi or I can see a therapist.When I miss a night of sleep, I can do something about it as well.I can prepare myself for bed several hours before actually going to bed each night.I can make sure everything I need for the next day is laid out and ready to go in the morning, such as breakfast, lunch in the refrigerator, select clothes to wear the next day.I can take a bath and play quiet music in the background.I can read something inspirational.I donít need tostimulate my mind further by watching television or listening to loud music.Rather than isolate, I can call a friend and talk on the phone; I can meet a friend for a cup of coffee; I can invite a friend over.† 

When I think that I caused a disaster that I read about and feel guilty, then I need to do a reality check.I may need to sit down with paper and pencil and read through the article again.Did it happen in New York City and I live in Chicago?ďI didnít cause a disaster when I havenít been in the city at the time the disaster happened.ĒI might write out this statement in large letters so that I can read it whenever I feel guilty about the disaster.I can also read it aloud to myself when I hear voices.I can divert my attention fromthe voices by listening to music.I can work a crossword puzzle or call a friend on the phone.I can also get some peer support or talk this through with my therapist as well.†† 

Whatís really important is that you realize there are techniques, strategies, and skills that you can learn from others or develop yourself.By applying them, you gain experience and eventually can increase your recovery and reduce relapse.†† This is called prevention.Recovery takes time.While youíre learning you may still relapse.This is only a setback and is not permanent.Relapses are only temporary.Itís important that you continue doing the work of recovery, and not give up on yourself.It helps to have a strong, natural support system as well to provide mutual support during this period.In time, youíll find yourself back in the place you were prior to the relapse.Remember recovery takes time; itís faith (belief that you can do it) and works (application of techniques, strategies, and skills) that get you where you want to be; and itís support.

The following are the steps outlined in this column:


I.††††† Self-responsibility is necessary in recovery.

2.††† Begin by accepting yourself the way you are and where you are.

3.††† Stop the blame game.

4.††† Begin to use the principle "know thyself' by taking a personal inventory of yourself.

5.††† Change your belief about mental illness by treating it as an ordinary illness that is common to anyone in society.

6.        Take back self-control by learning and applying techniques, strategies, and skills.

Remember, recovery is possible when we begin to take responsibility for ourselves.

© Andrea Hercha Schmook  All Rights Reserved